Thursday, December 28, 2006

Quick Links

To Whom It May Concern...

Lancaster Christmas Photos are online here.

Magical New York Christmas Weekend photos are viewable here.)

"Christmas: Round 1" photos of the R!os, Attr!dge, ZseIler clan are viewable here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gigantic Catch Up Entry

Hey, remember when you and your kids all came over and my dad drove all the way here from PA to dress up like Santa for them and we went to see the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center? No?

(All the photos from that weekend are here.)

Because it was so long ago and I've been posting big soapbox-y essays and snarky commentaries about life in suburbia? Oh, and driving hundreds of miles up and down the NJ Turnpike and serving breaded squid to lots of people I may or not be related to AND cleaning up dog pee from Joel's parents' carpet RIGHT as we sit down to Christmas dinner?

Poor Bella. She was so. good. all through Alissa and Todd's Christmas party, greeting two dozen strangers with a wagging tail and wearing her silly Santa collar. She sat in the back seat for 300 miles and only got her head stuck in the automatic window once. She obediently let strangers pet her at the Vince Lombardi rest stop.

She played nicely with my parents' sweet, rambunctious dog and was extremely gentle with a six-month-old baby in a house full of 30 loud people.

We took her straight to Joel's parents' house in Queens where she could smell and hear their dog but not see her.... She was very calm, and very confused, and finally just marked her territory right next to the dining room table. Fuckety fuck fuck fuck. Then again, Joel's dad kept slipping her "people food" all through dinner, WHICH IS COMPLETELY FORBIDDEN, and I know he did this because she has thrown up tiny pieces of perfectly cut pork chop all over the living room today. Twice. I consider us "even." (Except? DUDE. All my "mean" rules for Bella EXIST FOR A REASON. Do you think if I made her a little bandanna that said, "People food makes me vomit copiously" people would stop doing it already? Christ.

Speaking of Christ, back to Christmas! I find myself sort of surprised to admit this, and I know it will shock at least one of my readers here, but I've grown to kind of love Christmas. The "Christmas Season" starts for me on November 1. I make a lot of my gifts, because I'm stupid. No, really. I love it- LOVE IT- when people open the coffee table books, framed photographs, and shadow boxes, but it is a lot of work.

Manda, Tom, Joel and I and gave my Nanny a portable DVD player with Rachel Ray and Iron Chef episodes, because she really, REALLY hates that her nursing home doesn't get the Food Network. When she saw the opening logo for the "Iron Chef" on the screen, she said weepily, "It makes me feel like I'm home." She did NOT say that about the photo album I made for her of the house she lived in for 50 years, complete with snapshots from three generations taken IN the house, copied and scanned and restored in PhotoShop. Oh, no. She was definitely, definitely talking about "Iron Chef."

I recorded family interviews and transfered audio clips of my sister and I singing Christmas carols when we were toddlers to a CD, and my mom melted into a puddle of weepy Christmas goo, right there on the dining room floor. Still, that's the BEST, when you give someone something you made and you can tell you got just right.

Holiday assignments start before Thanksgiving, with executive portraits to accompany business stories about huge department stories and their end-of-year "vision." You name it, I shoot it- as many church turkey drives, Scout carol sings, volunteer firehouse Christmas tree sales, community college Menorah lightings (they had a fire thrower show this year for variety), scholarship fund Kwanzaa dinners and people-receiving-charity-from-do-gooders on the suburban side of the river. I work my ass off, but it is pretty handy when I can get a little holiday shopping done between shooting the annual tree-lighting at the mall and high school basketball two hours later.

I also:

• spent four days baking, including large Christmas cookie trays for my parents, Joel's parents, Joel's co-workers, my office Christmas party, and our Magical Childhood Memory Santa PartyTM. Two round tins: one for my mom's mom and brother, one for college roomie and wife. Four cute treat bags for my three fellow bureau photogs and Joe the mailman. And two pumpkin pies.

• wrapped all the presents for my friends and family, Joel, Joel's friends and family, gift recipients from Santa at the Magical Childhood Memory PartyTM, my office Secret Santa, Joel's work Secret Santa and the pet-sitter.

• went through three branches of Target, a Wal-Mart and a Toys R Us and looking for the elusive Fisher-Price digital camera for kids.

• spent an evening in the ER getting rehydrated by IV during The PLAGUE.

• mailed 45 Christmas cards to friends, family, former picture story subjects, a college friend in Singapore whom I considered marrying for his green card and my host family in Scotland from a trip I took in 1999. (Their Christmas card is my favorite, favorite one every year. New sheepdog puppies! Host sister preggers!)

• helped my mom, dad and sister pull off The Annual Gigundo Christmas Eve meal with seven kinds of fish and a lot of deep-fried dough for so many people that we have to eat in shifts. My sister is the only person I know who can look this good while deep frying.

• got spanked in this year's gift competition with my dad. I have NEVER lost two years in a row. For SHAME, for shame.

While I was sulking, I gave Aiden a bottle. Everyone was staring at me, because once I started talking with my hands, he held his bottle on his own. This is not a skill he previously had, apparently. AND THEN, he reached for a beer. He really is just like his Uncle Brad.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Life Imitates Art

(I don't know if you'd consider the old "Daria" cartoons art, but for those of us who came of age during MTV's "Beavis and Butthead" era, it's pure brilliance.)

Oh, stereotypes, you conundrums, you...

Every now and then, I see these little moments that I just have to capture. They often have nothing to do with the reason I have my camera out and poised. They're just THERE, and I can't help myself.

