Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Coolest Thing

On Sunday, my parents came up for Christmas: Round 3 on their way to see my sister in Boston and celebrate Joel's birthday. Joel and I went out to dinner with both sets of our parents. We also went to see Christmas Winter Wonderlights, which was this new, cool holiday light display.

It was designed by the same people who do the Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze each year, except that you walk through the grounds of Washington Irving's estate instead of the grounds of a different historic Hudson Valley estate. Woot. This really was very cool, though. I'm not doing it justice.

The general theme of the light display was, essentially, "What did Rip Van Winkle dream about when he was asleep for twenty years?"


So here's Rip.


There's a line in the story about his how whiskers became the stream, hence the fish.


More whiskers. The other theme was "Winter."


And the OTHER theme was "recycled goods" and "ecological sustainability," brought to you by Entergy, the operators of your friendly neighborhood nuclear power plant! (I am not making that up.)


The "icicles" were made out of reused waterbottles.


As you got to the end of Rip's long, wintry dream, "flowers" were starting to bloom. The flowers are made out of re-used milk jugs.


And because of the eco-friendly design and use of LED lights, the entire thing used up less power than it takes to runa hairdryer. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Letter to My Dog

Dear Bella,

Hey, girl. I sit down at the computer tonight, inspired to write to you after seeing the movie "Marley and Me" with Joel tonight. I'm making kissy noises at you, whistling, imploring you to join me on the couch, which- good girl!- you just have. It's a little hard to type with you licking me. When I lift my hands from the keyboard to scratch your ears, you cuddle your head into my palm. I wonder which one of the cats you picked that up from.

The movie "Marley and Me" is so sad in part because the ending is a forgone conclusion. Those of us with beloved animals in our lives know we're bound to outlive you. I've always maintained that missing out on the fifteen or so years of unconditional love you bring to my life would be a far greater loss than someday helping you pass when it's time, but I dread that day more and more with each passing year.

You're going to be nine in March, my girl. NINE. I can hardly believe it, Belle. You ran out of the Thornden Park Rose Garden in late August 2000, and the vet thought you were about four months old when- after two weeks on the porch- me and my college roommates admitted you were ours after all in early September. That means your birthday was sometime in March of 2000. We usually celebrate around March 8, you and me, but since I keep track of your age with the turn of the calendar year... I've been thinking about it more lately.

Last year, when you turned eight, I thought, you know... You could live to be 16. It would be beating the odds a bit, but it would mean that we still have the same amount of time together as we've already had. Now that you're going to be nine, I know that "halfway" is behind us.

I have to confess; I've been facing your mortality lately, puppeleh. Part of it is because people I really care about let their beloved dogs go recently. Brandy was 14, but Zoe was only 10. They both had cancer. We know you're healthy, minus the eye troubles. We've managed to keep that under control with medication, and you're so good about it. You hear the rattle of that bottle and run to your dog bed. "You can sit on your bed," I tell you. "But you will take these pills." Going to the eye doctor vet is practically a treat for you. Dr. Cho is so gentle, and Margaret the med tech literally dotes on you.

Other than that, you're healthy and well. You take the last flight of stairs up to the apartment a little slower these days, sometimes putting both of your back paws together on one stair at the same time. That said, you dragged Joel down the street two days ago. You still greet us with puppy-like wiggles and energy at the end of the day. I'm so grateful for your health and energy, and I never want you to get any older.

I know you know this, because I tell you late at night whenever I can't sleep. I pull you up from the foot of the bed and stroke your tummy, telling you that you're the best dog in the world. I whisper in your twitching ear that when I was a little girl, I had dozens of stuffed animals. Toys only, but I loved them. I gave them names and invented personalities for them. I never wanted any of my stuffed animals to think I loved any more than the others, so I pulled them all off their shelf and into my bed when I was a child. I poured a lot of time and love into those stuffed toys. I feel like it all came back to me in you, pup. All that love lavished on the proverbial Velveteen Rabbits became Real the day I found you.

If I ever had a guardian angel, Bella, you're so it. I got gravely sick when you were about six months old, remember? For months, you laid at the foot of my bed while we tried combinations of meds, and therapy, and crying. You were just a puppy, and there were lots of other people to love and chase you.

My mom knew I was sick- seriously ill- when I said, "I get no joy from Bella."

You took care of me, too, when we moved out in the middle of the night. I grabbed a week's worth of clothes, a throw blanket, my Harry Potter books, my camera, and you, remember? You stayed on alert all night in the pet-friendly hotel we went to. When we finally found a place to go, you got so sick and panicked around Jason's new puppy. You threw up in my lap on the way to vet, but I knew we'd be okay if we stuck together.

Six weeks later, you rode shotgun all the way to Florida. We were 1,000 miles from friends and family. Most people go clubbing on South Beach, but since you were the only friend I had, we hit the dog-friendly boutiques. I think the dog beach we went to was featured in the movie I saw tonight. You LOVED that place, except for the waves.

