Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Seeing Louisiana through a paper doll's eyes

Flat Stanley is headed home. I dropped him off at the post office a couple hours ago, and he should be on the road or in the air by the time I go to bed tonight. I can't wait for him to get back to Texas and show Keaton all of his photos and souvenirs.

We had a great time! Not just Stanley and I, but my daughters and my great-grandson, all of whom shared in one or more of Stanley's adventures. It's amazing how a project like this one can get one out of a routine and off to explore someplace interesting. It's also amazing that not one single person we asked declined to be photographed with Stanley. His story and his friendly smile brought out the best in all of us.

Stanley is traveling home with several dozen photos, but I'll share a few samples now. (I'll keep these images small so I can post more of them. Please be sure to click on them to enlarge them.)

Here are a couple from home:

Butch and Levi wanted to go outside.
Stanley tried to help but couldn't reach the doorknob.

What better place for a flat boy to sleep
than on a flatbed scanner?

Stanley's first adventure occurred when my daughter Kim went with friends to New Orleans and took Stanley along.

Stanley inside the National World War II Museum.

About to enjoy his first world-famous New Orleans muffuletta.

One day Stanley went to work at the courthouse with my daughter Kelli.

Stanley, about to take a ride through the scanner/metal detector.

Later in the week, Kim and I accompanied Stanley to the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center in Baton Rouge.

Inside the Nature Center, this snake
seemed very interested in Stanley.

Outside, on one of the swamp trails,
Stanley couldn't resist climbing the tangled vines.

The alligators we saw at the Nature Center were baby ones, so before we went home that day we took Stanley to the Cajun Village in Sorrento, Louisiana.

There's a good-sized, live alligator on the other side of that fence...

...but it was safer for Stanley to pose with this fake one.

The next day Kelli, Owen, Stanley and I went back to Baton Rouge, this time to the downtown area.

Here's Stanley in front of the Louisiana State Capitol Building...

...and here he is with a protest sign on the front steps of the capitol.
(He was the only one protesting there that day.)

We left the capitol and walked a few short blocks south.

The castle-like structure in the background is the Old State Capitol.
It's a museum now.

I hated to say goodbye to Stanley. I hope he had as much fun as we did.

What I've Been Reading: Two Books by Nevada Barr

The last week and a half have been busy ones, what with making special meals for a sick dog (Butch), cleaning up after him (he had diarrhea), and entertaining a houseguest (Flat Stanley). At times like that, the best way I know to relax is to bury myself in a book for a little while, and I happened to have two books by a favorite author, Nevada Barr.  She never lets me down.


Borderline is part of her very popular Anna Pigeon series.  The other one, 13½, is a  stand-alone thriller. They both kept me reading late into the night.

For a description and reviews of either book,
click on its image above.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What I'm Reading Today: V is for Vengeance

This book was one of two book club featured selections I got in the mail after I procrastinated too long to decline them either by mail or online. Actually, both books turned out to be pretty good. This one makes me wish I'd checked out the series before it got so near the end of the alphabet.

Click on the image for a 
description and reviews of this book.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My new flat friend

A special houseguest arrived this past Tuesday afternoon. His name is Flat Stanley, and he was sent here by my eight-year-old grandnephew, Keaton, as part of a school project. It will be my pleasure for the next couple of weeks to show Stanley around the Greater Baton Rouge area, taking photos as we go, so he can go back to Keaton's East Texas classroom and share what he did and what he learned while he was here.

Stanley seems to be a nice boy. I like him a lot and I think we're going to have a good time together. Our weather has been either rainy or very windy since Stanley got here, neither of which condition is good for his health, so we've stayed close to home so far. It's warmer today than it has been, and the sun has come out from time to time, so we took the opportunity to do a little reading outside on the patio. I think Flat Stanley likes good books as much as I do.

