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PET POWER

ANIMALS GET US

An animal’s eyes have the power
To speak a great language.
Martin Buber

A.R. Gurney created a debutante in his comedy “The Cocktail Hour” who cries, “No one understands me but my horse.”  The line got a big laugh but it wasn’t a joke. Our horses, dogs and cats catch on to our moods a lot faster than our partners or our relatives do.

Mothers, of course, are an exception. One glance from you tells them everything.  My own mother insisted she could read my entire days activities on my forehead.  It turns out that my puppy could do the same thing.

A new study confirms that animals gather information and transmit it through their eyes. This can be very unsettling….especially when sitting down to a holiday meal. There you are digging into your roast turkey and gobbling up your roast potatoes when you feel a forceful presence watching you lift your fork to your mouth and chew those brussel sprouts.  You look down at Fido, his mouth open and saliva dripping down his fuzzy little chin.  He is watching you so intently he doesn’t even blink.   You would have to have a heart of iron to ignore the longing, the unbridled desire on your puppy’s face.

Guilt overwhelms you and you slip him a bit of dark meat and then a bit more.  How can you resist?

Fluffy is even more insistent.  The minute you put your napkin in your lap, there she is, her whiskers quivering with desire. What can you do?  You were the one who rescued her from the shelter.  The other guests at the table try to ignore the fact that your cat is sitting ON the holiday table lapping up your cranberry sauce as if it were catnip.

Horses are even more capable of transmitting their needs to you with their unblinking eyes.  Last year, I had Christmas dinner in the country and as I dug into my mince pie, I froze.  There was Dobbin staring through the window with such intensity that the glass melted.  It was no use.  I picked up my plate and handed it over.

This year, I have decided to fast for the holiday.  It is a lot easier on my conscience.

 

IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE?

REASON

The heart has its reasons
Of which reason knows nothing.
Blaise Pascal

A member of the Taliban scrawled “Throw reason to the dogs” on the walls of the Ministry of Justice in Kabul. I get that.

All too often, reason keeps us from listening to our hearts.  I think the beauty of life lies in the myths we create.  Take Santa Claus.  Everyone KNOWS he is a fictional character we created in the nineteenth century to whip children into shape and convince them that obeying us would give them marvelous rewards.

It doesn’t take huge intelligence to figure out that if Santa were as big, fat and jolly as everyone says he is, he couldn’t possibly fit into a chimney much less a standard front door what with that sleigh he drags behind him and all those reindeer defecating in the snow. (And you KNOW that’s what they must do if they nibble on the cakes and cookies Mrs. Santa gives them)  A child of four could figure out that Santa could not possibly read all the letters children send him and actually decide who gets what on Christmas morning.

And what about all those clones we see on the street, at parties and ringing bells to make us give them money?  How did Santa manage that?  Did he form some kind of club with admission requirements (weight, girth, long white beard; jolly laugh required).

The truth is that reason would erase Santa Claus and I think that would constitute a criminal offense against childhood.  Way back in 1897, Virginia O’Hanlon wrote the editor of the New York Sun because her common sense told her that St Nicholas was a fraud…a tool to force a little girl like her toe the line.  This is what the editor said: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

I don’t know about you, but I would hate to think my world was governed by logic and common sense.  I would not like a reality without the certainty that there is good karma, the power of love and the faith that life has a noble purpose.

Besides, where would I send my Christmas want list?

 

 

I OWN MY LIFE

I AM IN CHARGE

There is nothing in the world to which every man
Has a more unassailable title than to his own life.
Arthur Schopenhauer

My friend Helen Osterman was 86 years old when her husband died.  “Now, it’s my turn,” she told me.  “I cannot wait to join him.”

I was 28 when she told me that and I was appalled.  I could not imagine anyone wanting to die.  The urge to live is so strong in us all, I could not believe that someone who was in good health would choose to end it all.  Besides, I did not believe you went anywhere when you were dead.  I thought it was a final finish.

