Sunday, October 14, 2012

Heartstrings

Heartstrings  - the deepest emotions or affections (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Our sweet little dog Cooper passed away suddenly on Wednesday night.  He was my first dog.  Before Cooper came along, I never quite understood the degree of affection that people have for their dogs or the grief that follows their loss.  I understand it now.

Cooper was our family Christmas gift in 2006.  The boys had been bugging me for a couple of years to get a dog and I always said, "No, they're too much work", but they finally wore me down.  So, I agreed to get a dog with the stipulation that I would choose the breed.  I sure as heck wasn't about to let them bring home some hyperactive, Cujo-esque devil dog, so I did my research on dog breeds.  I read that Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were calm, affectionate, small in stature and easy to train, and I decided that a Cavalier would be a good breed for our family and a good first dog for me.  It also didn't hurt that Cavaliers are ridiculously cute.

I found a breeder in Gettysburg, PA who had one pup left and we made the trek out there a couple of days after Christmas.  I'll never forget the first time I saw him.  We were sitting in the breeder's living room and Cooper came trotting out like he owned the place.  We all got down on the floor to play with him and he showered us with wet kisses, his little whip-tail wagging a hundred miles a minute.  He was pure joy and there was no question that he was ours.  A half-hour later, we were on our way home with the newest member of our family.



The remaining (almost) 6 years with Cooper were a blessing.  He was funny, affectionate, gentle, intuitive, undemanding and just so easy.  I think we all learned lessons from him about patience, unconditional love and selflessness.  Those, I believe, were his biggest attributes.  He didn't mind playing second banana when our boxer, Roxy, burst onto the scene two years ago; or if he did, he never showed it.  He didn't get aggressive when she would steal his treats or body-check him out of the way when we were petting him, and when he'd had enough of her using him as a chew toy, he'd go sit under one of our cars in the driveway and wait until she found something else to do.  He never held a grudge, either.  Even if Roxy was being particularly bratty towards him, he would always snuggle up with her on the couch.  Cooper would lay on his "perch" on the back of the couch looking out the window, and Roxy would sit on the couch and rest her head next to him (or on him, as was often the case).

One thing that struck me after Cooper passed was the realization that he never cried.  He never cried, never whined and never complained.  Cooper was plagued by back problems throughout his life, but you'd never know if he was in pain because his tail was always wagging.  It was only when he would have trouble climbing up the stairs or collapse in the yard that we would know his back was acting up again.  But he always bounced back.  Even on the day Cooper died, he didn't complain.  I can't even begin to think about how uncomfortable he must have been.

About a week before Cooper's passing, I took him to the vet for his yearly check-up.  I was happy to tell the vet about how good he seemed to be feeling lately.  His back didn't seem to bother him and he was almost as energetic as he was when he was a puppy.  Then the vet listened to his heart and told me that his grade 1 heart murmur had escalated to a grade 4.  She assured me that this was not an emergency situation and it was nothing to be overly concerned about, but that we should start thinking about finding a cardiologist for him.  I made an appointment for him to get his teeth cleaned in a couple of weeks and she said that while he's there for the cleaning, she would do a radiograph of his heart to make sure that it wasn't enlarged.  So that was that and we went home.

Cooper seemed fine until the day he died.  He was coughing when he woke up that morning, which was unusual, but it was something the vet told me to look out for as one of the first signs of congestive heart failure.  He seemed ok after that, although he didn't have much of an appetite.  That night, his breathing became rapid and we decided that we would take him to the vet first thing in the morning.  He went outside and did all his normal stuff and went to bed at around 10 p.m.  A couple of hours later, I found him.  He was in his bed and in his usual sleeping position, but he was gone.

When I spoke to the vet the next morning, she told me that Cooper must have died from a ruptured Cordae Tendineae, which is a rare complication of mitral valve disease in dogs.  She explained that the Cordae Tendineae are thin, cord-like tendons that connect the papillary muscles to the mitral valve in the heart.  If  one breaks, the valve cannot open or close properly, thus causing immediate heart failure.  She said there was nothing that we, or anyone, could have done to save him.

