Today Again in November

Yes, I am still making them.

Did I think, last November, that I was starting this at the beginning, middle, or end of the coronavirus pandemic? Did I imagine the pages would get bigger and bigger? That I would use yard signs and cereal boxes? That there would continue to be inconsistent messages to Americans about wearing masks? That so many people would forgo being vaccinated in favor of just being demonstrably stupid?

Add to this the fact that our least democratically chosen and highest court in the land is now hearing another challenge to Roe v Wade and it looks like the decision will be in favor of the special religious interests and against the poorest women in America, who apparently do not deserve bodily autonomy.

I went to bed angry last night. And I woke up angry.

Don’t you dare tell me to vote. I voted.

An abortion is a medical procedure. A religious fringe group has decided that procedure offends them, and they’ve spent 40 years working to change laws in your state to limit your ability to have that procedure. The Supreme Court has been packed with justices hand-picked to make this decision in favor of the religious fringe, and, if the vast majority of Americans doesn’t like it, well, too fucking bad.

We were taught that ours is a system with checks and balances, and is a democracy, with liberty and justice for all. All.

No matter what I try to think about today, it is drowned out by the screaming fact that American women are not yet considered people. There is no liberty without bodily autonomy.

I will end with the cat. He likes to step on the work.

A Day or so after Thanksgiving

It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I want jalapeños. I regret wanting jalapeños as I pull into the full parking lot. The carts are in chaos. The vibe inside the grocery store is hurried, the aisles crowded. In produce, there’s the woman in front of the apples who’s pulling down her mask to answer her phone. The bananas are unreachable. I can’t find the honey, and have to ask, and there’s an old guy standing like the guard of jams and he’s got no mask at all. I skip the aisle with pet food and TP because there’s too dang many people. I ask the fish counter guy about clams for chowder and he’s all, I just minced these, so I get a pint container of minced clams and just enough whole clams to make it Instagrammable. I pay the grumpy checker, who is nicer now that plague death doesn’t seem so imminent, and I zip my wallet into the chest pocket of my parka, drive home, hang the jacket on an actual hanger in the front hall closet like a tidy adult, and get to work cleaning house. The sun goes down and I make clam chowder and it’s delicious. 

The next day I make chili using some beans we grew in the backyard; it’s what I make the night before Thanksgiving since I have to make stuffing with some stale cornbread. I make a pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and dry brine the bird.

Then it’s Thanksgivng, the second since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. I go back and look at the coronavirus data from a year ago; so many cases a day. So many people yet to die. I don’t have flowers so I gather some grass and twigs from the yard and shove them in a vase.

We have the same, small group for dinner.  Grackle’s never seen the dining room table with a tablecloth and dishes on it. Everyone makes something. Everything is delicious. We have a fire in the fireplace.

After dinner we go for a walk in the dark in the woods with flashlights and dogs. Then we come back inside and have pie. Grackle discovers the flowers on the table. Two days later, he is still barfing. 

Friday we sleep a little bit late, and go ride our horses. The capricious owners of the old barn threw out all the paying clients on short notice this summer. We have moved to a decent place, but the drive is twice as long. As we pull into the barn parking lot, I realize I don’t have my wallet, and I don’t know where it is. I envision it in the chest pocket of my plaid vest, and try to make a mental note to find it later. Did making a mental note use to work, in pre-pandemic times? It doesn’t work for me. The next day I remember, but not in time to look for it anyplace beyond the pocket of the vest, where it isn’t. Later, when I do find it, it is after I completely recreate Tuesday, down to what I wore, when, and it is this that gets me to remember the coat, hung in the closet with the wallet zipped in its pocket. Like the tidy adult that I was, for a bit, on Tuesday.

Now, I am not sure what day it is. Ok, no, it’s Sunday.

I am suddenly thinking about Xmas gifts. What do you want? One of my children gave me a short, detailed list. I think about my mother a lot during December, both because she loved Xmas and because her birthday is mid-month.  If she were alive, I would be sending her a copy of Louise Erdrich’s new book, The Sentence, which came out last week. I read it immediately, and loved it.

It has been windy and a cold front arrived.

We wake up to a dusting of snow today. There is news of another coronavirus variant, B.1.1.529, known as Omicron. I can’t even care about your nit-wit sister who won’t get vaccinated anymore because we are just screwed. We put jackets on all the dogs. The leaves are off the trees and thick and crisp on the ground. The path I call the short loop is buried in leaves, but I know the way. We run into the trails maintenance guy, putting up signs, and he asks us if we saw many riders. We say we used to see a couple of people, maybe once a week, but come to think of it we haven’t seen any riders in a while.  

