A Poem for Lovers on Valentine’s Day

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How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

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Blood, Gore, High-Tech and Architecture

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I knew it was going to be one of those days from the moment I got up this morning. There was no guesswork involved. It was all arranged, scheduled.

  1. Drop terriers off for grooming.
  2. Come home, drink coffee.
  3. Drive to Dana-Farber for a day of tests.
  4. Be reassured I’m not dying of cancer.
  5. Drive back home.
  6. Pick up terriers.
  7. Eat!

Those of you who suffer from serious medical problems that don’t go away and can kill you, know what I mean. Regular checkups are high stress events until you (hopefully) get the word that all is well.

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Even though you have no immediate evidence that anything is wrong above and beyond the “usual” which is something like a Chinese menu of interrelated ailments and conditions, you always harbor a not-so-secret belief that something ugly is going on and you just haven’t found it … or it hasn’t yet announced its presence.

There are people — Woody Allen leaps to mind — who feel this way through most of their lives with no evidence that anything is wrong. The good part of this approach is when something ugly actually does show up, they can say “See? I told you! I KNEW it!”

Pessimism saves you from a lot of disappointment. It also keeps you from enjoying the good stuff that happens along the way. I guess for the hard-core pessimists, it’s a small price to pay. Fear of fear, fear of bad news, fear of being too happy then being let down? I can almost (but not really) understand.

Days like this always starts at the lab. This is the scene of my first battle of the day, as I try to convince them to treat my one working vein with gentleness and subtlety. Do not attack it with a spear. Cajole it with a tiny pediatric butterfly needle because if you blow it, finding another live one will consume half the staff of the labs of two hospitals. They got blood, but it took two nurses and a lot of jiggling that needle around to find the magic spot.

“You think maybe it’s deeper?”

“Let’s try going deeper.”

“Ouch”

“Sorry”

“Ouch”

“Hey,, I think I see a flash … ”

“Grab it before it rolls”

“Ouch”

“Blood!”

Phew.

I frequently slice pieces of my fingers off while preparing food. I bleed like mad — blood on counters, floor — blood everywhere. I suggested to the nurses that next time, I bring a kitchen knife and slash myself, like I do at home. There’d be more than enough blood and it would be quicker than all this probing with needles. For some reason, they didn’t think it was such a good idea, but I thought it was brilliant.

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I had brought the little Canon Powershot S100, my Kindle, and more importantly, Garry. They are my defense against losing my mind. This is how I avoid excessive cranial activity, i.e., thinking. Usually I’m in favor of thinking, but under this particular circumstance, nothing good can come of it.

As you can see, I shot a few pictures, some of which turned out rather interestingly.

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Blood having been taken, it was time for the long wait for the CT scan. I was originally supposed to drink some kind of dye solution, but I can’t because I have no stomach and I’m not up for massive nausea today. I’ve gotten to the point where they say you have to do “this” and I say “No, I don’t.” We go back and forth and eventually, they acknowledge that no, I actually don’t have to do it. But they really wish I would.

They were determined to get dye into me one way or the other. After taking a look at my so-called veins, the CT tech sent me to the chemo people who presumably can put an IV into a turnip. The lab had already mutilated my good vein, so it was now a retired vein. Even using the newest, grooviest high-tech equipment, they couldn’t find a live vein. An electronic vein finder is totally cool. It looks like a flashlight, but when they point it at you, you can see all your veins like a blue network under your skin.

If you want to distract me from pain and misery, give me a high-tech toy to play with. I’m like a kid at Christmas. So they let me point the light and together we hunted the elusive usable vein.

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High tech tools notwithstanding, my veins defeated the chemotherapy staff. No small achievement. After a full hour and three nurses poking holes wherever they thought a vein big enough to take an infusion might be hiding, they gave up.

The CT scan was performed sans dye.

Then, off to the oncologist. He looked sympathetic. He always looks sympathetic. Only psychiatrists and oncologists ever perfect that look of total sympathy. I often suspect it covers a deep ennui. Best not look too closely.

Mine also looks sad, perhaps slightly troubled, but deeply sympathetic. Oncologists are always very nice.They speak softly, gently, kindly, not wishing to upset you since they figure (true) that you are upset anyhow. He looks at my labs, tells me everything is absolutely normal. (Yay!)

