The Pet Version of Sophie’s Choice

October 29, 2018 2:51 PM

It’s been a long, long month. Very long. As in l-o-n-g. Since the end of September, Dennis and I have not been able to leave the house at the same time. I wrote a blog at the end of September, Man Plans and God Laughs, where I shared the physical problems one of my cats, Frankie was having.

After four days of waiting for test results back from the vet, I found out that Frankie’s problem is physical, but it’s not caused by an infection or urinary crystals. It’s caused by stress. The vet said this is common and it’s very hard to diagnose what stresses a cat. But it wasn’t hard for me know. I’ve known that the incessant barking when we are not home by Sammy, my dog, was stressing Frankie out. I even blogged about it when I was forced to miss a Sheepshead card party earlier in the month because of it.  I Didn’t Sign Up for This!

So, what to do? Although there are anti-anxiety drugs that are supposed to help Frankie with stress, I really didn’t want to go that route. Frankie has an amazing personality and I didn’t want to mess with that. We needed to find another option, and until we did, we vowed that one of us would stay at home with the dogs at all times so there would be no long bouts of barking. When I say “all times” I mean ALL TIMES. Sammy barks even if we are both outside at the same time and he’s inside, so any outside work that Dennis needed to do meant I had to stay inside, on the first floor, to keep the dogs company. Even my being on the second floor, where my sewing room is, causes Sammy to bark if he’s left alone downstairs. He’s a little clingy.

For the past month, showers needed to be coordinated where either one of us stayed downstairs, or I took the dogs upstairs and locked them in the bathroom with me so there were no accidents when I wasn’t looking. (For some reason, Charlie feels his housebreaking training does not apply to the second floor.)

Dennis had a few business trips during this month, because, of course, those always come up at the worst possible time. I could not leave the house during those trips, unless I took the dogs with me. Which I didn’t, because they’re not that well-behaved in the car, and I only have one dog restraint. I ended up missing two events with my writing group that I really wanted to attended. I did find a Pizza Hut that will actually deliver to our house.

It’s not like Dennis and I go out a lot anyway, but when we couldn’t go out, we found that we really wanted to.  We did take the dogs to a couple of drive-thru’s for dinner this last month when we just had to get out of the house together for a little while.

We pondered our options during the first weekend Dennis was back from him trip. There weren’t many and none were good.

  1. Drug the cat and hope that helps. NOPE. That’s the last resort.
  2. Up Sammy’s Prozac. I did do this and I have done this before and it worked somewhat, but not completely. I knew I still wouldn’t be able to relax when were out because I’d be worrying that Sammy could be barking and stressing Frankie.
  3. Find Sammy a new home. This was a horrible option that wouldn’t really solve the problem. Charlie barks constantly when he is alone in the house without Sammy. So finding Sammy a new home also means finding Charlie a new home and this is basically a death sentence for Charlie. (No one is going to take a 14-year-old dog that requires a special diet that has to be prepared every day, not to mention the crazy expensive cost of his diet and his monthly medication.)

Basically, Dennis and I faced the Sophie’s Choice of loving pets. Which pet do we choose to save, the cat or the dogs?

On a Sunday morning over breakfast, after a very stressful, sad Saturday as we tried to figure out what to do, we remembered what one of our friends suggested earlier in the month. Build a separate room in the garage for the dogs.

Could we do this? The requirements were specific and not easy. It had to be comfortable, like a room in our house, not like a kennel. Charlie and Sammy are small dogs. They’re not going to survive well in an uncomfortable garage. That means the room needs to be heated and air-conditioned  and it needed a raised floor, so the dogs don’t have to sit on a cold, cement floor.

It needed to be furnished. At least a love seat near a window and probably a rug and some pillows, too.

And, this is a critical requirement, it needs to be sound-proof. Very sound-proof because based on my past experience of locking the dogs in our finished rec room in the basement, they both bark constantly when confined. Sammy would bark anyway even if he wasn’t confined, but locking both Sammy and Charlie in a room is going to mean both dogs bark constantly.

Dennis spent that Sunday researching and estimating. At the end, he was somewhat confident that he could build a room that would muffle the barking enough to work. We thought that the cats may still hear muffled barking from the first floor, but it would be likely they wouldn’t hear it on the second floor. Cats are smart. I figured that if Frankie had a place to go to get away from barking, he would use it.

The downside of the idea is it was very labor intensive. Dennis is very handy with projects and he turned our basement into a really cool rec room. But this was a different animal. It’s a full new room that not only needs a frame, it needs sound-proofing, insulation, and drywall, lighting, electrical and A/C. We decided to also put in a heating element under the raised floor so there’d be no chance of the cold seeping up through the floors come January.  This is going to be one hell of a nice kennel.

Did I mention the other downside is that it’s going to be expensive? I have a little money from my mom’s estate and I decided that putting it toward this room is a perfect use for it. She’d want me to do whatever I could to make sure all my animals can live in harmony in my house.

Thank goodness we decided not to get the pool! Dennis had the space cleared in the garage already where we could put the dog room. By Monday, he was placing his first order with Home Depot before he flew out-of-town again that week.

Construction ensued for the next three weekends. This meant that I could not leave the house, or even the downstairs for that matter, while he worked on the room.

This dog room has nicer amenities than my house! We bought a solid core wooden 6 panel door because it blocks sound better than hollow core doors do. I have white hollow core doors in my house. We bought wood laminate flooring instead of vinyl because the heated floors work better with laminate. I have a small amount of laminate in my house that I hate the color and style of. It’s not heated. I have vinyl in my kitchen, fourteen year old white carpeting in my family room and a year-long contract with Stanley Steemer for carpet cleaning every three months to try to keep it clean with five animals. The dog room got a nice new blind for the window. My blinds are ten years old. The dog room  even has a programmable thermostat, separate from our house, that we can control via wifi. If we’re away, and I see it’s getting too hot or too cold in the room, we can alter it from wherever we are. A lot of research and planning and work and time and money went into prepping this room.

Finally, this last Friday, Dennis finished the room to the point where the dogs could use it. There’s still some cosmetic stuff, like taping the drywall seams and painting, but it was functional to use.

We were so excited! We would actually get the leave the house together and go out. Where to go first? A nice leisurely dinner out at one of our favorite restaurants? A movie? The casino? All fine ideas, but I thought we should introduce the dogs to the room gradually, so we settled for a quick dinner at our local Culvers so we could be back home in under an hour. We were so excited to be out that we took pictures at Culvers when we were there.

dennis

While Dennis doesn’t exactly look excited, he does look happy. And exhausted from building the room in three weekends.

me

I’m not good with selfies, but I think you can tell I’m pretty damn happy to be out the house after a month!

Here is a picture from the video camera we have mounted in the dog’s room. You can see the floor, the love seat, the carpet and several dog beds. There is a window next the love seat that the dogs like to look out of. And look at that floor! I love the floor. It’s nice and toasty warm, and it warms the entire room with a cozy-feeling heat. It reminds of me of how warm air feels around a fireplace. It’s really nice!

room

This is what freedom looks like in our house. You can see a bit of Sammy in the bottom left corner and Charlie is on the sofa.

The first experiment with the room went awesome! The dogs only barked when we left and they heard the garage door close. They were quiet the entire time. Apparently, sound proofing works both ways. They’re not hearing the random sounds of the house, like the sump pump or the furnace or the cats galloping around upstairs, so they aren’t barking. When they did bark, the sound was barely noticeable in the house on the first floor. As a matter of fact, Frankie was sleeping in a clothes basket in the laundry room which is by the door to the garage when we left and he never moved while we were gone. If he heard any barking it didn’t bother him enough to move. The room is a success!

We further tested the room out this weekend by having a Chinese dinner in Brookfield where we were gone close to two hours (no barking) and another dinner out last night at one of our favorite supper clubs (still no barking, even after dark, which was unheard of in the house.) I’m not sure if the room is the full cause of the new non-barking world we’re living in now. It could also be partly caused by the higher dose of Prozac Sammy is getting.  Whatever the reason, we are very grateful!

There were two unexpected bonuses to this entire ordeal and one unexpected repercussion. The first bonus is that I didn’t expect the room to end up that nice or that comfortable to be in. I’ve been wanting a quiet place to write so I am moving a small desk into the dog’s room and I’m going to use it as my writing space. Hurray!

The second bonus is after spending a solid month with Frankie and watching him closely to make sure he isn’t having problems (he’s has had none at all) Frankie has finally become a lap-kitty. I’ve been waiting for this moment for six years! Okay, I did lure him up with a knitting project I’ve been working on, but once he’s there, he stays even when he’s done playing with the yarn.

lapcat

Frankie, my very un-stressed, healthy, happy buddy, sitting on my lap. Lucy, our Tortoise Shell cat is to the right and Herbie, Frankie’s brother, is in the upper right corner. Our cats all love to hang with people.

The one repercussion that’s not so great from this project, is that I now want laminate floors that are heated in my family room. And I want new laminate flooring in my entry way and Dennis’ office. And I want to replace the vinyl in my kitchen with laminate, too.

I see more construction in Dennis’ future.

10/29/18  3:47 PM

 

Thanks, Mr. Simons

October 14, 2018 5:51 PM

This weekend, I finished reading a book I started in 1983. It wasn’t even a long book, either. Just a mere 204 pages; but it took me thirty-five years to read it.

Yesterday afternoon, after eating Chinese food from a new restaurant, I inadvertently ate something with either Oyster sauce or Fish sauce. I’m allergic to both, as in it makes my chest tight and makes it hard to breathe as if I’m having asthma, but it’s not asthma. It’s the allergy. So far, knock on wood, when this happens I’ve been able to counter-act the reaction with Benedryl. Sometimes it takes one pill, sometimes it takes two. Yesterday afternoon was a two-Benedryl reaction.

One Benedryl makes me sleepy but I can still navigate the day. Two pills puts me out for hours. Which it did yesterday afternoon, for close to three hours. This is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Last night, around 11:30 pm, I was nowhere near tired to sleep, but I was tired of tv and video games and I didn’t feel like reading the book I’ve been reading, Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. It’s a light, fluffy, fantasy story that’s fine to pass the time for awhile. I just wasn’t in the mood to read it, though.

I was in the mood to read an actual book-book, something with actual paper pages as opposed to my kindle which I use most the time. As I perused my bookcase, I happened upon a book, the book, that I started in 1983. A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

I remember very clearly starting the book in Guided Independent Reading class with Mr. Simons. I loved that class so much that I took it twice (we weren’t allowed to take it three times, or else I would have). All that was required in the class was to pick classic novels from a list, read them in class and have a conversation with Mr. Simon about them when the books were done. That was it. No papers, no essays, no tests. Just a dedicated 50 minutes of reading books of my choice for an entire semester. Did I mention how much I loved that class?

I have to admit, I was a pretty lousy student in high school (okay, and as an undergraduate in college, too). I got by with mediocre grades, putting in as little effort as I could give and still get a C or better. I don’t remember all that much about a lot of the classes I took, but I still remember many of the books I read for Mr. Simon. Lord of Flies, The Good Earth, Green Mansions (I had to keep from crying on the school bus as I finished that one) A Farewell to Arms, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and my all time favorite book, then and now, A Catcher in the Rye. 

