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Category Archives: memoir


I love sugar. Well, not straight sugar. I was never a big fan of Pixie Stix, or rock candy, or sugar cubes. But I love chocolate frosting and Nutella and Twizzlers and marzipan. I like candy in every color and shape and size. When I first watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I was pretty sure it was a vision of heaven. I don’t like bitter or sour very much, savory is good, salty is okay, but sweet is my thing. Sushi was a wonderful discovery, because it looked and tasted like candy but had actual food value.

One winter, Mom and I took a series of cake decorating classes. They were inexpensive, and once a week, at the local Michael’s craft store, and once we finished level one, we went on for levels two and three, and would have done level four if it had been offered. I loved making cakes, and frosting, and doing crumb coats, and lattice work. I learned how to make royal icing flowers, and animal characters out of fondant and marzipan, and experimented with Nutella cream cheese frosting. I made chess pieces and roses out of molded chocolate, and white chocolate molded flour pots with chocolate frosted dirt. I tried to make petit fours and failed miserably.

Chocolate music on a flourless chocolate cake.

Chocolate music on a flourless chocolate cake.

Marzipan fruit is just as good for you as real fruit, right?

Marzipan fruit is just as good for you as real fruit, right?

Chocolate dirt, enough said.

Chocolate dirt, enough said.

The trouble with petit fours is, even after you find the right recipe for the cake, so that it’s moist but not delicate, you need a sure hand for the cutting and placing of layers, and then you need to be willing to waste a lot of icing by pouring it over the cakes on a wire rack so that the excess pools underneath. This is where Cricket came in, waiting for the overflow to overflow.

"You can start pouring, Mommy."

“You can start pouring, Mommy.”

Cricket was an only dog during the cake decorating winter, and she made full use of her prominent place next to the table, standing by the edge as the icing dripped onto her head, or jumping as high as she could to reach the counter to inspect whatever was going on up there. She cried and scratched at Grandma’s leg to get access to the mixer as it rumbled and tumbled and created glossy white frosting. She’s not especially dexterous with her paws, so she couldn’t participate in molding marzipan figurines, but she loved to help with clean up whenever something fell on the floor. We all had a great time that winter.

Cricket, after icing removal.

Cricket, after icing removal.

But, my father developed adult onset diabetes by the time he was the same age as I am now. In fact, his brother and father also developed diabetes, and then diabetic neuropathy and strokes, and a whole host of other problems, so it is definitely in my genes. I focus on moderation, and go to doctors regularly, and eat my vegetables, and take the medications I’m required to take. I use a lot of vegetables in my cooking, because I like my food to be colorful: red and yellow and orange peppers, tomatoes in all shapes and sizes, red onions, and French green beans, and perfect heads of broccoli cut into individual trees. But I worry.

I am always being told to cut sugar out of my diet completely, that it will solve all of my health, mood, intellectual, spiritual and whatever other problems I may have, immediately, and I will have the energy of a cheetah.

This, of course, is never true. I try it, I suffer, I keep trying, and then I stop. And whether I’ve tried the diet for two weeks or two months or two years, someone is always certain that if I just tried a little bit longer it would all work out and I would be perfect. I’ve tried sugar free, and dairy free, gluten free, and wheat free, and it’s all terrible and squeezes my brain until there is not even one drop of serotonin left and life is not worth living. Mom tells me that too much sugar makes her feel sick and tired, but I’ve never felt that way myself. I might refuse to notice such a thing.

My father went on a high protein diet, eventually, to try and manage his diabetes and ate mostly chicken and spinach. This would not work for me at all, but it would be Butterfly’s ideal, without the spinach. Butterfly, my ten year old Lhasa Apso, has diabetes too, but her diabetes is more like type one, or juvenile onset diabetes in humans, and is controlled by twice daily insulin shots. She also has a special diabetic-friendly kibble and eats a lot of chicken, though not as much as she’d like.



She doesn’t look or act sick, unless her sugar gets very low, and then she gets maple syrup on her gums and she bounces back. It’s a relief to know what’s wrong with her and how to fix it. For Butterfly, sugar is directly related to how she feels every day; no matter how much she craves things like pizza crusts and pancakes and bread, which were among her favorite things in the world before her diagnosis last year, she’s better off, and happier, without them.

