Doing What Works, Because It Works

Today, Baguette’s Daisy troop had an outing to a UCLA Gymnastics meet. I’ve been thinking about taking her to see a gymnastics meet, so this seemed like a great opportunity. She’d get to see some of her friends and have a new adventure.

gymnastics meet warmup at Pauley Pavilion, from stands

We made it through the warmup, and Baguette was done. There were two factors.

First, she didn’t want to sit in the stands. She wanted to go down onto the floor with the college teams, because clearly they were doing something active and fun, while she was just sitting there.

Second, apparently now every athletic competition is a concert. My gymnastics viewing is pretty much limited to the Olympics, during which I can hear the equipment flex at moments of impact. But from well up in the stands in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, we got an overwhelming combination of music, announcements, cheers, and more. As we learned later, it was a bit much for the neurotypical girls, too.

So we left our seats and walked around the concourse for a bit, to see if we could cajole her back in once the actual meet got underway. Turns out? We could not.

Fortunately, we had a Plan B: UCLA.

Baguette loves the campus. We’ve taken her there any number of times over the years, and she runs around it like she owns the entire place. She seems to be learning her way around; often, it’s clear that she knows where she wants to go and how to get there, and we just follow her lead.

So we did that. We went up staircases and down walks and through buildings and plazas. We watched the marine layer come in, bringing the fog ever closer from the west, even though the campus itself was still bright and sunny. And after a couple of hours, she asked to go for a ride in the car.

It was a great afternoon. Maybe not the one we expected, but great nonetheless.

It was what worked, and it worked well.

Naming Rights

When we first met Butch and Sundance, they were named Bert and Ernie. Those weren’t their original names–not that anyone is aware of, anyhow–but that’s what the shelter had named them.

They’re fine names. But as far as Baguette is concerned, those names are taken (even if she doesn’t have a lot of time for Ernie).

The dogs were definitely a pair, and they needed names that reflected that. So on our way home from our first time meeting them at the shelter, we started a list. What was on it?

Strunk & White
Romulus & Remus
Butch & Sundance
Briggs & Stratton
Pratt & Whitney
Tango & Cash
Rocky & Apollo
Castor & Pollux
Teddy & Franklin
Standard & Poor
Asterix & Obelix
Traipse & Gallivant
Serenity & Firefly
Jayne & Mal
Spock & Bones
Han & Chewie
Proctor & Gamble
Holmes & Watson
Plunket & Macleane
Flotsam & Jetsam
Felix & Oscar
Troy & Abed
Jake & Elroy
Watson & Crick
Bass & Treble
P.B. & Jay
Currier & Ives
Coulson & Fury
Hell & High Water
Pomp & Circumstance
Funk & Wagnalls
Banner & Stark
Indy & Sallah

I feel like you can tell a lot about us from this list. But the next morning, I woke up thinking about the names Butch and Sundance. They just seemed right.

So when we went back to the shelter a couple of hours later and met the boys again, we tried out the names–and they just seemed to fit. Apparently the dogs felt so, too, because they were learning their names in just a few days.

Also, they take turns keeping watch, just like a couple of outlaws.

Also, they take turns keeping watch, just like a couple of outlaws.

Occurrences Of Late

Mr. Sandwich: I’m developing legal arguments regarding why Ariel’s contract with Ursula isn’t binding.
Me: Because she’s a minor?
Mr. Sandwich: That, and Ursula keeps employing metaphors that Ariel cannot be expected to understand, like “Rake ’em across the coals.”
Me: When Ariel doesn’t know ‘what’s a fire, and why does it–what’s the word–burn’?
Mr. Sandwich: Yes. And she talks about how “if you want to cross a bridge, my sweet, you’ve got to pay the toll.’ Ariel has no bridges in her life.

[pause]

Me: This is based on our extensive knowledge of Law & Order. But have you considered maritime law?
Mr. Sandwich: Good point. After all, my Opa did sign a contract and go to sea at age 12.

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Baguette has two loose teeth. They’re her top front incisors. This will be interesting.