Fresh off my reading a Catcher in the Rye, Mr. Simons suggested that I might enjoy another coming-of-age story called A Separate Peace. I enthusiastically agreed and I couldn’t wait to start the book. After several class periods, I couldn’t wait to put the book down. It was slow, it was wordy and I hated it. Absolutely hated it.

We weren’t supposed to exchange books we didn’t like in the class, but every so often, Mr. Simon would agree if we really hated a book. I only swapped out two books in the two times I took the class. A Separate Peace was the first. Catch-22 was the second.

Throughout the years, I’ve returned to the classics I loved, and read a few new ones. One boss I worked for had a beautiful collection of leather-bound Classics with pages edged in gold. The paper was of the highest quality and the books came with their own ribbon bookmarks. The smell when I cracked open one of those books is indescribable. It is the best new-book scent that I’ve ever smelled. She loaned me a few of these books and they were an absolute joy to read. I reacquainted myself with Lieutenant Henry and Catherine from A Farewell to Arms while reading one of those marvelous books. (I didn’t borrow many of them from her because I was always afraid I’d spill on them.)

At one point in the past thirty-five years, I came across a paperback copy of A Separate Peace at a bookstore and bought it and never read it. I, honestly, have no idea how long ago or how many moves it has followed me through. I never read it, but I never got rid of it either.

Last night, as I perused the bookshelf, I happened upon it again. I decided it was high time I gave the novel another look. Worst case, if it was still boring, it would put me to sleep.

I started it last night around midnight and I read half the book before I finally forced myself to go to sleep. I got very little done today until I finished it. I loved it. I understand now why Mr. Simon thought I would enjoy it. Fantastic plot, great symbols, unbelievable writing and definitely in the same neighborhood as A Catcher in the Rye. 

I can see, however, what I was put off of as a 17 year-old reading it. In spite of being short, it’s not a quick read. It doesn’t deserve to be either. The sentence structure is complex, almost poetic in it’s own way. I actually read a fair amount of the book out loud to myself, just to get the full experience of the words and images. I wasn’t patient enough, or motivated enough, to work to get through a book back then in 1983. It wasn’t work to get through it this time, but it did make me feel woefully inadequate with my own writing.

I’m glad I held on the book for however many years I’ve had it, and I’m so glad I finally read it. It’s going to be one of my new favorites. I just wish I could tell Mr. Simons how much I enjoyed his recommendation and have a conversation with him on the writing and the meanings behind the book.

6:25 PM

Man Plans and God Laughs

October 3rd, 2018

10:18 am

My house has become a high-tech monitoring facility this week, complete with cameras and a four-way live feed that I can monitor where ever I am.  It’s handy, but unnerving at the same time, having the sole responsibility to ensure all is well.

This is not the normal modus operandi of the house. Sure, we do have security cameras set-up, but we only use them when we leave the house to make sure Sammy isn’t barking constantly while we’re gone. Most of the time they’re unplugged when we’re home because being constantly recorded gives me the creeps.

This week is different. All camera’s are plugged in and carefully placed at the most critical points of the house. I have the four-way live feed up on my iPad most of the time and I have email alerts that notify me when any animal has entered quadrants 1 and 3, just in case I miss the an event on the live feed.

Inkedquad view_LI

It’s not been a fun week. It’s not been the week I was expecting at all, as a matter of fact. I remember my mom used to say, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” That pretty much sums up my week.

Dennis was out of town for several days this week for work. While I wasn’t looking forward to him being gone, I was looking forward to getting a lot of work done on the revision of my book, running some errands I’ve been putting off, and cooking myself a few meals from my mom’s recipes that I love but he doesn’t. (German meatballs with sauerkraut, and homemade apple sauce and potato pancakes made with lots of onion. Yum!) I went so far as to pull out the recipes this weekend, and gather all the ingredients I would need to execute the meals, so I could hit the ground running Monday afternoon when he flew out.

It wasn’t a half hour after Dennis left on Monday, that I noticed Frankie, the not-the-favorite-animal that I have a really big soft spot for, was visiting the litter box often. Like every few minutes often. This is never a good sign.

The next time he went in, I spied on him and saw that he was trying to urinate but he could not. I witnessed this happening  four times in various kitty boxes throughout the house in the span of ten minutes.

I freaked out. This is something I always watch for with my boy cats because I know the build up of crystals can cause blockages and that is very serious. I immediately called my vet, my wonderful vet, Pewaukee Veterinary Service. It was 4:30 pm now and I was afraid they wouldn’t take me. At first the receptionist said there were indeed booked until 7:30 when they closed, however, she transferred me over to a medical coordinator. I was expecting her to tell me to make a trip to Emergency Pet Care, which is the animal equivalent of waiting in a human ER while the most serious cases go first. I’ve only been there two horrible times before and I was dreading a third visit, on my own, because Dennis was due to fly out that night.

Thankfully, once I told the Medical Coordinator what was going on, she told me to bring Frankie over immediately and they would see him. This is the reason I love this place. The health of the animal is more important than their schedule. This is also the reason I sometimes have a longer wait there, too, for routine appointments. I never complain when that happens because I know why they’re behind schedule and I’m so grateful that I’m not the reason why. But this time I was the reason why, and it really, really scared me.

I should note that Monday night was not a peaceful night to begin with in my area. The weather forecast was predicting rain, possible thunderstorms and a good chance of flooding. Not the kind of night where I ever intended to leave the house. But man makes plans and God laughs, so there I was, driving my beloved sick cat to the vet in the middle of rush hour traffic while a deluge of rain was coming down.

I tried to stay calm so I could focus on my driving, which was difficult because there was a lot of traffic and it was dark and hard to see the lanes because of the glare of the water on the roads. Staying calm was hard and I know my hands were shaking the entire drive. I was trying not to think about blockages, tumors, cancer and surgery. Maybe it was just a bladder infection, I told myself. Please let it be a bladder infection. You know you’re having a truly shitty day, when the up-side of a situation is a bladder infection.

Pewaukee vet was very compassionate and they got us a room ready right away. They also gave us one of the two most experienced vets, one of the brothers who started the business thirty years ago. I’ve been with Pewaukee Vet since they opened their practice, and I’ve seen this vet many, many times. I have great confidence in him so I was relieved I got to see him.

They immediately took Frankie in the back room where they have their diagnostic equipment for his exam and I sat, by myself, in the exam room, craning my ears to hear snippets of what they were doing to Frankie. It was a long wait. I kept repeating over and over in my head like a mantra, “please let it be a bladder infection, please don’t let him need surgery.” I’m not sure if this is praying, exactly, but it’s the closest I come to it.

After close to a half hour wait, Dr. Jeff came in to talk to me. He said they determined there wasn’t a blockage which was great, however, they didn’t know what was wrong and his bladder was so empty they weren’t able to take a urine sample. They asked if they could keep Frankie there until they closed at 7:30 to observe him and try to get a sample. Of course, I agreed.

I left the vet’s office feeling hollow and empty. Showing up to a vet with an animal and leaving the vet without one is a horrible feeling, and it brings back horrible memories of other visits with other beloved animals who didn’t return home with me. I was still extremely upset, even though they told me they would only keep him for a couple of hours. If they found something serious, I knew that those couple hours would be extended to overnight or worse.

I took a few minutes to compose myself in the parking lot before I drove home. Driving in the heavy traffic and pouring rain while crying sounded like a bad idea. Even though it was close to 5:30, and the dog’s dinner was already a half hour late and they were probably barking up a storm at home, I waited until I felt I could drive.

Once I got home, waiting for the minutes to tick away until I could drive back and get Frankie was excruciatingly slow.  Going through the ritual of feeding the dogs helped and gave me something to do, but that only took fifteen minutes. By 6:15, they were fed and let outside, and I still had an hour before I needed to leave to get Frankie. What to do? Eat dinner? I hadn’t eaten since 11 that morning, but I wasn’t hungry at all. Work on revisions on my book? Nope. I couldn’t concentrate. I settled for watching tv, keeping the mantra running through my head, please, let it be a bladder infection, please let it be a bladder infection…

At 7:10, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I left for the vet five minutes early. I knew I would be early, but I just couldn’t sit at home anymore and besides, maybe they would be done with Frankie early, and I could take him home. Any minute I can save Frankie from being locked up in a cage in a vet’s office is worth my taking the chance of waiting longer in the vet’s office if he wasn’t ready.

Well, he wasn’t ready. But I wasn’t early either, because the drive to the vet was horrendous. It was really pouring rain now and intersections were beginning to puddle. It was even harder to see the lanes this time, because there wasn’t much traffic out and I didn’t have a car in front of me to follow.

I waited in the same room as before for fifteen minutes, while I strained to hear what might be going on in back with Frankie. Finally, I heard Dr. Jeff say they should try to get a sample again. My heart sunk. Frankie had been there all that time and they weren’t able to get a sample. Something must really be wrong.

Ten minutes later, Dr. Jeff brought Frankie back in the room in his carrier. He told me he hadn’t peed at all in his cage, which they would expect if he was having severe problems. So that was good. And they were finally able to get enough sample to test. He asked if I’d mind waiting while they ran some tests.

Would I mind waiting? Of course not! I was just so grateful they were willing to continue to work on the case after their working hours. My wait in the examining room was much better this time because Frankie was with me, and boy, was he happy to see me. I got many, many head rubs and kisses, which, of course, I enjoyed, but also gave me hope that he wasn’t too sick because sick animals aren’t generally as energetic and animated as Frankie was. His entire belly was soaked with rubbing alcohol and Frankie even let me dry him off with some Kleenex. He was as happy to see me as I was to see him.

When Dr. Jeff finally came back he said there was nothing obvious that he found that was wrong. There were no crystals, although there still could be some because they can be too small to see. But certainly nothing that would cause a blockage. I asked about the bladder infection and Dr. Jeff told me it was very, very rare to see them in cats, so he wouldn’t get me antibiotics to treat that. He said he was going to grow some cultures over the next few days to see if there was anything bacterial happening, but he wouldn’t know the results on that until Wednesday.

So where does this leave us, I asked. Dr. Jeff sent me home with an anti-inflammatory I had already given Frankie for another problem earlier that day, and pain medication I could give if things got bad. That was it. No diagnosis. No reason. Everything looked okay, which is good, but having no reason for it happening means it can happen again. I guess this wasn’t as bad a Frankie having to have surgery, but it’s a close second, because now I had to closely monitor him and see if it happens again.

I left the office with Frankie in tow, and I sent up a silent thanks to whoever or whatever might be up there intervening in this situation, for letting me bring Frankie back home with me that night. I was grateful they didn’t find anything serious, but I was overwhelmed at what that would mean for my next few days at home, alone without Dennis.

The first thing I did was to move two cameras into the spots where the cat boxes are. One downstairs, one upstairs. I turned on email notifications that tell me whenever there is activity in those rooms. Unfortunately, the turning on of a light near the cameras constitutes activity and an email gets sent. I’ve been spending a lot of time sorting through emails to see what is valid to check and what is not.

Whenever the cat box is used, by any of the 3 cats, I scoop, so I always know I’m starting with a fresh box when Frankie uses it. If the box is empty when he goes in, and there’s something when he comes out, I know everything is fine. If it’s empty when he goes in and empty when he comes out, then I know there’s a problem.

