Holiday Decorating on a #TaxBill2017 Budget

Welcome Gentle Readers!

Today we will explore how to create a festive and inviting home environment even as we start in on a new gastric ulcer courtesy of #TaxBill2017.

1) Caloric Requirements:

During the halcyon days of the Obama administration, many of us managed to pick up a few extra pounds during the month of December.  Ho ho ho! and a bottle of rum, indeed.  Due to the constant activation of our collective renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system under the current administration, please anticipate heightened caloric needs.  We estimate that the average “liberal” adult will require additional daily calories in the following approximation: 4″ x 5″ section of ginger bread house (preferably heavily decorated with corn syrup frosting and petrochemical gumdrops), hot toddy (1), Four Calling Birds, 1/3 Costco tub of Nutella, 24 ounces eggnog (spiked), and a handful of candy canes purloined from a co-worker’s desk.

2) Set the Bar – Low, and with adequate glassware:

I’ve noticed an alarming trend amongst legitimate lifestyle bloggers, who hold that minimalism, not cleanliness, is next to godliness.  These paragons of style espouse KonMari-ing and Swedish Death Cleaning as a way of life.  Regular, everyday life.


Leave those doors open! Let people see how you really live!


Never, ever de-clutter your kitchen when entertaining. The stacks of dirty dishes allow guests to fully relax and regenerate their self-esteem.

I’m here to tell you, there is nothing more stressful than walking into a friend’s home for a holiday gathering and noting that everything is in perfect order, with nary a whiff of clutter.  This year, especially this year, I plan to help our guests feel more at-home, and perhaps even domestically-enabled, by leaving our clutter pristinely intact.

3) Making Due – Bootstraps Decor:

Some families celebrate Christmas by hacking down living, breathing trees, strapping them to their cars like slaughtered game, slapping them in shallow bowls full of chemical-laden water that their macerated phloem and xylem can’t even slurp up, and discarding them within a couple weeks like last year’s iPhone.


This year’s Christmas tree – “Brass Buckle”

Why not use one of the houseplants you’ve killed over the past year instead?  I happened to kill a charming specimen early this fall, a miniature evergreen Japanese Holly called “Brass Buckle.”  It survived outdoors from May through September thanks to consistent rainfall.  I replanted it as a land/water bonsai, so charming, and brought it inside, whereupon I completely forgot about it.


Nothing could be cheerier than red-n-orange Nerf mega-darts! Candy wrappers, found on various horizontal surfaces, add a whimsical element.

The dead specimen makes a perfect miniature Christmas tree!  I simply decorated it with found objects and gave it a light dusting of artificial snow.  #SoFestive!


Even the family dog can help decorate! Here, a light dusting of Chester fur completes the snowy scene.








I’m sure most of you have seen the photos of Melania Trump’s Christmas decor at the White House.  You, too, can create a lovely DIY version of the Hall of White Branches With Ominous Ceiling Shadows!  I chopped down some of our existing shrubbery and propped it up on the front porch at jaunty angles.




Wickermare Before Christmas?

The suspended wicker furniture adds the necessary element of foreboding so integral to FLOTUS’ vision.


That’s the limit of Holiday Cheer I can muster at the moment.  Please chime in with your ideas for how to make the season bright.


Musical Moment

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Dear Al Franken

He corners me in the stairwell, away from the other kids.  “Show me what’s under your underwear,” he demands, “or I’ll hurt you.”  I’m scared and ashamed.  I lift my skirt and show him the edge of my underwear, trying to appease him.  He traps me another time and after that I quit wearing dresses to school.  I tell no one, already internalizing the potential fallout of an accusation.  I am six.

We’re in England for my dad’s work during Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee.  I attend part of a school-day with the daughter of my father’s colleague.  We glue colored tissue to flat paper crowns.  Love live Queen Elizabeth the Second!  I, the foreigner, am paraded around the room with my crown.  Some older boys snicker and talk.  I hear their words and see their crude motions and I’m not quite naïve enough to miss their sexual intent.  I am seven.