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In the “nothing’s ever easy” category, we’ve just changed Baguette’s aide at school. We thought that having the aide who was with her at day care would be a good transition, and offer some continuity, but it didn’t play out the way we expected. First, it took a month and a half to resolve all of the communication issues between the district and the private agency, so the need for continuity was pretty much gone by the time we were up and running. And then it turned out that there were persistent punctuality issues, and we stopped getting our daily reports (which are kind of important when you have a child who’s not yet able to tell you about her day). The aide had to be out for a week and a half for a family issue (this was valid–we have no issue with the week and a half, just all the rest of the time around it), and that meant we had a sub.

The sub was amazing. As of tomorrow, the sub is the permanent aide. Fingers crossed, and moving forward.

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Baguette has a new iPad Air. The old iPad ran out of memory, and there was really nothing to do about that–just because she hasn’t played with an app for a year doesn’t mean she won’t start again in 10 minutes. And the apps were starting to hang up due to the lack of available memory, so the solution we came up with was a new device.

New to her, anyhow. We went with refurbished. We’re not insane.

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Los Angeles got rain today! I was really hoping for a solid day of rain, and there were a couple of sunny hours in the afternoon, but I’ll take what I can get.

Kindness

We took Baguette to the doctor yesterday, to check on a minor concern. While we were there, we decided to get her flu shot–none of us has gotten it so far, because we’ve all been sick through the fall and into the winter, but she’s pretty healthy at the moment.

As always, Baguette screamed a lot about the shot. And this year’s shot is a doozy, so it had an even more extreme effect than usual. She and I waited outside the pharmacy while Mr. Sandwich went in to pick up her prescription. It took about 20 minutes. She was still in pain, and screaming.

People moved in and out of the courtyard where we were waiting. I tried to calm her, offering her distractions, singing to her (that definitely didn’t help), and walking around while holding her. After a while, I noticed a young boy looking at us and smiling.

He said, “Hi. Is it okay if I come over and talk to her?”

I said, “Yes, but she may not talk in return. She doesn’t talk much sometimes.”

He said, “That’s okay,” and came over.

He never lost the smile. He talked to her, and suggested games they could play, and put “pixie dust” on her arm, and let her play with his tablet.

After a couple of minutes, I said, “Do you have a brother or sister with autism? Because you really seem to know what you’re doing.” He answered, “Oh, I just really like little kids.”

Eventually his mother came up, and I introduced myself and told her how helpful her son was being. She said he was in a peer support program at his school, where he helps kids with ADHD and autism. I told her that it showed, because he was really good at it. She said, “I heard your husband mention it in the pharmacy, and my son asked me if he could go talk to your daughter. I said I didn’t know, but apparently he did anyhow.” I smiled and said, “He did ask first!”

Apparently Mr. Sandwich had to endure a long stretch of snarky, irritated, and exaggerated comments from the other adults in the pharmacy, several of whom seemed to feel that 15 minutes is the same as an hour, and that no one was doing anything about the upset child in the courtyard.

But let me tell you, that 12-year-old was a real grown-up.

Book Talk: Things I’ve Read Recently

Your definition of “recently” and mine may not be quite the same. Whatever. It’s my blog, so I get to pick.

Anyhow, here are some books I’ve read, with the occasional thought attached.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
This was a hard read, but I’m so glad I read it. Lilith’s story is compelling from the start, and heartbreaking and painful throughout. It’s a powerful illustration of how slavery is brutal and corrupting.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I’m never going to see the movie. I accept that. But I did enjoy the book, even if I wasn’t particularly surprised by how the story developed and played out. But I liked the fact that Mark is a problem-solver. Because he encounters a lot of problems.

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
As a tween/teen of the 1980s, I have fond memories of Choose Your Own Adventure books. Clearly, so does Neil Patrick Harris. This was a fun read. Maybe he’s a little too diplomatic. But it’s fun.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
I don’t like horror, and didn’t really realize that’s what this was until I started reading it. It was an interesting story, and it held my attention, but I didn’t buy the ending. Also, in poking around on Amazon, I realized that I had read another one of the author’s books and didn’t care for it, but I had no memory of her name. Hopefully I’ll remember it going forward.

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
I thought Station Eleven was really good (if something I should not have read), but this book didn’t come together for me.

Valley of Ashes by Cornelia Read

I like the Madeline Dare books, even though they get weaker with each entry. This one had a really cliched villain, but if she writes another, I’ll read it.

