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Hold Your Horses

Hold Your Horses

Being flexible when traveling is a key component to enjoying your trip. Things aren’t going to go exactly as you planned them and the sooner you learn to roll with the punches (or in this case, the changing weather) the more fun and less stress you’ll have on your vacation.

During a recent trip to Iceland, on the day we were scheduled to take a whale watching trip, we woke up to rain and howling winds. From our bedroom window we could see the waves kicking up on the fjord.  Over breakfast, I confessed to my traveling companions that there wasn’t enough Dramamine on the planet to make the whale watch enjoyable in these conditions and I hoped it would be rescheduled. Everyone sighed with relief. Apparently we had all been thinking the same thing, but no one wanted to disappoint anyone else. A quick call to the whale watching company confirmed that the boats would not be going out and we booked a trip for the next afternoon.

“We have an unexpected free day. What should we do?” Chamomile asked.

When we were in the early planning stages of the trip, I considered a tour where we would get to ride Icelandic horses. These horses are shorter and have patient, cheerful dispositions which make them an excellent option for inexperienced riders. Short and patient is my specialty, so I truly appreciate those qualities in an animal I’m going to rely on to squire me around.

Other adventures took priority so horseback riding didn’t make the final cut. Now that we had time, I suggested it. Everyone loved the idea. After some research on TripAdvisor, we called a nearby farm that offered tours of the surrounding countryside.  Cheerio told them we had never ridden horses and they recommended their two hour tour.

When we arrived at the farm, there were five horses saddled up and waiting along with our guide.

As we approached the horses I leaned over to Oregano, “These horses aren’t as small as I thought they’d be.”

“They are smaller than regular horses. They just look big to you because you are so short.”

We were outfitted with gloves and a helmet then our guide gave us a quick tutorial on how to hold and use the reins. People have been riding horses for thousands of years. I thought I could manage this feat for the next two hours.

Our guide then brought each horse over one at a time and explained how to correctly mount them. Cheerio was the first up and looked comfortable in the saddle as his horse patiently waited for the rest of us. Oregano was up next and did equally well. Then it was my turn. The guide walked my horse, Clara, over and introduced her to me.

with Clara

Here I am with my ride, Clara.

For a person with no horseback riding experience, getting onto a horse is no small endeavor. When the person with no experience is less than five feet tall, getting onto a horse is a small miracle. The guide held my horse steady and I put my foot in the stirrup. This meant that my left foot was now resting on a small piece of metal with my knee slightly higher than my hip. I was supposed to push down on the stirrup with my left leg while flinging my right leg over the saddle.  I’m no expert in the laws of human physiology, but there was no way I was going to be able to hoist myself onto the horse from this position. Frankly, I was impressed that I could lift my foot as high up as I did to get it into the stirrup. This little expedition was my suggestion so I was going to give this my best effort.

I pushed down mightily on my leg in the stirrup and pushed off the ground with my other leg. With all of that exertion, I managed to get my right foot 6 inches off the muddy ground.

“Try again on the other side. Use your right leg this time. It’s stronger,” everyone encouraged me.

Try again?! I was surprised I wasn’t hanging upside down with my left leg caught in the stirrup. Don’t I get any credit for not falling off completely and landing in a pile of horseshit?

I switched sides and tried again, but got the same result. Clara was very patient while this uncoordinated human attempted to climb onto her back.

Sensing this exercise was not going to end with me in the saddle, the guide disappeared for a minute and came back with a milk crate.

“Step on that to help you,” she instructed.

The crate did the trick, but the guide still needed to shove my ass to help me up and over the back of the horse. A more unglamorous mounting of a horse would be hard to imagine.

Sitting astride the horse, reins lightly in my hands, I took a moment to congratulate myself for successfully getting into the saddle. Just then, the horse jerked her head forward pulling the reins and me along with them.

“Yikes!” I cried out. “Why did she just do that?” I asked the guide.

“Clara is excited to go for a walk. Once we are going, she won’t do that.”

As Chamomile got on her ride, I sat there desperately trying not to be yanked over my horse’s head. Just sitting still on horseback was proving to be a challenge for me. I was not liking my chances of staying on this creature for the duration of our tour.

When we started moving forward, I was downright terrified, but I tried to project an outward calm so as not to worry my companions. My anxiety is my own problem and I try not to visit it on anyone else.

“You look good up there,” Chamomile said. Oregano looked over at me and could see the nervous smile plastered across my face.

“That’s her scared smile,” Oregano noted to our friends who weren’t familiar with my particular hybrid of grimace and smile.

After a few more steps, my horse started shaking her neck and back. This was probably just her moving, but she may as well have been a bucking bronco. We hadn’t even gotten to the entrance of the farm yet. My nerves were completely jangled and I was ready to bail.

“You know what?” I calmly called out to the group, “I think I’ll wait in the car.”

“You’re not going to wait in the car,” Oregano said. “We’ll be gone for a long time and you’ll miss out on this experience.”

“This has already been an experience. I have my book. I can absolutely wait in the car. Go ahead without me. I’ll be fine here,” I said as the horse pulled her head forward again.