This particular moment reminded me of an old episode of Daria, where everyone's favorite cartoon heroine helps the uber-popular cheerleader understand three-point perspective for art class by drawing her a picture of the mall.

The part of the episode that drives my above comparison home doesn't happen until 4 minutes and 16 seconds into the YouTube video I've linked to below, so here's the dialogue in case you're, you know, busy or something.

Brittany: Hey! Thanks for helping me out in art.
Daria: No problem.
Brittany: Maybe I could help you out in something.
Daria: Well, you could show me how to twirl hair around my little finger and look vacant.
Brittany: (twirls hair and looks vacant) I don't know if that's something you can teach.

Monday, December 18, 2006


This is a concept I've been kicking around for a while, this notion of "enough." I suppose I'm thinking, in particular, about activism, charity and goodness in general.

I started working on a long entry back in October, when the marketing campaigns for Breast Cancer Awareness kicked into overdrive. I saw a commerical for Macy's that really pissed me off. Someone, an actress I really respect, Susan Sarandon maybe, was talking about Breast Cancer Awareness and Shop for the Cure! and there was some promotion, something like "20% off! 10% of which goes to breast cancer research, so you can Shop for the Cure! and Save money, too! And THAT feels really good."

And I thought... what fresh bullshit is THAT?

First of all, if we can shop for the cure! And sip for the cure! And crunch for the cure! And drive for the cure! Why can't we get a damn cure? There's so much money spent in marketing Pink Ribbon products. Wouldn't it be great if Ford could the funds it puts toward mixing a special blend of limited edition pink car paint toward, I don't know, developing a car that releases less carcinogenic pollution? And Revlon? I know you proudly describe yourselves as all about giving (their words, not mine) and boy howdy, y'all love your pink ribbons, but could you maybe STOP MAKING MAKEUP WITH CHEMICALS THAT CAUSE CANCER ? 'Cause THAT would be awesome.

Before I go on too long with this rant, I will tell you that more information on this topic can be found here and here and here.

My point is, reapplying your Revlon lipstick after washing down a bag of Sunchips with Republic of Tea's Pink Lemonade Green Tea as you drive your pink Ford to Macy's for the 20% off sale does not an activist make. It. Is. Not. Enough. to eat your "dating a massage therapist while shoe shopping for Zen-wrapped in Karma dipped in chocolate GOOD" yogurt (Don't even get me starting on the stereotyping evils of THAT ad campaign) and mail in your cute little pink lid for the $0.10 donation. Dude. Just take the $0.39 you'd spend on the stamp and give it to Susan J. Komen your own self.

I'm focusing on breast cancer activism in this entry, because I already did the research back in October, but the sentiment could apply to any form of charitable giving or activism. I'm asking the question: What is "enough?"

Is it enough to pray for what you'd like to see happen in the world? If you vote, recycle, adopt your pets from a rescue organization and toss your envelope in the offering plate once a week, is that enough? What if you compost all the vegan peelings from your pesticide-free vegetables, ride a bicycle everywhere and only drive a hybrid car for emergencies? (We all still produce ozone-destroying methane when we die, by the way.)

I always kind of grew up thinking that if I'd been alive during such-and-such a time, I would have been "one of the good guys." Like, if I had been alive before the Civil War, I hope I would have assisted a stop on the Underground Railroad. If I'd been in Nazi-occupied Europe, I like to think I would have been like Miep Geis , helping hide Anne Frank and her family. If I lived in Rwanda? I tell myself I would have done whatever I could, like Paul Rusesabagina (The hotel manager who provided shelter for over a thousand Tutsis refugees when the Hutu militia was exacting genocide in Rwanda.)

Historical events and eras seem to naturally align themselves in nice, organized chunks after the fact, such as the Antebellum South and the Holocaust. I wonder, though, would we have enough perspective to know if we were living in a Historically Significant Chunk right in the thick of it?

Aren't we living through a Historical Chunk right now? There are atrocities happening in our own time, injustices all around us. We are in a time of world crisis, today. Right now. Am I a freedom fighter in Darfur right now? Nope. Am I on a hunger strike in solidarity with the innocents (surely there are more than one or two) imprisoned in Guantonimo? Hardly. I personally don't think that I do "enough," actually, but that's a personal goal and perhaps a New Year's resolution.

I'm finally, finally getting around to finishing this post in part because I've recently come face to face with the legacy of Someone Who Absolutely Did Enough. Go google "Welles Crowther," please. I'll wait. No, seriously. It will save time. Look up the "man in the red bandanna" while you're at it.

We're on the honor system here, but just in case you didn't google him... Welles was 24 when he died, a BC graduate in my sister's undergraduate class. He always carried a red bandanna with him, by habit. He worked as an equities trader on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He used his training as a volunteer firefighter to save a lot of lives on 9/11. He covered his face with his red bandanna as he went into the inferno of the 78th floor several times, helping badly burned individuals to safety.

He could have made it to safety. He could have helped save one person, and it would have been "enough." He could have run for his life, saving only himself, and gone on to live a productive, happy life, and THAT would have been enough. He made it all the way to the lobby of the South Tower. His remains were found with several FDNY firefighters and EMT workers in what was a suspected command post when the towers fell.

Last week, the FDNY made him an honorary firefighter. They almost never, ever do that. The gesture is even more meaningful because his parents found a partially completed application to join New York's bravest in his apartment. We've done a lot of stories about this man in the last five years. I've only been privileged enough to work on the most recent two, the story announcing this posthumous honor and the one covering the ceremony. You can see the slideshow here.

