Paris Then and Now

View from the Eiffel Tower - 1957

View from the Eiffel Tower – 1957

Paris…Autumn, 1957…visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Versailles, cruising on the River Seine in a Bateau Mouche. We were at a wonderful cafe, sitting outside and enjoying the scenery, the people and the sights and sounds of Paris. These serene moments — and others from our trip to Paris — were abruptly altered.

Across the street from the cafe was the French Ministry of Works. And parading in front of it were soldiers with automatic weapons, dressed in combat attire. What a juxtaposition! On one side of the street, combat-ready soldiers; on the other, French cafe life. You see, it was during the Algerian Revolution. Libya was seeking independence from France.

We enjoyed our trip – despite the tension. We were fortunate – or so we thought – that we were not caught up in these events. That is until our departure from Paris. We arrived at DeGaulle Airport, boarded the plane, and prepared to take-off for home. As the plane rolled down the runway, we looked out the window for a last view of Paris. Instead we saw puffs of smoke and the sound of exploding bombs. Good thing we were able to get off the ground in time!

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Happy Birthday! … You’re Dead!

What happens when there is a computer glitch at intersection of government and humanity? Let me recount my experience. It’s not fiction. It’s true.

But first, some background.  When my ex-husband died (unexpectedly), I went to Social Security with his death certificate, to determine my benefit — if any. This is where my tale begins!

Coincidentally on my birthday it started.  Money was mysteriously removed from my bank account … without explanation.  Credit card transactions were denied, checks bounced.

happy birthday (2)And I received letters addressed to the “Estate of …” Are you laughing? I was not. The anticipation of getting the mail turned into dread…I was NOT dead!  But everyone seemed to think so.

It turned out that Social Security had (instead of adjusting my benefit) sent out a broadcast notice that I had expired, and clawed back prior benefit paid to me. After all, I was deceased!  Getting my life back was significantly more difficult and time consuming.  While the kind folks at Social Security were working to remedy the problem in their system, it was my responsibility to provide proof that I was alive.  In most cases it required notarized letters, many phone calls and a letter that Social Security gave me.

Fast forward… It’s been months and I thought everything was back in order … until today when I discovered that part of my bank account was still blocked.  As I said to the customer service person, I am not dead!

One closing note.  I found the Social Security people empathetic, kind and helpful.

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A Gift for Cody

It’s been just over a year since Cody, my mini-poodle, received the gift of sight.  Unbeknownst to all around him, his eyesight slipped away until, at about 18 months, he could barely see. And therein lies this story, and the intersection of his life with Dr. Seth Eaton of Cornell University Veterinary Specialists.  Dr. Eaton performed the cataract surgery that restored Cody’s sight; but more importantly the gift of a sighted life and the ability of Cody to fulfill his potential.

Cody and Dr. Eaton at CUVS

Cody and Dr. Eaton at CUVS

So often we think of presents as material things – most of which are perishable – or gifts given to another often connected to some emotional obligation.  This gift is different. It will last for Cody’s lifetime.  And it changed not only his life’s trajectory and mine, but that of many other people. Today Cody’s a therapy dog, offering his gifts of unconditional love and charm enthusiastically to almost everyone he meets. When he’s not working his magic, he’s a playful and mischievous companion.

I know he is reserved when he sees you  – remembering all the exams and the surgery no doubt.  But he can see you. Thank you Dr. Eaton.

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Chickens in The Sun Room – Or – Wild Animals I Have Known

Chicks - photo from

Chicks – photo from

We were apartment dwellers…not unlike the the cliff dwellers from earlier times.  Except that instead of ladders to scale the heights to get ‘home’, we had elevators and stairs.  It was this extra distance from our front door to the outside that appeared to be the reason why dogs were never part of the family.  Cats terrified our grandmother.  So what was left?

Mom and Dad proclaimed — with confidence — that I could have ‘any pet so long as it was not a dog or cat.’  To them, that meant low-maintenance.  They did not have to walk, feed or otherwise get engaged in the management of a pet.  It did not take long for them to realize they’d made a mistake. And that they had created part of the mistake.

The back-story began when I was very young.  Our apartment had a bright sun room (apartment lingo for an indoor porch).  It was just before Easter when Dad came home with a cardboard box. Mom and I could hear scratching, so we suspected something live was inside.  And there was!  Three (that’s right) three adorable chicks!  I was excited. Dad was elated. Mom was skeptical.  She was right.  Neither had any idea how quickly these cute yellow fur balls would grow.  Nor did they realize what that size increase meant. Or that the chicks would LOVE the jute rug on the sun room floor, peck the rattan chairs and in general reduce the sun room to a chicken coop. The chicks did not end up on our dinner table, but they disappeared, presumably to somewhere better-suited for poultry.

