Thursday, January 27, 2011

How to Make a Rosie (Giveaway!)

Have you all met my dear canine companion?

Of course you have; she's always staring at you from among the blades of grass at the top of this page!

Rosie's been with us for four years now, and throughout that whole time, I've been fielding the same question, over and over: what kind of dog is she?

Now, a clever answer would be something like "short, black and hairy."  But, being a lifelong (well, almost lifelong) dog lover, I've always offered my own guesses.  The Humane Society listed her as a chow/lab mix, but she doesn't have a speck of the purple tongue typical of chow mixes, and I thought she was a little on the short side to have a lot of lab in her.

As I got to know her behavior a bit more intimately, I noticed that she naturally fell into a head-down, tail-down, low-legged stalking posture when we came around by the ducks at the pond.  "That's a border collie pose," I thought.  On the other hand, she's never shown any herding instinct, aside from trying to herd me  toward her bowl at breakfast time.  Frankly, she'd much rather eat the ducks than circle them (same goes for cats, as it turns out.)  Still, it would help explain why she's so dang easy to train.  It wouldn't, however, quite explain why she occasionally freezes into a lovely little point!

So my answer varied as the years went by, depending on what she'd been doing most lately: sleeping, shedding, stalking, noodging for belly rubs...and no matter my response, the questioner would say, "You can tell she's part chow/lab/collie/pink puffalooloo."  In other words, we all saw what we were familiar with!

I am Rosie; I am Dog.

I've enjoyed the guessing game, but I have to tell you, I'm pretty strong-willed, and I like to be right!  It was starting to really bug me, not knowing if Rosie's intelligence, responsiveness or quiet nature was due to inherent breed traits, or if she was just a happy accident.  Plus, as I often told her, "I wish we could figure out what you are, because then we could make more of you!"

Seriously, I think the world could use a registered Black Rose breed.

Well, I finally gave in to my ever-growing curiosity, and put a doggy DNA test on my Christmas wish list.  And Miss Chef came through--even though I suspect she thought I was being a little silly.  No, I'm not going to love or treat her any differently if I find out she's 100% mutt, but who knows?  I might get some insights into why she is the way she is, and learn what not to expect from her!

So today was the big day; when I got home from work, I pulled from the mailbox a large white envelope from BioPet, with her Ancestry Certificate inside (suitable for framing...really?  Who frames these things?)

But don't think you're getting to the bottom of this mystery that easily!  Oh no, what fun would that be?  Nope, I've decided to let you all play along in this guessing game.  That's right, you could win a prize if you correctly guess Rosie's ancestry!  And here's what you'll win:

This book was another item I received from my Christmas wish list.  I've read Jon Katz' Slate columns and one of his books, about figuring out border collies, and I really enjoy his sensitive writing as well as his "dogs are dogs" view of their behavior.  This novel was inspired by one of his current collies, coincidentally also named Rose.  It turned out to be just as good a read as I expected; even Miss Chef finished it off in a day and a half.  I would love to share it with the winner of my little giveaway (not my copy; I'm gonna read it again.  You'll get your own, brand-new copy!)

Now, this is not going to be easy--the test found five different breeds, one of them less strong than the other four.  So go ahead and list five breeds; if anyone guesses all five, they'll be an automatic winner, as well as making me wonder if they're reading my mail!  I'm still hoping at least one person will guess four out of five, which would be pretty impressive.  But the highest number of matches will win.  If I get more than one answer with the same number of correct guesses, I'll do a drawing to determine the winner.

So let the game begin; leave your guess in the comments with up to five different breeds (one entry each, please!).  If you want any specific info about Rosie to help you out, I'll answer in the comments as well.  (She's about 2 ft tall at the head, and weighs approx. 50 lbs, to answer the basics.)  The contest will be open until 5 pm Eastern Time next Friday, Feb. 4th.

I can't wait to see what you come up with!