He looks at the CT scan, which was a big one, chest to hips. He says nothing is there that shouldn’t be. Lungs clear, everything clear. Except my spine. Which even Garry and I can see is so encased in arthritis it doesn’t look like a human spine. No wonder it hurts.

The dogs weren’t finished at the groomer when we arrived at home, so we had to make a separate trip to get them. Worth it. They look so much better and incredibly cute. More importantly, they smell better. They had gotten seriously stinky.

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Eventually, I get my reward: a big family dinner featuring a roast leg of lamb. This doesn’t happen very often. Even when we weren’t quite so poor, it was a rare event, but these days? It’s an “almost never” event.

We, the couple who traveled the world and hung out with stars mostly now hang out with doctors and sit, waiting in sterile rooms. What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, right. It’s the getting old thing.

Have a nice day, y’all.

Structure

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Hospital waiting rooms are edgy places. Everyone is anxious and their mood is not improved by the typical ambiance of abrupt angularity and cold colors and textures. Still, it can make interesting photographs.

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I am still working with the Canon Powershot S100, no flash. There was more than enough ambient light with all the glass around me and the reflections from the snow outside.

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The weather is changing. The rain is ending and tomorrow will be a bright day, but colder. You can see bits of blue sky showing through the clouds. About half the snow has washed away, but there is so much more remaining.

Still testing the Canon Powershot S100 and very much liking my results. Finally, a good camera small enough to tote anywhere I go without loading me down.

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Super Bowl of Dogdom: Westminster, Part II

Its day two, and we are not going to miss a thing. It’s our version of the Superbowl, the Westminster Kennel Club show.

Last night’s results were:

An American Foxhound in the Hound group.

Non-sporting went to a Bichons Frises.

The Affenpinscher as the toy group winner.

 In the Herding Group, the Old English Sheepdog won (yay).

Now for tonight’s winners.

For Sporting Dogs, the winner was one of my favorites and it’s the first time the breed has taken the group. It’s the Pointer (German Wirehaired), a handsome dog with a great face. Not a dog for everyone, it’s one of the dogs that needs a job. Failing a job, they will make their own job … redoing your landscaping, reupholstering your furniture, replacing your wiring.

In the Working group, to many peoples’ surprise, the winner was Portuguese  Water Dog. It that because the President has one? It was a come from behind win … the Doberman Pinscher was favored and I think was really the better dog. But at this level, they are all great dogs.

The Terriers were up next, and we had a lot of fuzzy faces to root for here. Of course we hoped for one of our kids, a Scottie or a Norwich, but it was Smooth Fox Terrier — a fine dog with a lot of attitude. Terriers are the ultimate “attitude” group and are not called “terrorists” for nothing.

And then finally, it’s time for best in show. For those of you that love dogs and haven’t seen the movie, “Best In Show,” see it. It’s funny and it hits the nail on the head. The crazy, hyper competitive world of dogs. Showing dogs is a sport, something that people forget, and those that compete in it are as competitive as players in any other sport. The dogs are competitors too. Don’t believe for a moment that you force a dog to be a good show dog. A dog that doesn’t like being shown, that doesn’t play to the judge and the crowd is not going to do well. These dogs are having a grand time.

And it’s Banana Joe (GCH Slyfox Sneak’s A Peek), the Affenpinscher who clearly does not consider himself a small dog. Lots of attitude, with Bugaboo’s Picture Perfect, the Old English Sheepdog as reserve winner (the first time they’ve had a reserve winner at Westminster). They were clearly the crowd’s two favorites and apparently the judge agreed.

And that’s it for another year. Time to give a few biscuits to our kids because they are Best in Show around here!

An Irish Honeymoon

It seems like a dream after almost 23 years. Even while we were there, driving the twisting country roads — inevitably lost — Ireland had a dreamlike quality that made it perfect for a honeymoon.

Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle where I drank way too much mead!

Friends were surprised at our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “But you aren’t Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled with puzzlement. Why do people assume the only reason to go to Ireland is to look for roots? In Ireland, everyone asked if we were Irish. When we said we weren’t, they would say “Are you sure?” We said we were sure. It turned out one of us was wrong.

Ireland was wonderful. From Dublin to Sligo, through Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely cities and villages in between, everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. When folks learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to free rounds of drinks, desserts, and upgraded accommodations — at no charge. Even on the airplane, we were moved up to first class. Way to go.

We stayed in bed and breakfasts. Using the National Tourist Board guidebook and a road map, we’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. Every place we stayed was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although often tiny by American standards.