He did enough, more than enough. I spent an hour bonding with his mom, who gave me a red bandanna, which I will carry in my camera bag always. He saved lives, and last week, I sat on the floor of his old bedroom and played with his dog.

What, out of all of your charitable giving, activism or volunteerism, is the most satisfying and meaningful to you? How do you define "enough?"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A General Update

So, hi. Obviously, I didn't die from the plague. (Thank you for asking, Wetzel. Did you get my card? What is your working email address these days? Where do you live? Why can't I find you? Don't make me sing Faith Hill Christmas carols at you! Because I will! "Where are you, WET-zel?/ Why can't I FIII-IND yooou?")

I took an absolutely unheard of three days off from work last week. I called out sick Monday and Tuesday. I went into work on Wednesday, where several of my co-workers did everything but beam me back to bed with the sheer force of their combined maternal instincts. I took off Thursday, and I'm pretty much better now except for an annoying lingering cough.

But look! My ears work again! I can yawn without whimpering in pain! Rockin'!

Meanwhile, Joel is sick now, despite ingesting a frightening amount of Airborne and washing his hands like Howard Hughes. He called out sick today, but I think he's going in tomorrow. We'll see if this illness hits him behind the knees with a steel rod like a man on Tonya Harding's payroll the way it did after my attempt to work last Wednesday.

Seriously, though, there has been so much sustained coughing in this apartment, followed by double hits of cough drops and Dayquil. Yesterday, I was choking on a pear, and I actually thought, "Damn, if this piece of pear shifts a little and starts blocking my windpipe, I am in DEEP SHIT. Because Joel will not come check on me. He thinks I'm coughing and looking for more cough drops. I will die here on the kitchen floor, and he will merely think I found the Halls. He might not find me for HOURS. Maybe I should find a pen and write a 'I am choking on a pear' note while I have enough oxygen to do it..."

Meanwhile, I'm truckin' down the holiday to-do list. I have all my cards sent, dozens of cookies baked, mostly everything wrapped, just a few more small presents to buy, most photo client orders filled if not shipped, plus getting ready for the Magical Manhattan Weekend coming up. There will be Christmas light-seeing, Reindeer hoof-print spotting, Santa-letter mailing, Nutcracker viewing, Rockefeller tree-viewing, and Kris Kringle-visiting.

I just have to clean, grocery shop, launder some towels and make an appointment for Bella at the groomer to take care of her Talons of Pre-Schooler Doom before the house guests arrive.

P.S. To Wetzel: "Katherine! Christopher! Babila! Give me your hand, come along with me!"

Wedding/Party (Bonus: Kittens!)

You can see a slideshow of the wedding here, the party here and the kittens here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Scenes from a Suzuki

Woman: Are you ready to go?
Man: Yeah.
Woman: Did you print out Mapquest directions?
Man: I checked Mapquest, but they're in my head.
Woman: Are you sure? 'Kay.

(45 minutes later)

Woman: Have we been here before?
Man: No.
Woman: What road are we looking for?
Man: I think we're in the wrong place. Their street is a tree name, and none of these are tree streets.
Woman: Should we call them?
Man: No. Look, there's Joel Place! Let's go there.
Woman: There is no housewarming party there. Let's ask for directions.
Man: Well...
Woman: Ask for directions!

(One trip to gas station for directions later; we're getting back on the highway.)

Woman: Should we call them?
Man: Nah, just get on the highway.
Woman: North or South?
Man: I'm not sure if we got off too soon or too late. We have to go one exit and see if they go up or down.
Woman: 'Kay... Is there a reason we can't use one of the three cell phones in this car and CALL THEM?
Man: I want to see if I'm right. We want exit 24. We could BE at exit 24 right now, but get on the highway anyway.

(Woman drives on highway, sees signs for exit 9.)

Woman: Call them.
Man: But-
Woman: Call them.

(Passing exit 8)

Woman: Call them or I'm taking the CD out and switching to Christmas carols.
Man: Noooo!
Woman: I will SO put on Christmas music.
Man: But-
Woman: DUDE. (finger lingering threateningly over AM/FM button)
Man: (reluctantly digging around for cell phone)
Woman: I'm talkin' BAD Christmas music, too. Celine Dion, if I can find it, or that terrible Santa Baby song.
Man: I'm dialing!

(One confusing phone call with harried hostess later)

Man: There! Route 24! I was right.
Woman: Oh, no. You said EXIT 24, not Route 24.
Man: But there it is.
Woman: Yes.
Man: I bet they eloped.
Woman: What?
Man: I bet we get there, and they announce that they went to the courthouse and did it.
Woman: Ya think? No, they wouldn't do that.
Man: I just have a feeling.
Woman: Wanna bet on it?
Man: Like what?
Woman: Like... dinner out. Dinner at Legal Seafood.
Man: But not at the one at Palisades.
Woman: No, that one sucks. The one in Plite Wains.
Man: Deal.
Woman: If they eloped, and you're right, then I buy. If they're not married, you owe me dinner.
Man: Okay.

(Drivey drive with the driving)

Woman: You know what WOULD be like them?
Man: What?
Woman: They got a friend to get ordained over the Internet and they surprise us tonight.
Man: Nah, they eloped.
Woman: I'm just sayin.'


Man: If they get married tonight at the party, we draw for it. No one buys dinner.
Woman: That works.

(Three and half hours, four courses of passed appetizers, and a dozen birthday/housewarming presents later....)

...Joel and I are eating at home. ;)

Congratulations, guys! This is your heart's true happiness, and it's everything you deserve.