The guide realized I was not doing well and asked me to come up next to her so she could help me. I attempted to move, but couldn’t seem to get the horse to go where I wanted. The guide gave me a few suggestions which I employed to no avail. Despite the beautiful Icelandic landscape splayed out in front of us, I desperately wanted to get off this horse.

As I was fantasizing about the comfort and safety of the back seat of our rental car, the guide sidled up next to me and hitched my horse to hers.

“Clara seems a little fussy today, but having her next to my horse will keep her in line,” she said.

We started walking again. My horse seemed to calm down. I wondered if the guide could hook something up to me to calm me down, too. Why hadn’t I thought to take a tranquilizer before doing this?

Our parade of horses walked along the trail in the stunning Icelandic countryside. The rain and wind had started up again, but it just lent more beauty to the setting. We were surrounded by a heather covered meadow where sheep wandered around grazing as a stream meandered past. The only sounds we heard were the horses’ hooves on the ground, the babbling water and the bleating of the sheep. It was surreal scenery.

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I was grateful to have the opportunity to see so much natural beauty and I was focusing on it to distract myself from the fact that I was sitting on the back of a very large animal.  When we arrived at a one-horse wide bridge, our guide dismounted, unhooked my horse from hers and handed me the reins.

“You’re doing a great job. You can handle the horse across the bridge,” she said.

As soon as I had the reins in my hands again, the horse jerked her head forward.

“Here we go again,” I murmured as I contemplated the temperature of the water in the stream into which this horse would surely pitch me.

I watched as my friends smoothly navigated their horses across the wooden bridge. I’d been sitting on my horse for 45 minutes and I hadn’t fallen off. That was quite an accomplishment. I could do this! Alas, my horse did not seem to share my positive attitude. She refused to move.

Our guide once again grabbed a tether for my horse and led her across the bridge closely following behind her horse.

Once safely across the bridge, Clara remained attached to the guide’s horse and we continued through the meadow walking closely side by side. As we were walking, I realized that my right leg was often brushing up against the buttocks of the guide’s horse. The tail was gently brushing over my leg. It was at this moment that a new worry presented itself. What if this horse crapped on me? I considered looking down at my own foot, but didn’t dare shift my gaze for fear of falling off.

I could always just ask my husband and friends if I had horseshit on my leg. Surely they would have said something if this was the case. Then again, they all knew I was uncomfortable. Telling me I had been shat upon wouldn’t make me feel any better and there was nothing I could do about it anyway.  Did I really want to know? My anxiety was already in overdrive. In this case, I decided that ignorance was bliss.

I kept my eyes on the horizon trying to pick out the barn in the distance. I thought we were heading back when the guide took us across the road and up a hill. As I held on to the saddle and tried not to roll backwards off the horse, I marveled at how well she handled walking uphill on loose rocks.

When we reached the top, the guide announced that we would be taking a short break. Really? Can’t we just get this over with? I kept these thoughts to myself, but when the guide suggested we dismount the horses, I spoke up.

“As much as I would love to get off the horse, I won’t be able to get back on.”  I was already contemplating the idea of being back on my own two feet and hiking to the farm. Despite the long walk, the thought made me giddy with relief.

“There are lots of tall rocks,” she gestured to our immediate surroundings. “You can stand on one of those instead of the crate.”

I actually laughed at this suggestion. This young girl didn’t know my proclivity for clumsiness. Attempting to get onto a horse from atop a wet, moss covered rock, all but guaranteed that our next tour in Iceland would be of an emergency room.

Everyone else climbed out of their saddles and was walking around. Realizing that I most likely did not have the physical coordination or the emotional fortitude required to get back onto this animal, my friends convinced the guide that the best course of action was to leave me right where I was.

After 10 minutes, everyone else nimbly remounted their horses. They wanted a group picture and lined up around me before we headed off down the hillside. As we rounded a bend, the barn appeared. The end was literally in sight. I just had to hang on for a few more minutes.

When we arrived at the stables, Chamomile climbed down from her horse and announced, “That was a once in a lifetime experience!”

“It absolutely was! I am never getting on another horse in my lifetime,” I replied as I ungracefully slid off the horse and my feet landed in a puddle.

the 4 caballeros

 

 

 

 

Be Afraid of the Braid

Be Afraid of the Braid

Summer in the northeast means meteorologists’ forecasts will revolve around the dreaded 3 H’s: hazy, hot and humid. The haziness doesn’t bother me, but there are days when the air is so hot and moist it clings to you like a sweaty t-shirt after a workout.

Over the past year, I have been letting my hair grow. It’s the longest it has ever been and this is my first summer contending with long hair and high humidity.  Back in the spring, before the great outdoors became a sauna, I decided to let my hair return to its naturally wavy state.  It was a philosophical approach to hair styling; hair as a metaphor for life. Let nature take its course and every day will be a little bit different. Some days will be out of control, but there is still beauty in that.