I'll never know for certain how many times you've protected me, but I know I felt better that night we heard the gunshots because you were with me. When we drove back a year later, this time with Fred in the back seat, you barked at the sketchy man who banged on the window in that rest stop in Georgia. I'm willing to bet that the sketchy drug people who used to live downstairs never used the emergency key to the apartment because of you were here, barking your fool head off at molecules of air. Thank you, muffin face.

I know when you're hungry or when you don't feel good because you've eaten trash. I know when the cats are bugging you, trying to touch your feet as you sleep. You know when I need a good cry. You always let me bury my face in the ruff of your neck during the scene in "I am Sam" when Sean Penn loses custody of Dakota Fanning and whenever those ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLachlan come on TV.

You were the best flower dog, Bella. I didn't know until after the honeymoon that you ducked behind a hedge and took a massive dump right before the ceremony. Thank you, thank you, thank you for not pooping in the middle of our vows.I spend a lot of time thinking about what the future holds. I picture the house we want to buy, what my job might be as things change. You're in all my daydreams, sweet girl, sitting under a high chair, waiting for food to drop, curled in front of the imaginary fireplace.

Our adventures will never become a New York Times bestseller, Bella. This blog will never inspire a screenplay, and even if it did, Jennifer Aniston would NEVER be cast to play me. :) A quick web search found that eighteen different dogs played Marley in the movie I saw tonight. There is only one you, Isabella Louise. When I think of your unending affection, loyalty, and protection, I know it will be my privilege to follow you around for all the years we have left, carrying your poop home in a plastic baggie. I love the security of you curled behind my legs each night when I fall asleep, even when you snore. Especially when you snore.

I love you, dog. Thanks for being mine.
Your Human

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Party

On Saturday, Joel and I celebrated the second round of Christmas with our friends and their kids in Queens. No one has seen me since the Great Jack o' Lantern Blaze, because I am a Workaholic/Hermit/With Out-of-State Family Commitments.

Oh, but we had fun, though. This particular group of friends has the most delightful system of gift-giving and wish lists, all of which are managed via spreadsheet and distributed and updated diligently so you pretty much end up getting actually what you want, plus Paul makes his own home-brewed raspberry cordial, which is served in yummy little chocolate cups. Good times, good times.

Baelin is more little boy than bebe these days. He's at that stage where he's more delighted with torn wrapping paper than presents. He doesn't quite get the whole Christmas thing yet, and grabbed the first present that was opened and carried it around. Unfortunately, the first present of Christmas '08 was Melanie's Piranha Panic, and she was a little distressed to see it walk away almost immediately.

It's okay, I said.

But he's taking it!

He's not doing it to hurt your feelings, Mel. He's still little. It's your present. It's okay. He'll be old enough to understand soon.

But when he's old enough, he won't let me boss him around anymore!

Aw, that kid, she cracks me up. She regaled me with tales of first grade, tap class, the Tooth Fairy and her "Melanie-Kayla BFF Forever!" cheer. At one point in the night, we were watching a Christmas Carol. I had Melanie snuggled under one arm, and Baelin cuddled under the other, each with their new fleece blankets. Then I slipped in a food coma- oh, the amazing food!- and dozed off entirely for the Ghost of Christmas Future part. Ah, well. He's the lame ghost anyway. I mean, really. He doesn't even talk, just points all creepily at like, swirling fog, and graves, and stuff.

Do I have a photo of me with the cuddly munchkins? No I do not. I DO have one of me waking up to find Joel standing over me with my camera while Ebenezer Scrooge ordered a passing child to buy the largest Christmas goose at the butcher shop for the Cratchett's on the TV in the background. Because I am nothing but a whore for laughter at my own self-deprecating expense, I'm going to show it to you. Because I'm generous like that. Are you ready?

Niiice. I look PRETTY.

Then I got up and ate a piece of chocolate pudding pie. God bless us one and all. :)

You can see the rest of the photos here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

And just like that, they're back.

On the first day of kindergarten, I asked a little girl to hold my Cabbage Patch Doll while I put my coat in my cubby. She said, "Sure!" and we both found that we were sitting at Table 4 in Mrs. Bimson's a.m. class. It was 1985. Her name was Wendy. For the next eight years, we were inseparable.

She was the first kid I ever knew who was allowed to make phone calls for fun. My dad used to get a kick out of her timid voice down the line, "Is Angela there?" She lived in an apartment in her old farmhouse. We used to play in "Little House on the Prairie" in the barn and feed vanilla ice cream to the kittens.

She got to keep one. I was so envious. His name was Rascal, and one afternoon we tried to remove his fleas with Smurfmallows. We decided he looked so good blue that we colored his white patches blue with Magic Markers. That poor cat.