P.S. Yeah, I take my gear pretty much everywhere I go, but THERE IS A REASON I haven't traveled lightly since 1998. :)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Miserable Monkey

Hi. I am sick. Again. I feel like a broken record. I just wrote a post like this last month. This is the most serious, non-food poisoning-related illness I've had in a while. I have your standard no-good very bad cold- tonsilitis, possibly strep throat, sneezing and wheezing like one of Marge Simpson's sisters.

But! Bonus! I have an ear infection so bad that it hurts to move my jaw in certain ways. The slightest touch to that half of my head makes me whimper pathetically. It's like my Pathetic Whimper Button. Or something.

I worked on Saturday, holding it all together with Dayquil and caffeine. For the past week, I tried pounding water, taking Vitamin C and zinc supplements, getting a chiropractic adjustment, taking making my vile magic potion of lemon tea, honey and melted cough drops. I've been turning the bathroom into a steam room, pouring eucalyptus body wash under the taps and breathing deeply.

Fuck it! Fuck it all!

I finally dragged my ass to the doctor and got me some antibiotics. Which haven't kicked in yet. Most of all, I just DO NOT WANT TO BE SICK. This is really pissing me off now. I have a to-do list a mile long, projects at work that deserve my attention, and nowhere on that list does it say, "Be Miserable" and "Count the Hours Until It Is Time for More Eardrops."

Joel keeps refusing to shoot me.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Baby Fishmouth

Sally: It was "Baby Talk."
Jess: "Baby talk"? That's not a saying.
Harry: Oh, but "baby fish mouth" is sweeping the nation? I hear them talking.
-From When Harry Met Sally

Hope you all had lovely Thanksgivings. The highlight of our day was passing around Aiden (who looks so much like his uncles it's not even funny. He's a portable Pl0tner!), who then passed out on Joel's mom (who later gave me a Polaroid of a bassinet that's been in his family for four generations, five if I forget to put in my NuvaRing. Pressure much?)

You can see the rest of the photos from the day here, and another one below, because I just like it. Feel free to print it out and draw in your own crayon version of Gwen and Jared, whom I missed getting to see by just a few hours. Boo.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Social Blunders

Holy shit, do I ever suck sometimes. I... Sigh. I don't know. I just- arg. Okay, I fancy myself to this open person who's engaged with the world, making connections and *really* seeing people. I think it's partly why doing my job is a pleasure, but I also think that continually doing my job fosters this inclination when I'm off the clock... and it can be a good thing...

But also? I am an assmonkey, sometimes.

Today Joel and I went to a "Celebrating the Season" sale at an art gallery where we have work displayed. (Must. Earn. Money. Gah.) And I started up a conversation with a woman who had some amazing paintings on display. She had her 4-month-old daughter and husband there, and we were talking for, like, 20 minutes. She told me all about being a new mom and making time for her artwork, and we were chatting easily for a while. She's telling me about breast-feeding and "scheduling" artistic inspiration and whether or not she should wean her daughter, which is a very personal, in my opinion, and she brought it up.

Meanwhile, her daughter, who is being held by her husband, has two of my fingers in a tight grip in each of her hands. I'm making the baby laugh and gently squeezing her feet, and we're all laughing easily and engaged in conversation. And then...

Oh God, why did I do this? I said, "I totally don't want to be the creepy stranger or whatever, and you can totally say no, but may I hold her for a minute?" The woman's face FALLS and she's all flusterred, and says, "I'm sorry, but no." And I rushed to say, "Don't apologize, oh my god, I'M sorry, that's why I started out with my disclaimer, etc etc"

And she pointedly holds our her hand to shake mine and tells me her name. In that instant, I realized that her husband had introduced himself and told me the baby's right before this woman walked up, but two of us had skipped that part. I hadn't even told her my name. She continued to apologize profusely and telling me her daughter is having more of her infant vaccinations in a few days and she's feeling over-protective... And I kept saying, "no, no, no! Stop! *I'm* sorry."

I AM AN ASS. I am the kind of ass that MommyBloggers write about!


And.. and... since I'm confessing... I did something similar at Kristen's baby shower. I was chatting with her and her best friend, whom I only knew from hanging out at K's wedding. This friend's toddler was with her at the shower, and frankly, this friend/mom/woman was doing a kickass job with her kid- handing a very PG Kristen presents, writing a thank-you list, simultaneously entertaining her newly mobile daughter, who was very cute. And we were all chatting, and this friend was telling K how challenging and awesome it all is.... blah blah blah... and I said, "So, not to be That Person at the baby shower who says, "Are you gonna have another one?!", but you're so great with A. Do you guys think about having a little brother or sister at all?"

And her face FELL, and she says, "Wow, you ARE that person."

Why? Why, when I hear the little voice in my head, the one that offers the disclaimers, do I not compute? I guess it's good that I have such a big mouth, as I'm am constantly sticking my feet in there. JAY-sus.

You know who's good about teaching me to be better about this stuff? Alissa. (Liss, I miss you, especially when I'm all turned up to 11 on the "Being Me Meter," except that then sometimes I stick my feet in my mouth in front of people you love, so maybe you're better off upstate.)

After the art sale opening, Joel and I drove around to cute little coffee shops and stores that carry individual artist's work and might be good places to sell his prints. We have Big Plans for every weekend between now and New Year's. There won't be another sleep-in, no real plans, don't even take the cell phone, wander around weekend day for quite some time.

We stopped at a gas station, and I really had to go to the bathroom. It wasn't a stall situation, just one door that opens to the universe, a sink and a one-woman throne. I didn't realize the lock was broken when I pushed in the button, and a middle-aged/elderly Orthodox woman walked in JUST as I was wiping. She yelled "OY!" and slammed the door. I swear I wanted to hide in there for an hour or more, until it would be IMPOSSIBLE for her to still be on the other side of the door.