I thought letting my hair do its own thing would be liberating. I thought it would make my morning routine easier.  I was wrong. Most days have been a battle. As it turns out, it takes a lot of effort and hair products to make the natural look look natural and not like I styled my hair with a whisk.  I accept that this new hair philosophy means I won’t get the same result every day, but when the humidity hit, my hair took on a life of its own.  The gentle waves I left the house with in the morning turned to a frizzy mop by the time I arrived at work. As the day progressed, my hair seemed to grow larger and larger. Every time I saw a reflection of myself in a mirror or computer screen, I was stunned to see how much my hair had changed since my last glimpse. Upon recommendations from my friends and hair stylist, I tried a myriad of hair care products designed to cut down on frizz, make my natural waves wavier and keep my hair from doubling in size over the course of the day. So far, the only product that has consistently worked to tame my hair is a pony tail holder.

New hair philosophy or not, I was growing weary of losing the daily styling struggle going on in front of my bathroom mirror and the monotony of wearing my hair in a pony tail. The only other viable option I could think of was a climate-controlled space helmet like the astronauts wear.  As much as that would solve my hair problems, it was a bit impractical and probably difficult to obtain. By the end of May, I considered cutting my hair to a more manageable chin-length style.  Both Oregano and my hair stylist offered a list of the pros and cons of shorter hair. After much contemplation, I left the salon with all the hair I had when I entered.

Several weeks later on a particularly steamy day, I mentioned my hair frustrations to my friend, Pimento. She too urged me to keep it long.

“Why don’t you just braid your hair?” she asked.

“Braid my hair? I have no idea how to braid hair.”

“It’s easy,” she responded. “I’ll do it for you. If you like it, I can teach you how to do it yourself,” She sounded optimistic. I was worried I’d wind up looking like I’d run away from herding sheep in the Alps.

“Once you learn how to do it, you can braid your hair while it is wet. When you remove the braid, you’ll have great curls,” she added.

Later that afternoon, Pimento braided my hair. As expected, I looked like Heidi, but I have to admit, it was cooler, not frizzy and a nice change from my humdrum pony tail.Heidi hair 2

“This is great, but it’s the end of the day. It won’t last until tomorrow,” I said forlornly.

“Before you go to sleep, take a cotton bandana and tie it around your head like Aunt Jemima,” she recommended. “You need the knot to be on the top so it doesn’t rub against the braids at the bottom. The braids should keep just fine. If they come undone, you can remove them and you’ll still have nice curls.”

I was skeptical this was going to end with luscious curls, but that night, as directed, I tied a shmata around my head. I snapped a selfie and texted it to Pimento, “So, do I look like Aunt Jemima?”

“More like Rosie the Riveter!” was her response.

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Pimento had a point. There is a resemblance.

When I got into bed with my braids trussed up in the bandana, Oregano glanced at me. “This is new. I’m not even going to ask,” he chuckled and turned out the light.

I drifted off to sleep thinking about how much easier it would be to get ready for work the next morning. It was predicted to be another steamy day and I was eager to not spend my morning fighting what the frizz fairy had left behind.

As I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, things didn’t turn out as expected. I don’t usually write about situations that go swimmingly. There’s more humor when things go wrong and in this case, they went very wrong.

I woke up with such hope and great expectations. I leapt out of bed and bounded into the bathroom to remove the protective bandana and see how the braids had held up in the night. Much to my chagrin, but not entirely unexpectedly, the top of the braid was intact, but the bottom had started to fray. I contemplated undoing then redoing just the bottom part of the braid, but that seemed like pulling on a loose string on a sweater that then causes the whole sweater to unravel. I took a moment to consider my options. I only had 30 minutes before I had to leave for work. There wasn’t a lot of time to make alternate plans or to fix things if they went awry.

Pimento did say that if the braid came undone, I could take the whole thing out and be left with waves. Still hopeful, I began to carefully unbraid my hair. With each twist I took out, that hope died just a little bit more. The image slowly emerging in the mirror was worse than I could have imagined. When I was done, there was nothing to do but laugh at my Einsteinesque reflection.

Oregano walked into the bathroom and stopped short in his tracks. “Yikes! Please tell me that is not the look you were going for,” he said gently touching the giant poof of hair standing out straight from my head in all directions.

I stared back at the rat’s nest that had once been my hair then snapped a quick selfie of the coiffure catastrophe before I set about trying to rectify the damage. No pony tail was going to save this mess. This was a job that only a full shampoo could fix.

My dreams of an expedited morning routine were dashed as I quickly washed my hair slathered anti-frizz serum through it and ran out the door only a few minutes behind schedule.

Pimento caught up to me in the parking lot at work. “How did it go this morning?” she asked eyeballing my damp hair.

“It wasn’t quite what I expected,” I said diplomatically as I pulled my phone out of my purse.

“The braids frayed while you were sleeping?” she asked as I scrolled through my photo gallery.

“That was only the beginning.  The braids did fray, but the real problem revealed itself when I took the braids out,” I said thrusting the scary hair selfie towards her.

einstein morph

My hair and Einstein’s face…it was definitely a better look for him.  (Photo credit goes to my friend, Cheerio, and his amazing photoshopping skills.)