I know now that what you believe is what will happen.  It makes no difference that we cannot prove that we will come back in another form after we leave this earth.  It is immaterial that there is no evidence that our spirits will ascend to a heaven that is described in different terms by different faiths.  It is what you think is true that matters.  Helen Osterman was sure she would see her husband again when she died and she did go to join him just six months after he left her.  She was finished with her life.

I have lived almost 60 years since that day and I have a very different perspective now.  I have seen people tied to tubes and bottles, their brain barely functioning, who have become nothing but blobs of living flesh.  I have heard tales of people riddled with agonizing pain who cannot be relieved of their suffering because it is against the law for a doctor to assist a patient to end his life.  And I know now that those people did not make proper arrangements for their finish.  They did not specify that they did not want to suffer without respite.  They did not insist that they not be kept alive by artificial means.

We are the only ones who have the right to make a decision about our body.  It is the one thing that belongs only to us and it is our duty to determine the way we care for it and when it is time to stop its functioning.  It is not a decision for a doctor or a relative to make.

However, once we make our wishes known it is incumbent upon all who know us to follow our wishes.  I remember a man who was in a coma whose wife insisted he be fed intravenously and on monitoring machines to keep him breathing.  She sat by his side all day into the night holding his hand but he did not know she was there.  He had made his living will.  He had trusted her to abide by his wishes but she couldn’t bear to let him go.  She insisted that keeping her husband alive was an act of love.  I think she committed an unforgiveable crime.

There are times when a physician finds himself caring for a person who has stopped functioning.  I cannot believe he has committed a crime when he simply removes all life support systems and lets his patient expire.

It seems to me that governments have taken over the responsibility for our well-being.  They pass laws to protect us from abuse, from accidents on the road and from habits they have decided will kill us.  Legislators have forgotten that we are unique individuals and it is the responsibility of each of us to listen to his body and keep it in running order.  It is for every person to decide if he wants a particular treatment to cure a diagnoses.  A diagnoses is after all only one person’s opinion.  The amount of cigarettes we smoke, the quantity of drugs we put into our systems and the type of exercise we care to do is a personal decision.  We own ourselves. No one else does.

Just as we all cherish the right to live our lives in our own way, we also have a right to decide when we are finished.  When life gives us no satisfaction…when we are stalled and are repeating the same routine every day, it is time to say goodbye to this life.  Once we make that decision, it must be respected.  The trick is to make that judgment when you still can think and to be sure that it is evident.

I have always loved the story of the woman who had DO NOT RESUSITATE tattooed on her chest and on her back, TURN ME OVER.  That is my kind of gal.

 

 

NEW WAYS WITH FRUIT

DRESSING UP THE FRUIT BOWL

One that would serve fruit
Must give it a good presentation.
An anonymous Chinese philosopher

A Chinese fruit seller in Nanjing decided to dress his peaches in fancy knickers and triple the price. He labeled them fancy peach butts and charged £48 a dozen. What a great gift idea!!!

What a great solution for the person on your Christmas list who has everything.  Can you imagine a better present than a cute little peach decked out in lacy underwear?

And why stop there?  Imagine awakening on Christmas morning to discover a banana in a bow tie and a top hat doing a soft shoe just for you?  Think of the delight children would have when they opened up Santa’s gifts to find a pair of plums in tutus and lace bodices tucked into a chiffon lined box?

I cannot think of anything better to give your Nan, than a cluster of grapes laced with garlands of velvet ribbon.  After all, she has received enough lace hankies to last a lifetime.  She will thrill to the novelty of something she doesn’t have to tuck in a bureau drawer to give to someone else next year.

Christmas shopping would be so much easier for us all. No more beating our way through crowded malls trying to outspend each other, piling up mountains of colorful boxes filled with useless trinkets no one wants under the tree.    We would not have to spend hours exploring one expensive novelty shop after another in the Lanes trying to find just the right tie, or the prettiest bauble for our loved ones.  All we would need to do is run over to the green grocer and load up on produce, take it home and dress it up. On Christmas morning, the house would be filled with jolly pears in tap shoes and apples sporting feather boas.  Wow!

And don’t forget the veggies!  They tart up amazingly well. There is nothing as appealing as a mushroom in spats and every potato worth its butter and cheese, looks better in mesh stockings with a flowered garter.

