Friday, April 30, 2010
Good news, we think -- the scare about Ruby may be a false alarm.
We're not sure yet, and in fact the vet still seems to think it's cancer. But the ultrasound found nothing abnormal on her spleen, and the rest of her innards look pretty good, too. The vet said she sees some abnormalities in Ruby's liver, but as you'll see in a moment, we think that problem could be something other than cancer.
We've been puzzled all along that despite her fluid retention, Ruby acts like she feels fine. She bounces around, runs, plays, eats and drinks normally. She's been on an anti-inflammatory drug called Rimadyl to help relieve pain caused by minor bone spurs on her vertebrae, and it seemed to be working well. But when she began to retain fluid, we suspected the drug.
We asked two vets at our clinic about it, and they both discounted the possibility that Rimadyl could be the culprit. But yesterday, after we got home, Dave went online and found a specific warning of side effects including "rapid weight gain due to fluid retention."
We're waiting for more test results. The doctor yesterday switched her theory from spleen cancer to liver cancer, and took samples of the abdominal fluid to test for cancer cells, as well as some basic blood tests. My prediction is that the cancer test will be negative and the blood tests will show abnormal liver values. We're both convinced it's the Rimadyl. Needless to say, we've stopped giving it to her.
(Photo: Street lamp on a rainy night in East Brunswick, two weeks ago.)
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I returned from Florida to some bad news here at home. Ruby, one of our boxers, appears to be seriously ill.
When I leaned down to pet her after I got home, I noticed that her belly seemed unusually large. She’s never been particularly svelte, but this was definitely abnormal. At first, I thought she’d just put on weight, but Dave said he’d noticed it earlier that week and we agreed it didn’t look or feel like plain old fat.
I took her to the vet yesterday, where x-rays revealed that her abdomen appears to be full of fluid. The vet thinks she has a malignant tumor, probably on her spleen, but she couldn’t see Ruby’s organs on the x-ray to confirm her hunch. So today we’re having an ultrasound done. Dave took the day off to be with her.
Ruby is not a young dog -- she’s somewhere between 9 and 12 years old -- but I still feel sucker-punched by the news. Selfishly, I feel like I should have more time with her. I've only known her a year. Dave's got to feel ten times worse.
Everything is impermanent. Every moment counts.
(Photo: Ernie (left) and Ruby on the balcony, on April 8.)
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I toured my old elementary school while I was home in Florida. It's called Sanders Memorial Elementary School, and as you may remember, it's being torn down this summer. A special farewell ceremony was held Saturday where alumni, teachers and other visitors could get a last look at the old place.
It was pretty much as I remember, though predictably it seemed much smaller.
This was my old sixth-grade classroom, I think. (I had trouble remembering exactly which of two rooms it was, but I'm pretty sure this is it.) This part of the school dates from 1948.
This is the entrance to the cafeteria.
The older buildings at Sanders were mostly long structures with outdoor sidewalks. These were two classroom additions from the '60s and '70s where I had classes.
This was the old library. At another time it served as the office, which was also once housed in one of those sixth-grade classrooms like the top photo.
It was fun to tour Sanders again. I don't have any negative feelings about it being torn down -- it's a very old school and not really suited to today's learning environment, when schools have to be more secure. That open plan must give administrators fits.
The only unfortunate thing is that my hometown, Land O' Lakes, doesn't have a whole lot of historic structures. This is probably one of the most significant. But time marches on!
Coincidentally, my mom and I found this old photo of me and some of my classmates in first grade at Sanders. That's me on the right, and I remember the girl, but I don't know who any of those other kids are. Pretty funny, huh?
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Last night Dave and I went to WD-50, chef Wylie Dufresne's restaurant on the Lower East Side, to celebrate our first anniversary. (It's technically Monday, but close enough.)
What a meal we had! Dufresne is known as a proponent of molecular gastronomy, the science of food flavors and preparation, and the food was exquisitely prepared and served with wine pairings. Here is a close approximation of our menu (look under "tasting menu and wine pairing.")
As you can see -- cold fried chicken with buttermilk ricotta, tabasco and caviar -- it's pretty unusual!
The portions were small, which allowed us to sample a wide range of dishes and wine. As for the flavors, I tried to sample each ingredient singly and then in combination with the others, to get some idea how they combined. Eating these dishes was like seeing light in a spectrum -- each color stands out but blends seamlessly into the next for an overall complete experience.
Anyway, it was a great meal. Apparently this Dufresne guy has been on Food Network TV shows and stuff, so he's pretty well known in the culinary world. We could see him working back in the kitchen. When the waiter learned Dave had been to culinary school, he offered us a chance to go back and see the kitchen, but ultimately we declined -- we were too tired and Dave had seen it before.