We stage a talent show at sleep-away church camp.  I wear my leopard print pajamas and dance around to music from The Pink Panther.  A male counsellor, college-aged, says, “You’re so cute, I could make kittens.”  I am nine.

My mother takes me to a self-defense workshop at a Catholic church near our house.  Kick them in the groin, poke them in the eyes.  “Don’t yell rape; yell fire,” they say.  No one wants to get involved in a rape.  They teach us to fear the stranger in the woods.  They don’t teach us to fear the priest, the babysitter’s boyfriend, the friend of the family.  I am ten.

We’re visiting distant cousins in California.  The boys are systematically chasing the girls, capturing them, and swinging them by their arms and legs before tossing them into the pool.  I shrink behind the pool furniture.  They try to come for me and I say, “No,” shaking my head.  They come anyway and drag me to the side of the pool.  I’m hanging by my arms and legs – it hurts to have your entire weight suspended by your hands and feet – and I feel helpless.  And resigned.  It’ll be over soon.  They toss me into the pool.  I am eleven.

The practice studio sits at the very back of the music store, down a dark hall, behind a closed door.  My drum teacher is strange.  I have a pretty high tolerance for strange.  One day, he tells me a joke.  I don’t recall the lead-in.  The punchline is “A black cherry,” a double whammy of racism and misogyny.  I tell my teacher that it’s not appropriate for him to say things like that to me.  I am twelve.

A friend of my family, a single man around thirty years old, tells my parents that he would want to date me if I were older.  I am thirteen.

I take the bus to driver’s ed in the summer, all the way to the flat expanse of Bloomington.  I’m carrying a LeSportsac purse.  It’s white and square and I love everything about it except the color.  I get off the bus, headed west on 90th, and sense someone behind me.  I glance over my shoulder.  There’s a man behind me.  He’s moving closer.  I glance again and the sun reflects off the metal he holds in his hand.  He’s gaining on me with apparent intent.  I dash across the street and rush into the driver training building.  Even then, I’m doubting my own senses, my own story.  Was he really following me?  Was it actually a knife?  I call my parents from the office phone.  I am fifteen.

I’m at the allergist, doing my annual check-in.  Yes, the injections are going fine.  No, I haven’t had any bad reactions.  Yes, I’m taking the phenylpropanolamine (even though it makes me feel blue).  No, I don’t want any prednisone.  The doctor moves in to examine me, pressing his groin tight against my thigh.  I try to scoot sideways, subtly.  Is he just leaning?  Am I over-reacting?  The next year, it’s the same story.  And the next, I’m ready, my leg safely out of the way.  I am a teenager.

The youth group from church goes on a mission trip to San Francisco.  We frolic at the ocean despite the freezing temperatures.  I’m wearing a modest bikini that I found on clearance at Marshall’s.  Behind my back, I hear a group of boys comment on my swimsuit.  “Too bad she doesn’t have the body for it,” they say.  I am fifteen.

I’m a senior at South High School.  A junior flirts with me, loans me his fuzzy jade green sweater.  It smells like soap and boy and fits me like an enormous dress.  He gives me a Woolrich stuffed sheep for Christmas.  I know it costs $25 and I think it’s way too much for him to spend and he does it anyway.  We hang out at City Center, listen to U2, and kiss.  “Whenever you’re ready,” he says.  I’m not ready.  He doesn’t push.  I am seventeen.

I’m a freshwomyn at Oberlin College.  I meet a boy.  It’s autumn and the fog is so beautiful in the evening.  We walk and talk and play Rachmaninoff for each other.  We wind up in my dorm room.  We’re kissing and he keeps trying to get up my shirt.  I push his hands away.  “No.”  He stands up abruptly, “I’ve heard enough ‘no’,” and storms out of my room.  We never speak again.  I am eighteen.