And if the winner happens to already own this book, there are two other dog-related books I received for Christmas that I would be happy to let you choose from instead.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Looking Ahead

London's Tower Bridge in the gloaming

Someone recently told me (or I read on someone's blog) that researchers have declared January 17th as the most depressing day of the year.  A combination of holiday deflation, continuing bad weather and limited sunlight makes this the most difficult time of year to be cheerful.

I believe that.

I've fallen behind a bit on my visits to your blogs, and am struggling to be inspired enough to type up something intriguing, witty or informative for my own.  All I came up with was a days-long craving for a Coke.  Although I did hit a bit of  a nerve there, that's not exactly what I like to fill my blog with.

So, as I imagine many of you are doing, I'm spending a fair amount of time looking to the future.  And it's about time I came clean with you, my blog buddies...Miss Chef and I have been planning another trip; a big one.

We're going to London.

And Paris.

Au pied de l'Arc de Triomphe


If you've been reading awhile, you might remember that my selfish, big-shot brother moved to London this past spring.  A few months later, my sister-in-law followed, bringing my precious nephews and niece with her.

Honestly, these people, have they no consideration?

Miss Chef's reaction to the news was much more constructive than mine.  "What a great excuse to go to London!"  My love for her is so extensive that instead of snapping, "That's not the point!" my immediate response was, "And if we're already crossing the Atlantic, we really should go to Paris."

So.  We have already purchased (and nearly paid for) two round-trip tickets to London in June, for a two-week stay.  My brother's family and we are quizzing each other about what we'd like to do once there.  And my sister-in-law and I have been starting to research places to stay in Paris.  All of which is a great way to fight the winter doldrums, wouldn't you say?

Miss Chef wants to eat at The Fat Duck in London.  It's one of those modern, molecular gastronomy places.  160 pounds per person (sterling, not weight.  I hope).  13 pre-determined courses, including things like "jelly of quail" and "snail porridge."  (But also including four different dessert courses, so, you know, totally worth it.)  Miss Chef has programmed into her phone's calendar when we'll be able to reserve; she occasionally mentions it as she prepares to drift off to sleep at night..."We're going to eat at The Fat Duck."  I have to smile with her, she's so excited.

As for Paris, we're considering renting an apartment for a week's stay.  Paris apartment hunting!  Doesn't that sound faaabulous!?  Actually, I've done it before, and it was a horrible, miserable experience.  But that was before the internet!  Today, I can click from flat to flat, imagining ourselves tucking into a tiny double bed, Miss Chef playing with fresh market purchases in a lilliputian kitchen...I can even see the views out some of the windows.  Paris is a city meant to be seenAnd eaten, of course.

Now, the sad reality is that Miss Chef and I will be working our tails off and scrimping and saving to amass enough cash to pay for all this.  As I said, I'm still paying off the tickets.  And I'm only sharing this with you so that you, too, can look forward to coming along on this summer adventure (obviously, there will be pictures!).  I certainly don't mean to brag--this is not going to be a luxurious, jet-setting vacation. 

Still, having free room, board, and some transportation in London, along with a slight edge in my familiarity with Paris, will help us allocate funds.  For instance, I'm hoping to rent a cheaper place outside the center of Paris and spend some time on the M├ętro, so we can afford a few upscale meals.  Maybe a little insider help will make some of our champagne dreams possible on a beer budget.

Not that there's anything wrong with beer.  Especially in England.  Still...I think a champagne toast at the top of the Tour de Montparnasse might be possible too.

The first two photos are scanned from prints I took about 12 years ago.  The third was taken last May.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Hello, my name is Flartus, and I am an addict.

I have tried countless times to quit, and I have quit countless times.  More often, I just try to cut back...just save it for the weekends.  Just for special occasions.  But every time, before I know it, I'm back to a daily habit.

I know it's wrong.  I've heard all the horrible medical statistics.  You know that I try to live clean, buying local, whole, chemical-free food.  Still, in spite of all my failed attempts, I desperately try to find a way to just manage my intake, because, still, I'm just not ready to go cold turkey.