A terrific anniversary! (Amazing that it's been a year already!)
(Photo: Light and shadow on our living room wall.)
Saturday, April 17, 2010
When Dave and I were in Provincetown, we were walking back from dinner one night when we passed this house. I liked the way the lamplight fell against the wall and the surrounding foliage, so when we got back to our room, I grabbed my camera and went out to shoot it. I wound up taking several night shots that I liked.
The house reminds me of one of Rene Magritte's "Empire of Light" paintings, which have long been favorites of mine:
I don't have that dramatic blue sky, but you can't have everything!
Friday, April 16, 2010
Did any of you watch filmmaker David Grubin's PBS documentary about the life and practice of The Buddha? It was a terrific film, with brilliant animation and artistry.
I've heard the Buddha's story a zillion times, but this time I was struck by how ordinary he was. Yes, he was a prince, and went on to become a spiritual leader for millions -- but he was also essentially a man who had a mid-life crisis, who left his wife and newborn son (whom he named "fetter") to go on a personal quest. Of course his personal quest wasn't to own a red sportscar or find a new trophy wife, which is what distinguishes him. He wanted to know why everyone suffers, why life is so painful, and what to do about it.
Buddha's teachings, despite their apparent simplicity, are easy to misconstrue and misunderstand. (I do it all the time!) Another aspect of this film that I enjoyed was its continual message that Buddha didn't expect us to eliminate all desires -- after all, some desires, like the desire to practice, are essential. Rather, it was thoughtless, mindless craving that Buddha sought to calm.
The movie included interviews with many prominent Buddhists including the Dalai Lama and poet W.S. Merwin. I particularly enjoyed a reminder from poet Jane Hirshfield, a Zen Buddhist, that Buddhist practice is not supposed to make us into perfect still-minded entities:
"It's alright to feel what human beings feel, and we are not supposed to turn into rocks or trees when we practice Buddhism. Buddhas laugh, cry, dance, feel ecstasy, probably even feel despair. It is how we know the world, it is how we live inside of our hearts, and not disassociate it from them."
Speaking of which, I sat this morning for the first time in several months. Now that I have my meditation cushions, I put them to use -- and I feel better and more connected already.
(Photo: A Buddha on Commercial Street, Provincetown.)
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Hope I'm not deluging you with too many photos of blooming trees, but this one has been exploding with blossoms behind our apartment building for the last week or so, and I just couldn't pass it up. I think it's a crabapple, though I'm not 100 percent sure.
Just more of our spectacular spring!
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I've written before about aging and how it's affected my gym workouts. For several years I've noticed that I don't have the strength I used to. But I've tried my best to keep lifting the weight I used to lift as best I can.
It occurred to me yesterday that may not be the best approach. I was working on bicep curls, which I used to do with a 45-lb bar laden with 50 lbs of weight. A few years back, in a nod to diminishing strength, I took 10 lbs of weight off the bar. But I've noticed that my form has nonetheless become pretty ragged -- I swing my body a bit to lift the weight, and I don't concentrate the movement in the muscle. Bad form can lead to injuries and a lot of exertion with little result.
So I pulled another 20 lbs off the bar and tried to focus strictly on my movements, rather than on maximizing weight. I think I got a better workout.
I'm toying with the idea of scaling back on weight in other exercises too, making sure my underlying form is sound, and perhaps varying weight more so that I lift heavier weights for fewer reps, and lighter ones for more reps. (As opposed to doing three sets of 10 reps of bicep curls with 40-lb dumbbells every single week, for example).
I think the variety may make me stronger and perhaps avoid injury. (I've thought perhaps I need to talk to a trainer, too, about my changing body -- but who can afford a trainer?)
I'm not at all glum about lifting less weight. I used to love the immensely powerful feeling I got weightlifting -- that "oomph!" of exertion and sense of smooth strength, and I don't really feel that anymore. Weightlifting is just plain harder now. But I still feel good after my workouts, and I wouldn't trade the gym for anything.
(Photo: This big white tree is directly across the parking lot from our apartment. It's an ornamental pear, I think, but it looks like a big cloud!)
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Since moving in with Dave, I have been waging a vigorous battle against dog hair. I'm used to shedding pets, having grown up with dogs and then owning cats for 20 years. But Ernie and Ruby are especially efficient shedders -- particularly Ruby, with longer, denser fur.
I vacuum the carpet almost every day, and wash the slipcovers and bed sheets weekly. I'm always amazed at the hairballs I pull out of the dryer filter; they look like tired gerbils. Our vacuum cleaner is a Dyson with a clear canister, so you can see what you've vacuumed up, and let me tell you, there's a lot of hair.
