Slowing Down

I’m sorry to report that our dog Kasey seems to be slowing down.  That’s OK — it’s what happens to old dogs, and to old people, too.  But it also makes us sad.

We first noticed it because Kasey is now having trouble jumping onto couches and chairs.  In the old days, she could spring onto just about anything from a standing position.  Then, it took a running start, but she made it.  Now, she just puts her front paws on the seat and looks around beseechingly for a friendly face who might give her a lift up to one of her accustomed spots.

IMG_2601There are other signs as well.  She limps from time to time, and she doesn’t seem to like long walks quite as much, and she doesn’t strain at the leash like she used to.  Her head is turning white.  Her eating habits have become more erratic.  She’s more content to sit in the backyard in a cool, quiet spot.  And she’s had a few of those unfortunate “accidents” around the house.

When you notice these kinds of things, the antenna go up and you begin looking for more indications of health problems.  So far, though, we haven’t had to deal with any of those — aside from Kasey’s awful teeth, which seem to be more a product of bad care when she was little than advancing age.

We don’t know how old Kasey is, because she was a fully grown rescue dog when we first met her at the Erie County Humane Society.  We guess that she’s 14 or so, but she’s a smaller dog, and they are supposed to live longer.  We’re hoping that’s true.

In the meantime, Kish is watching Kasey like a hawk, keeping an eye out for gimpiness or apparent bowel problems, so we can get ol’ Kase to the vet at the first sign of trouble.  Kish’s careful observation of Kasey for signs of aging is a bit unnerving, though.  Now that I’ve passed 59, I’m squarely in the zone of scrutiny, too.

Card Family

This weekend we had a blast up at Put-In-Bay, thanks to the generous hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Gleeful Retiree.  Saturday night eight of us sat down to play a little euchre tournament, with team pairings that changed every five hands.  It was a lot of fun.

luep0gEuchre is a great game for that setting, because each player is dealt only five cards.  As a result, every hand is over quickly, so if you get a crappy hand — which unfortunately happens from time to time — it’s only a matter of a few minutes before you get a new one that hopefully isn’t filled with nines and tens.  And there’s never a gap in table talk, either, because each hand offers opportunities to chat about the cards, the hand just played, the lay-down loner you didn’t get to call, and your run of ridiculous, inexplicable bad luck.

It’s the first time I’ve played euchre in a while, and it brought back a lot of memories.  I come from a card family, and both Mom and Dad’s families were card families, too.  For as long as I can remember, cards were a huge part of the Webner family dynamic.  Kids progressed through the card game difficulty spectrum — starting with war, moving on to hearts, spades, gin rummy, and euchre, and finally getting up to cribbage and bridge.  On  family vacations, there always was a nightly euchre tournament where different combinations of uncles, cousins, and grandparents paired off for some friendly competition and bragging rights, and taunting was the order of the day.  The bad jokes and gibes around the card tables at those euchre tournaments are some treasured memories and helped to make my childhood a little richer.

Some families are card families, some families aren’t.  I’m glad I was from a card family.  Richard and Russell are good card players, and we’ve had some good times playing cards together.  I’m happy they’re carrying on the family tradition.

The Ray Donovan Parenting Standard

Recently Kish and I have been binge-watching Ray Donovan, the Showtime series about a guy who fixes problems for the rich and famous in Hollywood — usually through violence, extortion, and sex.  It’s a very entertaining and well-acted show, and we’ve enjoyed getting caught up to the current episodes.

960I usually come away from the show with a curious reaction:  Ray Donovan makes me feel good about my parenting efforts.  This is because the parenting of Ray and his wife Abby, and of Ray’s ex-con father Mickey, is outlandishly bad, launching generations of seriously messed-up, dysfunctional offspring.

Mickey cheated on his dying wife, robbed banks, allowed his kids to be serially abused by a Catholic priest and beat up Ray when Ray tried to tell him about it, and urged his son Terry to keep boxing until the repeated punches caused him to develop Parkinson’s disease.  Everything Mickey touches turns to mud.  Ray hates his Dad — but he and Abby really aren’t a whole lot better in the parenting department.  Ray doesn’t show up at home for days at a time.  Abby decides to go to Boston leaving her teenage daughter in charge.  Both parents have obvious affairs, leaving the kids at home to fend for themselves.  Not surprisingly, the kids are struggling — they’ve had issues with violent behavior at school, underage drinking, the daughter had an affair with her teacher, and the son has a gun fixation.  It’s not a happy, huggy family.

Parents don’t often have insight into how they’re doing; they don’t usually get see how other people perform in the parenting roles.  TV families at least give us measuring sticks by which to gauge our own efforts.  No doubt there were many parents who strove to be like Ward and June Cleaver but found they couldn’t quite measure up.  For a long time, TV showed us the idealized families, but now we’re getting to see the other end of the parenting spectrum.

If you’re worried about your parenting, watch Ray Donovan.  I promise, you’ll feel better.

Nightingale Oboe Reeds

If you play the oboe, you need reeds.  In fact, you need lots of reeds, because the oboe is a double-reed instrument.