I...have a Coke addiction.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thanks and Snow

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read my father's story.  It was a fun experience for me, and Dad enjoyed all your comments.  (So did Mom, she checked to make sure everyone was being nice.)  I had no idea so many of you were signed up as donors.  It's good to know there are so many out there!

Back here in Flartopia, there's been pretty much one topic of conversation: SNOW!

Since I grew up in the snow belt of northeastern Ohio (Geauga County, for any who know the area), I tend to pooh-pooh the typical panic that seizes most of the locals here when snow is forecast.  While they were huddled inside with their precious stashes of bread and milk, Miss Chef and I snapped a leash on Rosie and went for a good long winter's hike.

This was supposed to be a picture of Rosie, but she was moving too fast!

Oh, there she is...check out that huge ruff of fur helping keep her toasty warm.  This is Rosie kind of weather!

As you can see, there were already three or four inches, and it was still snowing heavily.  It snowed all day Monday.

Oh, did I mention that Miss Chef and I both had the day off?  Yes, a snow day, just like the kids!  Besides catching up with some projects, like hanging curtains, we played in the snow, made pigs-in-a-blanket (or, as Miss Chef insists they're called, peekaboo dogs), and snuggled under the blankets on the couch in front of a crackling fire and watched Twelfth Night (with Ben Kingsley, Helena Bonham Carter, and Imelda Staunton, who played Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies).

"Jove and my stars be praised!  Here is yet MORE SNOW!"

Now, although I pooh-poohed the frenzy and panic about the snow, I still have to grant serious respect to the aftermath.  Because around here, snow doesn't stay snow for long.  Tuesday morning, we woke to streets and driveways plastered in a quarter inch of smooth, slippery ice.  Thanks to my early years of driving in snow, I was comfortable enough with the concept of sliding stops and turns to ease my way out of the neighborhood onto the main roads, which were pretty well cleared.  For a southern town, Charlotte does a pretty dang good job of getting the roads cleared of snow and ice.

Today, three days later, there's still tons of heavy, slick ice around.  Avoiding the slippery driveway, we've reduced our lawn to a sea of mini icebergs.

This is what that lovely layer of snow looked like this morning, after a few rounds of thaw and refreeze.  Fluffiness has turned into a glistening glaze.

The sun hadn't quite come up yet, before I left for work, so I wasn't able to fully capture just how striking the reflected light is.  On the drive into work the past few days, I've had to keep reminding myself to watch out for slick patches, because I find this smoothed-over look so mezmerizing.

Charlotte city schools finally went back today after three days out; some other counties in the area were still out today.  I don't envy those teachers trying to get their students re-focused enough to make up for lost time!

Well, as I said, that's pretty much all that's been going on around here.  I did also want to re-invite everyone to play along with our Postive Things meme.  After re-perusing the Happy Frog blog, I realized that the number of positive things is not don't feel you have to fill up or limit yourself to 15!  Thanks to Dillypoo for playing along in December.  I wonder if we'll have any more join us this month?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Guest Blogger: Happy Birthday, Dad!

Today I celebrate my father's eighth birthday.

No, you're not having math problems.  Today marks eight years since my father was reborn.  Each of those 2,922 days I consider a gift.  From whom?  From God, several surgeons, luck, fate and my father himself.  But mostly, from a young man in Georgia whom we've never met, who would have turned 29 years old this year.

On January 7th, 2003 that anonymous young man lost his life.  On January 8th, my father was given that man's heart.  And we were all given--to date--2,922 more days to spend with my father.

I've wanted to share this story several times, but I believe it is best told by the one who lived it.  Readers, meet my father.

The Transplant Experience

“You are about three days from dead,” said Dr Laurence McBride, as he helped me back in bed after my journey of three feeble steps across the hospital room.  Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville Florida was to be the venue for my subsequent journey of nine months.  A journey back to health with a change of heart.

Having experienced a variety of cardiac difficulties since my early 20's, I had had the good fortune to be in the right place, and medical science had evolved apace of my needs. Most of the help I had received involved some form of sharp stainless steel, physical therapy and medication. The skills of physicians and advances in treatments afforded me a generally normal lifestyle.