In Dublin

In Dublin

Our first stop after Shannon was Cashel. The B&B was like a miniature European hotel. Set in the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, adjacent to the ruins of a medieval Dominican church, the location was picture perfect. We stayed two nights, then headed for Dublin.

Dublin, after we found our way through the one-way streets and detours, was a great walking city. Awful traffic, but great for pedestrians. There were evenings at Foley’s where they played Irish music every night and we all joined in, each in our own key. We found pubs where the Irish Coffee and Guinness flowed and everyone was eager to wish us well and advise us on our itinerary. We shopped, sang, and drank. We listened to stories, told some of our own, and would have stayed another week if we’d had enough time.

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Garry with the Isle of Innisfree in the background (Loch Gill)

At one point, we were searching for the Stag’s Head pub, one of the oldest pubs in Dublin and definitely the most difficult to find.

Mosaic outside alley leading to Stag's Head Pu...

Mosaic outside alley leading to Stag’s Head Pub, Dublin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s down an alley, marked by a tiled piece of sidewalk showing a stag’s head … so of course, we couldn’t find it. We asked the first person we bumped into for directions.

The Stag's Head - a classic Dublin pub

The Stag’s Head – Great pub, hard to find

“Excuse me,” I said.

He looked at us and said to my husband “You’re Garry Armstrong! I know you.” He was an American exchange professor from Boston University spending a year at Trinity College in Dublin. Go figure.

From Dublin, we drove cross-country to Sligo. As we entered Sligo, the rain began to pelt down. For perhaps five minutes, it poured. Then, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, in front of us appeared a brilliant double rainbow. I felt that it was our personal rainbow, welcoming us to Sligo.

Sligo is bursting with magic. You can feel it as you explore the ancient earthworks, standing stones, cairns, and castles. I was convinced the “Little People” lived there still.

Loch Gill, where lies the minuscule Isle of Innisfree, has its own magic. We spent a grand afternoon exploring the recently restored Park Castle. The crystal waters so clearly mirrored the sky it was hard to tell where the sky ended and the water began.

Loch Gill from Park Castle

Loch Gill from Park Castle

Later that same day, while heading toward Knocknarea, the mountain top cairn of the legendary Queen Mab, we met Gordon Winter, ex-spy (?), author, and local character. We took pictures with his pet chickens, sipped tea in his kitchen, and bought an autographed copy of his book “Secrets of the Royals.” Scandals of royal families back to Henry II. Somewhere in our overstuffed bookcases we still have the book.

Garry with the author and his pet chickens

Garry with the author and his pet chickens

Our destination was a bed and breakfast called Rathnashee, which we later learned means “fairy ring.” Indeed there was an earthwork fairy ring in the field adjoining the house. I had selected it because it had a room with a private bath, was on a main road and the parlor was a library. Evenings, by the warmth of a peat fire, with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies, we read about Yeats, the Great Hunger, and the long,often tragic history of the north. I dreamt of fairy circles and magic mountains.

Loch Gill

By Loch Gill

We visited the cemetery where Yeats is buried and I took pictures. When we got home and showed the pictures to Garry’s dad, he pointed to a set of markers behind Yeats’ headstone and said “Those are your grandmother’s people.” Which is how Garry learned he did, after all, have Irish roots, an interesting revelation which brings me to another odd encounter.

Horseman, Pass by!

Horseman, pass by!

Donegal was where we spent money and had a peculiar chance meeting. In 1990, Donegal was not a metropolis. I have no idea how much it has grown, but then it was one road, a pub, a few shops and some old stone houses. I was ever alert for shopping opportunities and when I saw a sign advertising tweeds and other woolen goods, we pulled over.

Garry in Cong

Garry in Cong

As we were walking toward the shop, we were stopped by an elderly gentleman who looked like he had stepped out of “The Quiet Man.” From his worn tweed cap to his rubber wellies, he was the picture of every tourist’s dream of Ireland.

“Are you Irish?” he asked me.

“No,” I said. “Eastern European Jewish,” I said.

Then he looked at Garry. “You are Irish,” he said.

Garry looked down at his brown arm and said, “I don’t think so.”

“You are Irish,” he insisted. He was very firm. How he knew, I cannot begin to guess, but he was right. Garry is as much Irish as anything else.

The shop was closed, but a sign said “If no answer, check pub across street.” We did, found the shopkeeper, ate lunch, then went back to the shop. A good day. But all our honeymoon days were good.