In the past few days since Cooper's passing, I have researched the "cordae tendineae" ad nauseam, in part to learn as much as I can about the thing that took Cooper's life, but perhaps more so to assure myself that there wasn't anything I could have done to prevent it.   But the most remarkable and oddly comforting thing I've learned is that the cordae tendineae are also colloquially referred to as the heartstrings.  How fitting for a dog like Cooper.  A dog who was so full of love and won the affections of everyone he met.  Even people who don't like dogs couldn't help but be charmed by him.  Cooper pulled at our heartstrings.  That's how he lived and that's how he died.

Although we miss Cooper terribly, I'm so grateful for the short time we had with him and for the lessons that he taught us.  I'd like to think that he's frolicking in doggie heaven right now and that he'll be there to greet us, leaping around with his tail wagging, when our time comes - just like he did every other time we came home.

Rest in peace, sweet boy.




Monday, September 17, 2012

How Does One Accessorize Mangled Eyelids?

Did you ever have one of those days when everything seemed to go a little too swimmingly?  So swimmingly, in fact, that you should have known catastrophe was imminent?  Yesterday was that day. Yesterday was the day that karma came collecting (or if you are a Kardashian, it was the day that karma kame kollecting).  Here's how it went down:


This coming weekend is my beloved cousin Joe's wedding.  This is a huge deal for my family and I want to look my best, so yesterday morning I set out to find a new dress and new shoes for the big day.  For many, dress shopping may not be a huge undertaking.  Heck, for some it may even be "enjoyable".  But for me it's nearly impossible to find a dress (among other garments) due to my measurements: WNBA Forward / Dolly Parton / Saddle Bags.  I'm not quite plus-sized, but I'm not average-sized either, so I guess I represent what you might call the "gray area" of the fashion industry.  Shoe shopping is equally tricky.  My shoe size? Sasquatch with a bunion.  But before I left the house yesterday, I made a solemn oath to myself not to return until I had the dress and shoes in my possession.

My first stop was TJ Maxx because I once found a dress there for a wedding and I was hopeful that I'd get lucky again.  To my utter glee, I walked over to the dress rack and within 2 minutes I'd  found four dresses to try on.  I tried on the first dress - which was my favorite - and it fit like it was made just for me.  It was perfect. I really didn't need to try on the other dresses, but I was riding a euphoric wave and didn't want it to stop.  Every single one of them fit!  This was unprecedented, and I can neither confirm nor deny that I spiked a clothes hanger and did a touchdown dance in the dressing room.  I quickly realized, however, that I needed to focus and check every nook and cranny of The Perfect Dress, because clearly something HAD to be wrong with it.  It couldn't be this easy...but it was.  Nothing was wrong with it.  No rips, no stains, no deodorant marks...nothing.  Perplexed, I went up to the counter, paid for the dress and headed out to find shoes.

Next stop, DSW.   More often than not, I've scanned the rows upon rows of shoes there and come up empty handed, BUT NOT THIS TIME.  I wasn't there for 5 minutes before I found The Perfect Shoes. Cute, comfortable, and they didn't make my feet look big.  Oh, and they were only 40 bucks.  I mean, are you kidding me???

I returned home with The Perfect Outfit and tried everything on again just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. To my surprise, it didn't burst into flames or disintegrate.  Next, I went downstairs to show Mr. B because I figured that he would either hate it or he would say, "Hey, did you notice that massive stain/tear/graffiti on the back of your dress?"  I can always tell when Mr. B doesn't like an outfit I'm wearing, because when I ask his opinion he'll give me the deer-in-the-headlights look and then try to make his way to the nearest exit.  But this time he just smiled and said, "Wow, I love it." 

I carefully hung up my new dress and placed the shoes on the highest shelf of my closet on the off-chance that my dog gets wind of the fact that there are new shoes in the house.  Next I decided that I needed a pedi and eyebrow wax, so I got to work (I'm a DIY kind of girl).  The pedi turned out perfectly, just like everything else had that day, so I moved on to the eyebrow wax AND THAT'S WHEN EVERYTHING WENT TO HELL.

I have been waxing my own eyebrows, incident-free, for at least 10 years so it's baffling to me that I could have mangled myself so badly.  I use pre-waxed strips, so I can only assume that I misjudged where the wax was located on the strip...TWICE.  I realized that I'd torn off the outer layer of skin just above the crease of my eyelids when I applied the "soothing azulene oil", which felt more "hellfire" than "soothing".  Immediately thereafter, my eyelids became swollen, angry and raw, and I began to look like an extra from Fight Club. 