At one point, we took the dogs to PetSmart and had them groomed with a special non-shed formula bath. They seemed to shed less for a short period of time, but it's hard to tell.
Dave decided the other day to go directly to the source of the problem. We got out the vacuum cleaner and vacuumed Ruby.
She enjoyed it. She sat still for the entire event, panting and wagging, and the Dyson canister was soon swirling with fur. But the experiment wasn't a huge success -- within a day or two Ruby was back to her old tricks. I don't know how a single dog can generate so much fur.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Dave and I drove into the city yesterday and retrieved all my personal possessions, in preparation for putting my apartment on the market. We managed to squeeze everything into his SUV, so I didn't need to rent a truck or anything. I'll have to do that for the furniture, but that comes later.
Usually people say they never realized how much they owned until they move. I had more than I thought, but it still wasn't much!
In any case, it's nice to have my photos, my old journals, all my clothes, my knick-knacks and pottery with me here in East Brunswick instead of in New York. These are all tangible reminders of my travels and my past, and they make our apartment seem much more homey.
After our move, we met up with my friends Dan and Carl for brunch at 44 & X, a trendy Hell's Kitchen restaurant where, to be truthful, the food is secondary to the cute, muscly waiters in tight t-shirts. (I'm tempted to liken it to a gay Hooters, but it's not that crass. I swear.)
(Photo: SoHo parking lot, last week.)
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Let's hear it for Saturday! We're taking it easy today, grocery shopping, cooking and maybe going to a movie. It's nice to have a day with no plans.
I've kicked off an effort to write a community news blog for a local newspaper. It would be an unpaid gig, but it would keep me writing and spur me to get out and do some reporting -- and hopefully lead to a job at some point. The editor likes the idea, so now I just have to get set up with the technology and I can start. Woo hoo! I'll provide a link when the blog launches.
(Photo: Shadows on the deck of our guesthouse in Provincetown.)
Friday, April 9, 2010
While exploring the city on Wednesday, I saw these amazing tulips near the Jefferson Market on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. They were so vibrant, and much more open than the typical cupped blooms. They demanded to be photographed!
Growing up in Florida, I could never enjoy tulips in the spring. (Florida is way too hot for most bulb flowers -- the sun fries them crisp.) So tulips were always exotic to me, a flower seen only in storybooks about Holland.
Even when I visited the north as a kid, I never saw tulips, because we always visited in the summer or at Christmas. I'm sure I must have seen them in bouquets or in pots -- I wasn't that sheltered. But the first tulips I remember encountering in profusion were in Washington D.C. in May 1995, and they impressed me enough that I can still see them in my mind, brightening flower beds along Connecticut Avenue.
Just another reason to love spring!
Thursday, April 8, 2010
I'm listing my apartment for sale next week. I met with a Realtor yesterday and signed the exclusive listing agreement. Dave and I plan to go in this weekend and remove most of my personal effects, but I'll leave the furniture and artwork for now -- I think it helps define the space and makes it look better.
I've wrestled with this decision, but ultimately it comes down to economics and need. I pay about $1500 a month to maintain that apartment, and though I could rent it and recover that money, I don't want the hassle of dealing with a tenant -- especially because I can sublet for only three years according to the rules of my co-op.
I can't really envision a scenario in which I would live there again, unless Dave and I broke up -- and I can't invest $1500 a month in a possibility that, at this point, appears groundless. That's just not rational. Even if the worst happened and I set out on my own again, wouldn't it be more desirable to start from scratch in a new place? I know a lot more about New York and its environs than I did when I bought that apartment eight years ago, and I think I'd be open to more options now.
This reminds me of the time ten years ago when I sold my condo in Sarasota, Fla. I'd bought it only a year earlier, installed new carpet and painted and decorated it carefully according to my tastes. Then, lo and behold, I got a job offer in New York City. It was a painful decision to let go of that condo, which I loved, as well as much of my furniture. But it was undoubtedly the right thing to do.
I'm sorry to let go of my New York apartment, too. But the most important thing in life is to move forward. Onward!
(Photo: SoHo, yesterday.)
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
I've been sitting on the couch this morning reading "The English Major" by Jim Harrison, an author my old college roommate told me about years ago but I'd never read. I'm enjoying the book and its main character, a sensible Michigan farmer who's going through something of a late-midlife crisis.