What to serve for Christmas breakfast?  Problem solved.  Just put all the gifts in a large bowl, add some scones, clotted cream  and a bit of eggnog and enjoy.

 

THE GOOD DEATH

 

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE

There are three ingredients in the good life:
Learning, earning and yearning.
Christopher Morley

Ezekiel Emanuel is 57 years old.  He is a physician specializing in cancer and the Vice Provost professor The University of Pennsylvania. He is a very smart man. Last October, he wrote an essay saying he wanted his life to end at 75.

He is a fool.

When I was 57, I had no idea what fun I could have once I crossed the line where productivity, beauty and fame topped the list of what I needed to make my day.   When I was 57 I cared that my face was drooping, my hearing dulled and my walk slowed, step by step.  I am 81 now and I love my wrinkled face.  It gets me every perc I could possibly want.  I step into a packed car in the tube and at least 3 gorgeous men stand up so I can rest my wrinkled bum on a seat.  I board a train and take a premium seat that is labeled Priority Seating just because I have been around a long time.

When I carry packages up or down stairs, there is always someone to carry those bundles for me and usually with a smile.  I hop (yes I can still hop) on a bus and sit down without worrying about the fare.  I go to movies, plays and concerts and pay at least 25% less than everyone else including all those youngsters under 60 with low paying jobs and expensive taste.

If I am in a queue and it is taking too long I clutch my heart and gasp a little; that gets me to the head of the line before I can exhale.  I stand at a counter rummaging though endless coins I cannot recognize without my glasses and NOT ONCE has anyone said, ”Hurry up, Bitch.”  No indeed.  Invariably there will be some kind soul who will hold my packages while I search for coins I dropped in the bottom of my purse and the clerk will ALWAYS smile and say, “Take your time, darling.”

And that brings me to another point:  EVERYONE, man, woman and even toddlers, address me as “Darling” and they mean it. The very things I did at 50 that annoyed the hell out of everyone; the missteps and accidents I had in my twenties that made both husbands leave me; all are absolutely adorable now that I am in my ninth decade.

But it isn’t just the attitude of everyone around me that has made life so very sweet these days.  It is MY attitude.  I am no longer concerned with what I see in the mirror.  It never got me much when I was younger and I don’t expect it to be the 8th aesthetic wonder of the world now.  That means that all the time, money and anguish I spent in beauty shops and on countless rejuvenation creams, skin enhancers, hair boosters…all of it is now spent on more rewarding activities like eating anything I want because what the hell: by the time I am too obese for my coffin, I won’t care. I won’t have to spend the extra money for it either.  The welfare department will.

I am at the age now where I can spend as much as I want for anything I want.  If I run out, I can get benefits.  My intention is to reduce my bank balance to zero and then apply for residence in a home.   We take care of our elderly here.  I am not worried about my liver either.  It’s held up this long, hasn’t it?

When I was in my fifties, I anguished because I had not made a visible mark in the world.  No one knew who I was.  My name never made a headline.  Now I realize that it isn’t the publicity you get for what you do, it is what you do that matters.  If it makes me happy and I am involved, then hooray; getting some award or a mention in someone’s column won’t change that.  It took me this long to get that.

“But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world,” says Emanuel.

And I say, “How does he know that?  He hasn’t gotten there yet.”

Well I have and I can honestly say that my walk is slower, but I get where I want to go and I do not feel deprived.  I enjoy my life just as it is.  I do not have the same desires I had at twenty or thirty or forty because that is not the stage of life I am in right now.  My perspective has improved.  I have confidence in myself. I trust my judgment.  I don’t want to go to bars and find a hot sex pot to take me to bed.  That doesn’t interest me anymore.  I don’t want to wear uncomfortable clothes that reveal my nether parts because my nether parts are not the focus of my pleasure anymore.  My mind and my heart are the hungry organs now and I do everything I can to feed them.  It is more fun and not as sloppy.

It took me a long time to figure out that life is like a card game.  You take the hand you get and play it out the best you can. It does no good to bemoan what you didn’t get or begrudge others for what they have achieved.  You do not know what they had to do to get there.  I am happy now with the life I have but I am not content to stand still.  Not yet.