The Shortest Eight Weeks

From the day your litter of puppies is born, to the day the puppies go home to their new, forever families, it might be only eight weeks.

Very young puppies sleep a great deal. In the case of a singleton puppy, mother is all: food, playmate, cuddle companion. Our job was to handle him in appropriate, stimulating ways, exposing him to feelings and sounds, textures and toys, smells and tastes.

Our puppy was excited to learn new things, eager to explore, but somewhat ambivalent about food. He’d taste it, but he preferred what he got from his mother. So, we waited.

New toys, new challenges, new adventures were in order. Enough to help him build skills like climbing stairs, but remaining sensitive to anything too hard, dangerous, or scary.

Daily weigh-ins ended. Grackle the kitten went from playing with the toys he could reach from the outside of the puppy pen to jumping into the pen.

While I was away at the Vizsla National, the Bacon Provider discovered the right food to get the puppy interested. Suddenly, he found Eggi was done nursing. There were a couple of long nights. But soon, the puppy was eating more, playing harder, and sleeping longer at night. Eggi was relieved to sleep alone in her crate as she had before the puppy.

The Bacon Provider started the house training in earnest. By the time I was home from Virginia, the puppy was ready to have some temperament testing, and some conformation assessment; the consensus of my professionals was that he was both wonderful and ready to go.

We felt that we’d done our job, and even that we’d done it well.

Our puppy’s new family has given him a name that means little fire. They have other dogs for him to play with, elementary school-aged children who adore him, and farm animals. He goes to work with his new owner, and by all reports they are delighted with him.

I am so happy for him. And I miss him.

Participant

October 14, 2021: We go on a long car ride to Virginia where I get to stay in a hotel. Maggie says it is the Vizsla National Specialty Show. Elevators are mysterious, but new toilet water is always worth trying.

October 15, 2021: Agility today. I get measured, officially. I am 22 3/4” so I will get to jump in the 24” novice division. I get loose during my warmup so I can say hi to some new vizslas. When it is our turn to go, Maggie is too slow after fence two and doesn’t tell me about the tunnel, and mis-cues me so I jump the fence before the weave poles backwards, and she needs two tries to get me into the weave poles the right way. Then I don’t want to hold still on the pause table. I run past the A-frame which is huge so I have to come back and climb it from a stand-still instead of running up. Everyone gasps. The teeter lands with a boom and I spring for the last fence. 60 faults, 75 seconds, no qualifying score, no ribbon. I win a fancy towel. Had a great time.

October 16, 2021: New hotel. Hundreds of vizslas here. Obedience and Rally today. Maggie seems tense. I try to be my best good boy. I have some trouble doing a sit in the right spot, but we have qualifying scores in both beginner novice obedience and novice rally, so we even get some ribbons. Had a great time. Watch several hours of HGTV in the hotel room because Maggie won’t let me watch anything with shouting or shooting.

October 17, 2021: Went for a long walk on the eerily empty college campus next to the hotel. Had a great time. Spent several hours selling raffle tickets, which made me whiny. My mother Lucy won best veteran in the sweepstakes class. We ran into Eli and his owner in the dark when I was supposed to pee. I felt like he smelled familiar and Maggie said he is the father of Eggi’s puppy. 

October 18, 2021: Another day selling raffle tickets. Also watching home remodeling shows on TV. Saw some ducks. Had a great time.

October 19, 2021: Got a bath. Went in the show ring with a handler I didn’t know. Got to show with my mother and sister. She got second place for brood bitch. The wait for getting our picture taken was long. Still, had a great time.

October 20, 2021: Today we competed for the breed. We had to line up in catalog order, which Maggie said was numerical order even though the steward corrected her and said it was catalog order. There was such a long line of vizslas that it actually did go on forever. We go in the ring, they check our numbers and we go out again. Then we wait. I go in the ring with the new handler from yesterday and make the first cut. Then there is more waiting. I go in again with a different new handler and make the second cut. Then we wait some more. I go in for the third cut, and do not make it. Don’t care. Had a great time.

Maggie let me go to bed early. She went back to the show and watched Eli win the whole thing, even though he is 12 1/2. She says Eli looked like he was in it to win it. My sister Lolli went best of opposite, which is pretty impressive for being my boring sister. 

They pin the Iron Dog competitors, who did two agility courses, rally, obedience and conformation and had their scores totaled. Maggie did not enter me in two agility classes, only one, so I have a zero in one column and I come in second to last. But I get a participant ribbon.