One of my patients is scheduled for a complete physical.  We chat about his medical history.  I hand him a gown and step out of the room so he can change.  When I come back in, he is completely naked and aroused, sitting on the exam table.  I offer him a gown.  He declines.  “You can wear a gown,” I say.  Do I step out and ask my nurse to accompany me?  A colleague later tells me that she saw my patient for a physical.  “Why?  I say.  “He just had a physical.”  The story is exactly the same.  The story repeats again in the ER with yet another young female physician.  I contact the tech assistant for the Electronic Medical Record.  I describe the situation, that we need a warning to pop up on the patient’s chart: Do not see this patient without a chaperone.  The tech assures me that he’ll look into it.  When the patient returns to clinic, I confront him.  “I know what you’re doing and you have to stop.”  I never see him again.  I am thirty.

In my five years at Hiawatha Clinic, two of my patients come to me for help after they are raped.  I encourage them to call the police.  Both decline.  One was raped by her drug dealer and is afraid that she’ll be prosecuted.  The other was roofied on a college campus in the Twin Cities.  I write a scathing letter to the president of the institution and hear exactly nothing back.

After the Leann Tweeden story breaks, I find myself embroiled in a Facebook discussion.  Most of the participants think that what you, Al Franken, did, really wasn’t that bad.  And for a woman to even bring up such allegations is an insult to women who were actually raped.  I’m speechless.  These are “progressive” people, arguing for “Levels of Wrongness,” excusing your inexcusable behavior.

Eventually I find my voice in the discussion.  “From the US Dept of Justice: ‘Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.’”  There is pushback in the Facebook conversation, so I add, “Our culture has so normalized the objectification of women, that we even question ourselves – ‘Did he really just rub his groin against my thigh? Maybe he was just leaning?’ [recognize that story, reader?] Regardless of the ‘degree of wrongness,’ it’s wrong. And women should feel safe to speak up, to break the Cycle of Wrong.”

Women are speaking up.  Finally.  Every woman has a story.  Every woman has been harassed.  In the United States, someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.  That means 92 people have been assaulted since I sat down to write this post.

I’m fortunate.  What happened to me was “not so bad,” par for the course for any girl in this country.  Still, the memories I shared above are crystal clear, formative experiences in my childhood and adolescence.

I voted for you, Al.  Twice.  It’s time for some House (and Senate) cleaning.  We hold our children to higher standards than we hold our elected officials.  Let’s systematically sort through and eliminate (metaphorically, of course) everyone in government who has committed sexual assault.  Cull the ranks.  If we systematically sort through and eliminate everyone in government who is guilty of sexual harassment, how many men will remain?

I don’t know what to tell you, Al.  On the one hand, you’re pretty good, one of the few glimmers of hope in a bleak political landscape.  You seem to care about issues that I care about.  Your recent track record suggests that you value and respect women.  On the other hand, you appear to have committed sexual assault.  Twice.  You made your bed and now you have the pleasure of lying in it.

So I say shake it down, shake it all down.  Rattle the skeletons.  Hold everyone to the same standard of human decency in this era of a pussy-grabbing president.


Musical Moment

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A hemorrhoid,

That’s what he is.

A fungating mass lurking at the anus of our democracy.


Easily irritated,

Readily inflamed,

Leaching the lifeblood from our veins.


Embarrassing.  Slimy.  Disgusting.


We knew it could be big trouble,

This redundant tissue hovering in our nether regions.

Maybe if we ignore it

(we thought)

It’ll go away.


It didn’t.


It grew and stretched and expanded

And bled.


At some point -

Perhaps the immigration ban, Paris Climate Accord, or conflicts of interest?  Maybe indiscriminate sharing of classified information, false wire tap accusations, birth certificate idiocy, or crying “Fake News!”


What about NAFTA dalliances, the Meals on Wheels fiasco, and mucking with the judicial branch?


The “gentleman” dictator.

The “very fine people.”

The “on both sides”?


