I began the year with a trip to Charlotte for the annual reunion of my college roommates…It just so happened that two of our daughters were there for different sports competitions. I was so grateful to my friend, who drove me to my daughter’s four games and even stood out in the freezing cold rain with me to watch a little. Now that‘s truly a good friend!
A few weeks later, our oldest headed back to school in NYC.
I went to New Jersey to visit my sister and her faithful dog Daisy.
My friend Katherine and I woke up at an ungodly hour to board a 6 am flight to NYC to check in on our kids, who are both studying there…
We stayed in a hotel at Hudson Yards, right next to The Vessel.
Our hotel bathroom must have been three times as large as the one in my son’s apartment…
On Saturday we went to Chinatown for dim sum and found ourselves wading through huge crowds that had come out for the Chinese New Year parade:
This last Sunday my second son gave a sermon during the youth-led service at our church…
So proud of him. So not ready for him to leave for college next Fall.
Meanwhile, Gingersnap continues her ruthless and devastatingly efficient campaign to conquer the universe with expressions like these…
At the dog park today…
My son recently sent me a photo of a pile of slimy dog poop in our mudroom with this caption:
“Mom in 2016 – WHY DO I LIVE IN A WORLD OF POO?!?!”
I’ve never lived down the moment I let rip that primal yawp of anguish after finding yet another pile of feces in the house. My children still mock me from time to time for it. They imitate my manic rage by goggling their eyes, overenunciating each word, and gradually crescendoing to the final, thundering “POO” before collapsing into hysterical peals of laughter at their mother’s expense.
Back in the good old days, my dogs would mostly do their business outside. With increasing frequency, we began finding little bombs left around the house. I had to start buying Nature’s Miracle in gallon size bottles. At first I didn’t understand that Tallis, our Shih Tzu (pronounced just as you might expect), was not trying to punish me with his fecal indiscretions. It was the first signs of illness.
Our dog has been suffering from constipation for years, and this has eventually led to his current diagnosis of “megacolon.” The silliness of the name belies a rather serious condition. When I first mentioned the constipation to his vet, my concern was lightly brushed off with a recommendation to add a little pumpkin to his diet. We tried this for a few weeks to no avail. It was clear that the situation was becoming critical, and I insisted that the vet take a closer look at him. I dropped him off in the morning and when the doctor called me at work and spoke to me in a hushed tone of compassionate concern, I knew the situation was grave. He took x-rays, ran tests, and finally referred us to another practice which had a specialist in internal medicine. Since then, we’ve tried all sorts of things to get things moving, including yogurt, lettuce, green beans, blueberries, Cisapride, Lactulose, and prescription dog foods. In the last half year, we’ve resorted to taking poor Tallis in for periodical enemas.
Every morning when my daughter brings the dogs back inside after their morning constitutional, I ask her for “The Poop Report.”
“Have the pups achieved pooition?” I ask, “How many?”
One-Poop-Days are typical. A Two-Poop-Day is cause for celebration. I actually find myself walking around with an extra bounce in my step on those red-letter Two-Poop-Days.
Two-Poop-Days call for more in-depth reporting. I press the dogwalker with probing questions…”What was the consistency? What would you say was the length and diameter?”
My children have learned to take this all in stride. They celebrate the increasingly rare Two-Poop-Days right alongside me. They can’t help but inflect their Two-Poop-Reports with a happy little lilt as they describe Tallis’ accomplishments. We crow with delight at every single thing that issues from Tallis’ back end. Never before has man or beast been so fêted for so little.
Thus my son’s text, which continued…
“Mom in 2018 – Oooooooh tell me more about the consistency!”
When I first got my son’s text, I thought he was sending it to me to complain that he had to clean up the mess.
“No!!!” he told me when we discussed it later that evening, “I sent it to you, because I knew it would make you so happy that Tallis had pooped!”