October 21, 2021: Today is the last day. There is a different judge, and more new handlers and I get cut in the second round. Maggie comes and gets me, thanks the handler and takes me straight outside to pee, and then we go to the car to drive home. I am so very happy to get into the car and I am so tired I sleep on top of the crate pad and not under the crate pad like I sometimes do.

Today in October

I have been doing a poor job of keeping up with this: the BLOG. I am going to come right out and say it: writing is hard and I am quickly bored with whatever words I put down.

I have been doing a good job of making these things, though, so there’s that, and, ok, yeah, sure I missed a day this month, but oh, well, it happens.

This month marks the end of an entire year of making these. These things. Sometimes I use paint and I guess they are paintings. Those sometimes I think I could call them data paintings. But other days I use glue and paper and ink, but a brush. Ok. Maybe that’s a painting. And then there are the pencil drawings. Those aren’t paintings. Since it’s a daily practice, lets call it that. The Daily Practice. That, or an anti-NFT.

Mid-month, I went to Virginia with Fellow for the Vizsla National. I just got the pictures downloaded, so that story will be next week.

While we were gone, the Bacon Provider got the puppy Dibs weaned and started getting him housebroken.

When we got back, we had about ten days and then it was time for Dibs to go to his forever home.

The Cat That Wasn’t Schwartz

After Schwartz died, I was sad and furious and confused and within two weeks of his death, I had already asked my pilates instructor where the good cat rescues are around here. Because I am a fuckwit.

I got into an email exchange with one cat rescue operation that had an entire litter of black kitten gremlins with yellow eyes, and had “pre-approved” me to come visit the creature of my choice. I made an appointment, and my son wanted to come along. We were expected to drive to the rescue, and the kitten, named “Yodel,” chosen from the briefest description and smallest profile photo, would be brought to our car where we could meet him. If he met with our approval, we could take him then. The suggested donation was $200, payable via an well-known mobile phone payment app, which was not accessible at the rescue because of poor connectivity issues. No one in this part of Westchester wants the towers that reliable mobile phone coverage require. So we were expected to pay the donation in advance, using the an well-known mobile phone payment app, without having seen the animal. Or decided to definitely do this. I may be a fuckwit, but at least I knew to just take cash.

We arrived. I texted to let them know we’d arrived. We sat in the driveway, in awkward silence, for about 15 minutes. A teenager came out, and asked us which cat we had come to see. I stared into the trees and thought about how I could meet 100 kittens and none of them would be Schwartz. I wanted to leave. It was a terrible idea. Then, they brought out a box with a cat inside, and we were told to roll up the windows of our car, put the box in the car, and open it and hold him.

“Take as long as you want,” they said.

He was not Schwartz. He had a weird, two-tone meow, a long skinny body, and big ears. We took turns holding him. We gave them $200 and headed straight for Petco.

We bought food, and litter, and some small toys and a pink feather wand.

When we got home, the Bacon Provider was on the phone, working, so we took the cat that was not Schwartz to an upstairs bathroom. We set up a litter box, and fed him, and played with him. At dinner I began to wonder how I would tell the Bacon Provider what a fuckwit I was, and that I’d gone and gotten a new cat that was not Schwartz. I slept on it.

When I woke up the next day, I fed the new cat that was not Schwartz and carried him downstairs and woke the Bacon Provider who was still very much asleep. Instead of telling him, I handed him the cat that was not Schwartz.

“When did you get this?” he asked.

There was a bunch of other shit going on that week, so the new cat that wasn’t Schwartz had to stay upstairs and settle in. He liked the pink feather toy a lot, but also chasing balls.

On pilates day, I took the cat that wasn’t Schwartz to the room where I do pilates. He galloped around like a nut until he was tired, and my teacher was delighted.

Time passed. Eggi had her puppy. We let the cat that wasn’t Schwartz out of the bathroom, and he took to sitting at the top of the stairs, watching us.

He began expanding his territory by about 12 feet a day. He broke a lamp. The Bacon Provider grumbled, “I didn’t do it.”

He kind of has a thing for bathrooms and checked out all the fixtures.

The cat that is not Schwartz reaches under the door to the kitchen, and Fellow is obsessed with the idea that every so often there is a cat paw there.

At night he creeps around the house, making mischief, scaring Eggi, and enticing her to bark. Then he comes in our room, jumps up on the bed, and curls up between us. Just as Schwartz did.

He is not Schwartz. He is, nevertheless, fascinated by Dibs.

I have named him Grackle.

Today in September

Well, that was a month. Thirty whole days, one right after the other.

I have had a lot of sleepy days this September, with a baby puppy in the house. When I’m not well-rested, I’m more short-tempered, and inclined to despair. Bad pandemic numbers confirm my sense that things are not going to be ok. But there’s a puppy. He’s here. He’s adorable.