Today the eyelids are still angry.  Furious, in fact.  I'm praying that they don't scab over and make me look like a leper at my cousin's wedding on Saturday, because Fight Club/leper lids will be REALLY hard to accessorize.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wolves. Bears. Mountain Lions. Mrs. Bizzle. Which of These Doesn't Belong?

Summer is finally here, and this year the boys and I are going to the Bizzle family reunion in Glacier National Park, MT for our summer vacation.  While I couldn't be more stoked to spend time with family, meet some new Bizzles and relax in God's Country, I do have a few concerns after perusing Glacier's informative website*.
Namely:

1.)  WOLVES!  AND NOT THE CONVERSATIONAL "TWILIGHT" KIND, EITHER.




Several wolf packs occupy parts of Glacier National Park.  (Mind telling me which parts???)


2.)  GRIZZLY BEARS!  EVEN BETTER.




















The vast majority of bear attacks have occurred because people have surprised a bear.  In this type of situation the bear may attack as a defensive maneuver. (OK, that makes sense.  Don't surprise the bears, got it.)
In rare cases bears may attack at night or after stalking people.  This kind of attack is rare.  It can be very serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and preying upon you.  (wait. what???)
If you are attacked at night or if you feel you have been stalked and attacked as prey, try to escape.  if you cannot escape, or if the bear follows, use pepper spray, or shout and try to intimidate the bear with a branch or rock.  Do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.  (I might as well just give up now.)


3.)  MOUNTAIN LIONS!  BINGO.  TRIFECTA.  NOW IT'S A PARTY.







If you do encounter a lion, do not run.  (Riiight...)  Talk calmly, avert your gaze, stand tall, and back away.  (Is crapping yourself optional?)  Unlike with bears, if attack seems imminent, act aggressively.  Do not crouch and do not turn away.  Lions may be scared away by being struck with rocks or sticks, or by being kicked or hit.  Lions are primarily nocturnal, but they have attacked in broad daylight.  They rarely prey on humans, but such behavior occasionally does occur.  Children and small adults are particularly vulnerable.  Report all mountain lion encounters immediately!  (You mean if I SURVIVE?)

Look folks, I realize it isn't Disney World, and in spite of the risks of getting mauled or eaten by a bear, mountain lion, and/or wolf pack, I'm looking forward to a really great time and enjoying the breathtaking natural beauty of Glacier.  I really am.  I'll just be clutching pepper spray and banging pots and pans wherever I go.


In the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, "If Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists."  Exactly.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Antipasto Pasta Salad


With BBQ season upon us, it's only right that I post a recipe for the greatest pasta salad in the history of ever.  Biased?  Perhaps.  I have made several variations of this dish over the past couple of years, tweaking this and adding that, but I believe that this incarnation has become my holy grail of pasta salad.  Although creamy pasta salads do have their place in the world, I find that they mostly taste like mayo or (God forbid) Miracle Whip.  In my opinion, oil and vinegar allow all the other flavors to shine and results in a much tastier, lighter salad.  This one is easy to make, colorful, and is packed with flavor.  So bring this to your next backyard BBQ and be prepared to share the recipe because people dig it, man.  Enjoy!


Ingredients:
1 lb. rotini, cooked al dente, rinsed under cold water and drained
1 (12 oz.) jar marinated artichokes, drained & chopped
1 (12 oz.) jar roasted red peppers (packed in olive oil), drained and chopped
½ lb. provolone cheese, cut into small cubes
½ lb. sweet soppressata, cut into small cubes
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 cup loosely packed Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped
1 (0.7 oz.) envelope Good Seasons dry Italian salad dressing mix
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup red or white wine vinegar 
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste


Directions:
Combine pasta, artichokes, roasted peppers, provolone, soppressata, olives & parsley together in a large bowl. 
Sprinkle with dry Italian dressing mix and mix well. 
Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Before serving, whisk the oil, vinegar, salt & pepper together in a small bowl.  Pour mixture over pasta salad and combine well.
(For a vegetarian option, just leave out the soppressata and add some marinated mushrooms instead. Yum!) 