I took our dog to the vet again last Friday for another enema. This time a doctor new to the practice called me to say that we needed to start thinking about “quality of life” issues. She suggested that euthanasia rather than an enema may be in order. After some fraught discussions, we decided we would try a different kind of prescription dog food and give him another couple of weeks. In the meantime, we’re going to shower him with lots of love, keep our fingers crossed, and hope for the day that we will once again live in a world of poo.
If you’ve been following our story, you may have noticed that our family is gaga for animals. We collect them as casually as people collect, say, matchbooks or Pez dispensers. Oh, look! A _______________! We don’t have one of those yet! You can fill in the blank with any number of the fish, rodents, lagomorphs, and dogs that have passed through our house. My daughter has most recently been drawing up an action plan to convince her father that having a couple of sheep in the paddock out back would not only be a good idea, but essential to her happiness.
She has a tough road ahead of her. My husband is one of two people in our household, who do not think that sharing your space with an abundance of animals is delightful. His mini-me, our second son, rolls his eyes heavenward and heaves a weary sigh whenever a new animal is added to our menagerie. He dutifully helps take care of the dogs, but with no great enthusiasm. Whenever one of us starts talking about adding yet another hamster, or a couple of ducks, or a fish to the mix, our very own Jiminy Cricket issues dire predictions about the troubles that are likely to ensue as a result of our animal profligacy. He tries to warn us of our folly, and then eventually throws his hands up in despair and retires to his own bedroom, one of the only places in our house where peace and order reign.
In the past we have considered providing shelter to horses, llamas, goats, ducks, guinea hens, quails, turtles, and even snakes. The one animal I was never tempted to keep was a cat. But…sometimes you choose, and sometimes you are chosen. Parson, a cat we only latterly discovered to be a “she” rather than a “he,” chose us, or rather chose to let us live in her/our house.
My daughter took over Parson’s care and feeding, and we tried to make her as comfortable as possible on our back porch. In the corner of our porch, we installed a pet carrier outfitted with a cozy bed and a self-warming pad. For the two years we’ve lived in our house, Parson has spent her days and nights there. She has expressed satisfaction with our services by rubbing up against our legs when we go out to greet her. Our dopey little dogs have repeatedly tried to make friendly overtures to her, signaling their goodwill with their cocked heads and wagging tails. She will have nothing to do with their foolishness. As soon as she catches sight of them, she hisses at them as if she is ready to start World War III.
The polar vortex had us worrying about Parson. It’s been so cold the kids have now twice had an hour school delay. One day we opened the door to see if we could coax the cat inside to warm up for awhile. We finally managed to lure her in with some treats, but as soon as the dogs came running up to greet her, she hissed and ran under the oven to hide. She was still there a few hours later when I had to leave the house. I was dreading what I would find when I returned home.
“Did the cat ever come out?” I asked my children when I got back.
“Oh yeah! She came out,” Jiminy Cricket replied casually.
“How did you get her out?”
“I just put some food out in the kitchen and she came out to eat.”
“And she’s back outside now?”
“No? Where is she?”
“She’s in my room. She likes it there.”
“Oh! Well, let’s let her outside so she can go to the bathroom.”
“Not a good idea,” Jiminy Cricket said, shaking his head, “It’s way too cold out there for her.”
“Well, but…how’s she going to go to the bathroom?”
“We set up the guinea pigs’ litter box in my room.”
There are so many reasons for being shocked by these revelations I don’t even know where to begin…
“So what are we going to do with her? She hates the dogs…”
“She’ll live in my room.”
Still shaking my head in wonder, I braced myself for the difficult conversation I was going to have with my husband about the matter. I explained to him our son’s surprising position on the cat.
“Well, that’s no good.”
My heart sank.
“She can’t stay in his room forever.”
“Eventually, I want her to come out and socialize with everyone, including the dogs.”
And that, my friends, is a Christmas miracle.
Anyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for pets…My husband neither supports nor endorses my penchant for collecting extra mouths to feed and poop to shovel, but he tolerates it with the stoicism of the English.