The same isn’t true for me. There is no diet that will fix what’s wrong with me, at least that I know of. And while, theoretically, I’d be healthier overall without sugar, I would not be happier, or even happy at all, with a diet like that. I tend to think, and I know this is not the prevailing view, that a little bit more sugar in our diets might help us like each other a little bit more. Maybe I should try to make those petit fours again, and pass them out to my neighbors. I just have to make sure that the icing doesn’t drip to Butterfly’s level. She’d be licking the floor for days.

Cricket, licking the bowl.

Cricket, licking the bowl.

Butterfly, staying on her diet.

Butterfly, staying on her diet.

The Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvahs


My synagogue, periodically, runs an adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah class. Mostly women take the class, because it is mostly women who missed out on the chance to have their own Bat Mitzvah back when they were 12 or 13. The current class has about 13 people in it, ranging in age from early forties to early eighties. There’s one man and the rest are women.

The one man in the Bar and Bat Mitzvah class is a non-Jew. He and his Jewish wife have a son in the Hebrew school and are very involved in the synagogue, and he started the classes as an opportunity to better understand the religion his wife loved and his son was learning in school. He took Hebrew language classes, and learned the prayers and history and philosophy, and gradually, through his own process, he decided that this was his community, that he would convert and become a Jew. But the fact is, he could have decided otherwise, and that would have been okay too, with the rabbis, with his wife and son, and with the community at large (for the most part).

The work he put into this, not knowing for sure how it would turn out, is what I respect so much, rather than the outcome. There’s something about having two years set aside, with teachers and fellow students and a set goal that everyone values, that I really want for myself. Graduate school was sort of like that, but more expensive. I’d love to have a two year program to learn how to deal with Cricket, with a group of peers going through all of the same difficulties. There’s a cocoon-like feeling to it, this group of people struggling towards the same goals and overcoming difficulties together, in a non-competitive environment. It’s the non-competitive-ness that appeals to me most, the idea that everyone is supposed to succeed, not just the cream of the crop. They don’t come out of this program with a degree, but I think it must be life changing, like my Bat Mitzvah was for me.

"My turn!"

“My turn!”

"I am so well trained!"

“I am so well trained!”


I loved my Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony itself, anyway. I didn’t love my party, or having my grandmother stay over in my room so that I had to sleep on the floor. I didn’t love my father spending months trying to convince me not to have a Bat Mitzvah at all, and the rabbis at my school complaining about the music and dancing planned for the after party on Saturday night. But I loved leading a whole Saturday morning service from beginning to end. I loved reading the Torah and chanting the Haftorah. I loved having my own congregation for a couple of hours.

My current congregation.

My current congregation.

There are four separate Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services being done, once a month throughout the winter, with three or four students running each, with the three clergy members there to preside and help. And their families come: grandchildren fly in from across the country; ninety-year-old mothers come from nursing homes to finally see their daughters Bat Mitzvahed; children and siblings and cousins and friends are all invited. And the rest of the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah students come to show their support, along with a few of us from the rest of the congregation, though not many. I went to the first of the four services, because one of the women asked specifically, and it was beautiful.

I didn’t grow up in a Reconstructionist synagogue. I didn’t even know what Reconstructionism might be. It sounded like a lot of work – like maybe we’d be building and tearing down houses every week. I’ve only been to this one Reconstructionist synagogue, so I can’t be sure if it is representative of the whole movement, but what I do know is that it is about being open minded, but rigorous. If you are going to adopt a ritual, or get rid of one, you should do your research, understand the history, understand your own reasons for your decision, and take the community into account before you proceed.

The only thing wrong with the synagogue is the prejudice against dog participation. There are no Bark-Mitzvahs, no dog-naming ceremonies, no doggy choir for the high holidays. Clearly, this is the next necessary level of innovation for the Reconstructionist movement. I’d bet more people would come to the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services if dogs were invited to participate. I’m just saying, it’s something for the membership committee to think about.

Butterfly wants this outfit in pink.

Butterfly would look great in this outfit, in pink.

"Um, I'm not so sure about that, Mommy."

“Um, I’m not so sure about that, Mommy.”


Skating Lessons


The ground has been very icy lately. Even when the snow starts out powdery soft, we end up with ice rinks on the grass within a day, and the girls seem to enjoy it. I’ve always wanted to take them ice skating, but indoor rinks don’t seem to welcome dogs.

"This outdoor ice is too bumpy, Mommy."