Pimento burst out laughing louder than I ever heard her laugh before. “That wasn’t supposed to happen,” she said when she finally caught her breath.

Trying to be optimistic, I said, “Well, this certainly makes my other bad hair days seem not quite so bad.”

Newt on the Lam

My father grew up on a farm in Israel and it would seem that when he moved to suburban New Jersey, he tried to recreate that experience.  Growing up we didn’t just have pets, we had a menagerie. Our household critters represented nearly every link in the food chain: fish, newts, parakeets, a parrot, 2 cats and 2 big dogs. Every animal was a natural enemy of the other. If left to their own devices, I’m sure there would have been problems, but regular feedings, attention and love were enough to maintain the delicate balance required to avoid a massacre.

Every once in a while we had a close call. On one memorable occasion, a parakeet flew the coop when we were cleaning his cage. Thrilled with his newfound freedom, he took off flying through the house. The cats chased the bird; the dogs chased the cats; two hysterical children chased the dogs; while the zookeeper, my mother, frantically followed behind hoping to prevent a tragedy. As birds are known to do, the parakeet eventually flew into the kitchen window, knocked himself unconscious and hit the floor with a thud. Before any of the humans could intervene, the nearest cat picked him up and ran under a bed. With some coaxing, the cat released the bird which came flying out from under the bed. My mom recaptured the parakeet from a curtain rod and put him back in his cage. Order was once again restored.

After that incident, I was very aware of the fragile nature of the ecosystem we had created in our home. Sometimes it was necessary to segregate the animals while we were playing with them. This was always the case when I wanted to play with my newts: Peanut and Dottie. Peanut was black with red marks on his or her belly. (I never did know the gender of my newts.) Dottie was green with three little red dots in a line on her back. Newts are not the cuddliest creatures in the animal kingdom, but they are amusing to play with. I would borrow my mom’s biggest Pyrex bowl, fill it with water then set it down on the floor. After shooing the cats and dogs from the room, I would remove Peanut and Dottie from their tank and put them in the bowl of water where they would swim and frolic. As I watched television, I would lift each of them out of the bowl and let them crawl around on my hands and legs. When I thought they might be drying out, I’d dunk them back in the bowl and let them swim around some more.

black newt photo

I don’t actually have a photo of Peanut, but this is what he looked like. Who wouldn’t love that face?

Peanut and Dottie lived luxuriously by salamander standards. They had a large tank with all the creature comforts a newt could want. I made a styrofoam raft for them to laze around on when they weren’t busy swimming in the water or crawling around on the rocks. They had regular meals and their tank was always clean. It was an ideal life for a newt, but Peanut had an adventurous spirit. One day when I woke up, Dottie was relaxing on the raft, but Peanut was missing. I got very upset and called for my parents. A search party was organized and we began looking for Peanut. In a two story house with wall to wall carpet, it was like looking for a needle in a shag covered haystack. Peanut couldn’t survive too long without being back in the water. Add to that the other animals that would have been happy to “play” with him and his chances of survival were grim.  After a few hours, we abandoned our search and held a memorial service for my beloved newt. I tried not to think about how Peanut might have died. It was just too upsetting.

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Dottie was the less adventurous of my 2 newts. 

Several months later I was with a friend in our playroom downstairs. We were setting up a farm. I was making a corral while my friend sorted through a bucket of plastic animals separating farm animals from zoo animals. She pulled one out of the container and said, “This one is really cool! It looks like an alligator.”

I looked up from the work of setting up the farm and saw my friend holding what indeed did look like a small, black alligator. My eyes opened really wide and I grabbed the animal from her hands. I flipped it over onto its back and saw red spots on its belly. “That’s Peanut!” I shouted.

Clutching the dessicated, shriveled salamander, I ran to my parents to show them. “Look! We found Peanut!” I said thrusting my hand towards them. They took Peanut from me and did a cursory autopsy looking for bite marks or other obvious signs of trauma. There were none.

“Where did you find him?” they asked completely shocked and just a bit disgusted.

“He was in the toy box in a bucket of plastic animals. Maybe he thought those were his friends,” I said by way of an explanation.

“How on Earth did he evade the dogs and cats, make it down the stairs then scale the side of your toy box?” they wondered.

“If we put him back in the water, will that bring him back to life?” I asked hopefully, but I already knew the answer.

We solemnly walked to the bathroom to put Peanut back in the water and give him the proper burial at sea that he deserved.

$h!t and Run

$h!t and Run

Sled dog teams and their mushers recently crossed the Iditarod finish line in Nome completing a nearly 1000 mile journey across Alaska. Being pulled by running dogs with my hair flying in the breeze has been a dream of mine since the age of 8 when I thought it was a good idea to take our old English sheepdog out for a walk while wearing roller skates. For the record, it was not a good idea. Since that failed attempt to harness the power of a running dog, I thought a less injurious way to get that same sensation would be to try dog sledding. On our trip to Alaska, it was time to make that dream come true.