She was always my first pick for partners, my Special Interest buddy. She was cool, period. She was allowed to wear jewels around her eyes like the cool chick from Space Camp stuck on with spirit gum. She loved roller skating, R.L. Stine books and sleep-overs. We both played the violin and got identical perms and pink eyeglasses. We went to Claire's Boutique at the mall and got Best Friend necklaces. She got the "Be Fri" half. I got the "st ends" half.

It was the first day of fourth grade.

The curly-haired new girl with the Southern accent was in our grade now. She had been "held back." All she remembered about me was that I had worn my headgear to school one time, one day, the school year before. I never made that mistake again.

We pushed our desks together for indoor recess, and two became three.

It wasn't an idyllic sisterhood. There were other girls, other friends, sleepover cryfests and ganging up on each other and mean girl activity. There were no traveling pants. There was hair spray, though, lots of it, and afternoons at the town pool, lip-syncing to Madonna, and spandex bicycle shorts under skirts.

There were notes folded like triangles, and crushes on boys, phone calls, shared books and "stories." Stories about what our lives would be like when we grew up, the men we would marry. Ironically, I think that my sister married a guy named Tom in our imaginary worlds. Or maybe that was me? Sometimes we were married to our latest 6th-grade crushes.

We wore poodle skirts to go trick-or-treating. They were both in the room when I got my first kiss, and they were the first to see my training bra when my mom and I got back from Penney's.

Our paths diverged in junior high. M-H went the field hockey route and won a coveted seat at the Popular Table before she moved away. I went Band Geek, and Wendy went a different way altogether.


"Wendy P has sent you a message on Facebook," my email inbox says. The last name isn't the one I remember, but I know- as surely I know her birthday was January 12th and that Kirk Cameron was her crush in 1988- that it's her. Within hours, M-H has written on my wall.

And just like that, they're back.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Weekend

My weekend involved a big surprise party for my dad and Christmas: Round 1 for me and Joel, my parents, sister, and brother-in-law. I went quiet on the blog in part because I was making presents, wrapping presents, baking cookies, doing laundry, creating centerpieces, shopping for something to wear and generally trying not to blow the secret.

My dad put the pieces together about two hours before the shindig got started, but I do think he was surprised by the number of people from all the decades of his life who showed up. Well, he wasn't surprised to see the people in this photo, but it's nice, so....

As usual, I ended up doing a fair amount of work: toast-making, picture-taking, etc.

I had the CUTEST photo assistant, though.

And then this happened, which was HI-larious.

Happy birthday again, Dad. You're the best.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


This week has just been awful at my newspaper, at newspapers owned by the parent company across the country. People leaving in tears; lives uprooted.

The names of the laid-off were announced right before the annual holiday party. Presents with the names of the freshly unemployed sat in the middle of the conference table surrounded by the saddest group of people you've ever seen eating pie. It's so bleak; it was downright Dickensian.

Since the mandatory staff reduction was announced about a month ago, well-meaning friends have been telling me that I'll be fine, that they would be "crazy" to let me go. I've so appreciated the supported, but this week, SO. MANY. talented, well-connected people who were writing about really important things (including the economic downturn, for Heaven's sake) were let go. It was swift and terrible, lacking in rhyme and reason, and it's very real to me now that it doesn't matter that I'm damn good at what I do, or that I'm incredibly flexible about my schedule, or that I'm committed enough to work Christmas Eve AND Christmas day AND New Year's Eve, or that I'm bilingual and smart and underpaid.

I'm not stupid. I'm saving up for the gear and computer upgrades I would need if I have to strike out on my own. I'm doing everything that needs to be done so I can hit the ground running if that day comes.

It's also clear to me that this work that I do is more important than ever. There is so much news to cover, so many stories to tell, people who need to be seen and heard and read about. There is more work to do, and less people to do it. So I will be out there, busting my ass, making meaningful pictures, informing the public, and I will do it until they pry the camera out my cold, unemployed hands and replace it with a cardboard box of my personal possessions.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Sick Bleeeeh Sick

Sorry to everyone who's been trying to get a hold of me or wondering where I am around here. I've been fighting one of those Mack Truck, run-you-over, hurts-to-blow-my "Nose in Need Needs Puffs Indeed" type colds. I think I'm through the worst of it now, but I still feel like I'm moving underwater.

I always think if I do "everything right" I can get over a cold faster. I attack it like a "To Do" list: pound water, use neti pot, make my Magic Potion Tea, take Dayquil, sit in a steamy equalyptus shower, drink orange juice, eat chicken soup. Somewhere around my third can of soup, my second bag of Halls, and my fourth gallon of water I'm like, "Come ON! I WANT TO FEEL BETTER! Let's get this DONE."

It's probably that "go, go, go, burning the candle at both ends" mentality that got me sick in the first place. Still, though. How many Vitamin C drops do you need, immune system?!? Bleeeeeeh.

I am pleasant company these days. Can you tell? Joel is a lucky, lucky guy.