I have to say Stanley has been patient and good about finding things to do here at the house, but I'm sure he's looking forward to some of the outdoor adventures we have planned in the next week or so. I know I am.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

OCD at the Grocery Store

I'll admit to being a little anal retentive about the way I place my groceries on the check-out counter. I put heavy things up first (so they'll go back into the bottom of the cart after they've been bagged), cold things together (so they can be found easily and put away first at home), and toiletry items together (so I can carry them all in one bag to the bathroom). But if the cashier doesn't follow my system, I don't make a fuss about it.

Yesterday's cashier was well past anal retentive and clearly somewhere on the scale of obsessive compulsive disorder. I loved her!

She was adjusting her latex gloves as my items rolled toward her on the belt. She smiled and said, "It isn't that I don't want to touch your groceries; I don't want to touch anybody's." I smiled but didn't comment, and she continued: "People ask me all the time why I wear gloves, and I tell them the real question should be, 'Why doesn't everybody?'"

She looked over my items and began scanning them, one by one, but instead of placing the items in a bag, she set the first half dozen on top of the bag carousel. "Don't worry," she smiled. "I have a plan here." She set a couple more things up there, then picked up the next item, a rectangular-shaped one, larger than the first few, and put it in the bottom of a bag. Only then did she gather up the earlier items and place them strategically around the larger one in the bag. "We don't want those corners poking through the plastic," she explained, placing the now full plastic bag inside another one before handing it to me.

The rest of the process went much the same. Each package of raw meat was wrapped tightly in its own plastic bag to keep it separate from the pre-packaged sausage and lunchmeat that would go with it into another bag. As the cashier carefully placed my low-carb ice cream bars between two bags of pepperjack cheese cubes, she explained that she was separating the cheese bags to insulate the ice cream. The cashier held a small bag of dog treats in her hand for a few seconds while she visually scanned the remaining items for something similar, then, finding nothing, she shrugged her shoulders, smiled ruefully, and put it in the bag with the protein bars.

All my items were double-bagged except for some of the meats, which were triple-bagged, and everything was so organized that it took me only minutes to put it all away at home. Part of me understands that all these plastic bags aren't good for Mother Earth, but if that part is the least bit timid, the rest of me will try to get in this woman's check-out line the next time I go.

What I'm Reading Today: The Affair

This is the latest in the Jack Reacher series, and I love me some Jack Reacher. I'd love to see these thrillers turned into movies, but which of today's stars could play Reacher? A young Clint Eastwood would have been perfect.

 Click on the image for a description
and reviews of this book.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

One Tough Cookie

It's been a hard week.

I took this photo of Butch on Thursday, thinking it might be his last one. I am overjoyed to tell you it won't be.

The tumors on Butch's gums that I wrote about here and here continued to grow, and about 10 days ago they began to bleed. A lot. The vet had told me Butch might chew off the tumors if they grew long enough to catch between his teeth, but I had expected that to be a one-time event. I did not expect the bleeding to be a continual occurrence.

I was laundering his bedding (and mine that he touched and imprinted with his muzzle) once or twice a day, continually cleaning blood droplets and saucer-sized bloody drool stains from the carpet (hats off to Stainmaster® for performing as advertised), and washing Butch himself several times daily because he frequently wiped his mouth on his forelegs. Because of his blindness, Butch navigates through the house by touching his muzzle against familiar landmarks, such as walls and furniture.  With his bleeding mouth, he had become a walking ink stamp.

The only good news during that time was that those tumors must have contained no nerves, because Butch appeared to be feeling fine. He was enthusiastic about meals and snacks (his that he ate and mine that he begged for) and went about his business--as much business as a nearly 14-year-old dog can manage--in good spirits.

In fact, he seemed to be feeling well enough that I thought he wouldn't fall apart during a short car ride, so on Thursday I enlisted Kim's help in getting him in the car so the vet could take a firsthand look at what was going on with his mouth. She found more than we had expected. In addition to the tumors on his gums, there was a large, black mass on the roof of his mouth. The vet suspected melanoma.