And then there came failure. A bungled attempt at a second multi-vessel bypass left me in worse condition than at any previous time. Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is a condition where the muscle of the heart is incapable of pumping a sufficient blood supply for one to maintain normal activity. There are various degrees of this affliction, but it is a progressively wasting disease that evinces mortality in generally 2 to 5 years.

Well, I spent about a year in and out of the hospital on almost a monthly basis, receiving treatment for increasingly aggressive circulation failures. My last remembered ambulance trip to the local ER featured a gurney ride down a long corridor as I heard the PA speaker call out a code blue. I wondered who it was, and then realized it was probably me.

“Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him.. ...and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” J.Donne
It is strange the things that come to mind under duress; perhaps it is a defense. However, in the treatment room, with all the medical people, machinery and monitors around me, I watched with a semi-conscious interest. I watched until one of the monitors went very flat, the cardiologist broke into a sweat, and then came at me with a very long needle, syringe and paddles. I decided to go to sleep.

I woke several days later in Mayo Clinic and met the good Dr. McBride and the above cited dialog.

Dr. McBride continued by stating that he could offer me a heart transplant.  I was presently not strong enough to survive that operation, but they would affix to my exterior chest wall something called a "Bi-Vad," or a bilateral ventricular assist device; a mechanical heart. With proper exercise and therapy I might regain enough strength to survive the transplant process. He continued that this would be the hardest experience of my previous or subsequent life. Did I want to continue? And...why did I want to do that? Good tough questions presented in a concerned but firm manner, and directed as a screening process to evaluate candidates likely to cooperate and succeed.

My response to those questions came with difficulty and emotion. My thoughts ran to ….everyone wants to continue; the survival instinct; there are things done that probably would be better redone, things undone that need attention. I am as tough as the task. I am too young to die. Why me? It's not fair!

My only spoken and remembered response was to point to a recent snapshot on the bedside table. “Those are my grandsons fishing. I was supposed to be there. I want to be there next time.” Dr. McBride smiled and said, "OK."

So I cooperated during the next day's twelve hour operation, which succeeded in implanting and attaching the Bi-Vad. When I awoke I noticed that this intimate device was accompanied by a 600-pound, not-so-intimate control machine about the size of a refrigerator. We were all roommates for about a week, when a smaller unit, disguised as a roll-about suitcase, was substituted. That constant companion accompanied me in all events. From the four-times-daily walks and machine exercises provided by the occupational and physical therapists, through semi sleepless nights, the little poka-poka machine was always there, and though somewhat inconvenient, was my lifeline.

After three in-patient and impatient months--on December 12th 2002 to be exact--I received a letter from Dr. Daniel Yip, who was my attending medical cardiologist. I had been deemed by the transplant team to be of sufficient strength to undergo the rigors of cardiac transplant.

I was thereby placed in category A on the national registry transplant waiting list, or UNOS.
United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is the private, non-profit organization that manages the nation's organ transplant system under contract with the federal government. Currently they list about 110,000 people waiting for transplants and 12,000 Donors. (January through October 2010).  So if you please, donate life
While the waiting time for transplant organs can be lengthy, I was policy prioritized due to being on essential life support. The priority for any recipient is also affected by the particular geographic region, the population dynamics, donor commitments and the activity of local civic donor procurement organizations. Jacksonville, Florida is uniquely fortunate in benefiting from a top ranking in all these areas.

My wait was short. Doctor Yip called me late on the evening of January 7, 2003. “We have a heart for you. Will you accept it?” Well, that was apparently a required formality. Of course I accepted.
After midnight, another 12-hour surgery was started. I woke a day later with the poka-poka machine gone, and a 21-year old heart beating in my 64-year old body. Life was back, life was good.

The transplant was a success, the patient thankful, the doctors pleased and proud. The long road of recovery began. Most transplant patients recover swiftly; I however somehow managed to be different.  I remember waking one morning and counting the tubes and wires going in out of my body. Thirteen, was that an ominous number?