I’ve also been monitoring where Frankie is at all times, and I’ve been watching his behavior. Is he playing as much as normal? Is he sleeping as much as normal? Does he always lick himself that much? It’s exhausting and probably unnecessary, but I’m compelled to do it anyway. If Dennis were here, we would share the responsibility and he would tell me when I’m being paranoid. I’ve been telling myself I’m being paranoid, but I don’t believe myself the way I believe it when Dennis says it.

I’ve been trying to coax Frankie to drink more water. I found he’ll drink a bit of tuna water on occasion. Yesterday, he went the entire day without drinking, which had me concerned until I was watching the live feed in the kitchen from bed late last night and I saw him get two long drinks two separate times. So, apparently, Frankie is like a camel. He soaks up liquid once a day and that’s it. Although, this morning, I tempted him to drink water from a running faucet in my bathroom. He seemed to really like that, so I’m going to try to make that part of our regular morning routine.

Reviewing the recorded footage from overnight has become the first thing I do in the morning. I compare cat box visits that were recorded with cat box deposits. It’s like balancing a ledger. One visit +one deposit = no problem. Two visits + 1 deposit = cause for concern. So far, I’m thankful to report, my ledger has balanced.

Yesterday morning, I had to give Frankie an anti-inflammatory pill. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this, since Dennis and I struggle to give him a pill with both of us. Worst case scenario, I would have to drive him back to the vet and have a vet tech help me. But I really didn’t want to stress out Frankie by taking him back there, so I gave it a try on my own. He was sleeping in his cat gym, and I woke him up, popped the pill in his mouth, and shot syringe of water down his throat before he could object. It actually worked really well. I’m going to have to remember that one.

Dr. Jeff called yesterday, on his day off, to check on how Frankie was doing. I told him about our cameras, and that I knew he’d used the litter box a few times appropriately, and he didn’t have a recurrence of any problems so far. Dr. Jeff told me if he continues to not have an issue through the day, that I can skip the anti-inflammatory for Wednesday and see how he does. He still didn’t find anything growing in the culture, but he’s still waiting.

One change I have noticed throughout this, is that Frankie is becoming a bit more anxious. I firmly believe that animals pick up on the actions and the energy their people put out. I think my constant checking and staring at him for the past few days is freaking him out. So today, I’m trying to back off a bit. I still check on him, but I pretend I’m getting something from the room he’s in and just give him a quick glance or pat on the head like I normally would. It seems to be working. He’s much more relaxed today.

It’s been a long week and I’ll be glad when Dennis is home tonight. Having the potential of something happening to Frankie again when we don’t know why, weighs on me constantly. I’m afraid to leave the house, in case it flares up when I’m gone. There will be no one here to notice it, or to take him back to the vet. The errands I was going to run will have to wait another week. Okay, I did make a quick run to the drive thru at Culver’s last night for dinner. I still was too stressed to be hungry but I figured I should eat something, and I wanted to bring the dogs back a treat since they’ve had a crappy week, too. There’s been no walks or sitting outside with them, because I’m afraid to leave Frankie alone for too long.

I know I’m being paranoid, but that’s where I’m at for now. I’m sure as more days pass uneventfully, the paranoia will fade. I’m sure once Dennis is here to tell me I’m over reacting, I’ll feel better, too. It is what it is, for now. And I sure wish we had a diagnosis, so I knew what caused it to happen so I know how to prevent it in the future.

This morning, Frankie was normal. He greeted me, begged for some of the dog food and played with the other cats. I know all signs are good, and he’s probably good, too. However, this is also his first day without the anti-inflammatory med, so I’m going to keep my handy 4-way camera surveillance close at hand for another day.

frankie

Frankie enjoying our summer weather this morning.

frankie tail

Frankie hiding under the blanket to nail the next unsuspecting animal that jumps up there.

frankie foot

A Frankie foot peeking out, searching for someone to play with.

frankie loung 2

Chilling with me as I write this blog. Looks pretty happy to me.

As far as making my mom’s recipes go this week, I don’t see that happening, either. I’ll be lucky if I can motivate myself to put in a frozen pizza tonight. I did get a lot of revision work done yesterday on my book, though. The cats normally sleep in the afternoon, and I was able to keep close watch on them with my surveillance cameras while I worked. At least one of my plans worked out this week.

Man makes plans and God laughs.

11:54 AM (I gave myself extra time because I had to get up and check on Frankie four times while I was writing this.)

My Shower Buddy?

September 25, 2018

This morning I shared the shower with a man that wasn’t my husband. And it wasn’t by my choice, either.

Frankie, the not-the-favorite pet (I Didn’t Sign Up for This!) is a jumper.  When he was a kitten he had enormous feet. We were sure he would grow up to be a twenty-pound cat. But, he didn’t. He grew up to be a ten-pound cat with really big feet. A light body weight + big feet = Very High Jumping Abilities.

This cat can jump, straight up, over six-feet. I know this because I’ve had to remove pictures from the wall that he was jumping up from the floor to swat at. (Most cats like to shove things off of flat surfaces; soda cans, vases, knickknacks, etc. Frankie also likes to swat things off walls which is why I have bare spots on my walls pictures should be.) Any wall space that is within his reach when he’s on a flat surface is fair game. There is nothing over our mantle. The cute bird picture that hung in my kitchen fell prey to a swift swat from a Frankie foot off the top of the refrigerator. He even swats at the TV’s that are hung, although, thankfully, he hasn’t been able to knock one of those off the wall. Yet.

About a year ago, Frankie discovered that he could jump from the seat in our shower to the top of the railinig that holds the shower door. Since I’m not very good at describing showers, here is a picture. The top railing is two inches in width.

shower

See the top of the shower? Frankie was jumping up there.

Once he was on top of the railing, he would walk across it like he was on a balance beam, turn around and jump straight down to the floor. All on 2 inches! It scared the heck out of me every time. I was sure he was going to fall into the shower and hurt himself, or hurt himself on the way down straight to the floor. I don’t know how high shower doors are but I think it has to be at least six feet, if not more.

In order to mitigate the risk, we implemented a two-pronged approach to squelch the jumping. (A bit of my IT background just snuck out there, sorry!)

The first preventative measure was processed based. We simply would close the door to the bathroom at all times. Easier said than done. I kept forgetting and Frankie kept jumping, so I posted signs, on both sides of the bathroom door to remind me.

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A handwritten sign stuck on a door with strapping tape is a lovely addition to any Master Bedroom decor, don’t you think?

There is a duplicate sign on the bathroom side of the door, as well.

The second preventative measure we implemented was to purchase a cabinet that would allow Frankie a path down from the railing other than jumping straight down.  Unfortunately, that also gave Frankie an easier path UP to the railing.

pathway

Frankie can go from the railing to the cabinet to the toilet top to the toilet seat to the floor. This is great fun for a cat.

Once we got the cabinet installed (we had to bolt it to the wall to make sure it was steady when Frankie jumped on it), I upped my vigilance on making sure the bathroom door was closed. Dennis even installed a sensor on the bathroom door to tell us on our smart phones if it’s opened or closed. (I think he got sick of running upstairs to check for me because I could never remember if I closed it or not.)

This has worked well for the past year. As long as I follow the process. There have been a couple of instances when Frankie came into the bathroom while I was putting my make up on and he got up to the railing again. The path down (and up!) works very well.

This morning, I was taking a shower and out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. It literally made me jump as I’m not used to things moving in the shower other than me. I looked up and there sat Frankie peering down on me from the top of the railing, with shower spray hitting him. He didn’t seem at all concerned about getting wet. He was too intent on watching me. It wasn’t that loving, your-my-human look, either. It was the judgmental, I-can’t-believe-you-ate-Chick-Fil-A-this-morning look.

I freaked out. I had soap everywhere, including in my eyes, and I’m too short to simply reach up and get Frankie down off the railing. I have to coax him down the path from the outside of the shower. What to do? Call for Dennis to get him down? Too risky. Dennis was downstairs and my yelling could startle Frankie and cause him to fall. Get out all soapy and coax him down? Yeah, possible, but not my first choice. I settled on finishing my shower in record time, keeping eye contact with Frankie the whole time and using my Mom-voice to tell him not to move.

Once I got out, I was able to carefully coax him down (I figured the railing must be slippery because it was wet) with his favorite bath toy, a bath scrunchie. I held one hand up to try to catch him if he fell while he manuvered his way across the railing and down to the cabinet. Whew. All’s well that end’s well, but that wasn’t how I expected my day to start. I guess that’s my penance for eating to Chick-fil-A for breakfast.

I think I’m going to have to post a sign on the shower, too, reminding me to close the bathroom door!

frankie

After his exciting morning on the shower, Frankie curled up on his pillow and went to sleep. He was still damp, but he didn’t seem to mind.

 

10:24 AM

 

 

 

 

I Didn’t Sign Up for This!

September 23, 2018 8:20 AM

Last night, I did something that I haven’t done in probably fifteen years; I babysat. The dogs. I guess, technically, it’s not babysitting when they’re your own furry kids, but it still felt like it. There was some place I would rather have been, but I couldn’t go, because Sammy can’t be left alone for over an hour without barking. Dennis got to go and I got stuck at home minding the kids. This wasn’t what I had in mind when I got a dog.

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Sammy, the problem child.

Although, I have to admit, a lot things came along with parenting my non-furry child, as well, that I didn’t expect. I guess that’s just part of being a parent regardless of the species you’re parenting.  Being there for whatever comes along, good or bad.

the pack

The rewarding part of parenthood. Sammy, snuggled on my lap outside by the fire.

I am especially happy that I didn’t grumble at my kennel for the mix-up when Dennis and I traveled to Philadelphia the week before last, because they saved me this week. You can read about it here Bucking the Universe – Part 3. There is someplace important that Dennis and I need to be on Thursday. Instead of just picking up and going, which is what most 50-something empty-nesters do, I had to arrange for childcare. My kennel was the only option given the amount of time we needed to be gone.

I called them and explained the situation. Even though it was a last-minute arrangement, they agreed to take the dogs for the day. That was a relief, however it also means that our day needs to revolve around the time frame of the pick-up and drop-off times at the kennel. Because of our situation, the kennel was very nice and agreed to let me drop the dogs off at 7 am (normally, the drop off is 8, but there’s a three hour drive involved in our destination, so we needed to leave as early as possible.) An overnight wasn’t possible on Wednesday or Thursday at the kennel; I checked. So, we’ll do what every parent does. We’ll do what we have to do and make the best of it.

However, this means that we will drive six hours-ish and we’ll have about 3 1/2 hours at our destination. Not ideal, but it’s the best option I could come up with, other than me staying home again, which isn’t an option I’m willing to consider this time. I’m crossing my fingers that we don’t hit heavy traffic on the way home and miss our pick up time. I honestly don’t know what the kennel would do if that happened since they don’t have space for them to stay the night. I figure that the travel gods owe me one after the Philadelphia trip, so, hopefully, it’ll be okay.