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
“Why are so many recent books set in the 1980s?” asked Mr. Sandwich. “Because it’s recent enough to feel modern, but you don’t have to worry about cell phones,” I answered. I remembered liking The Tenderness of Wolves, and Penney’s next book–which is completely different from its predecessor–is also worth a read.

Tomorrow They Will Kiss by Eduardo Santiago

Santiago has written two books about Cuba and Cubans. I hope he writes more.

Roughing It by Mark Twain
This book is taking me forever to read. I guess maybe that’s fitting.

So that’s about six months worth of books. Clearly I’m off my game. Please leave recommendations in the comments.

Book Talk: The Emerald Key

Sponsored: I received a free Advance Reader’s Copy of The Emerald Key in exchange for writing a review. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

So one of my friends has written a book! Co-authored, actually.

The Emerald Key, by Mark Frederickson and Melora Pineda, is the story of a group of friends who discover a journal and accidentally open a portal to another world. The main characters, Penny and Laci, are life-long friends who anticipate a dull vacation and an unwelcome family wedding, but find themselves transported to another reality filled with danger and dragons.

EmeraldKey

I enjoyed the book–it’s fast-paced, with lots of action, and the characters are likeable. And while Penny and Laci and their friends go through a number of trials throughout the story, it seems like an adventure that tweens might actually imagine they want to have.

I was curious to get some of the story behind the story, and Melora granted me an interview.

1) What was your inspiration for The Emerald Key?
Both Mark and I have tweenage daughters. His daughter is extremely athletic, and I have on occasion, had to threaten mine to get her to put her book down and meet basic needs, such as eating and showering. Our goal was to write a story that would entertain their age group, but also have a little bit of each of them in it.

2) What made you decide to write a book as a co-author, and how did you develop a process that made that work?
Mark and I had worked on a treatment for a children’s show a few years prior to starting The Emerald Key, so we knew we worked well together. Originally we decided to write a screenplay aimed at a middle-grade audience, but by writing it as a book, we created the source material first. Our process was countless hours on the phone hashing out ideas. I took notes and wrote the first version of each chapter. One by one I sent them to him and he expanded them. Next, we spent an entire weekend reading the book aloud and laughing at some of our blatant mistakes, such as the repeated use of our characters “starting” to do something instead of just doing it. I edited per our crazy weekend and then submitted to various publishers.

3) Laci and Penny have a close and supportive friendship, in spite of–or perhaps because of–the many ways in which they are different. How did you develop the characters?
We wanted an unlikely pair of friends to create more contrast in their skills and more challenges in getting themselves out of the mess they landed in. We began with qualities from each of our daughters, but these are fictional characters, so added more differences than actually exist between them.

4) I noticed some references to Norse mythology throughout the book. Were there particular legends or features that inspired you as you wrote?
Although Hallvard’s village was not seafaring and the Norse dragons are more serpent-like than the ones found in Botkyrka, we used a lot of Norse mythology to relate to popular culture (thanks, Marvel). We mention Thor and the mythology surrounding him frequently, but Beowulf is an Old English poem and wyverns are considered to be from European mythology, so we clearly played around with various dragon-based myths. By having Hallvard familiar with the same mythology the kids knew, we could bridge the gap between the cultures and create a camaraderie.

5) What would you like readers to take away from The Emerald Key?

I hope this book reminds our readers to search for and have faith in their own strengths instead of comparing themselves to others. As well as believing in themselves, they should never forget the importance of trusting their friends, and that in the end, it’s a combination of strengths working together that can overcome obstacles. And beat the bad guys!

Finessing Christmas

When I was young, our Christmases were extravaganzas. My parents weren’t Clark Griswold/Christmas store-style decorators, but we had lights on the house and a big, full tree that was overdecorated and surrounded by piles of presents. On Christmas Eve, we’d don pajamas and curl up on either side of my father so that he could put his arms around us both as he read The Night Before Christmas.

On Christmas morning, we’d get up as early as my brother and I could persuade my parents to wake; make tea and coffee; go through stockings; have breakfast; go to Mass (when we were very young–later we switched to Christmas Eve Mass); come home; and open presents.

When we lived within driving distance of grandparents, we would spend the afternoon with my mother’s parents and the next day or two with my father’s. When we didn’t, my mother’s parents often traveled to spend the holidays with us (this is its own story).