“This outdoor ice is too bumpy, Mommy.”

Cricket would be a terrible figure skater. She would be gripping the ice with her toe nails and hopping like a bunny rabbit, but maybe Butterfly would like the glide, just flying for a few seconds, and glorying in the curve.

Butterfly, dreaming about the glide.

Butterfly, dreaming about the glide.

I took skating lessons as a kid at the local rink. We were separated by levels – alpha, beta, gamma, delta – and given one rectangle of ice for our group lessons. We wore snowsuits and white skates and gloves and hats. We learned snowplow stops, two foot turns and bunny hops, falling and standing up. But the rink was so cold, and I was uninspired. I never saw skating as something I could get better at.

But that changed when I was seventeen. I had gone to college, and run home screaming, and needed something therapeutic to do while I went to therapy. One day, in desperation, Mom suggested going ice skating, and we went, and I never wanted to leave. I spent the whole two hour session, in terrible blue plastic rental skates, loving it.

I went three days a week, took group lessons and then individual lessons, got my own white skates, and started to improve. But really I loved just skating around the rink. I loved the whoosh of the air, and the speed, and I loved that feeling of attachment to the ice – like a trolley car must feel. With walking and running, your goal is to push off of the ground, to get away from it, but skating is all about the ice and the blade coming together. You fly best when you are attached to the ice (unless you’re a female pair’s skater, in which case, God help you).



Eventually I had to go back to school and be responsible, and I couldn’t figure out what place skating had in my life. But I was still obsessed with watching skating on TV. For a few years there, the televised skating world was filled with wonderful, creative, emotional performances. Torvill and Dean did a program called Encounter, or January Stars, and it was extraordinary. Everything they did was wonderful, but that one haunts me. Scott Hamilton makes me laugh, Kurt browning makes me want to skate or dance or just watch him on an endless loop. Katya Gordeeva, either back in her pair days with Sergei Grinkov or in the aftermath, is exquisite and soul deep. Michelle Kwan made me cry and made my heart beat in sync with hers. They all have this ability to be inside of the music, wearing it like clothes.

katya and sergei

Katya and Sergei, way back when.

Mostly now we get repetitive Olympic eligible competitions, and packaged professional shows that all look the same, but every once in a while something wonderful happens: Meryl Davis blossoms into a beautiful and evocative ice dancer, Kurt Browning skates with his sons, Jeremy Abbot creates whole new styles of movement on the ice. Even if there are only one or two minutes of blissful skating in a whole two hour program, I can’t risk missing those two minutes.

I wish my girls could take figure skating lessons. I can picture them, bundled up in pink snowsuits, wearing four skates each, learning to glide and stop and turn, and hopefully not pee on the ice. Cricket would love to be able to jump, but she’d also be at risk for severely hurting herself, and others. Butterfly would follow her teacher and then sniff after the Zamboni as it cleaned the ice.

I found this picture of a dog in a snowsuit on line, because if I tried to do this to Cricket, I would be in the hospital.

I found this picture of a dog in a snowsuit on line, because if I tried to do this to Cricket, I would be in the hospital.



They’d probably have to have the ice to themselves, because putting up orange traffic cones wouldn’t really stop Cricket from busting out into the crowd and going in the wrong direction and kicking her blades around. Maybe she’d do better with hockey skates, because they don’t have a toe pick on the front. Figure skates are serious weapons.

Those toepicks are vicious!

Those toepicks are vicious!

But, then, Cricket is pretty dangerous herself.

But, then, Cricket is pretty dangerous herself.


Talking To Dogs


My father used to yell at our Doberman Pinscher in German. It’s possible that he added in some Yiddish, but he made a point of saying that you should speak to a German dog in German. The rest of us spoke to her in English, though, and she seemed to be fine with that.



I have a habit of dropping into Hebrew or French for a word or two, rarely for a whole sentence, because I’m not fluent in either language. I don’t know why I do it. Maybe I’m just pretentious and annoying, but I like the way the different languages sound, with the hard square letters of Hebrew, and the rolling curlicues of French. Cricket can understand up to the number three in French, because that’s how I taught her to jump up onto the bed, Un, deux, trois, Jump! (See, I can’t even stay in French for four words!) With Hebrew I tend to stick to short phrases, like “Where is…?” or “Thank you” Or “Why?” And Cricket tilts her head and nods. She’s a savant.

"I understand everything you say. I just disagree."