We do need to come up with a long-term solution to this problem, however. Last time this happened, we put Sammy on 10 mg of Prozac for six weeks. It did solve the problem, we were able to leave for a day, have a pet sitter check in with him a couple of times, and he was fine. No barking. However, it took away his personality, too. There was no Sammy-spark. He didn’t play with toys and he slept most of the time. It was like he went from age 2 to age 15 overnight. That’s not a good long-term solution.

This time, we’re still trying Prozac, but the vet cut the dosage to 5 mg. We have noticed a marginal improvement in the barking when we’re gone, but only for about an hour to an hour and a half, max. He starts to get nervous at 1 hour and he starts pacing the house. When he does that, I know that barking isn’t far behind.

Other options we’ve considered:

1.  Enroll the dogs in doggy daycare. Probably won’t work since neither one gets along with other dogs. Charlie barks and  growls at other dogs, Sammy just barks. They would both get a ‘N’ for Needs Improvement in the Works and Plays well with Others category on their kindergarten report card.

2.  Hire a babysitter to stay with them. This one might have merit, although it sounds really dumb to have to hire a babysitter to stay with a dog. I have to think it would be a pretty sweet babysitting gig for a 14-year-old. The problem with this one goes back to the doggy day care problem. In addition to not getting along with other dogs, Sammy doesn’t like new people. And by new people I mean he barks his head off at anyone that comes into the house that isn’t Dennis or me or our pet sitter. It doesn’t matter how many times he’s seen them, he still barks non-stop. The barking duration will be shorter, say fifteen minutes, if he’s somewhat familiar with a person. Fifteen ear-splitting, brain piercing, teeth-grinding minutes. The pitch Sammy hits when he barks is just a tad higher than a smoke alarm’s shriek and he’s easily as loud. This is the best case scenario. If the person is a stranger, he’ll bark non-stop until they leave. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a sweet gig for a baby sitter.

To avoid the constant barking at the babysitter, I’d have to get Sammy to get comfortable with them before we left him alone. I’d have to have the babysitter over several times a week, in half hour stints until Sammy got to know them. Which would take a couple of months. That sounds like a lot to expect from a 14-year-old baby sitter. Not to mention we’d have to teenager-proof our house. Lock up the liquor and lock down all the smutty cable channels. (I was flipping through stations looking for something to watch last night and I was amazed at the amount of porn available for only $9.99 at the click of a button. Even the descriptions of the programs were R-rated!)

3. Build them their own space apart from the house, so when Sammy barks, the cats aren’t affected. Poor Charlie would still have to deal with it, though. This idea is actually new; a friend suggested it Dennis last night. It is doable since we have a lot of room in our now-clean, 3-car garage. That empty space was meant for the pool, which probably isn’t happening now, and even if it does, it’ll go in rec room not the basement.

Dennis could build a wall and parse off a smaller room in the garage where we could insulate and put carpeting down. We can heat and air condition it through a free-standing heater that’s safe to run all the time (we have them in the bedroom because it always seems to be too hot or too cold on the second floor). We could bring up the old love seat from the rec room and put it by the window. They could look out the window and sleep on it (assuming Sammy ever calms down enough to sleep). I’m not sure this would work in the dead of winter because I think the floors would still be too cold, but it’s definitely an idea that has merit. I am concerned about Charlie being stuck with the barking, but he is anyway in the house, so I don’t know that it matters that much. I would leave Charlie in the house, and put Sammy in the his doggy-den, but Charlie barks non-stop without Sammy.

4. Put the dogs in the rec room so there’s more distance between the barking and the cats. We’ve tried this and both dogs bark non-stop in the rec room. Charlie is louder than Sammy, so the barking is still pretty loud even on the second floor.

5. Do nothing, let Sammy bark; it’s not like it’s a life or death situation. This is the one option I cannot do. Frankie, one of our cats (and Dennis would say my favorite animal although, like any mother, I say I love all my animals equally) gets very stressed with the barking. Even if we didn’t have cameras in the house to monitor what the dogs do when they’re alone, I would know if Sammy barked a lot just by how Frankie acts when we get home. He’s reluctant to come down stairs and when he does, he slinks around and is clearly nervous. This passes in a few hours if Sammy has been barking a short time. The one time we let Sammy bark for 5 hours when we were gone, it took Frankie days to recover and I was afraid he never would. I was so happy when he got back to normal. (Okay, maybe there is a teeny bit of favoritism, but don’t tell the others.)

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Frankie, my buddy.

6. Hope he grows out of it. The is the last-ditch resort, but it is possible. Sammy is still young, and like raising kids, some challenges just have to run their course.

7. Train him not to bark when we are home, so I could give the command to be quiet through the camera’s when we’re gone (they have two-way microphones). Sounds great in theory, but like many child-rearing philosophies, it’s not so easy to put into practice. I’ve tried saying “no” firmly, but I don’t even think he hears me over his own barking and having me scream “No” at the top of my lungs combined with Sammy’s barking, isn’t something the cats or Dennis want to experience.

I’ve tried threatening to put him outside if he doesn’t stop. This wouldn’t help when we’re not home, but it would help when people come over. I even followed through on my threat, because, you know you have to follow through if you want the kid to know you mean business. All that putting him outside did was to get the neighbor’s 3 dogs to join into the barking. While this whole “doggie grapevine” thing is cute in Disney movies, it’s as annoying as hell in reality.

I admit it, I’ve even tried bribery. There are gadgets which allow you to talk to your pets and dispense treats remotely. I gave him a chew toy filled with cheese to distract him. It didn’t. I tried throwing down his doggie treats. He ignored them. I fed him some deli meat which he stopped barking long enough to choke down, about 2 seconds, before he started barking again.

There’re shock collars, which I won’t do. No corporeal punishment in our house. There’s a citronella collar that our vet recommended that spritzes citronella every time he barks. The theory is dogs don’t like the smell of the citronella so they don’t bark. I would consider this option except for one thing. I have two dogs and both dogs bark. Sometimes Charlie barks first, when Sammy is quiet. This means Sammy will be spritzed with Citronella regardless of whether he barks or Charlie barks. Sounds like a pretty fun game for Charlie, but I don’t think I can do that to Sammy.

I was researching this problem online last night and several sites suggested that we trade-off dog watching services with friends who have dogs. We keep their dogs for a weekend and they keep ours a different weekend. I can just imagine asking a friend to take my yappy, unfriendly dogs; one who needs a special diet and eye drops once a day and the other who needs Metamucil and a pill everyday. Oh, and by the way, did I mention that they both both piddle around a new house to mark their territory? Charlie will claim the leg of the couch then Sammy will claim the leg of the couch and the footstool, then Charlie claims the leg of the couch, the footstool and the end table and so on. Remember that memory game where each person adds an item to a list and the first person who forgets an item loses? My dogs would rock at that game.

Trading off dog watching services probably isn’t in our future. I’m just hoping that one of these other solutions works so I’m not stuck home, babysitting the dog for the next fifteen years or so.

Much like becoming a parent for the first time, I had no idea what I was in for when I got a dog.

9:27 AM

The Rush of Creating Something New

September 15, 2018 3:37 PM

Earlier this month, I accomplished a goal that I’ve wanted for a very long time. I finished the rough draft of my book. When I typed the words, “The End”, I had written 297 pages, and 91,644 words.  I was very, very happy. For about three days.

After three days, I started missing my characters. I felt like I lost friends that I’d spent years with. Feeling this way makes absolutely no sense because even though the rough draft of my book is complete, the book is far from done. It’s a rough draft. Which means revision needs to happen, many times, probably, to get to the final draft. I am still spending plenty of time reading, editing, rewriting and tweaking my book. I’m with my characters almost every day because I am working on revisions almost every day.

But I’m not creating any more new content. I might add a little extra something to a scene, but the story line is done. I know how it ends. There’s nothing new left, and I miss the rush that comes from creating something new.

I talked with my writing coach about this yesterday, and she said it was common for writers to feel the way when they finish the rough draft. She also cautioned me about starting another book just for the rush of creating. She said that’s how books never truly get finished. They sit in rough draft form forever because the fun part is done.

I can see that, although, I really am itching to start on book 2 of the series. I wasn’t sure there would be a book 2 when I committed to completing the rough draft earlier this summer, but now I’m sure. There will absolutely be a book 2. Even if I write it just for myself. But I won’t start it now. My writing coach is an author who has published many books of her own. I trust her judgement so I’m delaying starting book 2 for now.

But I still have that itch to create. What to do? Make a new quilt? I could, but I have two unfinished quilts already that have been sitting while I dedicated the summer to writing. Write something else? A short story, perhaps? Maybe, but I have a writing submission due to my critique group on Sunday that I should work on first. How about cooking? I like to cook, but I haven’t done much out-of-the-ordinary cooking like recipe testing/creating since I dedicated the summer to writing.

Cooking it would be and I knew just what I wanted to try to make. Deep-fried Swiss and Rye on a stick that I get at State Fair. Earlier this summer, I wrote a post entitled To Fair or Not to Fair, That is the Question, where I discussed my love, no, not love, obsession with deep-fried Swiss and Rye. Us Wisconsin-ites are known for our deep fried, batter coated, heart-attack-inducing cheese treats, but the Swiss and Rye takes deep fried cheesy love to another level. The batter isn’t light and crisp like you normally find on a deep fried cheese curd. It’s thick and flavorful, kind of like the batter used on a corn dog, only rye-ier.

Often, as I said in my fair post, my husband and I go to the Wisconsin State Fair on multiple days and part of the reason is so I can get the Swiss and Rye more than once per season. For the same reason, we sometimes go to our local county fair, so I can get the Swiss and Rye. This year has been a busy one, and we did’t get multiple fair visits in. Nor did we go to multiple fairs. I got one, ONE, Swiss and Rye this year, which I shared with Dennis. (I rarely share my Swiss and Rye. I wait for it all year and when I finally get it, it’s mine, all mine and I’m not sharing.) I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m addicted to Swiss and Rye, but I’m walking a very fine line and I know it.

Today, I decided to try to recreate the Swiss and Rye at home. I do not have a recipe. I only have the memory of the taste and texture to go by. Since the batter is very corn dog-ish, I started with the corn dog recipe from Cook’s Country, my favorite cooking site.

I tweaked the recipe quite a bit, omitting some of the cornmeal and cayenne and adding more rye flour and some water to loosen the batter up. There wasn’t much counter space left by the time I gathered all the ingredients I needed.

prep

Unlike writing, you can see the tangible effort of creating something when you cook.

 

Swiss and Rye from the fair is huge. You are served a large block of crispy, batter coated cheese. It’s roughly the size of my hand as you can see below.

swiss and rye

The is a picture of Swiss and Rye from State Fair. It’s the pinnacle of fair-food, in my opinion. (picture from Shepard Express)

I decided that my version of Swiss and Rye would be smaller. They’d be nugget sized. So I diced my Swiss cheese into 1″ by 1 1/2″ blocks. I mixed and measured. I whisked and stirred. I carefully heated my oil to right temperature. Once it was there, I battered one nugget of cheese and dropped in the oil.

It immediately started to bubble and all the batter stayed on the cheese, which was a relief. I very rarely deep fry anything, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After just a few minutes, I pulled out a perfect miniature version of Swiss and Rye.

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It’s a little Swiss and Rye Nugget! Looks a little like a hushpuppy, doesn’t it?