At some point -

The misogyny and racism and anti-Semitism and the “little shit” and the “son of a bitch” -

All of it will congeal,




The excruciating pain of a thrombosed hemorrhoid.


Are we there yet?

What will it take?

When the conservative management,

The stool softeners

The fiber

The fluids

The sitzbaths

When the conservative management can’t manage the pain in the ass.


We reach for the knife.


We reach for the knife and,

without benefit of anesthetic

(we don’t deserve it for what we’ve done)

we reach for the knife and





Musical Moment

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If the Shoe Fits

We spent last week at my in-laws’ lake shack.  The conditions of my participation in lake shacking include: 1) a functioning indoor toilet 2) running water.

Spiders don’t bother me in the least.  I love snakes.  And I can even live with some mouse excrement.

Ace, The Big E, Chester, the New Edition (more on that in a later post), and I piled into the minivan last Monday.  Packing is hardly a challenge when you’re driving around in a gas-guzzling motel-on-wheels.  Remember my pillow fetish?  Not a problem.

An hour-and-a-half into the trip, The Big E requested a stop to evacuate the contents of his urinary bladder.  We pulled into a gas station and he said, “Oh dear, I think I forgot my shoes.”  I looked down, and there he was, wearing MY socks with nary a shoe in sight.

How do you even pile, stocking-footed, into a car for a several day trip without shoes?  How does this happen?

I have a love/hate relationship with shoes.  I love shoes that look swell and fit well.  The fitting part is tricky, though, as I’m exceptionally picky, particularly if I’m paying retail prices.  Zappos and I are playing tennis, back and forth, with boxes of shoes.  I ordered, they sent, and I returned the following: Nike FS Lite Run 4 athletic shoes size 8.5 men’s, Nike Arrowz 8.5 men’s (too small for The Big E – I should’ve kept for myself), Dansko Stevie sandals size 39 (which are nothing like my beloved Dansko Stevie sandals from years ago that I bought at Steeple People for $4), Nike FS Lite Run 4 athletic shoes size 8.5 men’s (they were supposed to send an 8), Dansko Stevie sandals size 40 (the straps just didn’t fit my foot), Nike FS Lite Run 4 athletic shoes size 8 men’s (ugh),  and New Balance WX608v4 women’s jill-of-all-trades shoe in a 9.5.

My current athletic shoes, purchased on clearance at Marshall’s for $29, look like they’ve walked around the world in eighty days.  The Big E, being as he was, totally and completely without shoes, took my shoes.  They’re a bit snug for my baby moose, but he made do, turning them into his preferred slip-on model of footwear by mashing the heels down flat.

Approximately twenty-four hours into our ordeal trip, Ace noticed that the cork on the septic system had popped up, as if under extreme pressure.  To me it looked like a bit of plastic poking up out of the earth.  To him, it was a gustatorial and gastrointestinal emergency.  Ace called up the septic folk who hopped into their giant vacuum truck and charged us a boatload of money for “draining the system.”  In the interim, I made a delightful trip to the outhouse after dousing the entire structure with DEET.

A serendipitous foray into Goodwill in town yielded a pair of black Adidas ($6).  They were in the men’s section and, at first blush, looked to be The Big E’s size.  I bought them.  And they fit me perfectly!

We still haven’t found the missing athletic shoes.  School starts tomorrow.  And The Big E left my shoes at a friend’s house yesterday.


Musical Moment

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Radical Acceptance: Bad S*** Consistently Happens

Ace, The Big E, and I escaped to small-town Wisconsin for two days last week.  We crossed streets without getting run over, shopped in the farmers’ market, and snarfed preternaturally sweet corn-on-the-cob.  I basked in the luxury of off-line ignorance for forty-eight hours.

We returned on Saturday, just after a white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of true Americans, killing one woman and injuring enough others to fill 1.5 juries.  This at the end of a bare-faced, tiki-torch, Nazi bacchanal.  The president, snuggled up in his narcissistic bed, with Putin on one side and Steve Bannon on the other, basically said,  ”Tsk, Tsk.  Let’s all just try to get along.”