After researching various options for dog sledding, I quickly came to realize that during the summer, most dog sledding excursions use a wheeled sled. In my own crude way, I had already experienced the “joy” of being pulled along on wheels. I wanted the authentic experience of dog sledding on snow. The only way to do that in August would be to take a helicopter up to a glacier.

As soon as the helicopter cleared the ridge of the mountain, we were instantly transported to winter. The fact that it was foggy, drizzling and cold helped set the mood. During the summer months, the dogs are kept on the glacier so that they can continue their training. With 60 plastic, igloo-shaped dog houses clustered together, the glacier looked like doggy summer camp. Oregano and I expected the auditory assault of collective barking as soon as we landed, but the only sound we heard was from the rotors of the helicopter. Once it flew away, it was eerily quiet. 

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Doggy summer camp on the glacier

The mushers introduced themselves then gave us the history of dog sledding in Alaska. They explained the different breeds of dogs used, how the dogs must be fed and cared for during training and during a race.  Because they run such long distances when racing, the mushers must put booties on each dog’s paws to protect them. If you’ve ever tried to put socks on a wriggling toddler you have some appreciation for what these mushers must do. Now imagine trying to accomplish this task on sixteen four-legged, wriggling toddlers while your hands are freezing cold. We had no idea how much was involved in running a dog sled race. It was fascinating.  

As the mushers patiently answered all of our questions, their assistants got the sleds out. Instantly, the calm erupted into a canine cacophony.

“The dogs LOVE to run,“  the musher yelled so we could hear him over the barking. “They know what the sound of the sleds means.”

Some of the dogs were standing on top of their igloos barking and howling. Their behavior reminded me of students in class yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!” Very quickly, the assistants selected the lucky winners who would get to go for a run and hooked them into position.

While the dogs were being harnessed, Mike the musher showed us the sleds. They are very light aluminum. The Flexible Flyer I used to sled down hills on the golf course after a snowstorm seemed a whole lot sturdier than the sleds they use to traverse Alaskan terrain.  At the back of the sled are narrow rails on which the musher must stand to balance himself and control the sled. Between those rails is a  flap of plastic they push down on the snow to cause drag and slow the sled. There is a small metal anchor that acts as a brake.  DSCF0134

Mike got us situated on the sled. I sat on a seat at the front. If I’m being honest, seat is a generous term for what I was actually sitting on. It was more like a butt-sized plank with a tiny bit of cushioning and handles on either side. Oregano stood behind me. The musher got on the rails all the way at the back and the assistant lifted the brake. Without the anchor holding them back, the dogs that had been straining against their harnesses began running. It was like being shot out of a cannon. I had always imagined it would be more of a gentle increase in speed. Not so.

From a distance, the dog sled looks like it glides smoothly. As we bounced and bumped over the uneven snow and ice with the sled sometimes listing to one side,  I was disabused of that romantic notion. I grabbed onto the handles on the sides of my tiny seat and held on tight.

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This was soooooo much more fun than being pulled by my dog while wearing roller skates.

Mike mushed us around to the far side of the glacier and threw the brake in the snow. He complimented us for not flying off the sled. Apparently, many dog sledding newbies are easily tossed from the sleds when they first leave the camp. He snapped a few commemorative photos then he told us it was our turn to drive. He showed us the proper stance, how to steer and had us put our feet on the narrow metal runners. Braver than me, Oregano opted to drive first. As we were flying over the snow, I noticed cylindrical brown projectiles hurtling past me to the left and right. I  thought it was another unexpected hazard of dog sledding; rocks being kicked up by the dogs. As I looked around the mountain and the pristine snow of the glacier taking a moment to absorb where I was and what I was doing, it dawned on me that there aren’t rocks on top of the snow on a glacier. It wasn’t until I saw the “rocks” falling out of the business ends of the dogs in front of me that I realized it was flying feces. To my amazement, the dogs were shitting as they ran at full speed. There was no stopping to sniff around to select the perfect location. There was no spinning in place until just the right moment in time. These pups didn’t even break stride to poop. As a member of a species that sits and remains stationary to defecate, I was truly impressed by the dogs’ stamina and agility. The most I’ve ever accomplished while pooping was finishing a chapter of a book.

Oregano was driving at the back of the sled presumably trying not to fall off. I doubt he noticed the miracle of nature I was witnessing from my front row seat. Since the real musher was standing just behind me, I tilted my head back towards him, “Are those dogs really shitting while they’re running?” He could hear the awe in my voice.

“Yep,” the musher laughed at me. “We have 16 dogs on the team. We can’t stop running the race because one of them needs to pee or poop. We’d never get anywhere.”

As I bounced along the glacier with dung being flung past either side of my seat, I had a much deeper understanding of the axiom, “It’s good to be the lead dog.”

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The reason it is good to be the lead dog…

Things that Go Sweat in the Night

If jumping to conclusions qualified as aerobic exercise, I’d have the body of a supermodel. My personal blend of creativity and anxiety allows my mind to conjure up a myriad of possible outcomes for any given situation. While the creativity comes in handy for problem solving, the anxiety morphs those problems into some pretty far-fetched worst case scenarios. Despite what appears to be a pessimistic tendency to imagine catastrophes, I prefer to think of myself as an over-prepared optimist. I hope for the best, but prepare for calamity. If I panic ahead of time by considering so many possible outcomes, I’m happily surprised when things work out. If one of the less desirable outcomes presents itself, my anxiety has already been spent and I can focus on dealing with the dilemma. While this may not be the healthiest mental game plan, it has worked for me so far.