“I understand everything you say. I just disagree.”

Butterfly has a whole different vocabulary. It’s as if the girls speak, or at least comprehend, two different languages. I can’t use the same words to communicate with both of them at the same time. I’ve noticed that they choose the words or signals they will respond to more than I do. It’s like they are flipping through a book of fabric swatches until they find one that speaks to them. Just because I repeat something a hundred times doesn’t mean they will pick it up, but I can do something just once, and it clicks forever.



I wonder if, given a chance, this is how people would be too, if forcing everyone to use the same language, while very convenient, is cutting off huge swaths of natural language.       What if I was born to speak Hindi and my whole life I will be missing pieces of my soul because I can’t capture them in English. Is that possible?

Butterfly responds best to touch. She calms when I pet her, she stills when I hold her in place for her insulin shot, she turns to look at me when I tug on her leash. She believes in eye contact and body language and leaves most of the English stuff to Cricket.

"I have Mommy's sock and that means I have Mommy."

“I have Mommy’s sock and that means I have Mommy.”

I tend to speak to Butterfly in a higher tone of voice, and fewer words overall. She responds best to facial expressions and body language. If I reach a hand out to her, she comes over to get scratches. She watches me very carefully. Sometimes I wonder if she’s partially deaf, but I think it’s more the deafness that comes from not understanding the words I am saying to her.

I tried to teach her “Down,” but she responds better to “Stop.” And I have to be right there, not across the room, for it to make sense to her. She understands when I pick up her blood testing kit, and she understands when leashes are taken off the hook at the door, but she doesn’t understand “sit,” maybe because it took her almost a year to build the muscle strength to sit on her back legs the way Cricket does, so when I was trying to build her vocabulary, she didn’t have any physical corollary for “sit.”

Cricket responds to tone of voice more than anything else. If she hears someone yelling outside, she barks. If I whisper, she wakes up from a dead sleep and assumes I was taking about her and planning an outing for her. If I, god forbid, say the word chicken, all hell breaks loose.



She learned her commands as a puppy. She knows sit and stay and down and turn, but she also knows walk, go, outside, shoes, leash, food, toy, platypus, chewy, poop, bath.

Cricket and her platypus.

Cricket and her platypus.

Those are the obvious things, but I’ve also noticed that she can understand context, even when her usual words aren’t in use. Even without the words “poopie butt” or “bath,” she can figure out that I’m planning to wash her in the sink, and she runs under her couch to safety.

"You can't catch me!"

“You can’t clean my poopie butt!”

My therapist’s Golden Retriever is six years old and just now studying to be a service dog. She needs her license so that she can help her dad, but this means that she has to learn a whole new set of signals, different from what she learned in her obedience classes way back when. This has become a problem. She is a very bright girl, but she is getting confused. Her poor forehead crinkles and she can’t decide if she’s supposed to sit, stay, turn around, or leave the room.

"Help me, please."

“Help me, please.”

No wonder dogs use smell and yips and nips to communicate with each other; they must think that the human world is a tower of babel, with all of our different languages creating utter confusion. For dogs, the smell of “female, spayed, eats a lot of chicken,” is the same around the world.

The Snow Opera


When we are expecting a blizzard or snowpocalypse, the news shows start to take over the airwaves, covering each snowflake as it falls from the sky. And it’s exciting! It’s as if we’re all in the middle of a soap opera, waiting for each new drama to pop up. It makes me feel important when what’s going on outside my window has made national news. It’s something like what would happen if aliens invaded the earth. The level of drama and rhetorical hysteria is pretty similar.

The subways have stopped!

Don’t leave your house!

All of the bread is gone!

It's snowing!!!!!

It’s snowing!!!!!

Mom’s favorite thing about snowy days is the opportunity to watch our neighbors through the blinds of the living room windows. We can see the maintenance guys plowing the parking lot with their little golf cart, and neighbors shoveling their cars out with what look like plastic beach shovels. There’s a lot of yelling, from the louder of the two maintenance men, because people dare to walk on the walkways before they’ve been shoveled and salted, or try to drive to work before the parking lot is completely cleaned.


Butterfly is flying!

Butterfly is flying!

Because Cricket is coming after her!

Because Cricket is coming after her!