Unfortunately, one of those tubes carried a fungal infection into my system that populated a large region of my thoracic area. This was an extremely critical condition. Well, the good doctors at Mayo consulted, investigated and came up with a treatment plan. It was to me a strange and somewhat desperate plan, which had, as I found out later, little statistical chance of success.

Every second morning for three weeks, I was returned to the operating theater to be opened up and washed out, to remove the fungal infection and attempt to prevent regrowth. Additionally, a recently developed anti-fungal medication, specific for my type of infection, had been released. This added feature provided the healing victory. As the medical literature indicates, I was the first known person with that particular post-cardiac form of infection to survive. Once again everyone was pleased, thankful and proud.

I was and am so thankful for the help of my wife during all these trials. She lived in local lodging and maintained all the tasks of our normal lives while being the caregiver to my needs. She endured the wait and watching during many critical periods. She kept the faith and kept my spirits alive. My daughter helped with her visits and support. She was mother to our faithful dog who suddenly had his life dislocated. The many friends and relatives who provided support were also an important part of the healing process.

For myself, I am still, after many years, in a state of wonderment.

I am now entering my ninth year of wonderment. Why did I survive, why did that young man sign a donor card, why did I get to Mayo Clinic, which in my experience is a most unique place? Why was I taken care of by such a wonderful group of caring nurses, physicians and therapists?

Why did Doctor Laurence McBride, the surgeon who invented the Bi-Vad, started three transplant centers, and saved my life along with hundreds of others, die the day before this past Thanksgiving?  Why did he die of sudden cardiac arrest, in the presence of other physicians who were unable to save him?

Why did I survive? Perhaps to tell you this story, perhaps to encourage you to sign a donor card.
Perhaps, to try to tell you of the possibility of hope, perhaps to encourage you to “Look the Tiger in the Eye” in times of pain fear and discontent. Perhaps to remind you to have hope.

Hope Floats. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

15 Postive Things in December

New Year's, Schnew Year's!  I was very happy nobody inquired as to my resolutions this year, because I'm not making any.  I generally don't do New Year's resolutions, because I make plenty of them throughout the year!

Such as launching myself on this project of recording and sharing 15 positive things that happen in my life each month--inspired by Happy Frog and I, a previous Blog of Note.  I have to admit, it was a challenge in the last couple holiday-mad weeks to keep up with it, but when I finally sat down to peruse my nearly-daily notes, I discovered something remarkable.

I have way more than 15 happy things to choose from!  I'm wondering if any of you had the same experience?  If you too decided to keep track of your 15 Positive Things, you'll find the link widget at the bottom of this post, to share with us all the good things that happened to you.  Happiness shared is multiplied, right?

Flartus' 15 Positive Things

1. (Dec. 1)  In the face of the first good hard freeze, I found myself outside in the dark with a flashlight, harvesting lettuce.  I can positively say I've never done that before.  And how awesome is it to have fresh lettuce in winter?

2. (Dec. 3)  A co-worker and I went to lunch at a local Mexican restaurant around the corner which I've only been to a couple of times.  The food was good, but the service was excellent, and looking through Miss-Chef inspired eyes, I realized that this restaurant was a very well-run place that seemed to care about its employees.  As a result of my happy feelings, I left our server Elisa a 50% tip.  I love doing things like that!

3. (Dec. 4) Cookies!  I seized the day and made snickerdoodles, starting off Miss Chef's holiday cookie baking for her.  I was still up when she got home, and with a girlish smile, she eagerly grabbed one up when I showed them to her.

4. (Dec. 5)  Christmas tree!  We went to a new lot that opened up around the corner this year, and had a wonderful time wandering through the artificial but glorious-smelling forest.   Not only were the trees fresher than the last place we tried, and a bit cheaper, but it turns out the organization running it raises money for several charities.

5. (Dec. 7) Miss Chef and I finally manage to schedule an evening to decorate the living room, free from other distraction.  Along with carols on the radio and a fire in the fireplace, we finally felt like we were fully into the Christmas season.