Why am I LIKE this? The Shame, IT BURNS! My God, the shame.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Most Amazing Love Letter

I recently started reading a blog called Atomic Tumor. It seems it was created a while back by a couple in Tennessee. It was their joint online journal. They told funny stories about their sons, commented on life in general, and as far as I can tell, the majority of their reader/commenters- as they are here- sound like people they know in real life, have barbecues with, etc.

Around Halloween, the wife became mysteriously ill. Her husband has been writing throughout it all, first as an update for friends and family, then as a vigil, and now, as a tribute and memorial. It is unbelievably touching, and human, and honest. Above all else, it is the most amazing love letter.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Just Keep Swimming

This is for my sister, and Jillian, and Kelly, and maybe Cindy's husband, and anyone else who feels stuck and at the mercy of a Human Resources department.

Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Fred looks like he could be imagining creative ways to kill us in our sleep and make it look like an accident...

...but that would require moving.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Soccer? Mom (to be)?

Just another day in this idiosyncratic life...

So all last week, I kept thinking there was something significant about November 4th, and then remembering I was going to Andrea's baby shower outside Philly. It's also Kelly and Michael's first wedding anniversary, which... Was that year FAST, or what? I sent a card on time, but totally forgot to call until today.

But anyway... As it turns out, November 4th was also the date that 10 pieces of museum-quality, elegantly-framed, ready-to-hang photographs were due at the Arts Alliance Winter Sale that Joel and I are participating in, (a.k.a trying to hock for cash.) Sleep is overrated!

So I stayed up until 2 a.m. getting our work ready to show, and then got to the gallery space right when it opened. It should have left me just enough time to make it to the shower fashionably late, which started at 1:30 p.m. in another state. I was actually alright time-wise, but I hit every damn red light between the Turnpike exit and Andrea's parents' house... 1:55 p.m....less than fashionable... Lower State Road becomes Limekiln Pike... had to turn around... damn damnedty damn... finally, the right road!

Now, in my defense at this next part... I've only been to Andrea's parents' house twice. Once between her wedding and reception five years ago, and once about two years after that. They live in a lovely development where the houses come in approximately four styles.

I pulled onto their street, like 40 minutes late, and saw cars lined up outside a house with light blue balloons on the mailbox. Score! I got out of my car, swapped my sneakers for high heeled boots, grabbed my camera and the present. Another guest, a man in his thirties, was walking up to the house.

He sorted of smiled at me in that "you look familiar" way, and I smiled back. He had red hair. This was a family party, and anyway, my expectant friend has red hair. I also recalled from her wedding that her husband's best man was his very close friend who has five brothers. They all live nearby, so I thought maybe we'd met at the wedding.

He says, "I bet they're out back" and walks into the backyard. Um, okay... But you know what? If anyone would host a harvest party shower and rent patio warmers, it would be Andrea's mom. Nope, no one out there. "We can probably just walk right in," Familiar-Looking Man says.

"Okay, I guess," I said, smiling and following him into the garage. We walk into the kitchen and Vivaldi's Spring movement is playing. That's totally baby shower music. "They're probably in the basement," Familiar-Looking Man said. Whoa. What? "It's a soccer party," he said, puzzling at my expression.

Me: "Baby shower?"
FLM: "Soccer party?"

It was like that moment in "The Sixth Sense" where Bruce Willis realizes he's been dead since the opening scene, and he's all "My stomach is bleeding! There's a table in front of the door with the red doorknob that I haven't been able to open! My wife can't see me!" Except for me, it was, "Where is the Irish blessing stenciled over the kitchen cabinets? Where is Zoe the golden retriever? Why are there photos of 10-year-olds on the fridge?" I gave Increasingly-Less-Familar-Looking-Man my most winning smile and said, "I'm totally in the wrong house." I turned on my heel and strode confidently out the door.

WHO DOES THIS?!?! Who? Apparently, me.

I got back in the car and drove down the street where another house (also with a three-step stoop in front, a 3-car garage on the side and a gazebo at the top of the driveway) was having a party, already in progress. You see more photos from the party here.

Andrea is the cutest pregnant lady ever. You know, since Kristen. :)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sick? Tired? Just Lazy?

Greetings from my nest of covers, books, remote controls and snacks!

This was a very busy week. My parents came up here on Thursday night to go with me to this hoop-de-la awards ceremony thingy in the city. (Confession: Ever since I couldn't find my way off the stage after winning a prize in the 7th grade science fair,*** I am EXTREMELY wary of accepting awards in public.) They spent the night here before driving to visit my sister in Boston, so I had the futon and TV all set up for them in the office.

***The stairs were one level below the stage! I got my medal, and I couldn't see the way off or down! It was awful! AWFUL! Luckily my dad was sitting on stage with the other teacher/presenters and subtly pointed to the stairs while I turned 80 shades of red, including "jalapeno.")

Yesterday, I just felt achy and tired, like my head was full of cotton and my eyelids were made of sandpaper. I shot my assignments, tried to suck it up and finally asked to go home a little early. I crashed on the still made-up futon with my laptop, transmitted the photos from home, and decided to indulge in a little R & R until I felt better.

That was nearly 24 hours, three TV movies, two whoopie pies, and one tragic college football game ago. I don't feel SICK sick- no fever, no cough, no stuffy nose, just a sore throat, itchy ears (in that congested eustation tube kind of way) and an absolute lack of desire to get off my ass. I've tried napping and a hot invigorating shower. Now I'm moving onto pastina soup, which is what Italian grandmothers make for children when they are sick.

