September 24, 2017

My Personal Lourdes

A combination of my desperation and an opening in the Cosmos got me an appointment with the Gods of Dermatology, downtown in the clinic at Jefferson University School of Medicine.

I am serious about the Cosmic Opening. After getting an appointment in August for sometime in the end of September with an Unnamed Source in the clinic, I felt a strong tug on Monday, August 27 and went to the phone. I dialed the clinic to see if there were any cancellations and for no really good reason, the Office Administrator happened to answer the phone. I replayed my monologue about scratching myself into small julienne strips.

He listened and said, "Well, lucky for you, I am the only person who can override the computer." And he put me in on top of another patient (no, not literally) for two days later.  Downtown Philadelphia  is an hour train ride away and, because of the train schedule, I got there 30 minutes early, thereby beating out poor unsuspecting Patient Number One. They took me back into what turned out to be my personal Lourdes.

After the usual monkeying around with the well-meaning resident and medical student,  both of whom were young and uber-fit, in walked the most Zen physician I have ever met. In his 60s, Asian, kind eyes and portly-ish frame. He silently inspected all the julienne strips and calmly sat down.

In the most kind and sage way, he then walked the resident into a Socratic inquiry. (Remember, this is a teaching institution. Patients are Lab Rats with Insurance.)

"The key finding is that the rash is symmetrical. What does that suggest?"

I didn't even realize that, and I've been scratching at myself for four months.

She offered a possible diagnosis. He countered: "But why would that be symmetrical?"

She demurred. It went on for a few rounds. .

Being a former medical writer, I jumped in. "How about bed bugs?"

"Why would that cause symmetrical bites?" 

"Umm...well, because mine are very well organized?"

Me and the resident surrendered and Dr. Zen said two words: dermatitis herpetiformis.

I only heard "something-something HERPES." But that was just a red herring. He explained that this disorder is a skin manifestation of (cue trumpets): gluten intolerance.

That floored me even more than herpes.

He gave me an overview, tossed off some orders to the resident, and walked out of the room.

"Wow," I said to her. "Can you tell me what causes this?"

Her reply told me that she will go on to be a very, very good doctor. "I don't know! I have never seen this before. I have to read up on it."

When I got home, I looked up everything I could about DH (as we pro's call it).  I also looked up everything about Dr. Zen. That chance phone call in August not only got me into the Clinic faster, it put me in the hands of a full Professor of Dermatology and Vice-Chairman of the Department. He has been practicing for 45 years and "no longer accepts new patients."

Except for me, for this singular opening in the Cosmos.

So I am now on medication and off bagels. And, of course, being 2017, there's an app to help me out. It scans the bar code on anything prepared and rings with a "go" or 'no go" response.

It took me a few weeks to get my head around this diagnosis. But here's where I am now. No longer itchy, sleeping through the night. And fully aware that of all the systemic diseases that creep into  people my age, this is nothing.


    


August 22, 2017

Mother of the Bride


My daughter married her sweetheart this past June. As you can see, we felt full of joy (that's as joyful as Himself ever looks when someone makes him wear a suit and tie)...

 I was overwhelmed by the majesty of this bride, my deep love for our new son-in-law, and their willingness to stand beneath the chuppah with my own beloved Rabbi Diana.
My return trip back up the aisle ended with my head buried against  my own beloved's mighty chest, sobbing for reasons I still can not explain.

While I enjoyed my fleeting status as Mother of the Bride, I admit that I mostly felt confused about what I was supposed to do. After all, this bride is 31 and runs one of Chicago's premier restaurant corporations. Her name opens slots in reservation books, triggers an onslaught of unordered appetizers and desserts "from the Chef," and results in a check that is two decimal places to the left of what it should be.

Me, I still don't know for sure which side the forks go on.

This bride is surrounded by girlfriends her own age who love her fiercely AND who know their way around stuff like karaoke bashes, nail artists,and after parties.
My version of an after-party is unhooking my bra and climbing into bed at 9 pm with two dogs and a British mystery.

Most of these women entered my life as preteens in Joe Boxer pajamas glued to scary movies rented by the dozen from Blockbuster. We cherish one another and while they lovingly included me wherever appropriate, it felt strange that on this most momentous occasion of my daughter's life, it was clear that I was not of Them. Yeah, I could be disqualified from their company just on the basis of their fresh skin and lovely bodies. But there's more: they know my daughter in ways that I never will.  That is as it should be. After all, she doesn't know what my own dear friends know about me.

Nor should she.

I just never saw it so clearly before.

So only now, two months later, do I see that her wedding was a momentous occasion in my life as well. The moment I came face to face with my daughter completely separate from myself, completely separate from all the memories stacked up within my heart, in the place called "motherhood."

Being able to say goodbye to my delusion of primacy in her life has opened me to a new world.  A world where It turns out my little Thing One is her own woman. Beautiful and poised,  compassionate and deeply committed to everyone she loves.

And now, I would like you to meet her: Elana Stefanie Green Kopp.




