A BIPOLAR LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My first husband, Larry, was bipolar, but he wasn’t diagnosed until thirteen years into our 25-year marriage. However, the ups and downs were a part of my life from the beginning. Larry could be fun, smart and affectionate. He had a wicked sense of humor (including clever puns), tremendous energy (sometimes too much, manic energy), a great “joie” and endless enthusiasm.

Larry in a jocular mood

He loved to read and was interested in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from physics and biology to history and sociology, to law and mysteries. He also loved the arts, particularly the theater and at one point we had five theater subscriptions at the same time. In addition, we also went to Broadway shows quite often, which kept us very busy and very up to date on the theater scene of the day.

One of Larry’s passions was shopping and when manic, he was a true shopaholic. He couldn’t resist buying anything that tickled his fancy, which was a lot of stuff. On the other hand, I loved it when Larry would shop with me in my favorite stores; craft shops, art galleries and jewelry and clothes stores. He would even come into the dressing room with me and help me pick out what clothes to buy. He had wonderful and sophisticated taste, though his taste was often a lot bolder and flashier than mine.

I really shouldn’t complain, because Larry loved to buy things for me. However, when he was manic, he would overspend and buy everything in sight. I was in charge of the budget and it was frustrating to see all my budgeting and saving go out the window with Larry’s shopping sprees. It got to the point that I would pretend that I didn’t like things we looked at because if I said I liked it, it would be mine in no time flat!

Two pendants with matching earrings Larry bought for me on trips out West

Once my son, David, then around twelve, went to an electronics store with Larry. Before they left, I pulled David aside and instructed him to try to keep his father’s purchases down. They returned with not one, but two VCR’s and I asked David why he had failed to rein in his dad. “Hey!” he said. “I talked him down from three, so don’t complain!”

Another positive side to Larry’s love of shopping was that he was always an active partner with me in decorating our homes, helping me choose everything from wallpapers and fabrics, to furniture and window treatments to bathroom fixtures and door knobs. We also designed our house in Easton, Connecticut together with the help of an architect. It was a wonderful, shared experience and the house meant so much more to both of us for the experience we had in creating every nook and cranny and picking every design element. I remember jumping out of bed late one night to draw out a new plan I had just thought of for the kitchen/breakfast room area. It was a wild idea and it was the design we eventually used in the house. I still love it 30 years later!

The kitchen design – with rounded eating area and round sunroom off of kitchen island area

Larry exhibited his sense of humor and fun one Christmas when he and David, like many other Jews, went to the movies on Christmas day. Before the show started, as a joke, Larry stood up and started singing the Jewish classic “Havanegela”. To his delight, the rest of the audience joined in and Larry acted as conductor for the group sing-along!

Larry didn’t sleep much and was always on the go. I needed a lot of sleep and ample amounts of downtime, which created much conflict between us. On weekends, he would get up early and want to go out and do something, get something to eat or just window shop. David was also not a morning person so we would take turns appeasing a very persistent, and often annoying and inconsiderate Larry.

Larry playing with David, 6 and Sarah, 1

One day, when Sarah was about eighteen months old and couldn’t talk yet, Larry got up and started pestering David, who was six and a half, and me to go out with him. Suddenly, our toddler ran into her bedroom, grabbed her coat and then ran to the front door. It was her way of saying “Take me, Daddy! I want to play with you!” Now Larry had a new playmate for his early weekend excursions and David and I were thrilled! When Sarah could talk, she’d say to Larry, “Let’s go sopping!”

Larry and Sarah continued their ‘sopping’ trips for the rest of Larry’s life (he died shortly before Sarah’s 21st birthday). He and Sarah also traveled and went to lots of shows and movies together from early in Sarah’s life and it was something wonderful she shared with her dad. Those memories are important and comforting to her now.

But there was a dark side to Larry’s bipolar disorder. When he cycled manic, as he did every year or so, he became volatile, paranoid, angry and agitated. He would fly into rages about the slightest thing, real or imagined and he would become verbally abusive. To our frustration, he would often ‘forget’ these episodes as soon as he calmed down. He was what is called a “rapid cycler.”