The pets are being incredibly cuddly, even Fred, who recently peed in a pair of Joel's shoes after a particularly dramatic escape'n'capture episode in the hallway. (The siren call of the downstairs neighbor's bike was too much to bear; it is indeed a seductive whore.) But the landlords haven't turned on the heat yet, so I'm not sure the cuddling is motivated by love for the lady WHO SCOOPS YOUR POOP DAILY, you warmth-mooching cat.

I'm also pages away from the end of Rosalind Wiseman's "Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads," a follow-up to her tour de force "Queen Bees and Wanna-Bes," which inspired the movie "Mean Girls." She explores the way that adults regress to junior high politics when it comes to "protecting," "advocating," and "providing every opportunity for" their children. I was inspired to buy it after an emotionally-charged encounter with a grade school Muffia boss who was so fixated on getting her child in front of the camera that she pulled her sobbing daughter from a class activity she didn't want to miss for a fake photo-op. I can not and WILL NOT stage anything, ever, anywhere. People in my field lose their jobs over things like that, and attempts to explain that only invited more drama, mockery, and SCREAMING, (and not from the third-graders in the room.) Long story short, and fifteen minutes of dysfunctional dynamic judo later, the Muffia boss ended up hugging me. Twice. Yeah.

Interestingly enough, the same Queen Bee Moms/Kingpin Dads/Entitled Parent/Wannabe/Sidekick/Popular Girl Crying in the Bathroom at the Jr High Dance power hierarchy has really reared its ugly head in the blogosphere during this little vacation-at-home of mine. It's fascinating but also tragic, because some (say, FOUR) bloggers genuinely have a reason to feel violated. Cyber-bullying, indeed. I think Ms. Wiseman might have fodder for her third book...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Very Quickly...

More later, (and more about things that aren't my dog, because HOW many entries have been only about her now?) but Bella's x-rays and ultrasounds were yesterday and they came back completely clear. We don't know exactly why her vision problems started, but we do know it isn't any kind of cancer or anything life-threatening. Pretty much just checkups, eye drops and steroid pills (to try to reattach the retineas) hidden in cheese from here on out. I feel like a thousand pounds have been lifted off my shoulders.

Bella's eyes continue to look clearer everyday, which means that the new kind of eye drops are at least helping the uveaitis (fancy schmancy word for outer and inner eye irritation) if not the retinal detachment, which always seems to be improving. This is excellent, as Fred would have been a terrible seeing-eye cat. He is so, so dumb. He'd probably would have lead her into an open manhole or something.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ultrasounds, X-rays and Art

We ruled out hypertension, diabetes, and a few other things at the vet's office this morning. The drops seem to be working, and the vet actually thought her retinas were starting to reattach. Woo hoo! Which is good, but still mystifiying. The source of the troubles could still be one or two types of cancer, so we have chest x-rays and an abdominal ultrasound for Bella ahead of us, then probably oral steroids. I feel like I see a light at the end of the DOOM! tunnel, though.

However, I wanted to ask my commenters for an opinion on something before I do it. I am thinking about holding an art sale to raise money for Bella. I know. I have mixed feelings about it, since it feels like "cyberbegging" and there are so many worthy causes with a global reach that do extremely significant work out there. Here's what I'm thinking.

Joel and I MIGHT put together a webpage of all of our favorite nature, landscapes, personal vision fine art photography. (You can see a lot of our work from Yosemite, as well as my lighthouse photos, in the Picture Book section below. That's the kind of stuff I mean) Then we would charge fair price for it, which we only do now in a select number of venues. All of the money will go toward the cost of Bella's return to health (over $1,000 and still rapidly climbing), and a portion of it (say 5%? 10%?) will also go to the Humane Society at New Rochelle, which I continually describe here as the Best Animal Shelter Ever.

Also, if I've taken photos of you and /or your family members, pets, new babies, outings, wedding, trip to NH, etc., and you've been kicking around the idea of getting a framed, matted print for someone as a Christmas/Hanukkah present, here would be your chance to do that, help my sweet mutt, and do a little something extra for homeless animals.

Does this sound totally tacky to you guys? What do you think? Would you prefer to be left off a mass email that I MIGHT send out with this?

Bella is snoring right now. Loudly. :)


Bella's bloodwork came back clear of most of the scariest causes of her eye issues- no liver disease, kidney failure, Lyme disease, leukemia, or funky fungal infections, etc. We still might need to do x-rays or ultrasounds for tumors or lymphoma, and it could still be hypertension. The eyedrops (the right kind, this time) seemed to help the inflamation this week. We're going back to the vet first thing in the morning for a re-check and to learn about the next step. Fingers, paws and claws are all crossed here and where you are, I know. Thanks for all the love and support for the monkey this week. Another pupdate soon...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two Dog Related Things

1. Got a voicemail from the vet saying some of Bella's initial bloodwork came back with "nothing alarming apparent" on it. I got the message after the practice was closed, so I need to wait until morning for more details. She also said more results will be in on Wednesday, so we need to keep "everything the same" and "stay the course" for now. I assume this means the cultures for the funky fungal infections are still, um, culturing? But "initial bloodwork" probably showed things like white blood cell counts. If they aren't alarming, then leukemia and immune system diseases are probably not the source of the badness.

2. This is freaking hilarious. I'm not a Marmaduke fan, persay, but Joe Mathlete cracked me UP.

Monday, October 16, 2006

This cheers me up, too.