August 16, 2017

Itching to Be Here

I mean that literally.

In fact, I am itching no matter where I am. For the past two months, my skin has been jumping out of my skin with a very mean rash  It could be anything from bites by unknown insects to sudden allergy to unknown triggers to an immune response to the action movie that has been my summer.

And just trust me, this is one case where photos will not improve the readability of my blog.

While I await some diagnostic test results, I ingest copious amounts of steroids. You know the expression we use to describe any noun intensified: "XXX on steroids?" I now move through my day like...like..like me on steroids. Last week, I woke up at 6, sewed until 8, walked the dogs, went to work until 4, mowed the lawn, weed-whacked, and blew the landscape clean of all detritus. Then I hand-picked the rest of the weeds and carted them off to the field. There was still an hour to go before sunset and I thought about building a railroad or an addition to the house, but couldn't find the hammer.

Get it?

Twice a day, I slather gobs of white cream onto the "affected areas," which means my entire trunk, arms, and lower scalp. It looks like Crisco--in fact, I think it may be Crisco. After all, when was the last time you bought Crisco? Wouldn't it make sense that General Foods has dumped their inventory onto a drug company?

Steroids apparently make the mind race.

Ok, I found the hammer. Be back when the addition is done.

Sometime tonight.

May 13, 2017

Animal House


A new baby is about to join our extended family. She will get this for her wall when she does.
I adapted it from a pattern by Kimberly Rado that I found in a magazine that had slipped behind the bookshelf. When I say adapted, I really mean "I cut the number of dogs in half, threw out the centers, got rid of the bones, and eliminated the sashing and borders."
 Hers is lots of fun--and a whole lot of work. Mine is Essence of Dog.
My favorite part of the project? Picking the fabrics ONLY from the those already on my shelves. (I don't use the word "stash" except when referring to the candy I hide from Himself, hoping against hope that I will remember where I put it.) I love having a boundary that forces my color and pattern choices and I really love using this stuff up!


In other animal news, Yusra continues to follow her primal maternal instincts...
...although the primate in question does seem rather unresponsive. Perhaps he is in shock because she put him in a diaper?

March 10, 2017

Skittles

If you keep checking back here to find another uproarious installment of "Two-Dumbass-Easterners-Travel-Arizona-in-the-Snow/Mud-in-a Broken-Down-Airstream, you probably will want to hit that red "Close" arrow right now.

That's because I'm onto something far more rewarding.
Skittles are my lingua franca with my two new friends. I'm reluctant to show you their pictures because Yusra is only 3 1/2 and her sister Rasha is just 15 months. I can't ask their mom for permission because she is just learning to speak English and I have no faith in my ability to translate "for my blog" into Arabic.

Yes, Arabic. "Mom" is Amal. She and her husband Moustafa are from Aleppo, Syria.  A local woman who was determined to heed an inner voice calling her to sponsor Syrian refuges spread her wings and damn,  a small group of self-described "mostly old ladies" made it happen! This young family arrived in our community last fall (and another mom with two young boys slid in under the wire after the election).  The core group quickly ballooned to a county-wide coalition of people grateful, just so grateful, to be able to translate paralyzing sorrow about Syria and raw grief about immigration bans into positive action. You can read the facts here.

Every other week, I babysit for the girls while a volunteer ESL tutor works with Amal at the dining room table. I bring a package of Skittles.If you are more than broken-hearted by the vitriolic voices from Washington, I offer this conversation in its place.  


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January 26, 2017

Airstreaming

I found this book on our Xmas trip to Arizona and plan on stealing the title for the filmed version of my life. 
The purpose of this trip (aside from neatly sidestepping the Christmas Craziness) was to see how our yearning to be Airstream nomads actually feels in the field.  In this case, the field was in the Tonto National Forest of central Arizona.

We waited for our rented 16-foot Bambi and truck to be delivered to the parking lot behind our hotel in Scottsdale. There, in the dark, the guy who drove it down from San Francisco would show us RV neophytes how everything works.  The guy, who made The Dude from The Big Lebowski look hyperactive, ambled out and showed us how to put the key in the lock of the door. (Pretty much how every key goes in every door, by the way.)  The information flow went downhill from there:

"What is this panel of indicators for?"
"Wow. Yeah. I've never seen one like that."
"Where's the switch for the hot water heater?"
"Yeah. It is supposed to be over here.  Not sure why it isn't."

"Well, is there a set of docs we can look at?"
"Yeah, well...um..there should be."
Fortunately, I opened a whole lot of drawers and pulled out this manual:
 Unfortunately, this was a manual for a 2007 Safari. We were in a 2005 Bambi.

We called the Dude's boss, who enlightened us.