Mom finds it all very entertaining. There was the night when one of our neighbors shoveled out her car, for hours, even though it was expected to snow two times as much over night and her car was buried again by morning. Then there’s the woman who thinks that as long as she bundles up, she should be able to walk to the library in any blizzard. Some of the men help with the shoveling. One even has a plow on the front of his pickup truck and helps out when they need him. Then there are the alcoholics. We don’t see much of them in the winter.

Cricket, dressed up for the snow party.

Cricket, dressed up for the snow party.

The first snow day of the season was exciting. The whole world was planning to shut down for a day or two, and mayors and governors were on the news, with dramatic sign language interpreter’s doing modern dance routines at their sides. Suddenly, I had to make chicken soup, and bread, and cookies. I wasn’t even that hungry, but it reminded me of weather events from my childhood, spent in the kitchen with my mother and brother, drinking hot cocoa after building an igloo on the front lawn. Of course the food outlasted the snow by days.

"Where's the rest of the snow?"

“Where’s the rest of the snow?”

I remember a book called Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a mystery, I think, but what I remembered most were all of the different words for snow in Smilla’s mother’s language. So far this winter there’s been: a heavy, wet snow that comes from a rain/snow mix, and makes each shovel full almost impossible to lift; there’s been icy rain that lands in hard pellets on my head and then creates black ice within seconds so I can’t figure out where to put my feet; there’s been soft, powdery snow; and snow that develops a hard crack surface, so that the dogs seem to be breaking pieces of candy with each step; we’ve had tall, hard piles of snow; and lacy, bumpy layers of ice; and then there’s the slush, where it feels like someone poured their sorbet onto the sidewalk and it’s turning into soup as I walk through it.

Cricket has discovered a wonderful new game this winter – it is the cat poop treasure hunt. One of the feral cats has taken to climbing onto the snow mountains in the backyard, pooping, and then burying the poop with a little extra pile of snow. Cricket, with her very effective sniffer, discovered the first of these magic pellets before I knew anything about it. She came in from a walk with Grandma, jumped up onto my bed to wake me up, and pawed my face with cat pooped paws. It certainly woke me up – and then shocked her, because she landed in the bathtub immediately, along with my bed linens and pajamas. She was horrified, and confused. Here she’d brought me this wonderful gift and I was angry? Why?

Hershey, placing the treasure.

Hershey, placing the treasure,

and burying it.

and burying it.

Each time we go outside now, I watch Cricket carefully, and if that nose gets too interested in one spot or another, yank goes the leash. She tries to jump up onto the snow mountains herself, and then falls down the side when her paws fail to grip. She’s tried to poop on top of the cat poop, but she doesn’t think to hide her poop, and anyway, I’m always watching, and ruining her fun, removing her poop before she can bury it and create her own treasure hunt for later.

Someone tossed birdseed onto the back lawn one day and then it snowed, just a dusting, and you could see hundreds of bird footsteps in the snow, and now Cricket can’t stop sniffing. Those little feet must smell good.

The most upsetting thing this winter has been when they’ve promised me a snowmageddon, and it ends up being a little bit of rain. Rain?! What happened to all of that promised snow? I feel bereft. Now what am I going to do for entertainment?

"What's next?"

“What’s next?”


Drawing Pictures of Dogs


When I was in graduate school for fiction writing, one of my teachers complained that my work was too “heady” and not placed enough in down to earth details. She wanted descriptions of rooms, clothing, weather, anything to make it more believable that these scenes were happening somewhere outside of my loopy brain.

I had a lot of respect for that teacher, so during the summer I signed up for a local adult education class in drawing. I had hopes that I would immediately be able to capture scenes and squeeze depths of emotion from stale memories. I would suddenly understand color and shading, and line and texture, and I could design the clothes I always wanted to wear, and draw complicated murals on my walls.

The adult education art teacher was a little bit ethereal and not quite as down to earth as I’d hoped. Even her white hair seemed to be reaching up to the sky, unwilling to stay tacked down with barrettes. But I bought my supplies anyway: pencils and chalk and paper and erasers. I sat in the classroom and listened to lectures about shading, and perspective, and complementary colors. It was all a struggle, though. I had to push myself to go to class, and push myself to practice at home. My brain resisted each lesson with a ferocity I had not expected.

After six weeks of drawing lessons, it was time to move on to painting. I thought I would be excited, instead I was tense and short tempered when Mom and I went to the art store and scoured the aisles for all of the new items on the syllabus. I was uncomfortable with all of the money I was spending on supplies, but that did not really explain the panic rising up in me.