We discussed options.

Doing nothing was not an option because Butch's continual bleeding was weighing more heavily on me than I like to admit. I've cleaned up my share of urine, feces, and vomit in the years I've owned dogs, and even some blood on more than one occasion, but this constant dripping from a roving source was beginning to feel like Chinese water torture. As much as I love Butch, I was starting to find the situation intolerable. I'm being as honest as I can here, even though I'm ashamed of those feelings and believe that Butch deserves better than that from me.

A second option was surgery to remove as much of the tumors as possible and cauterize the remaining blood vessels to stem the bleeding. I didn't think Butch was a good candidate for surgery. He's so old now, and he has a history of problems with anesthesia. Would it be fair to him to put him through the pain of another surgery this close to the end of his natural life span?

That brings us to the third option: euthanasia. A number of people told me after Butch's eye-removal surgery in 2005 that it would have been kinder to "put him to sleep," but he's had six and a half pretty good years since then, so I've never regretted that choice. At the age he is now, it's a different story, and I gave it serious consideration. My daughter Kelli summed up my ambivalence about this option when she said I was struggling with this decision because I wanted to be sure I was doing it for the right reasons and not as a matter of convenience. That was exactly it. And the truth was that all that bleeding was bothering me; Butch didn't seem to be the least bit concerned about it.

The vet assured me that the surgery would be fast and easy. It would quell most, if not all, of the bleeding. I asked about cost, and she quoted a price that was exceptionally fair and reasonable. She couldn't, of course, guarantee that Butch would survive the surgery, but she laid out her plan to give him the best chance possible.

The next day, Friday, we gave him that chance. I dropped him off tearfully, knowing the odds were against him.

The vet called after the surgery to tell me that Butch was awake, sitting up, and was trying, not successfully yet, to wag his tail. They had removed the epulis (tumors on his gums), which had also involved removing two teeth. That was the good news. The bad news, she told me, was that the mass in his palate was melanoma, and they couldn't get it all. She said the melanoma was quite invasive and there is a danger that it will grow into his sinus cavities. "That," she said, "will be it." She estimated that Butch might live as long as three to six months, though his time could be shorter than that. She said to give him a week to recover from the surgery; after that, we should have a better idea of the quality of life he'll have for the remainder of his days. If Butch does well, there are inexpensive medications that have been shown to slow the growth of melanoma, and they should also keep Butch comfortable. On the other hand, if Butch seems to be suffering at the end of the week, we can stop it then. She said they'd keep Butch under observation for a few more hours, then I could pick him up and bring him home.

I couldn't believe how good Butch looked. He seemed strong and tugged at his leash, ready to get out of there.  He came home without much fanfare except for enthusiastic greetings and all-over sniffs from Levi, Lucy, and Oliver, then made his way to the backdoor to go outside and relieve himself. By the time he came back in the house, he had reoriented himself, knew exactly where he was (well, as exactly as he ever knows), and began nosing around in the kitchen. It was suppertime by then, and he was obviously hungry.

Butch's first few post-surgery meals were limited to chicken broth and small amounts of rice. He ate every bite and was clearly unhappy about the meager quantity, so as soon as we knew for sure that one meal had settled nicely in his stomach, we fed him again. He cried a little that first night, but I was never sure whether he cried from pain or from hunger. His mouth bled a little that first night, too, but not nearly as much as it did before. I was encouraged.

By yesterday Butch showed no signs of pain and could eat a full quota of his new regular diet. He will never again in his lifetime be able to eat anything of a harder consistency than oatmeal. The tumor in his palate is fragile, and any slight pressure on it will cause it to bleed. That means the spoon-feeding has to stop, because the hard metal edges of the spoon can cause damage. Fortunately, Butch has been hungry enough that he hasn't hesitated to push his muzzle into the bowl and gobble for all he's worth.

Butch is what he can never have again: one tough cookie.