A classic example of that syndrome happened one Thanksgiving when we were supposed to drive from New York to Larry’s sister in New Jersey. In the morning, Larry was curled up in a ball on the bed, refusing to even get up. I eventually got him up and we started to drive to New Jersey when he suddenly went berserk over something.

I don’t remember what it was on that occasion, but once the kids were making too much noise in the back seat of the car and once I left the dirty dishes in the sink. To Larry, that proved that I didn’t care about him, that he didn’t matter, that he wasn’t important to me and that I was a bitch.

The four of us when David was 13 and Sarah was 8

On this Thanksgiving drive, Larry pulled the car over to the side of the street and stormed off, refusing to come back to the car. David finally talked him down and got him back into the car, because, as usual, Larry refused to even talk to me. We eventually made it to New Jersey, but Larry had gone from paralyzing depression to raging mania in the course of one day.

Another holiday in New Jersey ended badly because of Larry’s manic overreactions. He stormed out of a lot of rooms, houses and cars over the years, often on major holidays with family. But this one was special, even for Larry.

We were playing a game with Larry’s sister, Robin and her family, my kids and Larry. Larry was being hyper-competitive and was trash talking everyone constantly, which I think he thought was funny. After asking him to stop several times, Robin finally got exasperated and told him to shut up and Larry snapped.

The four of us when David was 16 and Sarah was 11

He stormed out of the house, but this time he took our car and disappeared. We eventually got a call saying he was at the train station and was taking a train back to New York, even though he was supposed to be going back to Connecticut with me and the kids for the long holiday weekend. Robin had to drive David to the train station so he could drive our car back to Robin’s so I could drive back to Connecticut with the kids. Robin talked to Larry at the station and they patched things up, but Larry still insisted on taking the train to New York, disrupting and appalling everyone. I was mortified and everyone else was shaken and upset. This was not an uncommon situation for me, but each time it happened, it was like a punch to the gut.

In some ways, it would have been easier for me if Larry had always been abusive and impossible to live with, but he wasn’t. He was eventually put on Lithium, which worked well and contained his mania, but he kept going off the meds.

I loved the non-manic Larry, so the hope that Larry would get help, and then that he would stay on his meds, kept me with him for 25 years.

PET PEEVES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. ONE PLY TOILET PAPER

Don’t people realize that you have to use twice as much one-ply as two-ply so you end up not saving any money? And that’s not taking the comfort factor into consideration.

My master bathroom toilet paper roll

2. OVER OR UNDER

On the subject of toilet paper, it’s OVER people! The patent application for the toilet paper holder shows the roll going over, not under.

My toilet paper decor in the powder room

3. WEATHER CHANGES

I’ve been checking the weather regularly and we’ve had an unseasonably warm spell. The one day I forget to check, the temperature dips 25 degrees and I freeze my buns off in my unsuitably light clothes!

 

  1. FOOD DISAPPOINTMENTS

Some days I wake up thinking about the cinnamon sugar croissant at my local bakery. It’s amazing! It’s one of the few things that can make me break my perpetual diet (I’m on Prednisone and gained ten pounds last year). I look forward to this sugary treat all the way to the store – and they’re out! I can taste the disappointment and it’s nothing like my beloved croissant.

This doesn’t look half as delicious as my favorite treat!
  1. SLEEPLESS AT DAWN

My dogs wake me around 6 AM to feed them. I stagger downstairs and go through their morning routine in a sleepy haze. I stumble back to bed and fall right back to sleep. Except when I don’t. There are days when, for some reason, I wake up completely somewhere between the bedroom and the kitchen. I am suddenly full of energy. This is a problem because I go to bed around 1 AM and I need more than five hours sleep to get through the day. So I lie awake thinking of things that agitate or depress me and just exacerbate the situation. Finally I’ll fall back to sleep, but that sleepless hour or two is SO annoying! Chronic insomnia must be unbearable.

  1. FORGETFULNESS

I’ve put a reminder on my phone that’s set to go off the same time every day to make sure I don’t forget to take my medicines in the morning. (I never seem to forget at night). I don’t forget often anymore, so I’ve gotten used to turning off the reminder each day after I’ve taken my meds. But now I’m so used to turning off the reminder, that I turned it off automatically the other day even when I hadn’t taken my meds.