Oregano has seen this side of me and accepts it. He is usually even amused by it. When we were newlyweds and our first cat, Scooter, developed a large bump on his tail, I was concerned. On the way to the vet’s office, my eyes welled up and I started sniffling. Since I’m not normally a crier, Oregano looked over at me with great concern. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m worried that Scooter has tail cancer and we’re going to have to put him to sleep.” I whispered in a barely audible voice.

Oregano looked at me like I was insane. “Tail cancer?!  Is that even a thing? Why on Earth would you think that he has tail cancer?”

“I don’t know if tail cancer is a thing, but why else would he have a big lump on his tail?” I asked trying to make my absurd concern seem rational. In all fairness to my anxiety, he did ask what was bothering me. I was just telling him. He hadn’t asked me to evaluate the plausibility of my concern.

“We don’t know why he has a lump on his tail which is why we’re going to the vet. Besides, if it is tail cancer, he can always live without his tail. We won’t have to put him to sleep tonight,” he said attempting to calm my fear.

As it turned out, it wasn’t tail cancer. It was a big, old goose egg he got from running around the house sliding into the walls while chasing his toys. It’s been more than 20 years and we still don’t know if tail cancer is even a thing, but since then, Oregano has learned to find the humor in my creative anxiety.

A few weeks ago, I started waking up at 3 a.m. drenched in sweat and unable to cool myself off. This is a rarity for me. I’m always cold. During the winter, I sleep on a heated mattress pad in long pajamas and socks. Oregano is always hot, not in the smoldering sexy way, more like the human space heater way. The first night I woke up sweating, I looked over expecting to find him splayed out on top of the blanket. When I saw him sleeping soundly without any sweat beading on his forehead, I knew it was just me. Eventually I cooled off and fell back to sleep convinced it was just an isolated incident.

The morning after my fifth consecutive night of nocturnal perspiration, I woke up and announced to Oregano that I had gone into menopause, He looked at me with the same mixture of concern, disbelief and amusement he always has when my mental train goes off the rails.

“Really? Menopause? Just like that? That seems unusual. I thought it was more of a gradual thing,” he said.

“Well, I am a woman of a certain age. I didn’t think it was supposed to happen so suddenly, but I’ve never done this before, so who knows?” I replied seeming quite logical. “I guess this means the end of my youth,” I announced with dramatic flourish.

Stifling a laugh, Oregano asked, “What makes you think you’ve instantly entered menopause overnight?”

“It wasn’t overnight,” I replied defensively.  “It started on Saturday. It’s been five nights now.”

“What’s been five nights now?” he asked.

Trying to explain myself I said, “I’ve woken up at 3 a.m. sweating and unable to cool off. Look! I even had to take off my socks.” I lifted my bare feet in the air and wiggled them. “Night sweats are a symptom of menopause.”

“Oh, well, if you had to take your socks off because you were so hot, that must be menopause,” he kissed my head, chuckled and got out of bed.

As I was getting ready for work, Oregano called up from the family room. “When did you say your sudden onset menopause began?”

I yelled downstairs, “Saturday night.”

“You said it happened around 3 a.m.. Was it the same time every night?” he asked like a detective trying to solve a murder.

“It was,” I replied.

“Didn’t you think it was unusual that it happened at the same time every night?” he bellowed from the bottom of the stairs.

“No,” I said irritated by the inquisition.

“Our new furnace was installed this past Saturday. Do you think that might have something to do with your night sweats?” He was not letting this go.

“I doubt it. If it was the furnace, you would have woken up sweating, too.” I countered making what I thought was an excellent point.

“Maybe not,” he responded. “You sleep in the little heat cocoon you’ve created for yourself.”

Finally, he was quiet and I went about my morning routine.

“You can relax. It’s not menopause,” Oregano yelled up the staircase. “I just checked the programmable thermostat. It must have gotten messed up when they installed the new furnace. The heat has been coming on at 2:45 a.m. and it is set for 74 degrees.  The upstairs has been warmer than usual in the middle of the night and since you sleep like a baked potato wrapped in tinfoil, you woke up sweating, but I didn’t.”

Oregano reprogrammed the thermostat to our regular settings. That night I slept sweatless through the whole night. When we woke up, Oregano asked, “How was your menopause last night? Any better?”

Water Under the Bridge

Water Under the Bridge

The difference between bravery and stupidity often lies in the outcome of the undertaking. Ideas that seem good at inception often prove themselves to be significantly less than good in execution. Setting goals for yourself is a laudable endeavor, but when you are only focused on the end result, you often get swept up in the process. Oregano and I proved this theory while vacationing in the Florida Keys.