I anxiously, and with much trepidation, took my little nugget of heaven over to the kitchen table to try it. Would it be close to the fair food perfection I know and love? Or did I just make a big mess in my kitchen for nothing? Only one way to find out. I cut it open.

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The gooey inside of my little Swiss Nugget

What was the verdict? Not bad. The cheese to batter ratio was a bit off. I now understood why the vendor uses big chunks of Swiss cheese in their Swiss and Rye. The batter is so thick, you need plenty of cheese to stand up to it.

The flavor was good. It had the hint of the Swiss and Rye flavor, but not the full on, in your face, rye pop that I love. In writing terms, the rough draft of the book was done, but it needed some revision.

I added more rye flour to amp up the rye flavor, and then a little more buttermilk and water, to thin it out. The ratio of cheese to batter was a problem since I’d already cut up all my Swiss cheese into chunks. I dug around in the kitchen drawers and came up with some nice wooden skewers. I have no idea why I have them, but I did.

I carefully stacked three chunks of cheese on the skewer. This worked for nine pieces of cheese. A lot of the cheese pieces broke and cracked when I tried to skewer them, so I needed another method to stick them back together to create a larger chunk of cheese. Enter the toothpicks. I was able to thread two chunks of cheese on one toothpick without the cheese disintegrating. It wouldn’t be as big as the skewered pieces, but they’d be better than frying them individually. I hoped.

I brought my oil back up to temp, battered all my cheesy morsels of various sizes, and plopped them into the oil. I’m not gonna lie, there were a few casualties. Some of the cheese broke away from the skewers which meant part of the cheesy nuggets weren’t battered as they bubbled away. They floated in my oil like naked, gooey orphans. I tried to salvage them, and let them cook, but they were messing up my oil too much. Eventually, they had to be plucked from the group and thrown away. That happens with writing, too. Sometimes characters that I really like won’t play well with the other characters, and I have to pluck them out from the story, and get rid of them, too. Being creative isn’t for the faint of heart.

After a few more minutes in the oil, the rest of the cheesy survivors were ready. I scooped them up and popped them on a paper towel.

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There are three chunks of cheese nestled under that crispy, golden batter. This looks exactly like the State Fair Swiss and Rye only a little smaller.

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Finally! The perfect cheese to batter ratio!

I called Dennis is to come and taste test with me. We each tried the skewered ones first. When I cut it open, I could’ve sworn I was at State Fair (minus the crowds, the heat and the juggling the hot cheese while I’m walking.) The cheese to batter ratio was perfect. And the taste? Spot on! I nailed it. It was as good, if not better, than State Fair Swiss and Rye. The breading was crispy but not greasy and with the perfect amount of Rye savory flavor to meld with the hot cheese.

The toothpick ones were good, too. So good that I forgot to take a picture of them. It wasn’t as fun to eat them, however, because they had to be cut open in order to extract the toothpick. It’s more fun to eat Swiss and Rye off the stick, like it’s meant to be done.

We slathered them in dipping sauces (mustard for me, marinara for Dennis) and ate all we could, which, honestly wasn’t that much. These suckers are filling! We have plenty for left overs, although, I have no idea if they’ll be good reheated. If not, that’s okay, we really shouldn’t eat two meals of Swiss and Rye anyway. Actually, this recipe isn’t something I will make very often. I’m thinking the next time will be in January or February, when it’s below zero outside and we need a taste of summer to perk us up.

It was fun to create something this morning. It didn’t stop me from missing my characters, but it was a good creative outlet, nonetheless.  There is one down side to being creative with cooking. Clean-up. When I’m done writing, it takes me about three seconds to close my laptop and put it away. Cleaning up this disaster of a kitchen took a lot longer than that. It was worth it, though, to bring a taste of State Fair home.

stove after

Glass cook tops are great in theory, but they’re a real pain in the butt to get oil off of.

4:34 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucking the Universe – Part 3

September 13, 2018 12:40 PM

So far in my story, (read part 1 here and part 2 here)I have survived a claustrophobic flight in a small airplane to Philadelphia and I discovered that the swim spa I was convinced would work, would not. Dennis and I spent a lot of extra time trying out more expensive pools at the sales showroom, which meant we did not get to tour a defunct prison, try a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich or visit a Wa-Wa (a gas station/convenience store recommended to me by a nun I met on the shuttle to the rental car office.)

After a grabbing a hamburger at a drive thru, Dennis and I made our way back to the airport to drop off the rental car. Traffic wasn’t terrible, we breezed through security lines with our TSA PreCheck and our flight was still on time.  The weather was now partly cloudy and warm. Still good weather for flying. The day had been long, and disappointing in many ways, but it was almost over. All I had to do was fly home in a nice large plane, with normal sized aisles and bathrooms. I even had my aisle seat assigned. No extra leg room, which meant a bit more tight quarters than I’m comfortable with, but it’s only a 90 minute flight. I’d be fine.

I was concerned our flight could be delayed, because I know east coast airports are very busy and sometimes have more delays than we see in Milwaukee. I continued to check the status throughout the afternoon and it was not. This was great news. It was crucial that we leave on time, because I had the pet sitter scheduled to pick up the dogs from the kennel about the time we would be taking off.

Officially, I was paying for two nights of boarding at the kennel, because the dogs were being picked up 1/2 hour before they closed, so they charged me for an extra night whether I picked them up that day or the next morning. This was fine with me. It was a bit more expensive, but it also offered a buffer if my flight should be delayed. I could leave the dogs there an extra night and get them in the morning if our flight was late. We were supposed to leave around 5:10 PM, the pet sitter was scheduled to the pick them up around 5:30. Should there be a delay, surely, I’d know it in advance to her picking them up.

We were due to arrive back in Milwaukee around 6:50 PM, which meant we’d be home no later 7:30. The pet sitter was going to bring the dogs home from the kennel and give them dinner. This arrangement meant that the dogs would be alone for about an hour between the time the pet sitter left and we returned home. I knew that Sammy would probably bark the entire time. Not the greatest, but I figured the cats could deal with the barking for an hour, so the dogs didn’t have to spend another night in the kennel.

The time came to board our plane about twenty minutes before it was scheduled to take off. As we settled in, I noticed there were two babies sitting behind us with their parents. One was a toddler age, in the window seat, Mom sat in the middle seat and Dad was on the aisle. Mom and Dad were juggling the infant between them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-baby by any means.  I understand that families have to fly with babies and I understand babies cry. It was just unfortunate that I happened to be seated in front of babies on the one trip where I didn’t have my noise-canceling head phones. No matter how limited carry on space is, I will never, ever fly without them again.

While we waited to take off, the Mom of the babies realized that the lady across the aisle from her husband was traveling to the same funeral they were. Which she and the lady discussed at great length. Very loudly. Around this time, I also noticed that it was getting a bit cloudier outside. I started to get a little nervous. A storm could mess up my entire plan with the pet sitter, and the short window I had to contact to her to tell her to leave the dogs at the kennel instead of picking them up was rapidly ticking away.

The time to take off came and went. It got cloudier outside. The baby started to cry forcing the mom to talk even louder so the lady across the aisle to could hear her. I kept expecting Mom to change seats with Dad, who was on the aisle, so she could more easily talk to her new-found friend. It never happened.

At 5:20, ten minutes after we were supposed to take off, the captain came on over the intercom saying there was some rain in the area and our take off would be delayed for a short while.

I panicked. My carefully orchestrated schedule did not allow for a delay that I found out ten minutes after we were supposed to take off! Dennis and I quickly discussed our options. I decided that since it was so close to when the dogs would be picked up, I’d call the kennel and tell them they had to stay another night. I’d text the pet sitter once I reached the kennel.

I made the call, cupping my hand over my free ear to block the crying/loud talking behind me. When I reached the kennel, they told me I was too late. The pet sitter had picked up the dogs already. Okay, no problem, I can deal with this. I’ll have to ask the pet sitter to bring them back.  I confirmed with the kennel that the dogs could  have their room back, if I needed it, and I told them I would let them know in five minutes whether the dogs would be back. Then I called the pet sitter to discuss options. Around this time, the toddler started whining and crying which meant Mom needed to talk even louder to her new friend.

The pet sitter was already at our home with the dogs when I called her. We discussed options of her staying the night or bringing them back. Since she had other plans early the morning the next day, I opted to have her bring them back to kennel. At this point it started to rain. Torrents of rain, all at once. It literally went from a couple of rain drops to a deluge.

I called the kennel to confirm the dogs would be returning and they told me they now could not take them. What? I just called. I paid for two nights. What do you mean you can’t take them? I never did get an answer why and I didn’t have time to dig into at that point. I hung up and called the pet sitter again, and told her the dogs had to stay home. I was completely at a loss of what to do. Other than something happening to the people in my life, having my animals not cared for is my worst case scenario when traveling.

I have a really awesome pet sitter. She worked it out that she would spend the night if we needed her to, and would leave very early in the morning. I was so relieved. How wonderful to have someone to rely on like that who isn’t family. I promised her I would text her as soon as I knew anything since we were still hoping to fly home at some point that night. The dogs would be alone, worst case, for three or four hours that night until she returned. As long as we could get home by early morning, all would be fine.

The rain continued. And the winds came up. Hard enough to shake the plane. Afternoon showers don’t last long, right? They move through in twenty minutes or so? Wrong. This afternoon shower hung over Philadelphia for hours. We were watching the radar on our phone. One little storm cell, surrounded by many big storm cells, just sat, swirling around Philadelphia, not moving.

In addition to the rain and the wind, came the thunder and lightning. I wondered what happens if a plane gets struck by lightning? I decided not to ask Dennis. It didn’t really matter because I was stuck on the plane, no matter what. At some point in the storm, they made us taxi to a far part of the runway. I suppose to get out of the way of flights still trying to get in? I’m not sure. But I know we were in no-man’s land, and that’s not a good place to be when you’re stuck on a plane. I tried to count my blessings. At least the plane I was stuck on wasn’t the tiny one from earlier in the day. And the bathrooms were still working. I’ve heard horror stories about passengers being stuck on the tarmac with no bathrooms.

I have to say, after the initial crying for maybe ten minutes, the babies were really good.  They were quiet and seemed happy. Way happier than I was, by far. The Mom, however, continued her across the seat and aisle conversation with her new BFF for most of the three hours were stuck there. It was very unfortunate that the plane was not serving alcohol. We got water. Water does not help to calm nerves or sooth annoyances. I will never, ever, travel without my noise-cancelling head phones again. Did I say that already?

As we sat, with the plane rocking in the wind, Dennis and I began discussing worst-case scenarios. We’ve both been in situations where we’ve waited out a weather delay, only to find out the flight crew has been working too long, and the flight gets cancelled anyway because the crew can’t fly anymore that day. This doesn’t happen that often for early morning flights, but it’s a lot more common for evening ones, like ours.

We started researching driving home (assuming they ever let us off the plane). It’s thirteen hours from Philadelphia to Milwaukee, driving straight through. Assuming we didn’t sleep, and didn’t stop except for gas, that would put us home mid-morning (leaving an hour or so to get the rental car and leave the plane). Except it had already been a long day, we were both up at 4 AM. We’d need to sleep a few hours. This would put us home early afternoon. Not good, but it was the best we could do. We booked a rental car as our back-up plan and waited.