I forgot to take my pills but I turned off the reminder anyway. On Autopilot. Something is wrong with this system – or is it just me?

  1. LAZY GUARD DOG

One of my dogs, Lexi, is my self-assigned protector. She sounds the alarm with loud barking whenever she sees or hears something outside of her definition of ‘ordinary’. Unfortunately, she’s also lazy. So when she’s on the bed with me and hears something ‘suspicious’ downstairs, she doesn’t go down to investigate or scare off the intruders. Instead, she leaps up and proceeds to scream in her high volume, piercing bark, directly into my ear!

If I go prematurely deaf, it won’t be due to the loud rock and roll of my youth – it will be all Lexi’s fault!

Lexi

AUTRY MUSEUM, PART 3 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

One of my favorite parts of my trip to LA, was our visit to the Autry Museum of the West.

Outside of the Autry Museum

I learned the most from the sections of the museum devoted to the real history of the West, not the TV or movie versions we grew up with. They displayed artifacts and photos from the West that painted a less glamorous and more nitty-gritty portrait of life in the old West.

Booklet on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
Photo of the actual damage done by the San Francisco earthquake of 1906
Indian saddle with beautiful detail work and colors
Samuel Colt and his line of guns

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was a big part of our image of the West.

Poster advertising Wild Bill Cody’s Show
The real Annie Oakley, a star of the Wild West Show

Life in the West was rugged and hard. Here are some artifacts of that life.

A cowboy’s spartan kitchen
Ad for a coach
Closeup of the beautiful and colorful artwork on the side of a coach

I found this 1915 phonograph fascinating! It apparently was used in saloons and saved the saloon keepers money on live entertainment!

Coin operated phonograph from 1915
Information about the phonograph

THE CURLEYS OUT WEST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I took a ten-day trip out West to visit our daughter, Sarah, in LA and to see some of our old friends.

In LA, we got to experience some elements of city life that we miss out on in the woods where we live in Connecticut. We used grub Hub to order dinner from a local restaurant that we were too lazy to go to in person. The food arrived promptly and still warm! What an invention!

Sarah in her blanket poncho to ward off the cold in LA (it was in the ’50s and ’60s)

I spent an afternoon out with Sarah but she had an evening class so I had to take an Uber back to her house by myself. I’d never used Uber before and I’d heard horror stories about Uber drivers kidnapping women and selling them into sex slavery.

At my age, that’s not in the cards for me, so I bravely got into the Uber car. The very nice driver drove me through the scenic hills of LA for over an hour. I got to see some of the most beautiful and expensive houses up in the hills – some literally on stilts! It was a lovely drive.

We also experienced something totally ordinary to us but mind-blowing to LA residents – rain! Out there they get a rain shower every once in a while but never downpours or all day affairs like we get all the time in New England. They are more familiar with droughts and wildfires than days of non-stop rain. It had rained all week when we got there. The LA river is usually dried up and is used by skateboarders (it has a concrete bottom and curved walls) and film crews to film chase scenes. When we were there, there was an actual river flowing through the city!

Rain in LA (with an add for cannabis cookies in the background).

Dog owners were freaking out too. Apparently, LA dogs don’t like rain any more than their masters and when it rained all day, they had to go out and get their feet wet. This created a major crisis because dogs all over LA were balking and refusing to go out. So dog owners tried to adapt and I saw dogs dressed in rain coats and doggie galoshes walking around town. My dogs wouldn’t wear booties – they’d sit down and chew them off rather than take a step with them on. The LA dogs are either well-trained or total wusses.

Rain gear for dogs

While in LA, we went to the local weed store, where I was not allowed to take pictures. It was awesome! Counters and counters of products in fancy packaging. It looked like the make-up counters at a department store. There were all kinds of edibles, from mints to cookies, candies to brownies, even brand named candies and cereals made with cannabis. They had oils and plants and all kinds of smokeables, including the new craze, vape pens.

Weed shop

The personnel at the shop were very friendly and acted like the ladies at make-up counters, asking you what you wanted, telling you about the different samples so you could find the perfect product for your needs.