Let me vomit my thoughts onto the screen.  Don’t expect pristine organization.

1)    I’m embarrassed to be an American.  I read in the paper this morning that a supremely drunk American tourist decided it would be a swell idea to parade around Dresden, Germany raising his arm in a Nazi salute.  A German onlooker beat him up.  And this morning, a Massachusetts police officer, responding on Facebook to the Charlottesville death, wrote, “Hahahaha love this, maybe people shouldn’t block road ways.”

My grandpa, a WWI purple-heart decorated Marine, is rolling over in his grave.

2)   White supremacy is nothing new.  Fascists have been lurking among us forever.  Slave-owning white men wrote the Constitution.  Fascists are no longer lurking; they’re openly smiling for the camera.

3)   In America, we are guaranteed Freedom of Hate Speech.  Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito writes in Matal v. Tam: “[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’”

4)   How did an electoral majority of Americans believe that a racist, homophobic, narcissistic, xenophobic, misogynist is preferable to a woman?

5)    We haven’t evolved to the point that our brains can handle a continual onslaught of terrifying information.  I’m reminded of the Learned Helplessness Theory of Depression that I studied in Intro Psych.  Researchers decided to shock dogs to examine the impact on mood.  When the shocks occurred in a predictable manner, dogs didn’t get depressed.  When the shocks occurred in an unpredictable manner, depression followed.

My former colleague in clinic noted an immediate uptick in anxiety and insomnia in the days following the last presidential election.  As time marched on, depressive symptoms increased.  The “Trump Twenty” is real, with stressed patients packing on the pounds.

It’s time to stop being unpredictably shocked.  Horrifying events are predictably occurring all the time and we know about them immediately courtesy of the internet.  Radical Acceptance = acknowledging that bad shit consistently happens.

6)   How can we protect our children from the idiocy and violence that adults are continually perpetrating?  I chose not to discuss recent events in Charlottesville with The Big E.  Instead, we talked about our family values, that we believe all people are equal.  That a particular race, gender identity, sexuality, religion, cultural heritage, ability, intellectual capacity, does not determine a person’s worth.  How can we protect our children from Learned Helplessness in the Age of the iPhone?

7)    A partial list of suggested new hobbies for White Supremacists: buckthorn abatement, Meals on Wheels delivery, cleaning veteran’s war memorials, reading to nursing home residents (reading materials to be provided by residents’ family members), invasive species management (carp, beetles, worms)

8)   We can’t be chronically overwhelmed (or numb) and expect to be effective agents of change.  We must balance being informed with being healthy.

9)   Tiny steps help.  I will smile at strangers in Target.  I will recycle to the best of my ability.  I will financially support organizations that share my belief that all people are equal.  I will model peaceful conflict resolution for my son and help him learn to be an emotionally capable man.  #TinyRevolution

10)   Set your phone down and do some good.  Here are suggestions from the Southern Poverty Law Center.  


Musical Moment





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We take the bus to the debate tournament – Molly and I in our backless sweaters, convinced that feminine wiles are a major player in our offensive strategy.

Where do I meet him exactly?  Maybe in the hall between rounds, maybe in the lunchroom.  He’s cute, with a shock of wavy sand hair and puppy-brown eyes.  We’re by the lockers – were we talking?  The cumulative available getting-to-know-you time must be less than 32 minutes.  We’re by the lockers and he’s nuzzling my face with his cheek and his nose and I know he wants to kiss me and it’s like come on, get on with it already and I’m lighter than air, wafting on a breeze of sweet longing.

He doesn’t kiss me.

“I want to take you to prom,” he says.  I’m blown away.  Yes, of course I want to go to prom with you.  No matter that I know nothing about your family, no matter that you live hours away.