We started to get hungry but we hadn’t pack our usual snacks in our carry on because of the limited space.  Stupid, stupid, stupid. I did find a still wrapped blueberry muffin that was only kind of crushed that I bought in the Milwaukee airport that morning. We considered selling it to the other hungry passengers on the plane to pay for the rental car.

At the 2:25 minute mark, which was well past the time we should have been home, the Captain come on the intercom and said we were taxing back to the gate. We figured that was it. The flight is cancelled and we’re driving home.

Once we reached the gate, the Captain came on the intercom again and said that we still couldn’t deplane because the lightning was too bad to bring the bridges in to get us off. We’d have to wait until it died down. Oh, goody. I resisted the urge to Google what happens if a plane gets struck by lightning.

After another fifteen minutes or so, they finally decided we could deplane. As we got to the gate area, I noticed the Captain was at the check in kiosk talking to a customer service agent for the airlines. We stopped, and Dennis asked him how much longer he had in his shift before he wouldn’t be able to fly. Finally, we caught a break! He and the rest of the flight crew had just come on for this flight. They had thirteen hours left in their shift! Hooray!

We thought it was unlikely the storm would last for ten or eleven hours, which is what it would take before this crew couldn’t fly anymore. We canceled the rental car and I hung out close to the gate and listened for news, while Dennis ran to the closest fast food place and got us hamburgers. Really bad, cold airport hamburgers. They were a very poor substitute for the Philly Cheesesteak I’d been hoping for.

After only about twenty minutes at the gate, the crew said there was a break in the storm and they were going to try get us out. We quickly boarded and the crew did all the safety procedures super quick. No one wanted to lose the window to fly.

I composed a text to the pet sitter telling her we had taken off and she didn’t need to spend the night and I sat, with my finger on the send button, until I felt the wheels leave the ground. Given how the day had gone, I didn’t trust that we were really, and truly leaving Philadelphia until that point. Once I felt the wheels lift, I clicked send and turned my phone off.

Thankfully, the rest of the flight was smooth. If there were bumps flying up and over the storms, I didn’t feel them. I was too happy to be in the air and too anxious to get home to my animals.

We got home that night about 10:30, a little over three hours from when we planned. It seemed longer. Probably due to the stress. Sammy was barking and probably had been for quite some time, based on how the cats were acting. Everyone was back to normal the next morning, though, thankfully.

I debated calling the kennel to find out what the hell happened. Why, when I paid for two nights, did I lose my room because I chose to have my dogs picked up early? However, by Monday, when the kennel was open again, I calmed down and decided to let it go. My kennel is affiliated with my vet, and I like my vet. I also like the manager of the kennel who has gone out of her way help me in the past when my dogs stay there. I will never again tell them I am picking my dogs up in the afternoon, however. If I pay for two nights, I’ll tell them I’m picking them up the morning of the third day, even if I plan to get them earlier. Fool me once, and all that.

So, after all this, am I getting a pool? Maybe. I’m still not sure, and I’m waiting for a few weeks to see if the Universe cares to weigh in on the decision. This time, if it does, I’ll listen.

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I had these exact head phones at home, charged and ready to go. Why, oh why, didn’t I bring them?

1:42 PM

 

Bucking the Universe – Part 2

September 10, 2018 10:44 am

In my last post, Bucking the Universe – Part 1, I talked about the decision Dennis and I made to fly in and out of Philadelphia on the same day, against my better judgement, to try a swim spa that I’ve wanted to buy for our home.

When we last left off in the story, I thought the worst of the trip was over. Claustrophobic me had just completed my first (and last!) flight in a small, 50 seat airplane. Not without challenges, I might add, but I did make it.

Philadelphia weather was perfect when we landed. A little on the warm, muggy side, but sunny and calm, perfect flying weather. On the shuttle ride to the car rental counter, I had a lovely conversation with two nuns, one of which was proclaiming the virtues of Wa-Wa.

What’s a Wa-Wa, you may ask? I know I did. A Wa-Wa, according to the nun, is a convenience store/gas station where you can, and I quote, “Get your entire life there.” Wow. That’s quite a claim. I decided Dennis and I were going to have to fit a Wa-Wa visit in our short time in Philly.

Once we landed, we had about five hours before we needed to be back at the airport for our flight home. The pool showroom is twenty minutes from the airport. I expected the visit to be brief, no more than a half hour or forty-five minutes tops. Just enough time to change, try the pool I was sure would work, change back and be on our way.

I thought we might even have enough to time to check out a defunct prison nearby for forty-five minutes or so. (Some people would make a beeline for the Liberty Bell, but not me. Old defunct prison’s are more my style. Alcatraz is my favorite part of visiting San Francisco.)

I figured we’d grab an authentic Philly Cheesesteak on the way to the prison. On the way back to airport, we could stop at a Wa-Wa and gas up the car before dropping it off. According to the nun, there were many of them in the area. Our schedule was tight, but not impossible.

The car rental place was very busy, and it took a bit longer than we expected, However, they gave us free soft, authentic Philly Pretzels while we waiting, so all was good. Once we got the car, the next stop was the pool showroom. And I use the word “showroom” very loosely.

The entrance of the showroom was very nice and professional with a receptionist who called the salesman we’ve been working with for the past three months. He gave us a tour of the pools they had set up and available to try. I was expecting a normal pool showroom, where each pool is setup next to another pool in a large open area. Not in this case. Not even close.

The “showroom” was, in essence, a working warehouse, where they installed pools in various locations. They had, at most, two pools in the same location. The locations of the pools, while they were in the same general area, were connected with rickety, narrow, wooden construction-site style stairs. In some cases, we had to cross the warehouse floor to get to the next pool.

It wasn’t what I expected, but I didn’t care because I was only trying the one pool. The moderately-priced pool that was advertised to be perfect for the “casual swimmer.” I’m fifty-two, and I haven’t done any serious swimming, or any other kind of exercise for that matter, for six years. I figured I’d be lucky if I could keep up with the swim current at it lowest setting.

After changing in a tiny little bathroom, which seemed huge at that point after the whole Lilliputian bathroom I dealt with on the plane, I donned my swim suit, my flip-flops and headed out to try my pool. Note, that I refer to the pool as “my pool” at this point. I was already sold on it. I almost bought it sight unseen, but Dennis thought I should try it first. So, as far as I was concerned, testing it out was just doing my due diligence for a few minutes before I could go tour my prison.

After changing, Dennis and I followed the salesman up one rickety flight of stairs and down another to get to my pool. Stairs are not great for my bad knee, which is one of the main reasons I want the pool, so I can strengthen it. Stairs in flip-flops are even worse on my bad knee. But it didn’t matter, I reasoned. I’m only using the stairs once. I’ll try the pool out, and be done. Bring on the cheesesteak and the prison.

I make my way up another set of rickety stairs to get into my pool, and once I’m in, I notice that it feels much roomier that the other pools I’ve tried. Good sign. I ask the salesman to turn the pool current to low. (I know from past experiences in testing out swim spa pools that if you start the current too high, it spits you back into the end of the pool.)

I put on my hideous black swim cap, don my swim goggles, and take the plunge, literally, and start swimming. I promptly touch the front of the pool, where the machine that generates the current is located, with my fingertips. I’m out swimming the speed of the current.

Okay, the low setting is too low for me. I ask the salesman to turn up the current a bit (he assured us prior to visiting, that this pool had a fully configurable current, not just a “low or high” setting.) He switches the current to high and informs us any further configuration for current speed needs to be done manually by moving two plastic discs in the pool. Which he can only accomplish by climbing up his own set of rickety stairs, plunging his arm almost to his shoulder into the pool, and spinning the flat plastic discs.

I’m leery of the sales guy at this point. As far as I’m concerned, he blatantly lied to us about the variable swim current. But, okay. I’m here. I’ll try it. If moving these discs changes the resistance, fine. I can move the discs.

I plunge in again and start swimming. And I touch the current generator at the front of the pool again. The current is still too slow. Turn ‘er up again, I say. Which he does. I try it again and still hit the front of the pool. How is this possible? I’m not in shape. I’m no where near in shape. I had to decide whether there was room for me turn around in a micro aisle of the plane a few hours earlier. There is no way I’m going to out swim a current that is meant for a casual swimmer.

But I did. At top speed, with the resistance disc’s fully opened, I swam comfortably in the current. If I pushed myself, which is kind of the point of getting a swim spa, I out swam the current and hit the front of the pool. I’m not sure who the company considers a “casual swimmer” if not an out-of-shape, fifty-two year old woman who considers exercise walking the dog to the corner and back.

Obviously, the pool I was sold on, my pool, the one in my price range, wasn’t going to work. I was disappointed and relieved that Dennis was wise enough to insist I try it before we bought it.

Now what do we do? Give up on the idea all together? Try other pools that cost more than I want to spend? Since we were there, Dennis and I decided to try the other pools they had available.

I tried out a total of six pools. Which meant I did flights of rickety wooden stairs five times that day in slippery, wet flip-flops. (Two pools were in the same area). In addition to the wooden stairs, there were the stairs I navigated up and down into the pools. And the time spent swimming in the pools – a minimum of three or four minutes each to make sure I could stay in the current while I swam.

I should mention at this point, that getting in these pools is a bit tricky. They aren’t like getting into an in-ground pool where you just jump in, or even an above ground pool where there’s a ladder to climb in and out of it. Nope. These swim spa’s resemble really large bathtubs — each one came up to my neck or higher. They require steps to lead up to them and there is one seat, about four feet down in the pool to step on to enter it. Traversing the top step on the outside of the pool to the seat four feet below inside the pool, requires a certain amount of grace and finesse’. Of which I possess neither.

I finally figured out that the safest way for me to get in the pool was to sit and balance myself on the 9″ ledge of the pool and swing my legs into the water, one at a time, until I was sitting with my feet dangling into the pool, at which time, I could drop down into the water. This was not the fluid one-step movement that you might expect it to be. This was a multi-step process for me, with stops at each step to make sure I was still balancing my way-larger-than-9-inch butt on the tiny railing.

At one point in this choreographed sequence, I was sitting, straddling the 9 inch ledge with one leg on the top of the stairs and the other dangling in the pool while in my swimming suit, hideous black swim cap and goggles. It was at this point, when several male warehouse workers passed us, brown bags in hand, while they went to lunch. They glanced over at me, and to their credit they were kind enough not to laugh. But I’m sure they wanted to. I was a sight to see.

Let me point out that three months ago, when I first tested a swim spa, I was self-conscious and I wore a full length cover up the entire time I was in the showroom, right up to the point where I entered the pool. I put it back on immediately after I came back out.

However, after three months of hauling my ass and thighs in and out of all these pools, I’ve become desensitized to the point that I can sit in my swimming suit, straddling the thin ledge of a pool, and not be freaked out by two random warehouse workers looking at me. I actually thought it was kind of funny, in that bizarre, you-can’t-make-shit-like-this-up category. I bet they had a good laugh over lunch.

During another test swim, another warehouse worker approached our salesman and asked if we were done testing one of the pools. Apparently, he wanted to go for a swim on his lunch. Ack! I despise public pools. That’s another reason I want to get a swim spa. Up to that point, I’d been comforting myself with the thought that there aren’t that many people that try out these swim spas so they’re not really public pools. Especially considering one has to  to fly to Philly to try them. I didn’t consider that the workers at the warehouse/showroom used them themselves. Cue the germaphobe paranoia.