Tonight Joel and I went to a friend's birthday party, and Melanie my 4-year-old friend was there. She loves the camera, and as soon as I pulled it out she ran over shouting, "I wanna do a pose! I wanna do a pose!"

She elected to do a pouty, hip jutting out, supermodel pose while her mom watched warily.

I took the above picture, and then I said, "Okay, now show me your best "First Woman President of the United States" pose. What would that look like?" She didn't even hesitate and did this immediately.

Rios for President, 2048.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bad News

Okay, so... The potentially devastating news is that Bella is sick. She might be very, very sick.

I mentioned before in a general, whiny way that she had an eye infection. I noticed her right eye was red and irritated over Labor Day weekend. I took the first appointment I could get the Tuesday morning after the holiday. There was a problem with another dog that kept us in the waiting room an extra 45 minutes, and I was going to be late to work.

The doctor saw us in a hurried way (at my request, because I really had to get to a story in another county), checked for abrasions, ruled out conjunctivitis, told us he wanted to see her again in a few days and gave us some expensive antibiotic drops. Bella and Fred had their yearly checkup a few days later, so we went back. This time we had the other vet in the practice, who gave them their shots, checked out the eye pretty closely, but declared them both in perfect health. The eye didn't improve, so a week later I called the vet's office. The doctor who saw us for the yearly checkup prescribed stronger antibiotic drops and mentioned we may want to see a specialist if it didn't get better, but "this will clear it right up."

And it didn't. Her eye started to get a little glazed and foggy looking, which I mistook at first for a possible sign of healing, since it wasn't so red anymore. The fogginess started spreading, so I decided, fuck it and booked an appointment with a veterinary opthomalogist.

We had our appointment on Friday. Bella's retinas are detaching in both eyes. As the doctor was examining her and shining special lights into her eyes, I could see something was really wrong. It's happening very, very quickly, and she's already experiencing noticable vision loss.  In the last five days, she's lost about 50% vision in her right eye.

You might remember when I posted the photo above about a year ago. The difference is really striking when I look at them side by side.


Deep breath... The worse part is that it's very likely only the tip of the iceberg. Sudden retinal detachment in relatively young dogs is caused by a variety of issues, some of which are quite serious, including hypertension, cancer, kidney disease or a serious, systemic fungal infection. The very first step is to conduct a variety of complicated diagnostic tests, starting with a full blood workup, which we did Friday. 
The vet gave me some information, and I've been doing a lot of research. It's all Internet based, but I'm trying to dismiss the really crazy stuff out of hand (Cure your dog with flax seed dog treats! Read Scout's Brave Tale of Woe and Painful Demise!) The most common kind of cancer associated with this kind of vision issue is lymphoma. Other symptoms would probably include palpable tumors, rapid weight loss, lethargy, etc., which are not presenting in Bella right now. 
The scary fungal infections are lethal, but she's not vomiting or having diarrhea. The infections are contagious across species, and Fred is fine. They share food and water bowls; he would not be fine, and Joel and I would probably have "cold-like symptoms." Also, the fungal infections are frequently misdiagnosed as lung cancer, because they cause shortness of breathe and cause shadowly white spots on the lungs in x-rays. Bella had her yearly checkup after the eye infection started, and her lungs were completely good and clear. All the other stuff- leukemia, kidney disease, etc- come with more symptoms (coughing, lesions) and things Bella doesn't have. 
Which leaves hypertension, aka high blood pressure, which I'm betting on, actually. She's 6 (45 or so in people years). She's about 5 pounds heavier than she should be, which means more when you only weigh 40 lbs. One of the symptoms of hypertension is a change in behavior, which would explain why Bella manifested some anxiety issues over the summer. In that case, she would take blood pressure meds, and as the blood thins and fluid drains from behind the eyes, the retinas usually reattach. I know this because I have a newly minted degree from Google Veterinary College.
Anyway. Step #1 is getting the proper diagnosis. Bella is outwardly fine except for the vision loss, which is only noticable to me when we play ball and I purposefully throw to her bad side. She is doing her Happy Butt Dance, bringing me toys (she put her ball in my camera bag) and behaving like her energetic self, except during my crying jags (daily total: 4), when she lays her head on my leg and tries to get on the couch to lick my face. 

Friday's appointment and lab work cost $700. There may be diagnostic x-rays and ultrasounds ahead, then expensive treatment, and maybe surgery. This is what credit cards are for. Bella is priceless. I've always believed that the only reason I would ever put her to sleep would be because her health was so poor that it would be unfair to keep her alive for my pleasure. I also imagined that decision would be at least nine years away.

And it very well could be nine years away. With the exception of the time she ate the metal end of a tube of cookie dough and spent the night at the fascist emergency vet in Florida, we've always been the dog-owner team who get to hop off the table with a clean bill of health, and that includes our yearly checkup two weeks ago.

However, between the car disasters (did I mention I spent $1100 repairing the oxygen sensor and more in the Nannymobile just days before it was totaled?) and vet bills, I am hemorrhaging money. I know it will be okay. I know my parents won't let me fall. I know, should we have to help Bella get to the proverbial "Rainbow Bridge," it certainly won't be for economic reasons. Joel is kicking in $$$, which is nice since he's technically "only my boyfriend" and Bella is still "my" dog.

I'm trying to stay positive. We'll get the blood test results by the end of the week. We go back to the vet specialist on Friday. I gave Bella a bath this weekend, and we went for lots of long walks. She climbed into the flannel sheets and did her ghost dog routine while Fred tried to step on her through the covers.