Tom was thrilled to be surrounded by all kinds of legal weed. He loved seeing all the weed shops dotting the streets of LA and I loved the huge signs for cannabis cookies all over town. I was also impressed by the fancy liquor stores that you could find in the aisles of the local supermarkets. Nothing like that in Connecticut. Here you have to go to a separate liquor store to buy booze, not the one-stop shopping you get in LA.

This was just the Whiskey section in the supermarket!

One of the perks of going to LA was that we would get to see some old friends. One couple, Gary and Beth, moved from Westchester as soon as they retired, about two years ago, to be near their daughter and five-year-old granddaughter. They spent the entire two years looking for a house to buy, but in LA houses go quickly and there is often a bidding war that raises the price above the asking price.

If you don’t make an offer within the first day the house is on the market, you’re screwed. Gary and Beth lost two houses this way but eventually found the ideal place, on their daughter’s street, literally six houses down from her!

They couldn’t be happier though their house is small and a big change from their spacious Westchester home.

Typical house in a nice LA neighborhood

It was great to spend time with these old friends and I got to see an even older friend. Tom has known Gary since college, but I have a high school friend, Susan, who lives outside of San Diego. We met at a restaurant in Newport Beach, halfway between Susan and Sarah.

Susan and I graduated high school together in 1967 and we kept up into the late 1970s when we were both young marrieds in New York City. But then Susan and I lost touch until two years ago on Facebook. We started emailing and we were thrilled to get to see each other in person again after 40 plus years.

Susan and me

Susan brought her husband of 45 years, Jeff, and I brought Tom and Sarah. We all hit it off amazingly well and if we lived near one another, we would be the best of friends and would see each other all the time. Instead, we are going to schedule monthly phone conversations so we can stay in touch in between our annual visits to LA.

The next leg of our trip also involved old friends. Another college friend of Tom’s, Marc, and his wife, Rachel, moved from Long Island after retirement four years ago to Portland, Oregon. One of their daughters lived there and now the other daughter moved there and is having a baby, so they couldn’t be happier. They lived in a suburban area in New York, a long drive from the city where all the action is.

So they are over the moon to be right in the middle of Portland’s lively cultural life – lots of art, music, and theater going on 24/7.

Marc and Rachel can now go to concerts, openings, and shows all the time and they are having the time of their lives. They can easily walk and bike to many parts of town so they are not dependent on driving like they were most of their lives.

Portland townhouses like the ones our friends live in

They did drive us all over town though, so we have a good feel for this lovely city. Portland has a social conscience and a love for the environment. It is artsy and very progressive socially, politically and culturally and is often referred to as a hippie town. Weed is legal in Oregon and recycling is God – even the airports have multiple recycling bins. They are aggressively trying to deal with a large homeless problem, which has been a thorn in their side for several years.

The food in Portland, like in LA, is much healthier and they have local produce available all year, unlike the east. I ordered two quinoa salads that were the best I’d ever had. There were vegetarian options wherever we went and the salads and fresh vegetables were amazing. I could eat healthy and delicious everywhere, even at diner style places – I didn’t have to ferret out special restaurants that catered to ‘healthy’ options.

So we had a very western experience in LA and Portland and a great time with family and friends. It’s good to be back home with our dogs, who missed us so much, one of them dug up our carpet in the closet.

Welcome home, Mom and Dad!

AUTRY MUSEUM, PART 2 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I was in LA, I went to the Autry Museum of the West. I was so impressed with it, I took tons of photos and am writing three blogs about it.

Tom outside next to the statue of Gene Autry with his guitar and his horse, Champion

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the section devoted to movie and television cowboys. I forgot how much the cowboy dominated our media consumption for so many years. Like the lawyer or cop or FBI/CIA agent of today.

Here are some wonderful old movie posters, some with costumes and props from the movie.

Prop guns used in the more recent, very modern themed cowboy movie, Brokeback Mountain.

My relationship with onscreen cowboys was mostly through television. I was a huge Dale Evans and Annie Oakley fan.

The TV cowboys of the ’50s and ’60s spawned a whole industry of cowboy merchandise that we kids ate up.

I had either this gun or the Dale Evans gun – and holster of course!
My favorite TV cowboy and cowgirl, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Wonderful singers too!