I am living in the now.  What is past is gone.  I am not that person anymore.  I don’t look good in her clothes.  I do not want to walk in her shoes.  They would pinch my bunion.  I do not want to waste the time she did on the telephone bemoaning what she didn’t have.  I love my current life and I am determined to make the most of it.  I will not waste my energy worrying about what I will do when I am ninety because I am not there yet.  When I am, I have no doubt that I will have adjusted to the difference in my motor abilities, my memory and my diminished life style.  I do not know how I will like it until it happens.

Do not get me wrong.  I do not want to waste away in a hospital bed anymore than you do.  I have reached an age where I am determined to let my body fall apart at its own pace.  I do get my flu shots but I am not sure I would allow any procedures to prolong my life if I had a terminal illness.  I am not afraid of dying.  It is after all the most dramatic event in our life other than birth.  I cannot recall being afraid when I exited my mother’s body and I have no intention of being consumed with fear about my death because I have no idea when it will happen or how.  When I am there, I will deal with it. Hopefully it will be a grand and dramatic departure.

My goal right now is to live abundantly.  I will not spend one iota of the time I have in worry because worry never accomplished anything and I have a lot I need to do.  I want to learn to fan dance. I see me shimming and swaying to the music showing off my cute bum and my shapely lets and then turning to the crowd, peeking out of the fans with a face that looks for all the world like an abandoned prune that needs ironing.  It should have an amazing effect on the crowd.

I want to play the ukulele and tap dance while I do it.  I want to explore the nooks and crannies of a Europe I have read about and I want to make a lot of strangers laugh.   Want to fall in love the right way this time…loving who he is, not how he looks, what he buys me or what he wears. The size of his wallet or his dick are not barometers of love for me anymore.  They never were but I thought they were.  I know better now.   I cannot be bothered regretting the hump on my back or the arthritis that has gnarled my fingers.  They still work and while they do, I am using them.

I have done the accepted thing.  I have prepared a directive that tells everyone not to resuscitate me and not to use any artificial means to keep me alive.  I have donated all the organs that work to anyone who needs them although who would want my ears is something I still cannot figure out.  My kidneys however are stellar and I hope the person who gets them appreciates how beautifully they have worked for me.

I do not want to lie in a hospital bed on life support with medical science keeping me alive and i know very well that is a decision I must make while i have all my faculties and can prepare the proper papers to keep an exuberant medical staff from pumping up my lungs and stimulating a heart that no longer wants to beat.  I have done that but that is all I have done.  I am ready and willing for death to happen when it is ready for me.  My mother always said I arrived two moths after I was due.  “You were always slow,” she said.”Right from the beginning.”

But I got here didn’t I?

I hope my exit will be cleaner and faster but if it isn’t well…I cannot know what it will be like until it happens.  I am determined to only die once….and that will be on the day my heart stops beating and my lungs give  me no air.  …not one minute before.

The trick is to live…live as fully, as beautifully and as daringly as you can.  Reach for every star and don’t be afraid to meet the price, do the work and pay the dues to get you there.  There is no dream that is impossible.  Wallace Stegner says we do not die from a disease.  We die because we are finished.

I am not finished.  Are you?

 

 

 

 

 

THE NAME GAME IS CHANGING

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
William Shakespeare

We aren’t naming our babies George, anymore.  Evidently, parents don’t want to saddle their children with names that imply delusions of royalty.  Instead of naming our little boys nice solid names like George, William or Harry, we are turning to something more exotic like Mohammed or Ali. I think that is a huge mistake.   A very young child can manage to spell George or Harry easily enough but what is he to do when he has to remember how many em’s and where the a’s and the e’s go in a name like Mohammed?  The challenge is even greater even for the little guy if his parents go a bit more exotic and opt for Ibrahim or Omar.

Girls fare no better with the top name of the year: Sophia.  You have to be pretty mature to understand that p and h together make f.  And worse, the i in that name sounds like an e.  That is a lot of remembering to expect from a little 4-year-old maiden trying to spell her name for her teacher.