We would spend the whole day at home with each other and our new gifts, playing board games and reading books–and watching movies, once VHS technology had been invented and acquired. And we’d cook our traditional Christmas dinner.

Times have changed, as they do. Most years we trade off holidays, so that we’re spending one with my side of the family and the other with Mr. Sandwich’s. Our own trees are smaller, often in height and always in diameter. I keep forgetting to locate the copy of The Night Before Christmas, and I never remember to buy stocking stuffers. Mr. Sandwich goes on an early run, as is his family’s tradition, and we eat some breakfast. We haven’t been to Mass in years.

The presents don’t all get opened on the same day. Baguette enjoys opening a few, but then loses interest, so we open one or two of hers a day until we’re done. Or we don’t. So far? Not done.

But there are 12 days of Christmas, right? So I figure there’s no rush.

Butch and Sundance

So we really miss Wicket. We probably always will–she was a phenomenal dog.

But she left a dog-sized hole in our hearts and our home, and there was only one thing to do about that.

Butch and Sundance

Fill it with two more dogs.

Butch (on the left) is a 10-year-old Crested Chinese. He is very chill. Sundance is an 8-year-old Miniature Poodle who gets kind of anxious whenever Butch isn’t around. Apparently they were brought into the animal shelter together, and they were so clearly bonded that there was no way we could imagine splitting them up. So we didn’t.

Schadenfreude

I don’t indulge in it often. I think it’s mean. But every now and then, I just can’t help myself.

Baguette’s school has a school-wide assembly every Monday. These take place while the kids are lining up with their teachers, which means that particularly for the younger grades, the parents are still there for the tail end of drop-off. They say the Pledge of Allegiance and have announcements. Sometimes there are awards. This makes me late to work, which means Mondays are a hassle, even for Mondays.

Sometimes there are additional assemblies. Last week, they had one on Monday, one on Tuesday (to talk about Veterans Day) and another on Friday (for a presentation about Diwali). Mind you, school was closed on Veterans Day, so that week there were four days of school and three assemblies.

Apparently that wasn’t enough, because today was their first Character Day, focusing on “trustworthiness.” All the kids were asked to wear blue. And there was an assembly.

Turns out that the Character Day assemblies are run by one of the parents who has volunteered to teach the kids about character. She talked a little about friendship and kindness and honesty, and then a group of students came out to perform a dance that involved sitting in chairs, shaking hands, and something about waving flashlights around in the daytime.

She directed the dancing students to run over to a bucket, where they grabbed handfuls of something and threw them into the crowd of students.

The “something” was candy. The big idea was to throw candy into a crowd of elementary school students.

Pandemonium ensued.

She tried to get everyone back to their places, saying, “I got it, I got it.” One of the teachers came up to her, and she said, “I got it, everyone’s yelled at me already, I got it”–into the microphone she was holding.

And then, somehow, she found a way to blame the students for their lack of self-restraint and telepathy.

I kind of want to volunteer to teach the kids about critical thinking in daily life. My first lesson will be on “Predictable Disasters.”

It might even help with their telepathy.

Mr. Schadenfreude by “Roger Hargreaves”

Wicket

I’ve lost my shadow.

Wicket came into our lives almost exactly six years ago. Mr. Sandwich had finished up a bike ride and was buying soda at the corner store, and a tiny beige mop of a dog walked up and put its paw on his foot. He looked at it and said, “Okay, follow me.”

I was at home, taking one of the very few naps I got during my pregnancy. I heard him say, “Sweetheart? I need you to come look at something.” He was holding back the beige mop, who was trying to come into the house. I said, “Did it follow you home? Well, let’s put it in the back yard so it’s safe.”

He bathed the dog, and I made a trip to Target to buy food, a leash and collar, and a bed for a small dog. I had no idea what I was doing. I bought a cat bed.

We put up signs, and posted online, and eventually–because we were going out of town for Thanksgiving, and because you’re required to by law–we took her to the shelter. But we also put in for first rights, because we knew we weren’t going to leave her there any longer than we had to.

She cried when we left her there, and she was so happy when I picked her up. When she rolled on her back for tummy rubs–which was often–she looked just like an Ewok. That’s how she got her name.