Today he is eating well, sleeping well, showing affection, and asking to go outside when he needs to. When he comes back in the house, he waits patiently for a treat, and he doesn't seem to mind that the treat is soupy or soggy. The bleeding hasn't yet stopped entirely (a certain amount is to be expected after oral surgery), but it has diminished to manageable, non-repulsive proportions. A short time ago, as he slept, I pulled out a tube of braunschweiger (liver sausage), which is what I'm using as both a disguise and a soft coating for his pills. As soon as I opened the wrapper, I heard his toenails hit the floor, and in seconds he was standing beside me, sniffing expectantly. If he's doing this well two days post-surgery, I think there are more good days than bad ones in his future.

As my daughter Kim pointed out to me, the prognosis of a three-to-six-month life expectancy for a dog Butch's age, especially if those months are likely to be comfortable ones, is not too bad.

What I've Been Reading: Two Books by Mary Alice Monroe

In a week that has been stressful (for reasons I'll explain in another post), it's been a pleasure to escape for minutes at a time into the pages of two novels written by Mary Alice Monroe. I enjoyed both of these books and will seek out others by this author in the near future.

For a description and reviews of either book,
click on its image above.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What I Read Yesterday: Maid to Match

This book appealed to me when I read a description of it stating that much of the story took place in and around the Biltmore, the lavish estate my sister and I visited on our vacation this past summer. Indeed, it was fun to be able to visualize the characters in places I actually remembered from that visit. 

 Click on the image for a description
and reviews of this book.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Someone's having a birthday today

My little sister is officially a senior citizen today, although she looks so young that no one is going to step forward and voluntarily offer her any of the discounts to which her age entitles her. Personally, I couldn't be happier that she's finally reached an age where she'll be counted, at least demographically, in the same group as I am.

At our present ages, the four-year difference between us feels insignificant, though it used to cause us some problems. The way our birthdays fell, I was five grades ahead of her in school, so we never attended the same school at the same time except when she was in first grade and I was in sixth. We had very few friends in common. In fact, I had very few friends, period, so it bugged me when she, who had lots of them, wanted to play with me and mine.

Those four years were also enough of a difference to make me the "responsible" one, as in the one who "should have known better." Isn't that a kicker? It didn't matter who did what to whom (and we both did plenty), I lost every fight we ever had because I should have been responsible.

My sister was little and cute, and I was a skinny, gangly thing. She was pleasant, too, and smiled a lot, while I was often cross and sarcastic. I was pretty sure our mother liked her best, and even though I could understand why that might be true, it didn't seem fair at all. Mothers aren't supposed to have favorites.

My sister became more interesting to me as she grew from a toddler into a girl, and there were more things we could do together, but we mostly enjoyed different activities. I was happiest reading a book or drawing, and she seemed happiest when she was engaged in an activity that involved running--literally running--with her friends. We played with each other as a last resort.

We became closer in our teens, though we still had plenty of spats over clothing, shared space, and secrets that could be told or not told to bargain for advantages. But we sang together as we washed the dishes, we sunbathed together in the backyard, and we played badminton together with the kids on the other side of the back fence. One time, on vacation, I muttered a curse word in the backseat. Mother whipped her head around and said, "What did you say?" My sister, without missing a beat, supplied a similar sounding but non-vulgar word, and Mother let it pass. My sister had my back.

I remember the exact moment when I realized that my sister really did love me. She was 14, I was 18. Moments earlier, I had exchanged wedding vows with my (first) husband in my parents' living room. He and I were leaving for an overnight honeymoon, then driving 200 miles away to live in the town where he'd recently moved. As we said our goodbyes, my sister burst into tears. I knew she loved me, and I knew I loved her right back.