Last week I was in Portland, Oregon with two of my siblings. We stayed at the historic Benson Hotel. As I perused the menu of guest services, my eye was immediately drawn to the “Fish Program”:
I relentlessly pestered my sister with whom I was sharing a room until she broke down and let me order up a “companion fish.” I gleefully called housekeeping and made the request.
A young man came to the door bearing this beauty…
I announced the betta’s arrival into my life to my friends on Instagram, and named him “Benson” at the suggestion of one of my cousins. My husband, a rare consumer of social media, spotted the post and countered with his own suggestion for a name: “Blood Clot.” (You see what I’m saying? This is a man who is not at all into animal husbandry).
I tried to freak him out a little by telling him that the hotel was going to let me bring Blood Clot home, but he did not rise to the bait.
My next attempt to yank his chain was to send him a picture of the “emotional support companion” dog who happened to be sitting next to me on the flight home from Portland.
“They wouldn’t let me bring Blood Clot home, but…meet Sprocket! I know you’re going to adore him!” I wrote:
My little joke was met with deafening silence. Perhaps because I had already tried to play that dirty trick on him a couple years ago:
I’m not the only one in my family who loves animals. My daughter really wanted baby goats, and for a hot second I actually considered getting them for her:
I came to my senses and we reached a more reasonable compromise:
So when my son asked if he could adopt his friend’s mudskipper, I could hardly refuse, although I had no idea what the heck a mudskipper was. “Mudskipper” didn’t sound at all cute or cuddly.
The name was somewhat alarming, but more alarming still was the fact that my son’s friend wanted to unload him in the first place. I happened to know that this friend of his has an even larger and more diverse menagerie than we have. He has a falcon, two dogs, a whole aquarium full of fish, geckos, chickens, a snake…Hello?! The boy has a pet FALCON, for Pete’s sake!
Why in the world would he want to get rid of his mudskipper?
I agreed to let my son bring the mudskipper home, but I told him we could only take him after Christmas since we would be traveling over the holidays.
To my dismay the mudskipper arrived well before Christmas.
“Hey! I thought we’d agreed that we couldn’t take him until after Christmas?!”
“I know, but we had to take him now, because getting rid of the mudskipper is [my friend]’s Christmas present to his dad.”
May I remind you that my son’s friend has a falcon, a gecko, a snake, two dogs, chickens, and a whole plethora of other fish? The kid has his own chest freezer full of dead mice to feed his falcon. But the one pet which his dad objected to was the mudskipper. He was SO anxious to get it out of his house, that he asked his son to get rid of it as a Christmas present to him.
Meet Darwin, the mudskipper:
So adorable, right?
Why in the world would anyone want to get rid of such a sweet little creature?
Darwin arrived with a jar of food, which he begrudgingly eats:
…when he can’t get the fresh food he prefers.
The other day I came upon my son, who was sitting on his haunches rooting around in my garden.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Just getting some dinner for my man, Darwin.”
My birthday isn’t until September, but I already know exactly what I’m going to ask for!
The primula my mother-in-law brought from Scotland to England to America is blooming again. This humble little flower made its way to me from across the ocean wrapped in a napkin stashed in my mother-in-law’s handbag. It’s held a spot of honor in every garden of each of the three houses we’ve lived in here in Charlottesville. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve divided this sentimental favorite to share with friends…
In the evening I picked up my daughter and three of her friends after their second ever quartet practice. I laughed during the entire car ride home as the young musicians discussed their plans to get rich busking on the Downtown Mall.
“Whose case should we use to collect money?”
“Definitely mine,” said the cellist, “It’s the biggest.”
“Yeah, mine is way too small,” agreed the flautist, “It would fill up with money way too fast and we’d have to keep emptying it all the time, which would be a pain.”
Dream big, girls. Dream big!
Later that evening we had family movie night.