Interestingly, five months after the first news of my layoff, my own life feels less and less like a crisis. I've settled into taking care of the apartment and the dogs, and though I'm still poking around for jobs I must admit I'm enjoying this time. My Mom asked me on the phone yesterday, "What do you do all day?" She seemed surprised that I find enough to keep myself occupied. But I feel very busy! There are always little projects demanding my attention.
I'm still faced with a tangle of options and steps for moving ahead -- and indeed the options keep multiplying for various reasons -- but I have some ideas about where I want to go and what I want to do. I don't feel at all lost, and I have the luxury of savings to live on and the growing certainty of my relationship with Dave.
I do think I'm finished with living in New York City. When I read the Times now (multiple shootings in Times Square!) I'm relieved I'm not there. As much as I have loved the city, there's not much I miss about it on a day-to-day basis. For example, although I've been to dozens of Broadway shows in the past decade, I've lost all urge to keep up with them -- they're too expensive, and honestly I'd rather be home on the couch with a good book. Maybe I've had my fill, not just of the shows, but of Manhattan life.
I also don't miss the Zendo. I wish I missed it, because I feel like a lout confessing that -- but the truth is, I've been uncomfortable for a while with the organization and the intensity of practice it cultivates. I've seen in myself a disingenuous tendency to do and say what I believe I "should" be doing or saying as a Zen practitioner. I also suspect that we can get so lost in the sitting, ceremony and retreats that we miss our lives on the ground -- exactly what practice is supposed to prevent. Can Zen give rise to its own delusions, and create its own unhealthy escapes?
(I don't intend to stop practicing entirely, and I still value the teachings and the overall philosophy of Zen. But I feel more balanced now, here on this sofa with the snoring dogs nearby, than I do in the middle of a chanting service or a three-hour sitting period.)
So, anyway, I'm in a good space. I love the exciting uncertainty of my life at the moment. And I'm loving this Jim Harrison book!
(Photo: Magnolias on a foggy morning, East Brunswick, yesterday.)
Monday, April 5, 2010
It's time for spring blossoms again! The pear, cherry and magnolia trees in the field behind our apartment are big clouds of pink and white, and the forsythia's brilliant yellow glows against the blue sky and green grass. The whole neighborhood seems to be blooming.
It's downright warm here today; I have the balcony door open and the dogs are snoozing outside. I love spring!
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Whew! Back from Provincetown, where I had never been before last week. I definitely hope to return. It's a terrific place, low-key (at least at this time of year), quaint and artistic.
It's just what you'd expect -- lots of shingled, Cape Cod-style houses, a business district that looks straight out of 1955 (if you don't look too closely at the store windows!), docks, boats and seafood. Of course it's also a gay mecca, but the season hasn't really started up yet, so right now there are just a few scattered people on the streets and none of the flash and disco thump that comes later in the summer.
We had a great time despite occasionally inclement weather and the off-season atmosphere. I was worried when we first got there on Monday -- we were just in time for a rainstorm that flooded out parts of Rhode Island and filled basements throughout the region. We went walking Monday night and found virtually nothing open on Commercial Street, the main drag. I thought, "Wow. This might be a long five days!"
We were pretty much trapped in our guesthouse room on Tuesday. We read and watched movies -- fortunately our guesthouse had an excellent selection of loaner DVDs!
Finally on Wednesday and Thursday we were able to venture out, and though it was still gray the town became more lively. April 1 seems to be the magic date for many of the businesses to emerge from hibernation, and work crews were spiffing up the buildings and moving in new stock. We found several restaurants open (of varying degrees of quality) and we were able to go up in the wind-whipped Pilgrim Monument that towers over town.
Unfortunately, The Lobster Pot, which I photographed and posted a few days ago, was not among the open restaurants. In fact, I went the whole week without eating lobster. It's surprisingly scarce on menus -- we found it in one place for $42, which is too rich for my unemployed blood.
By Friday, the weather had improved substantially and we had lots of sun. Dave and I walked out on the breakwater that connects Provincetown to Long Point, across the harbor. We tried to take Ernie and Ruby but the rocks proved a little too treacherous, and they spent the morning in the car, lounging in the breeze with the windows down. I actually got a light sunburn.
It did us a world of good to get away. Dave and I had a chance to talk and spend lots of quiet time with each other, and compare notes about what we want to do with our lives. Fortunately, we're both on the same page. We share very similar ideas about what we need and how we define success, and similar fears and frustrations in our creative lives.
We're so enamored with Provincetown we'd love to move there some day, though admittedly I still need to see it in season to get a complete sense of what I'm in for!
(Photos: Provincetown's East End, taken from the Pilgrim Monument; Long Point Lighthouse, taken from the deck of our guest house in town; Wood End Lighthouse, taken from the breakwater.)