It took awhile, but somewhere along the way, through time passed and life experienced, we both grew up. Despite the miles between us, we grew closer. We got to know each other on a different level, without the filter of sibling rivalry. I learned to appreciate my sister for the beautiful, smart, funny person she is and always has been. We've shared a lot of wonderful times together since then and supported each other through a few tough times, too. Every year, I feel our bond grow stronger. And, now that we're practically the same age, you wouldn't believe how much we have in common.

She may be my little sister, but she's a big, big part of my life.

P.S. to my sister, Judy:

Happy birthday, Sis! I love you so much.

And if I ever kept you sitting way up on that teeter-totter until you thought your little hands couldn't hold on another minute longer, or if I ever sprang up suddenly so you'd hit the ground hard--neither of which I can imagine ever having happened--I'm really, really sorry.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

"What in hell am I?"

Among the WWII photos of my father that my aunt sent me recently was this one of his Army baseball team:

At first I didn't find this picture too interesting. The faces were so small that I had trouble picking him out from the rest of the ballplayers.

Then I turned the photo over and saw where he had identified every team member, left to right, by surname, position played (or rank), and heritage (sometimes in the politically incorrect terms of the day). My dad was the last man on the right in the second row.

What I'm Reading Today: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

My curiosity piqued by trailers for the upcoming movie based on this book, I decided to go ahead and read the book. I'm glad I did.

 Click on the image for a description
and reviews of this book.

I know it's normal for films to omit characters and scenes to make a book fit into the time constraints of a motion picture, but, if I've read the book first, I usually feel a little shortchanged by the movie. This is an unusual book. I'm pretty sure some of its quirkiness  wouldn't translate well to the silver screen, so I may pass up the movie for at least as long as I'm still holding the book's young protagonist, Oskar Schell, in my heart.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

What I'm Reading Today: Mountain Top

I saw this book on another blogger's site recently and thought it might be interesting. It is.

 Click on the image for a description
and reviews of this book.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Trinkets and Treasures - No. 10

After my aunt Nina passed away this past November, her closest family members worked together to sort through her things and clear out her house. Her sister-in-law, my aunt Carol, found photos of my father and sent them to me and my sister. The photos, mostly from World War II, became instant treasures.

Early in 1943 my mother wrote this in my baby book: "Her daddy leaves for the army on Feb. 25th one day before she's 3 mos. old." Nobody knew then that the times he would spend with us after that would be short, sporadic, and often sorrowful.

In my father's later years, after we both made an effort to get better acquainted, he would talk very little about the war. When he did speak of it, he cried. I knew that the war had profoundly affected the man my father had become, but I knew almost nothing of the adventurous 19-year-old boy who had left home to fight it.

These photos my Aunt Carol sent helped me to see that side of him.

My father, Paul, second from left. The notation on the back of the photo reads, 
"This is one of our planes that had to make a crash landing near the front lines."

My father, at left front, smiling with his buddies.

My father, trying out the pilot's seat.

My father, left, obviously enjoying the experience.

My father, center, walking with his buddies
through the snow-covered streets of France.

My father, on the sled. Notation on the photo:
"These are French children."

It warmed my heart to see the above photos of my father, playful in the company of some of his "band of brothers." And then I came upon another photograph, one taken on a different day, and it chilled me to the bone.

Notation on back of photo identifies this group of people as "German prisoners."

Yes, I know they were our enemies, but they were boys, boys like my father and his buddies in the first six photos of this post, and I can imagine how frightened they must have been. 

When my father talked about the war nearly fifty years after it ended, he talked specifically about a face-to-face encounter he had with a German soldier as he rounded a corner in a shelled-out building. They made eye contact, my father told me, and the young German shouted only one word, one my father didn't understand, before my father shot him. Tears streamed down my father's face as he told me about learning later that that German word meant "please."

I am so grateful to Aunt Carol for sending these photos and to Aunt Nina for keeping them all these years. Somehow, seeing evidence that my father had some good days in the midst of the hellishness that is war gives me peace.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year!!!

Thanking all of you for enriching my life by your presence in it and wishing you a very healthy, happy 2012.