Rainbow in Sligo

Rainbow over Sligo

The weather never stopped changing. The sun shone, disappeared and reappeared in rapid succession. Wind blew, and clouds rolled in and it rained. A few minutes later, the sun came out, the temperature rose. By the time you took off your jacket, it was raining again. Our second morning in Sligo, we awoke to pounding rain. I peeked out the window to see another rainbow in the field across the road. Sligo, county of rainbows.

By the time we went to breakfast, the sun was out, but by breakfast’s conclusion, it was drizzling. It never rained all day, but it rained a little every day. We learned to ignore weather, counting on the ever-changing skies to give us time to wander through a ruin, scale a castle wall, or walk by a river.

Downtown Cong, September 1990

Downtown Cong, September 1990

After three days in Sligo, we traveled down through County Mayo to Cong where John Ford shot “The Quiet Man.” Being movie buffs, we literally climbed over fences and tramped through pastures until we found the “quiet man’s cottage” in ruins. I hear they have rebuilt it, but there was nothing to rebuild … it was gone.

The setting was easily identifiable if you know the movie. The stream flows past what was the cottage door and under the little bridge.

Clearly the movie was the only thing to ever happen in Cong, so it’s full of Quiet Man memorabilia. The locals were full of anecdotes.

Abbey ruins near Ashford Castle

Abbey ruins near Ashford Castle

Our time was almost up, and as we continued down along the coast, we realized we had to go home. The idea was so depressing we stopped in the next pub for solace.

Probably the only difficult part of our Irish honeymoon was driving. Keeping left was one problem; the roads were another. Narrow, with a terrifying mix of blind curves, roaming sheep, and meandering cattle, local people nonetheless drove at frightening speeds. On roads barely wide enough for our compact car, we were overtaken and passed. More than once we felt obliged to check to see if the door handles and mirrors were still attached.

Somewhere in Ireland

Somewhere in Ireland

On the plus side, virtually every intersection, no matter how rural, was sign-posted, albeit sometimes in Irish. Ultimately, soothed by the beauty, we relaxed and let the road take us where it would. We learned you don’t need to know where you are all the time. When we needed to stop and rest, there was always a pub and some friendly faces.

Signs in Irish are full of bullet holes

Signs in Irish are full of bullet holes, apparently a political statement by lost tourists or maybe aggravated local residents

You don’t have to be Irish to fall in love with Ireland. We always hoped to go back, but it doesn’t seem we’ll get there. We remember, though … not quite as if it were yesterday, but clearly enough. And we have pictures. Many, many pictures.

Note: All my pictures in this post are scans. 1990 was pre-digital and  time has not dealt kindly with these photographs.

Super Bowl of Dogdom: Westminster, Part I

Our version of the Superbowl, tonight is the first night of the Westminster Kennel Club show. This is our event. I’ve been watching Westminster since I was a kid and except for years when I lived overseas, I’ve never missed it.

And the first night’s results are in.

It was an American Foxhound in the Hound group. It may have surprised others, but I thought that it was about time of one of the smooth coated pack hounds won, though in my heart, I was rooting for the PBGV because I love the breed. They slid in at number three in the group, which is okay.

Non-sporting went to a Bichons Frises, which was no surprise. I didn’t even have to see the group to figure a Bichon or Standard Poodle would probably win. One of the two usually do. They are flashy and as a friend of mine said, it is so often all about the coat.

I liked the Affenpinscher as the toy group winner. I was very glad it wasn’t another Peke. I admit I am not particularly fond of them. I prefer dogs who can actually move. 

In the Herding Group, I always hope one of the big, solid hard-working dogs like a Bouvier or one of the Belgians will win because although they aren’t flashy, they work for a living. The herding group are all workers.

These are the dogs who guard our homes, manage and protect flocks of cattle and sheep, find buried people, work with police and are among the most loyal dogs. My husband was especially happy with the winner, the Old English Sheepdog. It’s among his favorite dogs. As soon as I saw the look on the judges face when he looked at the dog, I knew it was going to be him. The judge clearly liked that dog. He had an “awww” look. So did we.

Tomorrow will be our favorite group, the Terriers as well as the Working and Sporting dogs and of course, Best In Show. And we will be firmly ensconced in front of the television, surrounded by our spoiled dogs, rooting for our favorites.

Pass the popcorn, please.