We’ve been watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy over the course of several weeks. Though Tolkien wrote his great epic in the 30s and 40s about hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards, it’s uncanny how many parallels can be drawn between the trilogy’s war between the forces of good and evil and current events. Trump, Daesh, the refugee crisis, the environmental crisis…they’re all in there. I found this gorgeous edition for my daughter who has only read The Hobbit, and still has the pleasure of reading the trilogy ahead of her. The rest of us are lined up to re-read them when she’s done!
MarieBette Café & Bakery and their brioches feuilletées are one of the many reasons I love living in Charlottesville:
There are only about two and a half days in any given year when I want to be outside, and Saturday was one of them!
My husband took the kids to play frisbee golf:
…while I had fun getting my hands dirty in the garden! I transplanted a few things, planted some seeds…
and finally finished the oyster shell path I began last year! It only took three more 50 lb bags of crushed oyster shells and the last dregs of my will to carry on. If you see me hobbling around clutching my back like an old woman, you’ll know why.
Winter Jewels Hellebores are one of the very first plants I put in my new garden. These flowers are so great! They bloom crazy early and then continue on for months, untouched by deer, insects, late snows and other gardening catastrophes. They self seed and are easy to divide too.
In the evening we all met up again for dinner at Smoked, a bustling barbecue restaurant in the newly opened Piedmont Place in Crozet. There was a rather long wait for a table, so we spent a lovely hour at Over the Moon Bookstore.
I’ve been trapped in a loveless marriage with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for what seems like an eternity, but has really probably been less than a year. I thought I’d step out on Wolf Hall to have a meaningless fling with Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl, but I’m not enjoying that book nearly as much as I thought I would. So now I’m condemned to slog through TWO books before starting some of the books I bought at Over the Moon. I was discussing this with the bookseller and she told me she didn’t understand this at all:
“Life is too short. I give a book ten pages at the most, and if I’m not hooked, I just stop reading it.”
Do you feel obliged to finish a book once you’ve started? Even if you hate it?
Spotted on my way to book group brunch…
Did I mention how much I love living in Charlottesville?
This month my book group read my sister’s novel Tiger Pelt! I artfully posed some copies on the table only to realize with bitter disappointment once I got home – you can’t see the books!!!
You may not be able to spot the books in the photo, but you can find your own copy of Annabelle Kim’s Tiger Pelt online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. It’s a great pick for book clubs! No loveless marriages here…I promise it will move and inspire you. Readers of this blog may recognize some of the events in Tiger Pelt, because the boy’s story is inspired by my father’s life story. If you read it, I would love to hear what you think.
After I got back home, I began to redecorate for spring:
My daughter and I gave her guinea pigs’ pad a new look for spring too:
I feel that it’s still missing a certain je ne sais quoi…A seagrass wallpaper to pull in a little more texture? Some ambient lighting perhaps? Some cushions for a pop of color? A chaise longue in the corner? Nothing but the finest for these round-the-clock industrial poop factories:
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m republishing some of my past posts about love…My first repost is my rendition of My Funny Valentine(s), featuring Tallis and Chloe, my cute, but rotten dogs. They’re still not 100% housebroken, they tend to yap, and they’re exceedingly lazy. But we love them anyway:
There are many ways to deal with life when the going gets rough…
The hardiest among us can simply:
Being of the non-hardy variety myself, I find that eating a cookie can help:
Sometimes animals are the best therapy of all. At the university where I work, various groups will often hire a petting zoo to roll onto campus to alleviate stress during exam periods. The students abandon their books and fly out of the libraries and dorms as soon as they catch wind of the fact that the animals have arrived…Wouldn’t you?
Even my grumpy colleague can’t help but crack a smile when the petting zoo arrives:
Of course we have our own cute and cuddly therapy animals at home:
What’s that you say?! You mean you don’t find Darwin the mudskipper cute and cuddly?
Are you SURE?!