At first, she was reluctant to overstep. She leaned rather than sit on my lap. She looked for permission to go through the doorway. But soon she was comfortable and secure enough to snuggle. She would lie on my lap as I sat on the back patio; I would pet her tummy, and we both would fall asleep. She kept my weight and my blood pressure down through most of my pregnancy, and when I had to leave early for maternity leave, spent hours curled up on the couch with me.

When Baguette came home from the hospital, Wicket instantly recognized her as one of the family. When Baguette would scream incessantly, Wicket would place tortilla strips–her very favorite treat, which we hadn’t meant to give her, at Baguette’s feet. When we set up Baguette’s crib, Wicket walked into the room, looked at what we were doing, and walked out. A minute later, she came back and gently laid a tortilla strip inside the doorway. She was giving Baguette a housewarming gift.

She almost never barked. For months, my father-in-law was convinced that she had been de-barked. But she had the ability–she was just too kind-natured to disturb anyone that way if it wasn’t absolutely necessary, like when she first came home from the shelter and announced to the neighborhood that she had a home, or the time she defended the house from Mr. Sandwich mowing the front lawn.

She was oblivious to earthquakes.

She let Baguette learn the word “gentle” on her, and never retaliated for the tugging and grabbing that a toddler can inflict, no matter how quick those toddler’s parents may try to be. She never scratched or snapped or bit, although we wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.

She sat with me through miscarriages 3 and 4, and kidney stones, and last month’s bout of pneumonia. She always gravitated toward the sick person in the room, knowing that they could use a little extra love.

She learned the word “walk,” and then she learned what “W-A-L-K” meant. We switched to code words, and she never did decipher “frisbee.”

When we went out of town, she went to Mr. Sandwich’s parents’ home. She loved visiting them so much that we called it “Wicket’s Disneyland.” She loved car rides (although when she arrived at the vet or the groomer, she was always disappointed). She loved walks, and other dogs, and every person in the world.

She had terrible teeth, and every year fewer of them. Until the past few months, she almost never had an accident overnight, no matter how late we opened the dog door the next morning. She was largely deaf, and very nearly blind, but she could still see me.

She followed me everywhere. I was almost never out of her sight. If I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, she came with me. If I went out back to hang up laundry, she joined me.

She’s been getting sicker for the past six weeks, even though for most of that time she was still dancing around me and scrambling onto the couch and rocketing out the door for walks. She had a cyst on the outside of her ear, and had a seizure or stroke, and developed pancreatitis. We’ve been adding milk thistle to her morning meal, and pumpkin and fiber to her evening meal. She loved bananas and strawberries and most of all asparagus, but she hadn’t gotten any of those recently because the pancreatitis meant she was on a prescription diet, and we wanted to be sure she had stabilized before we modified that on even the smallest scale.

This morning, she didn’t get up with me the way she usually did. When I set out her food, she walked away from it–twice. She threw up, and she trembled. I brought her bed out into the living room and tucked her under her blanket. She never stayed under that blanket, but she was under it for hours today.

I took her to the vet, who gave her more antibiotics and fluids and nausea medication, and told me to bring her back before closing for more fluids. I went to work. When Mr. Sandwich brought Baguette home, he called me to say that Wicket had fallen out of her bed and was having seizures. I raced home to find him cradling her in his arms. He handed her to me, and she relaxed and nestled a little. But her breathing was shallow and labored, and her legs kept going stiff.

We took her back to the vet, earlier and more urgently than we had planned. I held her on my lap in the car, and Baguette fell asleep in the back seat. Mr. Sandwich went in to tell them that we needed to go straight into a room, and they escorted us in. I cradled her head, and with Mr. Sandwich balancing a sleeping Baguette, we petted Wicket while they gave her a shot to help her relax.

She went within moments.

We were with her, which is what she wanted. And we were with a vet we trust absolutely, which is what we wanted. Except that of course we didn’t want this at all.

When we got her, everyone estimated that she was 12 years old. The average age of a toy poodle is 15 years. The best guess is that she made it to 18. That’s amazing, but it wasn’t enough.

Later this evening, I will mix pumpkin and fiber into no one’s food. No one will sit on the bathmat while I shower. At midnight, no one will follow me to the bathroom. Tomorrow, I will clean up no one’s soiled training pad.

We’ll have other dogs. She was our first, and right away she taught us that we wanted dogs in our life.

But I’ve lost my shadow.