The night of the next class, Mom had to drive me, because otherwise I would not have been able to even start the car. The bag of art supplies felt like heavy bricks, and the school building cast a shadow like a haunted castle. When I reached the door of the classroom, where I’d safely entered six times before, I could not go in. I could barely even breathe. My body felt like it was filled with poison darts. I raced out of the building to the safety of the car and I couldn’t explain any of it to Mom as she dutifully drove me home. I couldn’t even tolerate keeping the paints – it all had to go back to the store. I never went back to the class.

I spent the rest of the summer working on the revisions for my novel, and deepening and dressing up the interior of the scenes as best I could, but I felt sick, and guilty, for having failed, inexplicably, to finish the adult education class.

I am prone to panic. Usually, if I feel twinges of that whirlwind going off in my head, it’s a sign that something is buried in that particular corner of my brain that needs to be excavated. Over the years I’ve been able to excavate a lot of those corners and draw off the panic, but certain land mines remain potent, and unexplained, no matter how many times I’ve tried to clean them out. And painting is one of those land mines. Maybe it’s just that I’m not talented in this particular area and, being a perfectionist, I hate that. Or maybe there’s something deeper and I’m not ready to see it yet. I don’t know.

I would love to be able to paint a picture of Butterfly’s eyes, and capture her moods more thoroughly than I can manage with a camera. I want to put Cricket down on paper, though she’s unlikely to actually stay there.

Butterfly's eyes speak volumes.

Butterfly’s eyes speak volumes.

Cricket is a blur.

Cricket is a blur.

I spent a lot of time last year just coloring, with pencils, working on a brain coloring book because it made me feel slightly less silly than the Little Mermaid coloring book I really wanted. Maybe what I should really do is print out pictures of Cricket and Butterfly in black and white and try to color them in. Cricket would look great in orange, with a blue Mohawk. And Butterfly could really come to life with a few touches of pink!

My coloring book.

My coloring book.





Maybe drawing pictures of the dogs would be a safe place to start.

The Smell of a Dog


We were in Queens one day, visiting my cousin, and she suggested a walk in the park. We must have gone to the wrong side of the park, though, because the only options we found were a playground, where dogs were not allowed, and a horse trail, marked by huge piles of horse poop in case we missed the sign.



We walked down the path and back, dodging horses and as many piles of poop as we could, and then we did our best to wipe the soles of our shoes before returning to the car. But no one told Cricket to do the same, so when she, inevitably, climbed up my neck and stretched out behind my head, she left horse poop aroma on my hair, on my coat, on the headrest, and on the seat belt.

"Um, Cricket, what's that smell?"

“Um, Cricket, what’s that smell?”

It was the seat belt that became a problem.

Even after putting everything I had been wearing into the laundry, and scrubbing the seat belt and seat and head rest with different cleansers, the smell refused to go away.

I don’t know if I am especially sensitive to smell, or if horse poop is especially offensive, but I had to hold the seat belt away from my body, with a paper towel, just to sit in the car for a ten minute ride. It was either that or not use the seat belt at all and tolerate the constant beeping of the seat belt alarm.

I was enraged and impatient. I felt like I was being punished by God, for something.

Mom couldn’t smell it. I don’t think this is simply a factor of aging – it’s always been this way. Smells bother me more than they bother her.

Mom thinks that my sensitivity to smell might be related to my other neurological problems, and since nothing has been diagnosed yet, despite too many tests, anything seems possible. But I think I’ve always been sensitive like this. I knew people by their smells even as a kid, and I was naïve enough to think it was okay to tell them that. No one wants to know that they smell, by the way, especially if they smell like blue cheese, but even if they smell like cookies. It’s like telling someone that you recognize them by the bumpy red rash on their face, when they were hoping to God that no one would notice, or at least that no one would ever mention it.

Smell is one of the most direct routes to memory, because of the way the brain is wired. One sniff of mildew can send me back to my grandparents’ house in Chappaqua, which had its own pond within feet of the garage. Turpentine is a memory slide back to my father’s Industrial Arts classroom, and the communal sink where we scrubbed ink and paint from our hands. Newsprint always gives off the faint smell of puppy diarrhea to me, because we used newspaper to fill the whelping box when we had a litter of puppies when I was a kid.

Puppies + Newspaper!