The truth is simple names sound much more solid and reliable.  You can trust a guy named Bill and you KNOW you count on a Jane or a Mary.  I have found that people often adopt the characteristics implied by their names.  If I have a friend named Lucretia, I know she is going to be all over the place with so many syllables and funny letter combinations.  …a frivolous, unreliable person who forces you to stop and think before you address an e mail to her.

I personally love the name George and I think Kate and William had the right idea when they christened their little prince.  When I envision a George, I see a no frills, honest, down-to-earth guy I can trust; just the kind of qualities women look for in a partner, and bosses want in their interns.  No doubt about it, you name your child George and everyone will believe in his integrity and look up to him before they even meet him.  A name like George reeks of authority.  It gives you a feeling of security.  A guy named George could very well end up a king.

Mohammed?  Not so much.

 

 

 

California Dates

WHY WE ARE SO ANGRY

FURY

Anger is never without a reason,
But seldom a good one.
Benjamin Franklin
Whenever I go back to the San Francisco Bay Area, I am immersed in non-stop road rage. Drivers swerve around you, hit the accelerator to get ahead of you, blast their horns to tell you to get out of their way and spew hate all over the highway. I find myself getting just as angry as the other drivers as I try to weave my way through 6 lanes of traffic to get to my destination. I come home exhausted, despising humanity and hating myself for succumbing to the hysteria that clogs our roads.
It is a glorious relief to come to peaceful Brighton where I walk everywhere, smile at everyone and love treading the streets. Humanity charms me when I am here and I find myself enjoying the kindly hustle and bustle on North Street.
I have always thought that road rage was so foreign to those who use public transportation in Britain, that they would sooner stage a massacre than be rude to another person. Besides, it is not in the British personality to be rude or overbearing. The people in this country are obsessed with being politically correct.
Or so I thought.
I just spent two weeks in London living in Stockwell and taking the tube to Leicester Square. That was when I was exposed to Tube Rage. If I dared to try to tap my oyster card on the entrance gate during rush hour, I risked black and blue marks, mangled hips and fractured elbows. When I approached the escalator, I was so terrified I shut my eyes and prayed to the almighty that my foot wasn’t crushed and I was not hurled down the moving staircase because I forgot to stand on the left.
It turns out that all this pushing, shoving, jostling and crushing is not due to rudeness at all. It is the result of poor ventilation. In fact the director of the British association of Anger Management warns that lack of oxygen is sure to cause uncontrolled acts of aggression.
What a relief!! I thought all those people shoving me around were ageist brutes who didn’t care that I am elderly and frail. How wrong I was! When the British push you out of their way, it is a silent cry for air.
Which brings us right back to Brighton where fresh air is always swirling about us, filling our lungs with new oxygen from France. I boarded a train at London Victoria and two people hit me in the shin in their rush to get to the coach first. One lady smashed her suitcase into my hip and another yanked my shoulder into a vertical position to reach the aisle seat. The minute we all got off the train in Brighton, everyone was smiling, inhaling the lovely oxygenated air and loving one another. A gentleman carried my case to the station, a lady held my arm lest I trip and two lovely young men with grandmother complexes bought me a coffee.
The oxygen cure would not work in America however. It isn’t the air that infuriates them; it is the government.

Knitting up the raveled sleeve of anything you like

KNIT ONE, PURL TWO AND YOU’RE FREE

Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit,
and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.
Elizabeth Zimmerman