Wild animals I have known, respectfully borrowed from a book of the same name by Ernest Thompson Seton, suggests that wildlife was an integral part of my childhood. Small animals – furry, winged, finned or slithery – were all part of our household at one time or another. The list was long. It ranged from easy-to-find local bugs, to frogs, turtles, horned toads, mice, birds, fish, gerbils, ant farms, caymans (a member of the alligator family), chameleons and snakes. Most of which were not part of most households. All of which raised the potential for unexpected human-animal encounters. And there were many – to the hilarity and chagrin of all who lived and visited with us.

But let me keep you in suspense…watch for these in another post.

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The Opportunity to Give

Giving is on my mind at this time of year.  Not things, not money, but giving.  Perhaps a random act of kindness requiring a small effort, but of great value to the recipient.  Which brings me to the reason for this post.  Today Cody, my mini poodle, got his volunteer badge so he can offer his gifts of kindness, affection, total acceptance and his waggy tail to people in need of attention at the hospital.  Tomorrow, he will make his first official therapy dog visit there.  This is not done lightly. He and I have trained, and passed ‘tests’ of obedience and resilience in the face of the unfamiliar surroundings of hospital-like settings.

Chewy and Cody keeping watch over my sleeping daughter

Chewy and Cody keeping watch over my sleeping daughter

But to say that this is his first therapy dog role does acknowledge his contribution to our family.  He and Chewy (my other therapy dog) love us unconditionally; guard us while we sleep and provide fun and comfort every day.  And, despite my best efforts to be the pack leader, they have trained me well, as I have trained them. They barter tricks for treats and know the most comfortable and geographic center of my bed better than I do. When I visit, I tell people that I am simply the handler — that my dog works the magic.  And the gifts he offers so freely are as rewarding to me as they are to the recipients of his attention and waggy kisses.

So on this day before Thanksgiving, we will give comfort and receive it in return. How wonderful is that?

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When a Friend is Really a Foe: A Case of Mistaken Identity

From stripes on tigers to the warning black and yellow colors of the monarch butterfly, disguises and warning colors are seen throughout nature and work so well that we have adopted them for our own use — hunting garb is an example. So it should come as no surprise that we often do not see what lives in our own backyards.

And so it is with my friend Julie, who has a small balcony on which has created what she calls a rest-stop for good insects and a feeding station for hummingbirds. One of her favorites is the monarch butterfly, which by the way has a copycat butterfly (the viceroy) that relies on the monarch’s colors and bitter taste to keep predators at bay. Another is the praying mantis – that resembles a twig.

Back to my story… This morning Julie called me in dismay because one of her favorite insects — the praying mantis — was munching on another — a monarch butterfly! Up until that moment, she believed the praying mantis was a garden friend that disposed of pests. Her rest-stop had become a man-made ambush for migrating monarchs, the very species she wanted to protect.

Monarch Being Eaten 10-7-13
Mantis Munching on a Monarch – Photo Courtesy Ben Heckscher

The denouement of my story is that among the mantis family are non-native (and large) examples that prey on insects as well as small reptiles, amphibians and even hummingbirds! The mantis in her rest-stop was one of these. Fooled again! A case of mistaken identity.

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A tribute to my father

With fathers’ day approaching, I want to acknowledge all those fathers who, like my dad, changed the world around them with their generosity, kindness and gift of love. In memory of dad, I’m reprising a letter I wrote called “Tribute to a Father Truly Hits Home” in response to an article by James Schembari (about his father) that ran in the NYTimes. Originally Published: February 3, 2002 New York Times, I’m sharing it again because special fathers do not have to be public figures.
Dad and me
Re: ”A Death in the Family: In So Many Words, a Wonderful Life (Jan. 6).”

I read this column and took heart. Since my father died I have railed at all the obituaries of ”extraordinary” men who, because of their fame, received large and public tributes.

My dad deserved all this and more. I would say to myself — as consolation — that while my dad was an extraordinary man whose kindness and generosity wove a small but significant web among friends and family, he was not a public man with ”those types of world-changing” accomplishments.

But his being there did change the world and he was so important to his family and friends. We carry his values, sense of humor and dedication with us. We carry his gifts of love and his companionship and friendship.

Thank you for your article about your father. I envy you because (of your job) you were able to tell the world about your dad in a way that I will never be able to.

Even though it’s been years since you left us, you continue to be a profound influence in our lives.

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