My skin prickles in September, like a yellow jacket wasp just landed on me, and it’s gonna sting me, again and again.

We passed the six billion coronavirus doses administered this month, as a planet. I get that there are still people out there who distrust Big Pharma, who are skeptical about the origins of this pandemic, who think the medical establishment in the U.S. rushed to create immunizations, and that money followed that might have been spent on treatment options. You can think these things and still get vaccinated.

Next month is my twelfth month of this project. I intend to continue.

Welping

The first night I spent on the floor outside the whelping box, Eggi thought it was fine—great, even— and spent it next to me, outside of the whelping box, on the dog beds. 

The next night, I did it again, and she was up a number of times, digging. It’s a sign that labor may be coming soon. I dutifully continued taking her temperature, and it did finally drop, and we continued the monitoring every few hours around the clock. 

I was really tired from sleeping on the floor with the dog. Was it Sunday? Or Wednesday?

The puppy’s heart rate was good and strong, but once we passed the due date, it was a little on the low side, and while we could poke at it to try to wake it up, and the heart rate would rise, briefly, and fall again. We all began to be worried. If labor doesn’t progress in a dog, the placenta gets old and the puppy dies. 

It’s not unusual for a singleton puppy to be born via c-section. We had been warned. It’s the puppies that signal the mother to go into labor, I guess. I thought we were ready. We kept in touch with the WhelpWise service, and our reproductive vet, and our regular vet. Everyone had input.

I made a lot of phone calls. I thought about how bitches all over the world get knocked up in the backyard by a neighborhood dog, dig a hole in the soft, dry dirt under the porch, and whelp without so much as anyone even knowing they were even preggers. I thought about the money spent, and the miles traveled, and the people hoping for an Eggi puppy. I thought about the losses of this past month, and of the past couple of years. I really needed this to come out ok.

And then I had to hand Eggi off to a vet tech in the parking lot of a strange emergency hospital in Connecticut. 

And driving home, crying almost every highway mile,  and then, sitting stunned in silence in my kitchen  with my coat still on, alone in my regrets and fears.

And waiting for the call.

The call came quickly enough. Mother and baby were doing fine and would be going home just as soon as Eggi was awake enough to walk out. They didn’t want the baby in the hospital a minute longer than absolutely necessary. When we picked them up, Eggi walked out of the hospital, looking out of it and the baby, a wriggling, kicking boy was carried to the curb in a cardboard coffee bean box with an old towel in it. He was absolutely perfect.

The first night with the new puppy was extra long. Eggi seemed to be in pain from the surgery, and still quite out of it. I knew the clock was ticking for getting colostrum into the lil pupper. She was having a hard time lying down so I had to help, contriving a maneuver where I wrapped my arms around her, forced her back legs to bend and laid her side as swiftly and painlessly as I could. 

All of my memories of learning to nurse came back that night. Dogs that have c-sections don’t always know what’s happened; some refuse to nurse their babies. I stayed with Eggi and held her, supervising and only half awake. I heard the puppy gulping as the milk let down. For a third night. I was sleeping a little here and there on the floor in the laundry room and nodding off in the whelping box. 

As the sky lightened on the morning of the first of September, around 5:30 a.m. Eggi reached for her puppy began licking him intently, and it was like the new software had been downloaded in the night. Here was mother mode: nesting, licking, nursing.

It took a few days for the puppy to start gaining weight. But once he did, he fattened right up. Within hours Eggi could show you where he was if you asked her, “Where’s your baby?”

She had to be walked on leash for short trips only while her incision healed. I found the online support group for people with singleton puppies and made a sling so I could carry the puppy.  There isn’t much to do in the first few weeks, just laundry, and peaceful admiration for a dog who turns out to be a wonderful, attentive mother. I got caught up on some sleep.

More Terrible News

My children have always known the Bacon Provider’s mother as Nagymama–literally, Big Mama– which is Hungarian for Grandma. She always lived far away, in the remote land of Floridaba, which is how my husband’s family says it in Hungarian. On birthdays and Easter and Mikulás Nap, Nagymama sent gifts and enormous chocolate bars and fancy dress up clothes, always with handwritten notes in her Old World cursive. She treated my niece like one of her own grandchildren, and sent gifts for her as well; they maintained a regular correspondence: after my niece dutifully sent thank you notes, Nagymama would write back, and the exchange continued past the polite replies.