I tried one more pool after that, and I called it quits for the day.  At that point, we’d been there for a little over two hours. I was tired, hungry and my knee was sore. The prison idea was shot. Not enough time left to fit that in. I thought my Philly cheesesteak and Wa-Wa were still a go.

I did find a pool I really liked. It’s quite a bit more than the original pool I went there for, but it’s considerably less than the pools I’ve looked at in Wisconsin. So maybe we could still make the swim pool idea work.

After Dennis and I got changed, and were ready to leave, the salesman led us into a room where he insisted on pricing out the exact pool we wanted. Fine, I suppose, although I didn’t intend to buy anything on spot.

The salesman was very focused on colors. What color lining did I want? What color edging? And he talked a lot, without saying anything. And I was getting annoyed with him. Finally, I told him as politely as I could manage, considering I was hungry (didn’t have anything except for 1/2 of the Philly pretzel from the car rental place all day), tired and I really wanted to get out of there, that I wasn’t buying today, so just put in any color combination for the quote and I would figure it out later.

Which he did. And then he offered to take a thousand off, but any more he’d have to talk to his sales manager. Aha! Now I understood. We’re dickering. Apparently, you can dicker on the price of a pool. I didn’t know that. I’m a good dickerer. Dennis and I have the routine down. He’s the “good” guy and wants to do the sale, and I’m the “bad” guy who won’t budge on the dollars.

We dickered for a few minutes, and got another couple thousand off the pool. Am I ready to sign? the salesman asked. No. But I’m ready for my cheesesteak.

We left the warehouse/showroom, with directions to a cheesesteak place the receptionist recommended and a quote on the pool. However, when we got to the car, and googled how long it would take to get to the restaurant, and we noticed how the time to get to the airport was increasing as it grew later in the afternoon, we realized the cheesesteak wasn’t going to happen either. We needed enough time to drop off the car at the rental place and take the shuttle back to the airport, so we opted for a drive through hamburger at a chain restaurant. There were no Wa-Wa’s that we could find in the area, so Dennis topped off the tank at the nearest station near the car rental place.

No moderately priced pool. No prison visit. No Philly cheesesteak. No Wa-wa. At least we were going home and I’d see my animals and sleep in my own bed tonight.  The weather was still warm and mostly clear. Our flight was on time. Things could be worse.

And they would be.

To be continued

12:03 PM

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I never did get my Philly Cheesesteak. That might not be such a bad thing considering I didn’t get my moderately priced pool, either.

 

 

 

 

Bucking the Universe – Part 1

September 8, 2018  4:42 PM

Have you ever had something you want to do, I mean really want to do, but problems keep cropping up that prevent you from doing it? It’s almost as if the Universe doesn’t want you to do whatever it is you want to do, so it throws one obstacle after another in your way?

After a couple of random, out-of-the-blue obstacles showing up and thwarting your plans, smart intuitive people take the hint the Universe is sending them, and make another plan.

Not-so-smart, clueless people say fuck you Universe, I want what I want, and they plod ahead anyway.  This was me yesterday and it wasn’t pretty. It’s kind of a long story, so I am going to break it up into two, possibly three posts.

If you’ve read this blog, you know I’ve been wanting to get a swim spa for my house. I’ve been testing pools in my area, but the one pool I really wanted to test is in Philadelphia. I’ve scheduled, and canceled for various reasons, two different trips to Philadelphia this summer. On Monday this week, my husband found super cheap tickets for us to fly there on Friday, Sept 7th.

I was leery to get the tickets for several reasons. First, the tickets required us to arrive in Philadelphia and leave Philadelphia the same day. We’d leave the house at 4 am and get back home by 8:00 pm. That is one hell of a long day.

The second reason is that Sammy, one of our dogs, is struggling with separation anxiety again. This means he barks non stop from the time we leave until we return back home. Not great for him, really not great for our cats. We’ve tried drugging him with Tramadol, but it makes him sick. This means, to do our day trip, the dogs would have to be kenneled for Thursday night before we leave, and Friday night, because we will get back too late to pick them up.

The third reason I was leery is that the plane we were to fly into Philadelphia on is small, it holds 50 people. One row of one seat on one side and one row of two seats on the other. Maybe this isn’t small to a lot of people, but by my standards it is.

I am claustrophobic. I do not like crowds. I do not like to sit in the middle of a row in a theater or concert. There are a few restaurants I cannot go to because the tables are close together and the ceilings are low. I do not like parking garages, because they back up after large events let out and I’m trapped in them. I’m not big fan of planes in general because once those doors close, you’re stuck at the mercy of whatever the airline wants to do to you. If I do fly, I have to be in an aisle seat, near the front, where I can focus on all the empty space between me and cockpit. Poor Dennis always ends up in the middle seat. I pay extra for the seats with extra leg room, not because I have long legs, but because extra leg room means there’s extra space in between me and the back of the seat in front of me. You get the idea. Traveling with me is not fun.

These super-cheap tickets did not come with extra leg room. They didn’t even come with assigned seats. We’d have to wait until 24 hours before the flight to check-in online and select our seats. There was a possibility I wouldn’t get my aisle seat.

I almost told Dennis no. Don’t buy the tickets. But I really want a swim spa and the one I want is a quarter of the price of the ones I’ve tested here. Even at a quarter of the price, it’s still a lot of money, so I really should try it before I buy it.

Against my better judgement, I agreed that Dennis should buy the tickets and I went about mitigating the problems where I could. I was able to get our pet-sitter to pick the dogs up Friday night for us while we flew home. They’d get home an hour or two before we would, but that would be okay.

Dennis logged into the airlines 24 hours before each flight and reserved us seats. They weren’t extra leg room seats, and they were definitely more in the middle of the plane than up front, but at least I scored an aisle seat each way.

Thursday night came, and I was starting to get nervous about the trip. I was dreading the day. That’s understandable, though, right? It was going to be long, with most of it going through airports and flying.

At least packing for the trip was easy. Since we could only bring bags that fit under our seats (we didn’t have access to overhead bins with our super-cheap seats) I threw in my swimsuit, flip flops and a little make up. That was it. I have audio books downloaded on my cell phone and I took small ipod earbuds instead of my noise cancelling headphones. The flights were short, only about an hour and half, and space was at a premium. I didn’t bother to pack any snacks on the plane for the same reason. This isn’t much different from driving to the casino in the Dells for the day, I told myself.

Holy Crap, was I wrong. So, so, wrong.

Friday morning started out fine. As fine as getting out of bed at 4 am can be. We have TSA pre-check, so we walk past the line at security at Mitchell Airport and get right through. Dennis didn’t get tagged for a TSA search this time, so that was a good omen. (You can read about Dennis’ experiences with TSA here.)

Then we board the plan. I have to bend down to not hit my head on the top of the door when I walk on to it, and I’m 5′ 3″. My chest constricts as soon as I look down the long narrow body of the plane with the low, low ceilings. The entire plane reminds me of being inside an MRI cylinder. I was thinking there is no fucking way can I do this as I look for my seat.

The aisle in between the rows of seats, is roughly the amount of space you get between your knees and the seat in front of you in a movie theater. No one, including the flight attendant, can get down that aisle without their hips slamming into the arms and elbows of the seated passengers trying to fold their own appendages into their allotted seat space, which is roughly the size of a small Amazon box.

There is no way to sit in the seats and not have some part of your body touching the other person next to you. Any hope of retaining any amount of personal space on this plane is gone.  Thankfully, Dennis and I are seated next to each other because otherwise a complete stranger and I would have gotten to know each other a whole better than either of us wanted.

There I sit, belted into my mini seat, trying to look down the micro aisle to quell the claustrophobia that is quickly closing in. If I reach up, I can easily touch the ceiling over me, and the ceiling over the micro aisle isn’t much taller. The windows look like little port holes you’d find on a submarine, which reminds me that this entire plane reminds me a bit of being on a submarine. I toured a submarine once. For about five minutes. And then I hightailed back up top and let the tour go on without out me. Not a helpful memory to conjure up in that moment.

The flight attendant closes the door to the plane and I can’t seem to get my breath. I regret not snagging a couple of the dog’s Tramadol before I got on this flight. I focus on telling myself, it’s fine, there’s plenty of air. I concentrate on listening to the emergency instructions, anything to take my mind off the fact that this plane is getting smaller every minute I sit here. Then I realize I have to go to the bathroom. I look around for the bathroom icon up front but there isn’t one. There is one bathroom on this flight, in the back, which means I will have to make my way down the micro aisle filled with people. Cue heart palpitations.

Back in the “old days”, Pre-9/11, I’d have gotten up before take off, ran to the bathroom and let the flight attendant grumble at me. But I’ve heard of people getting thrown off of planes for doing that now, and although getting thrown off this plane isn’t that terrible of an idea, I really do want to get to Philadelphia. So I wait.

I take out my phone and put on my ear buds and start playing my audio book. I find that closing my eyes, listening to the words helps the claustrophobia abate somewhat. If your eyes are closed, you don’t know that you’re sitting within an arm’s reach of four different strangers.

This works through take off. I find out that you feel the acceleration and the bumps in a small plane far more than you do in a bigger plane. Thank goodness I remembered to take Dramamine before we boarded.

Ten minutes into the flight, I really have to go to the bathroom. I stop the audio book, which isn’t holding my interest anyway, and I stare at the seat belt sign as if I can will it to go off so I can get up out of my seat. The flight attendant is starting the beverage service (how the hell is she going to get herself and a cart down that teeny tiny aisle, I wonder). Suddenly, I see the bathroom icon light up. Someone is using it! The seat belt sign is still lit, but someone behind me got up to use the bathroom anyway. There’s hope!

I secretly unbuckle my seat belt so I’m ready to make a run for it when the bathroom icon light goes dark again and the bathroom is free. The flight attendant is making her way down the aisle with her cart toward my seat. If she passes my seat with the cart, I’ll have to wait until she serves the entire plane before I can get the bathroom. She’s five seats away. Then four. The bathroom sign is still lit up as occupied and the seat belt sign is still lit, too. Flight attendant is at three seats. Then two. While she’s serving the seats in front of us, the bathroom light finally goes dark. The bathroom is free, but seat belt sign is still lit. There’s no time to waste, a decision needs to be made since the cart is almost blocking me in. Do I make a break for it and ignore the seat belt sign or wait until beverage service is through?

Seat belt sign be damned, I’m going for it! They can’t kick me off the plane at this point, right? I jump out of my seat right before the flight attendant can block me in with her cart and I bolt to the back the plane toward the bathroom. When I say bolt, I mean I walk as if I were on a boat, because unbeknownst to me, small planes aren’t as steady as large ones. You feel the sway of the air beneath and you get thrown side to side. I know for a fact my hips and butt banged into several fellow aisle seat passengers who didn’t have the good sense to lean in and clear the way for me to get through.