Joel and I did some serious "fall cleaning," which is calming to me, even though I screamed "I hate you!" at the stubborn shelf in the (now sparkling, thank you) fridge. We found this lobster hat in a drawer, which Joel kept putting on and casually walking into whichever room I was cleaning to cheer me up.

Then Fred got a hold of it and lovingly rubbed his face on it for a few hours this afternoon.

"I love the feel of your cloth antennae on my whiskers. Me-OW!"

I love our eccentric little family. I can't imagine my life without my girl.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Could Be Worse

So lately I've been feeling kind of... cursed by stupid bad luck. Part of the reason this blog is called "Idiosyncratic Life" is because a lot of weird things happen to me that sort of aren't anybody's fault or necessarily preventable. It's been especially bad lately. I got some potentially devastating news yesterday, which I will write about soon.

However, whatever it is about me that attracts the weird badness, this woman has it way, way worse.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Neglecting the Blog...

There are a bunch of things I've been meaning to write about, including Breast Cancer Awareness Month commercialism and Ramadan, though the two topics are mutually exclusive and the entries are completely different. I've also been meaning to post links to my latest multimedia projects, which of course I haven't done yet. Here's a teaser: most of my latest projects are about strong, interesting women who have overcome challenges to achieve great things and/or win awards and/or educate people about peaceful, mainstream Islam in our post 9/11 world. I took a lot of pictures of one of the women with her horse and her seeing-eye dog. Shocker!

Strong Women! Ordinary non-terrorist American Muslims committed to outreach and social change! Seeing-eye dogs! Horses! There's a pattern here!

The thing is, I love doing those kind of assignments, so my editors throw them my way. And we need to see more kickass, differently abled woman in the media. We need to see pro-active, peace-making, non-burqa wearing Islamic woman in the media, and we need to hear them discussing their activism while their husbands wash the dishes. So I'm glad I get to put those things out there. Actually, you know what? Zena is so cool, I AM going to link to project that features her here. You have to watch the "At Mosque" Section first, but then her family comes up and you can see for yourself what I'm babbling about. I'll update the sidebar links tomorrow, so you can "meet" Jody and Alison. Also, a young man is the third son in his family to join the navy, preschoolers go apple-picking, and I cover the first swim meet of the year. Woo!

I WAS working on a slideshow about Osie Ro'Donnell (strong woman!) opening a children's center (achieving things!) in a low-income community (social change!), but then she didn't show because The View decided to do a double taping. Then my laptop ate the login code for the audio program, and a plane flew into a building on the Upper East Side. There were like, 5 staffers geographically closer to the city at the time, but I was on call in the event of the Apocalypse. So no Rosie, and no slideshow.

Oh, but the thing I wanted to say about Ramadan was this. Because of this work that I love, I get to spend time with the ordinary non-terrorist American Muslims (different family in a different county; do you see the repeating themes?) during their standard, nightly Ramadan prayers. Not everyone gets that kind of opportunity, so I'll tell you what it's like.

Because this is Stepford, the homes I'm in are large, oh-so-tastefully decorated McMansions with finished basements. Several families get together at night to pray and break their fasts and recite parts of the Koran. I start by hanging out in the basement with two college-aged sisters who are home from SUNY schools for the weekend because of the holiday. his particular basement has a full kitchen adjacent to it, even though there's one upstairs, like Nanny's house. Another sister comes down stairs with a pitcher of water and stacks of plastic cups, (because everyone will be THIRSTY and drink as soon as they can break their fasts) along with a message from their mom to change out of their college logo hoodies and pajama pants because "guests are coming."

People file in. There's a lot of hugging- left, right, left again- particularly among the men. This is my usual crowd of contacts, the same people who do henna at school fairs and organize interfaith dinners. I am greeted enthusiastically with the same "As-Salaam-Alaikum" (peace be with you)/Alaikum-salaam (and "also with you"- I KNOW! Like the Catholics!) as everyone else, and one of the men rubs sandalwood on my wrists as he makes rounds to everyone in the room. Being included in both customs gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. The college-aged sisters are back in trendy, flowy outfits and there's a lot of breathless catching up with an old friend who just took Metro-North from NYU. One of them is waiting for a guy to call, "OMG, he texted me, but it's not the same!"

A guy from the mosque begins the tri-tonal call to prayer over a portable karaoke mic, a cue for one of the dads to tell his 10-year-old son: "Stop playing foosball and help me with the prayer mats." A lot of people are late, but they all know to use the side entrance directly into the TV room, like at Gwen's house. I can hear the signature beeps and shutdown songs as Verizon, Cingular and T-Mobile cell phones are turned off just outside the door before latecomers enter and take off their shoes.

As usual, the women's side is having more fun. After the first prayer, there's a short break. Some people keep praying individually through it, but the hostess of the house jumps up and stirs something on the stove in the basement kitchenette that smells like cinnamon. The girl waiting for The Call from the Guy (OMG!) silently checks her cell phone for a message during the break. Her sister raises an eyebrow. In response, she shakes her head with an exaggerated "sad face." Their friend whispers something about accidentally eating a Twix bar ten hours ago and they try not to crack up.

Good stuff.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Photos from the Weekend

You can see the slideshow Shannon's birthday weekend and aquarium trip here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ta da!

(Thank you, Cindy, for the graphic!)

I have officially brought my 2006 Suzuki Aero (Color: Racy Red) home from the dealership. It has 68 miles on it. It smells brand spanking new. I really- I mean, REALLY- don't want anything to happen to this car.

It. Is. Perfect.

Thank you, Mom and Dad. A payment check is in the mail. :)