At the end of the tournament, I board the bus.  High.  He stands on the sidewalk of my memory.

I wave goodbye.

Musical Moment

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MWF Seeking SFuPo

Hey stranger.  Yeah, you.  The furry one with whiskers and cute pointy ears.  How about moving in with me for a long-term, committed, platonic love relationship?

I’m a middle-aged gal who’s used to canine-ical polyamory.  Due to the recent demise of my beloved fuzzy Pomeranian, I find myself in a monogamous situation with a large labrador retriever who doesn’t really understand the concept of snuggling.  Sure, he’s great at fetch games, inhaling kibble, and chronic tail-wagging, but Chester isn’t exactly a lap dog.  The last time he sat on me, I came away with Exhibits A (anterior thigh ecchymoses), B (later shin contusions), and C (puncture wound to vintage Izod).

Yesterday, I accidentally stopped at the Humane Society.  (Please don’t tell my husband.)  You were not there.  You are not a pitbull or a bulldog mix or a lab mutt or a Viszla situation.  You are not (please, please, please) a barker.  You are not bigger than 15 pounds or smaller than 8-10 pounds.  (I do not wish to maim you if I accidentally trounce on your tiny paw.)  You are not decrepit or insulin-dependent or bitish or dysthymic or entirely without functional teeth.

Color isn’t critical.  I will love you if you’re black, tan, white, buff, parti, or merle.  But if you’re auburn/red/russet I might become particularly enamored with you.  Gender matters not at all, though it’s a bit easier to diaper you (in the event of incontinence in your elder years – surely you would never mark on purpose) if you’re a boy.  Genus and species are non-negotiable.  Canis lupus familiaris only, please.  Pomeranians strongly preferred, though other small breeds will be given serious consideration.

I promise to love you, rub your tummy, carry you around like a baby, take you for delightful evening strolls, dress you up for Halloween, photograph you incessantly, feed you a fancy limited-ingredient diet (supplemented with an endless supply of surreptitious table scraps from The Big E), sneak you into places where you (for idiotic reasons like public health) aren’t allowed, and generally dote on you into your dotage.

About my husband.  He is a bit hesitant to commit to a second canine.  I do not understand his position.  He requires significantly less snuggling and I’ve informed him that if you, a delightful fur companion, do not join our household, he (Ace) will be required to do significantly MORE snuggling.  I’m confident that he (Ace) will come around.

Sound good?  Take your furry little paw and swipe right.  Let’s see where this goes…


Musical Moment

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Dear Class of 2017 Liberal Arts Graduates:

Congratulations.  I hope you aren’t saddled with unmanageable student debt.

We need to talk.  I know you’re capable of reading above a third-grade level for prolonged periods of time, certainly longer than a 140-character tweet.  If forced to condense my thoughts into a single tweet, it would be this:

“World in danger – send in the liberal arts grads. #TruthMatters #ThoughtMatters #ArtMatters #ScienceMatters #EducationMatters #LoveMatters”

You’re it.  You’re the key to the future.  I’m not asking for optimism or even realism.  What I want is idealism.  I want you to seek the Truth and stand on it, waving your handmade, pithy, activist signs.

Irreversible global warming?  Rampant diabetes, hypertension, superbugs, obesity, and mental illness?  Mounting political and religious extremism?  We may soon reach a stage where cyber shopping, tele-commuting, and Fox News keep us corralled like brainwashed livestock, alone in our dwellings, lacking the social skills to even carry on the species.

You.  Have.  The.  Tools.  When everyone else is wallowing in the reactionary muck of an anonymous virtual existence, you will still know how to communicate, interpret, negotiate, research, predict, extrapolate, mediate, and love.

Never doubt the value of your liberal arts education.

While you go about changing the world, I’m happy to pick you up at the airport, feed you dinner, tuck you into the guest bed, and help fix your hair before your presentation/speech/awards ceremony/concert/seminar.