Neither one of us is particularly athletic, but we have been kayaking off the beach at our hotel for the past few winters. One year, we were kayaking in the warm, shallow water at a pretty good clip and were quite impressed with our paddling prowess.

“We’ve gotten a lot better at this,” I shouted over my shoulder to Oregano.

“Yeah. We are really in the zone. At this rate, I think we could actually make it to Duck Key,” he said pointing at the island directly in front of us.  

We were half way to our goal when common sense seeped into our consciousness. Upon more careful consideration, we determined that the next island looked closer than it actually was so we turned around. It wasn’t until we pointed the bow of the boat towards our island that we realized why we had the feeling of being such powerful paddlers. The strong headwind hit us smack in the face. The kayak was bouncing on the waves and we had to dig deep to make any forward progress. It was exhausting, but if we stopped paddling to rest, we were simply pushed back erasing all the progress our physical labor had produced. After an hour of slogging our way to a shoreline that never seemed to be getting any closer, we beached our kayak and I flopped, exhausted into a hammock.

“Well, I guess we’re not quite the paddlers we thought we were,” I said to Oregano while letting my rubbery arms dangle over the edge over the hammock.

“That paddle back was challenging and we did it, so I prefer to think of us as strong kayakers,” he replied.

“One might argue that strong, experienced kayakers would have realized they were being carried along by the wind and current rather than patting themselves on their backs for being so awesome,” I countered.

“Be that as it may,” Oregano said, “we were strong enough to paddle back safely. That counts for something.”

Chalking up that experience as a lesson learned, each year we’d try to explore a different area around our island. Not too far from our beach is a bridge for the Overseas Highway. More than once we had talked about paddling under the bridge which would take us from the calm Atlantic Ocean to the equally calm waters of Florida Bay.

Sitting on the dock one night, Oregano announced, “I think we should try to go under the bridge this year. We’ve gotten a lot better at paddling and it would be fun to explore the bay.” 

bridge-from-distance

Our lofty goal was reaching the bridge in the distance.

“I don’t know,” I responded. “Just getting to the bridge seems like a long paddle. How much energy will we have left to explore the bay? We’d also still need to have enough umph to make it all the way back.”

“We’re strong enough to do it. We’re in a tandem kayak so we can take turns paddling if we get tired,” he said trying to persuade me.

It was an enticing idea, so we waited for a day when the winds were calm. (See, we had learned not to go on a windy day.) We set off from our beach full of vim and vigor.

bridge-from-water

a close up picture of the bridge from the kayak

As we approached the bridge, I turned back towards Oregano, “Are you sure we should do this?”  

Before he could respond, we got sucked into a current that pulled us under the concrete arches of the bridge. Our kayak spun around in circles as we got frighteningly close to the low sides of the arches. Instinctively, we put the paddles up to keep our heads from banging into the concrete. As we swirled around uncontrollably, we quickly reviewed our options before we didn’t have any.

“What do we do now?” Oregano asked, his voice echoing off the concrete arch.

“Well, we’ve got 3 options.” I responded. “We can protect our heads until we get dragged out into the bay then paddle to the edge, hoist the kayak out of the water and walk back across the road with it.”

“We’d have to cross the highway carrying the kayak and we’re barefoot. Next idea?” Oregano responded.

“We could abandon the kayak and swim back.” Oregano and I were both on the swim team and knew we were strong enough swimmers to make it back to shore.

“You hate swimming in the ocean with all the critters.” Oregano shot down that option as we continued being tossed around the whirlpool.  “What’s option 3?”

“Paddle like hell and hope we can push our way out of this swirling vortex of near death,” I shouted.

“Start paddling!” His answer reverberated off the bridge.

“Ok. Dig in! This is going to be quite a feat!” I said leaning forward to avoid smacking my head.

We paddled as hard as we could to get the kayak to move forward against the churning water as we laughed at our stupidity. After ten grueling minutes that seemed like an hour, we cleared the vortex. Once we were on flat water, we bobbed peacefully in the ocean to rest and reflected on our experience. 

bridge-from-above

We only noticed the swirling waters AFTER we got sucked into the current.

“Wow! We made it out of there!” Oregano said celebrating the not so small victory of emerging without concussions. “How did we not think about the current?”

“From the beach, the water looks calm. To be precise, we never really did commit to going under the bridge. We got sucked under it while we were deciding.We may have survived the swirling vortex of near death, but we still have to paddle all the way back to our beach. Let’s save the congratulations for when we are safely on land.”

Forty-five minutes later we arrived on our beach. Our arms and shoulders were a little worse for wear from the intense paddling, but the kayak, paddles and, more importantly, our skulls were still intact.

“See, I told you we could kayak all the way to the bridge and back. We reached the goal we set for ourselves,” Oregano said feeling a sense of accomplishment.