THE AUTRY MUSEUM, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I was out in LA, our friends took us to an amazing museum – The Autry Museum of the West.

It included artifacts of the real west of America’s past, as well as the movie and TV versions of that same history. In fact, the museum is named after the famous “Singing Cowboy” of the early television days, Gene Autry, also the former owner of the Los Angeles/California/ Anaheim Angels Major League Baseball team from 1961 to 1997.

Outside of the beautiful structure that houses the museum
Sculpture outside the museum of Gene Autry with his guitar and his horse, Champion.

I took so many photos, I’m going to divide them up into three separate posts. This one will be devoted to clothing – a fascinating aspect of history.

Woman’s two-piece outfit from around 1885
Indian woman’s outfit
What real cowboys wore.
Bodice and skirt from 1865-1885 worn by Elizabeth Bacon Custer, wife of George Armstrong Custer of Custer’s last stand fame
Stagecoach driver’s gloves
Annie Oakley movie costume based on a painting of Annie Oakley
Beautiful dress in a soda ad

DOG TRAINING CLASSES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My daughter, Sarah, is involved with a dog rescue group in LA called Angel City Pit Bulls. A rescue group is different from a shelter in many ways. A shelter is often a city or local entity that keeps a, usually large, number of abandoned dogs in cages awaiting adoption. Many euthanize animals when they run out of space or if a dog seems “unadoptable” for a variety of reasons, including medical reasons.

Rescue groups pull dogs from shelters and put them in either foster homes or brick and mortar facilities with much nicer ‘rooms’ for the dogs. There are a manageable number of dogs and each dog gets more human attention and training than shelter dogs can get.

A rescue utilizes mostly volunteers to do their work, which includes taking dogs to vet appointments, supporting the foster families and helping them whenever needed, as well as socializing the rescue dogs as much as possible. Rescues pay for all the dogs’ shots and spaying and neutering, and all medical care that the dog may need before they are ready for adoption.

Rescues make an effort to get their dogs used to dealing with people and other dogs. They learn which dogs are good with kids and which may not be so good with cats.

This helps with the primary job of the rescue group – matching a dog to an appropriate family. Rescues are much more particular than shelters in vetting their potential adopters because they want to find a ‘good fit’ between the animal and its new home. They want to minimize the number of ‘returns’ as much as possible, although this does still happen.

Angel City started offering free dog training classes a few years ago and my daughter assists the trainer in these classes. Today they offer three different classes on six consecutive Saturday mornings.

I visited Sarah in LA for a week and I went with her to her Saturday classes. It was great fun watching the interactions between the owners, the trainers, and the dogs. The first class is open to the community but most of the students are recent Angel City adopters and their new dogs.

It’s a Movement Class, which works on leash skills for both the dogs and their masters. Walking on a leash without pulling or getting distracted by other people or dogs, is not as easy as it sounds. Dog and human have to work together and at first, this process involves lots of treats. The dog should eventually learn to walk by the owner’s side when the owner is walking, and stop and sit when the owner stops. That’s a goal I have never reached with my two current dogs.

The second class works on Owner Focus and attempts to establish a relationship where the dog looks to the human for direction – what should I or shouldn’t I be doing now? The trainer teaches basic commands, like sit and down and works with owners to keep their pets focused on them and not the other dogs or the environment. This again involves lots of treats.

The third class is just for current Angel City fosters and residents. Volunteers commit to taking one dog through the six-week class, which will help the dog get adopted because basic training and social skills are a big selling point for potential adoptive families.

Sarah with a new student

One dog in this class had a unique story – he had just been rescued off the street two weeks earlier by a wonderful family. This dog, who was one or two years old, was still decompressing from his life on the streets and needed a lot of patience and TLC. His new owner was great with him and was committed to giving him a good life in a loving home.

I’m very proud of my daughter for devoting her time and energy to such a good cause. Her example has stimulated me to try to get one of my dogs certified as a therapy dog. I did this with one of my other dogs, many years ago and it was a gratifying experience. The dog loved it and the seniors at the senior center I lit up when they said, “me and my dog.”

I can’t wait to do this again!