I met a friend for lunch today.  In person.  We sat in her backyard in the midst of grass and mud and hostas and dandelions and potential.  On the way to her home, I drove past a mashed rabbit.  The body part was quite flattened.  But the ears lifted straight up on the breeze, a jaunty peace sign arising from the median.

There’s a metaphor in there.  I’m not exactly sure what it is.

Go out.  Do good in the world.  #YouMatter


Musical Moment




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I’m sitting in the waiting room of the emergency vet clinic at the University of Minnesota.  The hum of the vending machines.  Folks typing at the reception desk.  Sneet falling on the skylights above my head.

Last night The Big E and I went out in search of Chikoritas.  (More about that in a future post.)  We were gone two hours.  Ace reports that Rafa stood at the back door the entire time.  Barking.  By the time I got home, Rafa couldn’t breathe.  Two hours of riled-up barking is bad for a guy with congestive heart failure.  I gave him extra hydrocodone for cough and two doses of sub-Q furosemide.  Then we sat and panted and coughed and peed until 1 am.  I went to bed, hoping he’d make it through the night, wondering if I was a bad mother for not taking him to the ER at 0100.

The pointer puppy wags her whole body while her human dad pays up.  “Can I pet the baby?” I ask.  He warns me about her sharp puppy teeth.  She climbs me with her lanky freckled paws, trying to gnaw my hair, my jacket, my hand.

We’ve known about Rafa’s heart failure for close to a year.  One of the valves in his heart is shot, so blood can’t pump efficiently.  If you feed the guy a hot dog, the salt load makes him drink excessive fluids.  And because the pump isn’t great, the excess fluid winds up in his lungs.  Just like in a person.  To confound the issue, his enlarged heart pushes on his trachea, making it even harder to breathe.

I wonder why vets haven’t banned branded materials from their facilities.  The clock, the calendar, the poster of ideal body weight, the model of heartworms threading between the cardiac chambers.  Free advertising for Big Pharma.

In November, Rafa went into acute respiratory distress.  Most of the details are fuzzy.  I clearly remember carrying him into the U ER.  “He can’t breathe,” I say, tears streaming down my face.  The receptionist calmly takes him from me – “We’ll take care of him right away.”  She fastwalks him into the back room, into an oxygen box.

He’s in the box again now.  It’s a small-dog Japanese style oxygen bar, a wall of 2x2x3 boxes.  I want to sit with him, reach my hand around the Plexiglass, scratch his head.  The vet thinks the excitement will be suboptimal.  So I sit in the waiting room, the sneet turning to drizzle above my head.

Rafa has a cardiologist.  Rafa, the Pomeranian, has a cardiologist.  Dr. Stauthammer is a lovely man – warm, smart, funny, pragmatic.  After the scare last fall, we meet with him a couple times.  I ask him to prognosticate, look into his crystal ball, see into the future of my fluffy boy.  Maybe Rafa has a year.  Maybe more, maybe less.  We’ll see.

Today I tell the receptionist, then the vet student, then the vet attending: Rafa is Comfort Care.  I do not want him hospitalized.  I want them to help him be comfortable and if he can’t be comfortable at home, I want them to euthanize him.  Sometimes my words are accompanied by tears.  By the third time around, my words are stronger.  Less wet.

How do you measure a dog’s quality of life?  Rafa has it pretty good.  He races up and down the fenceline, barking at the neighbor dogs.  He gets his pills in yogurt or peanut butter or a meatball or rice, whatever I think he might like at any particular moment.  We go on family walks, Ace, The Big E, Chester the Lab, Rafa, and I.  Rafa walks for a bit, sniffing and marking.  Then I put him in his baby jogger.  Yes, I’m one of those people.

A family comes in.  The parents carry a white box, the top tapered like a coffin.  In the box rests, I presume, a medium-sized dog.  The mother walks backwards, the father forwards, the pajama-ed children swirling around their legs.  Messages of love are scrawled across the box in multi-colored ink.  The vet techs load the box onto a red wagon and wheel it away down the hall.  The eldest daughter stands in her mother’s arms.