Once when Nagymama visited, and they were young enough for picture books, my children piled into her lap, demanding that she read them an entire stack. When the came to an old, yellowed, falling-apart copy of the Scholastic book Rabbit and Skunk and the Scary Rock, she read on. Nagymama’s accent, with slow careful diction and rolling all the R’s made this simple story of friends dealing with their feelings about a scary rock, an absolute laugh riot. When she finished, my kids asked for it again. and, of course, she never said no.

On a visit to Florida more recently, my eldest son found himself sitting next to Nagymama during a meal and had the opportunity to ask her about her life in Hungary before, during, and after the Second World War, and he had the presence of mind to record some of the conversation on his mobile phone. Again, she spoke slowly, with carefully pronounced words, a few, “Well, you know…,” about her mother trying to find enough food for her and her siblings, and about being so cold they picked up discarded paper from the street to line their shoes.

As my mother in law, I accept that I may not be good enough for her favorite son. Who ever could be? She always had a lot of praise for my skills as a mother. This I always have taken as a true compliment. Nagymama magnificently stubborn: if you gave her reason to have a bad opinion of you, she would no longer speak your name. Nagymama famous for her almost infinite capacity for saying yes to children: yes, I will read the silly book again; yes, you can have my pen; yes, we can light the fancy candles; yes, tell me about your dream.

There were years when we were in graduate school when a note in our mail from her on the fancy stationery would probably have cash–several bills, and not twenties. She had not had an easy life, and she understood how lovely it was not to have to have the cheapest things.

For many years, she spoke of wanting a dog, but she hesitated to get one. She felt it would be too hard to outlive a beloved pet. Eventually, she got for herself a pumi, a small, quirky, Hungarian shepherd, with a curly coat like a poodle. The dog was very devoted to her. To forestall the grief of ever losing her, she got another. It was this dog, the second pumi, who was there for the decline.

Sometime in the past few years, she began to re-read her many books, and they were suddenly beautiful and completely new to her. She was delighted. To family it was an ominous sign.

More recently, she began to be diminished by the ravages of dementia, yet absent other serious heath issues. The lucky little dog followed her everywhere, and got breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, late lunch, tea, and dinner, and any other meal she could imagine. The dog grew dangerously stout. Then, Nagymama started to forget the dog. The dog at her heels became a trip hazard, and a new home had to be found for her. Just one of the many, small emergencies in her decline. My husband’s youngest sister took complete responsibility for her care, an enormous, difficult, heartbreaking, time-consuming job.

When we saw Nagymama in July, on a lark, she seemed frail but not doomed. She was bedridden after a fall. But she smiled. Surely we would be able to see her in a few months. and next year.

But, no.

Last Saturday, we were out walking the dogs, waiting for Eggi’s labor to start, heading around the corner from our house. My husband had the easy-to-walk Captain and I had the other two dogs.

As we walked and talked, my husband seemed distracted, but he has been working on an app, and has a lot on his plate work-wise, and he’d heard from his sister that his mother was near the end, so he had a lot on his mind. A group of cyclists came down the hill towards us, and from my side of the road I could see there were quite a few of them, so I said bring Captain over here– to my side of the road–and I guess he was lost in thought and didn’t hear me, and the lead cyclist had to shout, and Captain had to be yanked, and nothing happened, but it was a close call.

As we headed into the woods, we spoke of the close call, and I thought about how hard it is to focus on any one thing in these pandemic times. It was Saturday. I had been counting the days until Eggi’s whelp date. How was this weekend going to play out? I wasn’t paying attention when my husband stopped and took his phone out of his pocket to answer it. So I was many steps ahead when I realized he wasn’t with me. Turning, I knew by his words, his posture, his face, that it was his sister calling. That it was the news. That it was not unexpected, and not welcome. That it was the news that Nagymama had died.

She’d gone peacefully, at home, in the care of devoted daughter and the hospice nurse. The sister who had always taken care of her mother, who had refused all babysitters as a child, who had returned to her home town after medical school and training, who led a life not altogether separate from her mother’s, she saw the thing through, and now her mother was gone. A nightmare.

We finished the dog walk. The dogs were good. I tried to convince Eggi to spend that night in her whelping box. I slept on the floor next to the whelping box, and of course she preferred sleeping next to me.

Today in August

I woke up today and until my friend H told me otherwise, I announced and promoted the idea that today is Friday

(in case you were wondering how it’s going).

It is, in fact, Thursday. But August? You sucked almost entirely.

A Twitter friend mistook the skulls on the 23rd for pandas, and so in an effort to improve August, there were, briefly, pandas.

No amount of panda faces was going to make me feel better about losing my cat, though.

Two other, major things happened to us in August. More detailed stories to come in the next weeks.