“If our goal was demonstrating our utter lack of understanding of ocean currents, then you are right. Goal achieved!” I gave him the look then dropped onto the nearest lounge chair and took a long nap.

paddles-at-sunset

Holiday Meltdown

When we were young Jewish children growing up in the 1970’s, there weren’t any Hanukkah TV specials. We watched all the traditional Christmas animated shows like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Frosty the Snowman.” Back in those days, we didn’t have DVRs. We didn’t even have VCRs. When a show was on TV, you watched it.  Since we only had four TV channels to choose from, holiday shows were on once for the entire year. There were no 24 hour long marathons of A Christmas Story or Elf. If Rudolph flew off in December 1977, you could kiss him goodbye until 1978. When the holiday specials were on, it was imperative to have your tiny, pre-teen ass glued to the seat in front of the TV. Perhaps if the shows had been on more than once a year, my mother in law would have been able to preview them to avoid a traumatic childhood experience that scarred my husband well into his adult years.

Unaware of the horror he was about to witness, the young version of Oregano sat down to watch “Frosty the Snowman,” one of the few holiday cartoons that wasn’t entirely Santa-centric. He happily watched the show until Frosty made the fateful decision to enter the greenhouse where he shortly thereafter dissolved into an amorphous puddle of water studded with the accessories he had been wearing.

frosty-the-snowman-dead-frosty

Let’s digress for a moment to consider the foolishness of a man whose entire existence is predicated on being frozen choosing to enter a greenhouse. While his altruistic motives to warm the cold, little girl who had followed him northward were admirable, Frosty should have exercised a bit of self-preservation and not stepped into the hot house with her. He knew he was being pursued by an evil magician trying to reclaim his magic hat. Deciding to step into a hot house even for just a minute while evil lurked close behind was not the wisest choice any right-minded snow person would make.

When all that was left on the screen was a puddle where the portly snowman had been, poor six-year-old Oregano began bawling uncontrollably. My horrified mother in law jumped up from the couch and did what any protective mother would do when her child was in distress. She dashed across the room and switched off the TV. Remember, this was back in the days before remote controls. If you wanted to turn off the TV to stop your child from viewing the atrocity of a beloved snowman liquefying before his eyes, you had to actually walk clear across the room to do so. The horror – how did we live like that?

She soothed a distraught Oregano then tucked his exhausted little body into bed. Thankfully, the nightmare of what he had witnessed did not haunt his dreams.

That was the last encounter my husband had with the animated version of Frosty until we were married and he was 26 years old. One night during December, “Frosty the Snowman” popped up on the TV screen as I was channel surfing. I left it on for a few minutes and Oregano looked up at me and said, “How can you watch this? It’s horrible.”

“Well, it’s from 1969 so the animation leaves something to be desired compared to today, but it is nostalgic,” I answered.

“I’m not talking about the animation. I can’t believe they let this snowman just die. It’s supposed to be a children’s cartoon,” he said angrily.

I looked at him like he was insane. I couldn’t understand his reaction to such an innocuous cartoon. “What are you talking about? This is “Frosty the Snowman,” not some horror show.”

“I know. I watched this when I was a kid and it traumatized me. When he melted, I was upset and crying so hard, my mother had to turn off the TV to calm me down.”

“You never watched it again after that?” I asked.

“No. She wouldn’t let me watch it and, to be honest, I never had a desire to watch it again. Why would I? It’s not exactly a fond memory,” he replied.

I was stunned and looked at him in disbelief. “So you’re telling me that in the past 20 years, you’ve never seen this entire cartoon. No one has discussed it with you and you don’t know what happened to Frosty?”

“I already told you. No!  He melted! That’s how it ended,” he was getting irritated with me.

“I think it might be time for some Frosty therapy. Let’s watch the show together. If you start to cry, I promise I’ll turn off the TV.”

He reluctantly agreed mostly because that was the only TV we had in our apartment and I wasn’t relinquishing the remote control.

As the show continued, I watched Oregano’s reactions to it. Finally, near the end of the show, the dreaded scene appeared on the screen. The little girl wept into the puddle that was once Frosty while a montage of Frosty’s happier, more frozen times flashed across the screen as Jimmy Durante was singing. Oregano glared at me.

“I don’t understand how this is appropriate for kids.” He was truly annoyed.

“Despite how pissed you are at me, you seem to be holding up rather well. Just hang in there a few more minutes and I think you’ll feel better.” I cajoled him.

Reluctantly, Oregano sat there and waited. Santa arrived on screen, threw open the door to the greenhouse and comforted the little girl weeping over the puddle. He reminded her that Frosty was made of Christmas snow which is, as we all know, more magical than everyday snow. At that moment, a cold north wind blew into the greenhouse. Frosty’s puddle of magical, melted Christmas snow transformed him back into his more solid self. Without the hat though, he was lifeless. Santa threatened the evil magician with permanent banishment to the naughty list if he tried to take Frosty’s hat again. As soon as the hat was placed on his refrozen head, Frosty returned to life, hopped into Santa’s sleigh and they headed for the frigid safety of the North Pole.

As the final song played including the lyrics, “Don’t you cry I’ll be back on Christmas Day,” Oregano turned to me with a look of utter shock and disbelief.

“Holy shit! He comes back to life?! Is this a different version than the one we watched in the 70’s? I had no idea!”

“It’s a Christmas miracle!” I exclaimed as I switched off the TV and headed to bed. My work here was done.

 

 

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