Finally, I make it to the bathroom. The bathroom, if you can it that, is roughly the size of a very narrow clothes closet with about the same depth. It has accordion doors that slide open, which was fine, until I tried to close them. Closing the door involved contorting my body over the sink and the toilet to make room for the door to shut properly. I’m pretty sure that sitting on the toilet itself would cause one’s knees to bang into the sink. Bumpy, unsteady plane or not, I wasn’t trying it.

The sink was doll-sized, small even by airline standards and the water trickled out. I mean literally trickled. There was no water pressure. Nor was there water pressure when the toilet flushed. It trickled blue water. I really tried to get the full swoosh flush thing going on, but it just never happened. Maybe small planes don’t have enough juice to swoosh? They have to channel all their energy into keeping the rubber band engines running?

All this futzing around with the water pressure in the bathroom took a few minutes, so when I finally emerged (I had to re-contort to break free), the flight attendant and her cart had maneuvered two seats past mine. As I made my way up the micro aisle, which was even harder than going down it because there was still a definite angle up (I guess we were still climbing altitude), the flight attendant glanced at me, gave me a don’t-expect-me-to-move-for-you look, and asked me sit in a vacant seat several rows back until she passed me. Seriously? She was two seats past my seat. Considering each seat gives you about three feet of space, that would have been at most two steps back for her. Maybe three including the cart.

Since I was naughty, and got up when the seat belt sign clearly told me not to, I smiled and told her of course I would do that. Unfortunately, the vacant seat was five rows back and I was faced with a conundrum. Do I try to turn around in the micro aisle and let my ass take out the innocent people sitting on the aisle next to me or do I walk backwards down the swaying, bumpy micro aisle for five rows and only nudge them again with my hips.

I opted for backwards and nudging. I held on to the seat backs for balance because walking backwards down a slope that’s going up when the plane is bouncing and swaying, isn’t all that easy. And I’m not graceful by nature. So it really wasn’t easy for me, but I made it. I resisted the urge to go “beep, beep” as I backed up, although I do think it would been funny in that I-really-need-to-buy-a-swim-spa-and-get-some-exercise kind of way. Eventually, I got there and I flopped down in the free seat (thankfully it was an aisle!) where my thighs made quick acquaintance with the nice lady sitting next to me.

I kid you not, I sat there for about fifteen seconds, when the flight attendant pulled the cart back a few feet and motioned for me to return to my seat. Apparently, she felt that I was sufficiently punished for breaking the rules. I got back up, sashayed my way down the same damn micro aisle, bumping and nudging the same poor people again and made my way back to my seat. I swore off all liquids for the remainder of the flight.

When I got settled back into my seat, and used two wet wipes to sterilize my hands, I checked my phone. Surely an hour must have gone by since this flight started. The whole bathroom fiasco had to take fifteen or twenty minutes at least. Right? Wrong. We’d been in the air for twenty minutes total. Bathroom fiasco included. Fuck.

So I sat. I tried not to think about the small windows, the narrow cabin, the low ceilings and all the people crammed in near me. I tried listening to the audio book but I couldn’t concentrate and the engines were loud and bleeding through into the story. Even with the volume on high, I could still hear the plane noises through the ear buds.

Finally, out of desperation and the very real concern that I was going to freak out completely and have  a panic attack right then and there, I searched for downloaded music on my phone. Normally, I don’t download music to my phone. I stream it. Thankfully, I found a handful of songs I downloaded at some point, probably accidentally. Included in them was a 4:49 second Whitney Houston song, I Have Nothing. I’m not a huge Whitney fan, but I like some of her songs and this is one of them. I started playing it, top volume through the ear buds. And it worked! Whitney can sing, and she’s LOUD. She completely drowned out of the airplane sounds.

I closed my eyes and tried to mentally go somewhere else. I don’t know how to meditate, but I do know how to visualize scenes for my book. So I did that. With Whitney’s I Have Nothing on repeat, I disappeared into Hawksville, North Carolina with the characters in my book. After a few minutes I felt the pressure in my chest abate. Air came easier.  I unclenched muscles I wasn’t aware I was clenching. And finally, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, Whitney was still playing and we were preparing for landing. I made it. I made it through flying in a little tin can of a plane. When we disembarked, I was relieved. The plane we fly home on much larger, a normal sized plane with three seats across on each side. The worst of the trip was over, I thought.

Boy, was I wrong.

To Be Continued

5:50 PM

airplane

This is the type of plane we flew out on. It looks a hell of a lot larger from the outside than it does from the inside!

Dear John Letters and Men I Have Enjoyed

8/20/18 10:50 AM

Since Friday afternoon, I’ve done nothing but lay on the couch and play video games or watch TV. While I enjoy doing both, normally it’s just for a two or three hours max at a time. Not an entire weekend.  Early last week, I started coming down with a cold. By Friday afternoon, I was miserable, with just enough energy to change the TV input from PS4 to Roku.  I tried to write, but my brain was too focused on trying to get air for me to produce anything decent.  Hence, the cold-medicine induced, slug-like existence for two and half days.

You might think that having an entire weekend to catch up on shows I’ve been wanting to watch isn’t such a bad thing. The problem was, I was finding it hard to concentrate on anything that remotely required thought. Which left me with movies that I’ve seen before and romance movies.

Don’t get me wrong, even though I’m not a big fan of romance movies now, I used to love them. A few still rank in my top movies of all time. The Way We Were, Officer and Gentlemen, Urban Cowboy, Say Anything and Moonstruck, just to name a few. You’ll notice that all of those were released at least thirty years ago. The only recent (as in the last fifteen years) romance movies I remember enjoying are Brokeback Mountain and Walk the Line. Dennis made me watch The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks when it came out. (Spoiler alert here) I think I’m the only person who saw that movie that was hoping for them to die already so the damn movie could be over.

Well, I was so sick this weekend, that I watched another Nicolas Sparks movie, Nights in Rodanthe. Voluntarily. To be fair, I only watched 3/4’s of it because I fell asleep. And I only chose it because it had Richard Gere and Viola Davis in it. (I found out it was a Nicolas Sparks story when I saw his name in the opening credits.)

I watched another romance movie on Netflix called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s a period piece, set in the English island of Guernsey, right after WWII. It had gorgeous scenery, excellent 1940’s fashion and it features Lady Rose, Lady Sybil and Mrs. Crowley from Downton Abbey. The plot is predictable, which is okay when you’re in a slug-like state. I actually enjoyed it.

Most of what I watched this weekend, however, were movies that I’ve already seen. I watched Walk the Line again, with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix and enjoyed it. I watched Pulp Fiction with John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis (probably one of my all time favorite movies ever) and I still loved it. I watched Gross Point Blank with John Cusack (one of my favorite stars of all time) and Minnie Driver … and I thought it was stupid. I found John Cusack’s character, Martin, to be annoying and unsympathetic, not at all the lovable goof that he’s always been.

How can this be? I’ve seen that movie lots of times before and I always enjoyed it. I love dark humor. I love John Cusack.  I’ve always loved John Cusack ever since I saw him in Sure Thing back in my freshman year of college in 1985.  There’s a part in that movie where John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga are talking about potential names for their future children, and John says (paraphrasing here), “Nick is a kind of guy you can drink beers with and he doesn’t care if you puke in his truck…”. There was a guy in our group named Nick, and to our unsophisticated 18-year old brains, this was hilarious and we spent the next few weeks repeating the line to each other.

I’ve never been the type to get crushes on celebrities, even when I was young. John Cusack was the closest that I came to that, partly, because he comes from the Chicago area which is a few hours south from where I live. He was one of us. He came from the Midwest. My friend had friend who lived near Cusack’s childhood home, and when she visited her, my friend took a picture of his house for me. I have no idea if that’s actually his home, but I was thrilled to get it, just the same.

Cusack’s character, Gib, in Sure Thing is a quirky, awkward, big-hearted guy who fumbles his way through life and still ends up getting the girl in the end. Cusack reprises this character in many different roles (thank you IMDB): John Trager in Seredipity, Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, Martin Blank in Grosse Point Blank, and, my personal favorite, Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything. Who could resist broken-hearted John Cusack holding up a gigantic boom box outside of Ione Skye’s window at the crack of dawn, playing “their” song? Sigh. Not me, back in 1989 when the movie was released. Now, in 2018 with my new-found disdain for Grosse Point Blank, I’m not so sure.

I’m a little afraid to watch Say Anything again. What if I don’t like it either? Instead of Lloyd being adorably awkward, what if I think he’s a whiny freeloader with no future? That would be very sad. I’d feel like I lost an old friend.

I had a similar experience when I watched Urban Cowboy a few years ago. I loved John Travolta when I was young, almost as much as I loved John Cusack. Grease was the first movie of Travolta’s that I was allowed to see other than watching him on Welcome Back, Kotter. Grease was a favorite of mine for years, and I even had a comic book of the story made from screen shots of the movie.  

Then came Urban Cowboy in 1980. John Travolta was “good-guy”cowboy Bud, who was competing with “bad boy” Wes, (Scott Glenn) for the love of cowgirl, Sissy (Debra Winger).  There was lots of two-stepping, tight blue jeans and John Travolta dimples. I was fourteen when I saw it and I was smitten. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and I remember one of them said she liked bad-boy Wes better than John Travolta. How could this be?

I never considered that as a possibility until I watched Urban Cowboy again several years ago. I still enjoyed the movie, however, “good guy” Bud hits Sissy. So does “bad boy”, Wes. But “good guy” Bud hits Sissy less than “bad boy” Wes hits her, so I guess that made Bud the better choice in 1980.  John Travolta was still cute with his dimples, but Wes, oh my gosh. Wes was Hot (yes, that capitalization is intentional). I finally understood his appeal, if you ignore his propensity for beating women, that is. (As a side note, I was happy to see Scott Glenn reappar this weekend in Nights in Rodanthe as Robert Torrelson, the grieving widow. I’m also enjoying him in the Stephen King series, Castle Rock, on Hulu).

So, was it my drug-addled brain that caused me to dislike Martin in Grosse Point Blank or have my tastes changed to the point that old favorites aren’t favorites anymore? If I watch The Way we Were will Hubble come off as entitled and pretentious and Katie as opinionated and domineering? In Officer and a Gentleman, will Paula seem opportunistic and Zack self-absorbed? In Moonstruck, maybe Loretta and Ronny will seem selfish and kinda slutty instead of two souls destined to be together?

I’m a little afraid to find out. I don’t want to say good bye to the old favorites. What’s next? Will I start to dislike books I used to love? Will Gone With the Wind be tedious and Little Women be sappy? Perish the thought!

Both of the beloved Johns, Cusack and Travolta, went on to play other more well-developed characters in some really excellent movies. Cusack did a great job playing Richard Nixon in The Butler and Travolta’s hit-man, Vicent Vega in Pulp Fiction is my favorite character, ever, that Travolta has played.

I’m not quite ready to send Dear John letters to the famous Johns I’ve enjoyed. Nor am I ready to give up the less-noteworthy characters and stories from my youth that they portrayed. I just have to remember to view them with a younger set of eyes when I watch them.

12:10 (I gave myself extra time to write this one due to the the following: IMDB research for character names, coughing fits, and the doing and redoing of laundry –I washed my never-before-washed hot pink sweater with my white jeans. Although, I’m better, I think some slug-brain remnants still remain.

Bleach is a wonderful thing.