I was a nervous child. I was terrified of the horrible dangers that lurked around every corner. If I talked to strangers because they would abduct me; I must never argue with my mother or she would give me back to the Indians. I couldn’t cross a street without risking my life; if I dared to boil water, the steam would blind me. Touching the pan would cost a finger. Boys with nasty leers jumped out behind bushes at little girls like me, and teachers got angry for no reason at all.
Reality was too much for me to absorb. My nerves were jangled and my nails bitten to the quick. I jumped at an unexpected sound; I screamed when a light flashed; I hid under the couch when someone slammed the door.
My mother was a redhead with an attitude. She was afraid of nothing. Danger actually thrilled her and she met it head on with eyes flashing and acid repartee that quelled the bravest among us.
And it was she who made me quiver and shake at the thought of facing another day with all its pitfalls. It was she who reminded me that I might trip if I ran too fast; I might break that dish I was wiping; or jam the brush into my eye when I brushed my hair. She couldn’t stand the fidgeting, the nail biting, and the twitches. “This kid is driving me crazy,” she told my Aunt Hazel. “She is a nervous wreck.”
My Aunt Hazel was a pragmatist. When she didn’t get enough meat for dinner, she left home. When she couldn’t earn enough money to support herself she married a bootlegger. She was one of the first in that generation to think outside the box. “Teach her to knit,” she told my mother.
“Are you crazy?” said my mother. “She jiggles so much she’ll poke her eyes out with a knitting needled. “
“Well that’s one way to calm her down,” said Aunt Hazel.
So it was that my aunt took me with her to the Stitch In Time Knitting shop filled with yarn in every color and an oval table piled high with pattern books. Several ladies sat around that table drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes (this was 1943) chatting about the war effort and knitting scarves, mittens and caps for our servicemen. Their needles clicked and they smiled and laughed as they worked. As I watched these women moving those needles at the speed of light, I saw to my amazement that they were creating all kinds of garments: sweaters with lace sleeves, block patterns and colors, plaids and stripes and polka dots.
“I want to do that,” I told my aunt.
“I thought you would,” she said. “What would you like to make?”
My aunt took me home that afternoon and told my mother, ”She’s knitting a scarf. That will keep her in line.”
That was back in 1943, but my aunt’s wisdom holds truth even today. In fact, a maximum-security prison in Brazil came to the same conclusion. They have decided that if their inmates knit something for three days, it is worth one day off their sentence. They know what my aunt figured out so many years ago. Knitters don’t have time to get in trouble. They might drop a stitch.

FIGHT FOR THE FINISH

THE CLEAN PLATE CLUB
Life is uncertain;
Eat dessert first.
Ernestine Ulmer
Peter Svacha was halfway through eating his chocolate pudding, when the restaurant where he was eating told him it was closing time. He was furious. He left the place, got a chain saw, sliced a hole in the establishment’s door and crawled back to the table to finish his pudding.
I know exactly how he felt. I too would obliterate anything that kept me from finishing my dessert. I blame this determination on my mother.
My mother’s forte was creating yummy desserts. She had one number that she always served after spaghetti dinner that was amazingly beautiful and absolutely luscious. She would bake an angel food cake from scratch (my mother would have sooner danced nude on a fire hydrant than use a cake mix). The finished product was so light she needed to weight it down to stay on the plate. She whipped up a custard of eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar and pineapple juice and frosted her cake with it. She decorated the entire production with pineapple slices, maraschino cherries and strawberries and served it with a lots of whipped cream and a flourish.
BUT there was a catch. My mother never allowed us to touch dessert until we cleaned up everything she put on our dinner plates. Before we could tuck into her pineapple delight, we had to demolish spaghetti with meatballs, broccoli in a cheese sauce, a green salad and garlic bread. We suffered for that cake. Indeed we suffered. We endured tummy aches, stomach spasms and guilt…but we managed to down it and when we did, we finished it down to the last bit of pineapple.
My mother’s chocolate cake was the eighth wonder of the world. It was made with six eggs, a ton of butter and enough chocolate to keep a candy store supplied for ten years. She topped it with a mint chocolate frosting to die for and set it in the middle of the dining room table so we could see what we had to look forward to at the end of the meal.
But first, we had to finish dinner. Remember? She would serve us a huge slab of steak, potatoes with cheddar cheese, asparagus hollandaise, a tossed salad and wait until we cleaned our plates before we could touch that cake. I still feel the pain of forcing that cake into my packed middle but I know that even if my stomach burst, I would let absolutely nothing interfere with my demolishing that wonderfully melt in your mouth cake.
All I can say, is “go for it Peter Svacha. “ Finish that pudding and never count the cost. For what is dinner without a sweet finish?? It is nothing more than duty with no reward, a rose with no fragrance, sex without climax. Life is to be lived, of course, but if it is to be savored, we must have dessert.