I, privileged.  When I check Rafa in, the woman asks “Are you aware of our emergency exam fee?”  Yes, I’m aware.  I’m aware that my geriatric Pomeranian gets regular primary care including dental work, that he has his own cardiologist, that he goes to Uncle Dennis for in-home dogboarding when we’re out-of-town in a dogless locale, that his seven-day am-pm pillbox holds an impressive, expensive array of diuretics, inotropes, and narcs.

The attending and student visit me in the waiting room.  Rafa is doing well in his oxygen box.  They gave him a couple doses of IV furosemide and a stronger cough-suppressing narcotic.  Stadol.  We debate whether a chest x-ray will alter their treatment plan and I eventually consent.  Diuretics strain the kidneys.  Do you want to breathe or do you want to filter your blood and balance your electrolytes and fluids?

Several weeks ago, I left Rafa in the car with my purse.  He opened the purse, removed the ziplock bag containing an unknown amount of dark chocolate, shredded the bag, and had himself a nice snack.  I found the evidence much later.  Rafa seemed fine – chocolate is toxic to dogs.  I decided to leave him be, not induce vomiting.  Death-by-dark-chocolate wouldn’t be a bad way for him to go.

I’m in hour three of sitting in this waiting room.  My sweetheart sits in his oxygen bar, mildly stoned, comfortable.  I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll get to take him home in a form other than elemental carbon.  I find an email from The Big E, a photo that he took of Rafa.  My sweet human boy.

Over the years I’ve grown better about setting boundaries with certain “friends.”  Cost-benefit analysis is a helpful construct.  The intricacies of human-human relationship are so much more complicated than the normal simplicity of human-dog togetherness.  If I tidy up the relationships in my life, dump all the people, the animals, the institutions into a pile on my floor and evaluate them one-by-one.  When I KonMari these relationships, I can state one thing with absolute certainty:

Rafa, you bring me joy.   


Musical Moment


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Church Camp

We meet in the church parking lot and stuff our ratty sleeping bags into the back of a rickety school bus.  No one checks our bags.  The bus zips out highway 55, making a brief stop in Plymouth to pick up a few stray kids.

We’ll stay in the East cabin, two campers per room, girls on the near side, boys on the far.  The bus-ride is spent in intense roommate negotiation.  After Annandale, we turn left onto a dusty road.  If it’s late enough in the season, the smell of quintessential Minnesota prairie wafts through the open windows.

It’s 1984.  Most of us are 15.  I am not.

We’re crowded into one of the sleeping rooms, all of the girls.  Someone brought a tape player.  Someone else brought the tape: Purple Rain.

We listen over and over: Let’s Go Crazy, Take Me With U, The Beautiful Ones, Computer Blue, Darling Nikki, When Doves Cry, I Would Die 4 U, Baby I’m a Star, Purple Rain, Let’s Go Crazy, Take Me With U, The Beautiful Ones, Computer Blue, Darling Nikki, When Doves Cry, I Would Die 4 U, Baby I’m a Star, Purple Rain, Let’s Go Crazy, Take Me With U, The Beautiful Ones, Computer Blue, Darling Nikki, When Doves Cry, I Would Die 4 U, Baby I’m a Star, Purple Rain, Let’s Go Crazy, Take Me With U, The Beautiful Ones, Computer Blue, Darling Nikki, When Doves Cry, I Would Die 4 U, Baby I’m a Star, Purple Rain, Let’s Go Crazy, Take Me With U, The Beautiful Ones, Computer Blue, Darling Nikki, When Doves Cry, I Would Die 4 U, Baby I’m a Star, Purple Rain.

Standing on the beds in single-gendered abandonment, young bodies twisting, virginal brains open to our Prince.  Teach us.  Take us.

The moment shines in my memory.  No beginning, no end.  Only youth.


Musical Moment

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