But where to go for high-quality reeds if you are a student learning to play the oboe and find yourself in need of reed?  Fortunately, there is now an answer:  Nightingale Oboe Reeds, where you can get wonderful reeds made by somebody who is an exceptional oboist in her own right.  You can even subscribe and get reeds delivered to your doorstep every month.  (And the reedmaker can give you oboe lessons, too.)

How do the reeds sound, you ask?  Well, listen to this terrific piece by Mozart played by the Yellow Book Project, tune in to the oboe, and see if you don’t think those reeds sound great.

Talkin’ Corn

The other day at lunch we were talking about food — it was lunch, after all — and the topic turned to sweet corn.  Why not?  It’s one of the foods that make summer in America the best season of the year, and any drive through rural Ohio will take you past a sweet corn stand in front of a family farmhouse.

IMG_2543The Jersey Girl mentioned that she’s intentionally failed to advise her kids that most people eat sweet corn liberally smeared with butter.  She prefers it plain, and now her kids do, too.  At some point, they’ll go to a cookout on a bright summer day where burgers and sweet corn are being served and they’ll slowly realize that everybody else is eating their ears slathered style and decide they have to try to butter option.  Until then, they’ll enjoy the natural sweetness, unaided.  Me, I like my corn buttered, but hold the salt.

The Red Sox Fan chimed in that he eats his ears of corn rotationally — that is, putting teeth into the kernels and then rolling the cod around as he chomps, rather than moving side to side.  The rest of us were, of course, aghast.  The only proper way to eat sweet corn is to move left to right, like the cob is the cylinder on a typewriter.  That way, when you reach the right end of the ear, you’ve got a mouth full of mushy goodness and lips glistening with butter, ready to be licked.  The Red Sox Fan’s curious admission frankly caused us to question whether he was a bona fide member of the Sweet Corn Club.

Up in Vermilion last Sunday we had a family cookout, and Cousin Jeff arrived with a passel of sweet corn purchased in Amish country that we boiled up in a big cast iron pot and ate with Lake Erie perch and grilled chicken.  I happily consumed my share of the ears, and realized at some point in the process that I probably could eat sweet corn until I exploded.  It wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

Grandma’s Photo

When Mom died I inherited an old photograph of Grandma Neal.  It’s become a favorite of mine, and I’ve put it in a prominent place just above our desk upstairs.

IMG_2499I’m usually not much for family photos.  They always seem static and posed and somehow phony, with everyone standing stiffly and grinning like maniacs for the camera.  But some photos are special.  For me, this is one of them, because there’s a certain air of mystery about it.

I don’t know where, or when, the photo was taken.  I know it’s old, because it’s black and white and has been placed in a battered tin frame.  I’m guessing it was taken in the ’20s.  It doesn’t look like it was taken by a professional, from the pose and the shading.  And it’s small enough to carry in the palm of your hand or a pocket.  I find myself wondering if it’s a picture that Grandpa Neal took and carried within him.

Whether taken by an amateur or a professional, it’s a wonderful picture of Grandma Neal.  She was a handsome woman with strong features, and her face is unlined by age.  In the photo she has a slight, enigmatic smile, like the Mona Lisa of Akron, Ohio, but her eyes make it look like she’s ready to burst into a delighted grin and perhaps even a laugh.  And laughing is how I remember her.

Talking About Trump (Or Conversing About Clinton)

After this week, we’ll begin the final stretch of the presidential campaign between two candidates who have actually been nominated by their respective parties.  I’m glad that the calendar pages are turning, because I just want this election to be over.  I don’t think we can withstand much more of the level of vitriol that’s being hurled back and forth.

I’m not talking about the two campaigns, either.  I’m talking about what we’re seeing from the masses, from our friends and colleagues, from Facebook pages and emails.  You can’t even talk about politics without seeing, and hearing, evidence of it.  Many people obviously find it impossible to talk about the candidates without lapsing into flaming, superheated language — the kind that people don’t easily forget.

hqdefaultThe anti-Trump group loathe The Donald and honestly seem to believe that only utterly ignorant racists and fascists could possibly consider voting for the guy.  The anti-Clinton folks are revolted by Hillary’s duplicity and corruption; they think the media is in the tank for her and the elites are trying to fix the election for her.  It’s coarse and visceral stuff, and a lot of bitterness on both sides is leaking out into our daily discourse.

I don’t care about the two candidates.  They are both egregiously flawed and deserve the strident criticism they’re getting.  No, I’m more concerned about the average people out there who are choosing sides, and doing so in a way that seems to leave no room for quarter or disagreement.  I wonder how many long-time friendships will be ruined and how many families will be splintered by the harsh language and even more harsh judgments.  If you are to the point that you think Trump will be the next Hitler, are you going to want to hang out with a guy who wants to vote him into office — even if it’s a guy you’ve known and worked with for 20 years?

The old saying about the wisdom of not talking about politics or religion has never been truer.  It used to be that people of good will at different points on the political spectrum could have a good-natured discussion about who they were voting for, and why.  I’m not sure that is even possible this year.

In our personal lives, we need to declare a truce, and take politics off the table.  Talk about your kids, talk about your travels, talk about sports — talk about just about anything other than the awful choice that we must make come November.  Hold your fire, folks!  That way, at the ground level of our everyday existence, maybe we’ll be able to make it through this flaming car wreck of an election.