(Serves 12)





Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rigatoni with Crimini Mushrooms, Red Peppers & Baby Spinach

I haven't posted a recipe in quite a while, so I figured it was time.  Trust me, it was worth the wait.  This pasta dish is hella good and you can put it together quickly with minimal prep work.  Take a look at this beauty:


So what? So let's dance! (Name that movie and score 3 points for Gryffindor).

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
2 fat cloves garlic, minced
1 (8 oz.) package sliced crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced into matchsticks
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper to taste
3/4 lb. rigatoni
5 oz. fresh baby spinach, roughly torn
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (use the good stuff!)
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Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet (large enough to hold the pasta) over medium heat, add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds after it starts to sizzle.

Add mushrooms and peppers and cook for about 10 minutes or until softened.

Add wine, turn up heat to medium high and cook until the alcohol burns off and the liquid reduces by half (about 2 - 3 minutes).

Reduce heat to medium-low and add cream.  Cook for a few minutes until sauce thickens slightly, add salt & pepper to taste, and reduce heat to low.

In the meantime, cook rigatoni according to package directions until "al dente". Add the spinach to the pasta pot during the last 2 minutes of cooking.

Drain pasta and spinach in a colander and add to the sauce in skillet.

Add half of the cheese and gently combine pasta, cheese and sauce over low heat for about 5 minutes until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce and thickens.

Serve with remaining cheese and ENJOY!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Pity Pot Runneth Over...or Does It?


Lately I seem to cry at the drop of a hat.  A sad song, an SPCA commercial (you know the ones with Sarah McLachlan), anything.  Naturally I thought it might be early menopause, but it can't be because I'm only 29.  Alright, 35.  Fine, 40, but I look like I could be as young as 35... if that 35 year-old never wore sunscreen and smoked a lot (of crack).  But I digress.

After some careful introspection, I've decided that I've hit a midlife crisis.  Indeed, 40 is middle aged and I need to own it, baby.  I think when a person reaches "half time" and reflects on his or her accomplishments and goals, it's natural to panic (or in my case, become weepy) over what dreams may have been left by the wayside and how little time, if any, is left to fulfill them.  Growing up, I knew exactly what I wanted to be (an actress/model), who I was going to marry (John Taylor from Duran Duran), where I was going to live (New York City), and even the names of my children (Julian and Kayleigh).  As I grew older my dreams changed, but no matter what they were, everything always seemed so possible.

I think for many people, the way life really turns out is something quite different from what they had imagined.  I could never have imagined the path that led me to where I am now, doing what I do, with the family that I have.  I am blessed and grateful beyond words, proud of my family and the things that we have accomplished, yet lately I feel a nagging sense of something unfinished.  Something I should have done.  But I'm not sure what it is.

For the past 13 years, I have had the privilege of being my son's cruise director on his voyage here on Earth.  As any mother will agree, it is the greatest and most rewarding job in the world.  But lately, each day I wake up, my son seems to have grown a foot taller and another mile away. He'll be off to college (we hope) in a few short years and he will become his own man.  I will always be his mother, but my place will move to the background as an observer, no longer fluttering around him trying to keep him safe.   I know that it is the natural order of things,  but as he gains independence, I feel like I lose purpose.  It's at times like this when I totally get why Michelle Duggar has 19 kids.  By the time the last one's out of the house, she'll be damn ready.

So I think my problem is that I'm having trouble coming to terms with the fact that my kid is growing up and  my services are becoming less and less needed.  He has been my life's work, and this "project" is in its last phases of development.  So what's a mom to do?  I've still got time to fulfill some of the dreams that I once had - aside from becoming a supermodel and marrying a rock star, but it's funny how the passing of time dulls your passion for the things that once seemed so important.  (Yes, I know there are people out there livin' the dream every day, with careers and adventures that most people only read about it.  Well, good for YOU.)

As usual, I didn't have a New Year's resolution for 2012. I just never believed in forcing myself to do something simply because it's the first day of a new year.  But now that I think about it, I really should.  I just turned 40 and it's a brand new year with endless possibilities.  What better time than now?  So this year, my resolution will be to find my bliss.  I am going to step outside of my comfort zone and try new things, start a new hobby, put myself out there. Who knows?  I may surprise myself with what I find.  And of course, I'll chronicle my journey on the blog.  Hey, at the very least it'll be great material!

Is it too late to join the circus?