My friend Tina is a child psychologist. Her trademark tools of the trade are her therapy guinea pigs. They earn their keep by going to work with her every day. For years she’s been telling me that guinea pigs make great pets. If you’ve been following this blog, you may recall that my daughter was pining for a more exotic variety of pet. First she wanted goats, which I considered getting for her for a hot minute before coming to my senses. Then she decided she wanted to have ducklings. I was about to get her the ducklings, when I discovered hawks and foxes in our backyard. Remembering my friend’s advice, I finally convinced my daughter that guinea pigs would make far better pets. I made absolutely no move to actually get them for her however.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we all had a day off from school and work, and I had scheduled dentist appointments for the kids. As we left the dentist’s office my son asked me if we could make a quick run to the pet store so he could pick up some marine salt for Darwin, the mudskipper…(Don’t all these stories start so innocently)?
My daughter was in a foul mood, having just had a recalcitrant baby tooth yanked out of her head and sealants placed on her molars ahead of the braces both she and her brother are scheduled to get next month. At the pet store, she grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to the back corner of the pet store. And there they were…two unfathomably adorable baby guinea pigs. Obviously, they came home with us.
My crabby girl perked right up.
We played with them all day long. They were so cute, my daughter and I could only tear our eyes away from them to look at each other with these expressions on our faces:
Not everyone in our household finds them to be so irresistible:
Now when I get home from work, my daughter takes me by the hand and says, “Come. Let’s have some guinea pig therapy.”
And it works like a charm.
Now I totally get why Tina took those guinea pigs to work every day…because as everybody knows: therapists need therapy too!
I came home today to this cozy sight:
I went upstairs to discover that while I was at work, we acquired a new member of our ever growing menagerie…Like Chloe, my husband’s favorite foot warmer, our new pet has big, round eyes. He/She/It (?!) has a wiggly tail. It mostly likes to lounge around, but every once in a while it scampers about. It likes to swim…
Meet our new mudskipper. It’s an amphibious fish who can motor around on land and in water. My son’s friend brought it over to our house, because his mother asked him to find a new home for it as a Christmas present to his father. As you might imagine, I find this to be rather ominous, but I will keep an open mind.
My son is taking suggestions for names. Let me know if you have any by commenting!
We took a field trip with a caravan of friends to visit the wonderful A Better Way Farm and Goat Dairy in Waynesboro, Virginia. Ever since we moved to a house with a paddock and barn in the backyard, my daughter has been pleading for a baby goat. As my friend said, a visit to a goat farm truly was “a better way” to indulge her.
The goat farm is a one woman operation. Just a few years ago, Kathy was working at home as a computer programmer. She said she never dreamed she would end up being a goat farmer when she bought her house and land ten years ago. It all started when her youngest daughter asked for some chicks. (At this my friend and I eyed each other. The story sounded ominously familiar). “Chicks,” she said, “are a ‘gateway drug’ for other farm animals.” Soon all she wanted to do was be outside playing with the animals. She quit her job and started building her goat herd. Now all her children have grown and left home, and she runs the farm all by herself. Even though she has 70+ goats she milks by hand, chickens, a newly planted orchard, and bees, she says she’s having so much fun it doesn’t feel like a job at all! On the weekends she gives tours of her farm and from time to time gives workshops on things like goatkeeping, beekeeping, and soap making.
It was a delight to see someone so in her element. She knows each of her goats by name. “Hi, Magpie!” she says as she gives a black and white goat an affectionate head scratch. “My babies!” she cries to triplets, furiously wagging their little tails and clamoring for her attention:
We inquired about one goat who looked rather largish around the middle.
“Is she about to give birth?” my friend asked.
“Oh, that’s my very first goat. She’s not pregnant; she just never regained her figure after having her babies. She forgives you.”
I could definitely relate.
The tour concluded with a taste of creamy, sweet goat’s milk, which one of the visitors described as tasting like “melted ice cream.” We bought some chèvre, feta, and soap – all made from goats’ milk.
And though it was incredibly difficult to resist, we did not buy a baby goat.
Now the girl wants ducklings.