"So what is this panel of indicators for?"
Each light gives you important status info: how much water is left in your tank, how close you are to sewage overflow, how much charge is left in your battery.
"So how do we know which light goes with which function?"
 "Don't worry about it."
"How do we empty the sewage tank?"
"Open the valve on the outside pipe after you've connected the hose to the dump station."
"But there doesn't seem to be anything to pull. Everything is covered in electrical tape."
"Don't worry about it."
 The Dude headed off into the sunset with Big Gulp in hand. We headed back to the room, where we debated the wisdom of actually driving off in this mess in the morning. It was a spirited and informative exchange:
"This is NOT what we signed up for. Maybe we should just pull out now and rent a car."
"Is that what you want to do?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
 Things were different in daylight. That's when we could see that both propane tanks were empty and that the truck had two bald tires.

We headed out and by the time we arrived at Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Wilderness, we were back in our saddles. Who could worry about anything in a campsite like this:
I made our nest cozy...
And we set off to bed, snug inside our little home while the temperatures outside plummeted to freezing.

Which is when we discovered that the heater didn't work.

I jumped out of bed, threw on my Iceland gear, and renewed my love affair with French press coffee while Himself went to the showers. When he returned, he looked grim.

We have big problems.
Don't worry, I'll call Bill about the heater.
We are sitting in a puddle of sewage.
Huh?
Everything that's gone down the sink or down the toilet is now dripping on to the ground. On to the campground. The one that everyone else around us can see just by walking by.
I ran outside. Remember being 16 and discovering a surprise menstrual period while wearing a white skirt?  On a field trip?  That's roughly what I experienced seeing our mess in this neighborhood of shiny RVs that probably started at $500,000.

Did I mention it was a Saturday? Did I mention it was the day before Christmas?

I called Bill and suggested it was time to start worrying. He found a solution.
Yes, Mobile RV Repair! On a Saturday, on the day before Christmas! Himself went out to assume the hands-in-pockets-man-posturing-position once the truck pulled up and I was startled when I finally crept outside (in my Iceland gear) to see a rather large gentleman in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt stretched out on the ground.
He quickly discerned that the reason we couldn't close off the waste valve was because...there was no valve. Just a whole lot of electrical tape.  Miracle of miracles, he had a replacement in that truck and we were back in business. He came inside, stretched out on the floor (activating the gas alarm with his rather large body), and rewired the furnace.

It was Santa Claus and nobody can tell me otherwise. So our little home was in its right way from then on. And we were ready to soak in the delights of the southwesten desert that we so love.

Like the sunsets...

The saguaros talking to each other...
The footprints of another culture echoing everywhere... 
The dusty brown mountain roads...
The adventure ain't over yet. Stick around.





December 14, 2016

Collections


I hate stuff.  I zealously prune bookshelves, clothes closets, kitchen cabinets, piles of fabric, the attic, the garage, and the parts of the basement that don't have fungus. Stuff actually affects me physically: accumulation constricts my throat and curls my shoulder bones into tight little balls. Naked space gives me oxygen and makes me more tolerant of my husband.
How could this be? Perhaps it is nature: my mother is a heavy pruner.  Undeterred by the fact that she has already given away most of her own things, she is now well into my father's side of the closet.  Perhaps the cause is nurture (using the term loosely): I often came home from school to furniture void of any of the objects I had seen on them that morning. The  large misshapen lump bulging beneath the neatly folded covers on my bed, however, was hard to miss.

And yet, on the other hand, I adore collections.
 Of just about anything.

My relationship to collections is also physical: I am yanked toward multiples as if in the grip of an Acme magnet from a Roadrunner cartoon.In the right hands,a collection is more than just a thing, pluralized...
In the right hands,a collection is an entirely new construct, just begging for exploration.  
The Bread and Puppet Theater Museum in Glover, Vermont overflows with 50 years of puppets from their uniquely radical political theater. In this world, "puppet" has nothing to do with Bert or Ernie:


 Other collections are less charged.
Collections seem to start small...multiples of two grow into four, four into 10, shoeboxes into glass cases...display cases into rooms of a house.
 Eventually, some collections take over entire buildings. That's when you get to call it a museum.
Museums like this one dot the backroads of America. We've seen them filled with the ordinary...
...and with the paranormal.
Hell, we've even stumbled onto museums that are collections of the buildings themselves.
My favorite collection is gently brewing in an enchanting little studio off a lovely lowland road in The Netherlands.
This is The Birdhut. It is home to a collection that maker/curator/appliance repair scheduler Saskia van Herwaarden calls "The Project." She chronicles its activity on her blog "Tales of the Birdhut." Here's the big picture...
...but you really need to look closer.. .
...and closer still.
Each inhabitant of The Birdhut has a name, a personality, and favorite sport.
They come together in community to share household chores...


And important events, like choir practice...
...and holiday meals.


Like us, they live their lives across a panorama of events. From praying for new baby born in New Mexico...
 
...to honoring the arrival of cable TV!
Saskia shares their philosophical musings and breaks up their fights. She dresses them in Easter bonnets and gets them in the mood for Halloween.
I adore The Birdhut because it is a collection, yes. But especially because it is a three-dimensional collection brought to life by a fourth dimension: the place where Saskia's imagination meets real life. 
Like I said, my affinity for collections is physical. And this one, in an enchanting Dutch studio, brings me to my knees.

Go see it.