6. (Dec. 8) I finally finished packing up the box of gifts to send to my brother's family in London.  It had been one of those projects I was both excited and concerned about, as it involved some decision-making to keep the weight down, and a bit of labor to get all the little pieces packaged and wrapped.  My first step in our homemade Christmas!

7. (Dec. 9)  The first part of the final exam in my French class--the 5-minute individual conversation--was not a success for all.  But I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with some students about their progress.  When I finished up and returned to the faculty workroom, another instructor said he'd run into one of my students who was flush with excitement about how he'd done, and about my comments on his improvement.  It was a very nice reminder of just how big an impact a teacher can have.

8. (Dec. 11) A lovely evening with friends, starting with appetizers at their house, then a trip to see the lights at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, and back to their house for dinner.  Onward with the holiday spirit!

9. (Dec 14) Knowing how exhausted Miss Chef must be, teaching at 6:30 am and then going in for extra shifts at the restaurant until 10 pm, I prepped her morning for her.  Socks, underwear, bandanna ready in the bathroom, towel hung up by the shower, space heater ready to feels so good to be able to help her any little way I can.

10. (Dec 17-20) My trip to see my parents.  Some things I didn't mention in my previous post were the dinner party with neighbors the evening of my arrival, and discovering a new fruit in one of their yards, which I was invited to harvest and take home to Miss Chef.  (Miss Chef incorporated it into our Christmas dessert, the olive oil and orange cake she'd made once before).

11. (Dec 22)  Having heard Miss Chef's story of waiting in line at the Post Office to buy stamps, I steeled myself for a last visit of my own, to mail one final package on my lunch break.  Imagine my surprise to walk in, see the automated machine free and spend about two minutes getting my package weighed and posted!  Bonus: when I got home that evening, an email from my nephew informed me that my carefully-packaged transatlantic gift box had arrived safe and sound in London.  Hooray!

12. (Dec. 23) As I sat eating my lunch in the breakroom, I watched two kids, a dad and even a granddad running around the adjacent parking lot, apparently playing tag.  So much more entertaining than tv!  After eating, I had another lunch break errand to run, this time to try to find Miss Chef a pomegranate for our Christmas dinner.  On the way, I saw more kids enjoying their winter break by playing outside in their yards.  Children at play made me smile.  Bonus: Not only was I able to find the pomegranate, but the Harris Teeter employee who helped me was incredibly kind and professional, in spite of a super busy store.

(Yes, Christmas was definitely a Positive Thing, but it seems too I shall leap over it...)

13. (Dec. 26) As part of our little extended Christmas, we went to see Bonnie's parents (Bonnie being Rosie's best dog buddy) to thank them for helping us out by kitty-sitting Smoky through her early days.  We ended up sitting down over a mug of hot chocolate, swapping stories and laughs.  We left with a fruit basket, a bottle of homemade wine(!), and several recommendations for our upcoming summer trip (which I haven't told you about, have I?  Heh heh...)

14. (Dec. 29) After spending an hour or two putting up my last picture-heavy post, I shut down the computer, and turned around to find this:

(For any unfamiliar with the story, we found Smoky in October as a not-quite-four week old kitten, at which point Rosie tried to eat her!  Feeling fully responsible for her survival at that point, Miss Chef and I proceeded to foster her through bottle feeding and butt wiping until she was old enough to be adopted by a friend.  We got her back for a few weeks of kitten-sitting over the holidays.)

15. (Dec. 31) A wonderful New Year's Eve party hosted by the same friends who had us at Thanksgiving.  Plenty of food, drink, games, laughs and concern about whether Miss Chef was going to make it from the restaurant before midnight.  She didn't, but our hosts kindly stayed up until 2 am to catch up with Miss Chef and allow her to enjoy a couple of drinks.  (We left her car there to pick up the next day!)

Well, time to get my 2011 planner, so I can keep track of January's Positive Things!  I hope you have enjoyed playing along.  Please share with us your December happinesses by adding your link below.