Puppies + Newspaper

When we finally took the car in to have the interior professionally cleaned, because of the horse poop, and the lingering smell of dog vomit in the back seat from an earlier trip, I felt like a weight had been lifted.

Mom thinks it was too expensive, I think it was worth ten times what we paid.

Not all dog related smells have the same extreme effect on me, though. Cricket smells of snot, and it’s not a totally unpleasant smell. Within hours after a trip to the groomer, the white hair under her eyes starts to turn brownish and then black with tears. I have plenty of occasions to smell Cricket’s face up close, because she likes to climb on me and stare into my eyes to compel scratches. I get a close up view, and sniff, of the salty, gummy, black goop that she does not want removed by human hands, or wash cloths, or scissors. It should be an offensive smell, but instead it’s a cozy, Cricket-y smell.

Cricket getting clean against her will.

Cricket getting clean against her will.

Butterfly has a whole chorus of smells: there’s some pretty bad breath from her not-so-good teeth; there’s the stale chicken smell that starts to waft from the top of her head once the shampoo smell dissipates; there’s the corn chip smell of her feet; and the generally dogly smell she develops as she runs and sweats and sniffs around the back yard. It’s amazing the smells I can get used to, and even look forward to, when they mean my puppies are nearby. I’ve realized that when a smell is attached to someone I love, it is easier to bear. Though I do have to be careful not to breathe in too deep.

"I smell?"

“I smell?”

When we’ve been away too long (say, more than an hour) the smell at the front door is of doggy drool, and it wafts up at me as soon as I open the door. The smell is the accumulation of hours of impatient waiting by the door; a cloud of moist unhappiness and dread. And yet, it makes me feel loved, and surrounded by dog, as if their leftover breath is embracing me as they jump and squeal to welcome me home.


The heavy breathing puppies at the door.

The heavy breathing puppies at the door.

The girls greet Mom with joy!

The girls greet Grandma!


A Butterfly Companion


Butterfly flits around like a ladybug. I always think she should be wearing ballet slippers and a tutu, the way she twirls and flies. She is gossamer. Her wings are so ethereal that they are almost invisible. Almost.

My Butterfly

My Butterfly

She doesn’t seem to be like any other dog I’ve known. I’m used to moody dogs, dogs with personality problems, dogs who use guilt to push me around, dogs who could be diagnosed using the DSM V. But Butterfly is a different. She poops and barks and begs for treats, yes, but she’s also untouchable in a way, so sweet as to be unreal.

"Gimme some sugar!"

“Gimme some sugar!”

In a way her butterfly-ness is upsetting, because she is always a bit out of reach. Cricket will jump on me and curl up on my chest, or my hip, while I’m sleeping. She scratches me and shrieks in my ear. She is solid and real and in vivid color. Butterfly is something other than that, an enigma at times, in deep thought about something I can’t know.

When Butterfly’s sugar is very low, she seems as light and airy as a butterfly; within moments she seems to lose most of her body weight; this is the most frightening thing, both for her and for me. Her eyes bulge and she alternates between staring into space and looking at me and shaking. She doesn’t know what to do. Even she thinks this is too much lightness to bear.

I feel so much safer when she is solid in my arms, or galloping down the hill. Then she is real and alive and none of her paws are reaching towards another world. But there is always this tendency to unreality with her. She drifts away, either because her physical health is shaky, or, more often, because she is lost in another state of mind, thinking of some other place, or thinking of nothing at all.

I wonder what she's thinking.

I wonder what she’s thinking.

My mom was kind of like this when I was growing up. When she was present, her love was obvious and full of joy, but then she would disappear, either leaving the house or just leaving her body, and there was no way to reach her. I always wanted to hug her, or yell at her, to bring her back to life, and to me. Mom also has the same sweetness and generosity of spirit as Butterfly, where you can’t quite believe how lucky you are to be loved so much.

I know that Butterfly loves me. When we go outside and she runs off for a minute and turns back, the joy in her face at seeing me, and the flying run she takes to return to me, is extraordinarily good for my self-esteem.

But she can be very independent. If she doesn’t want to be crowded, she’ll just walk away and find a place to be alone. When Cricket does this, she chooses a place nearby, where she can stare at me, and let me know that I have disappointed and annoyed her. But when Butterfly wants to be alone, it’s not about me; she’s not angry at me, or jealous of Cricket, or pouting, she just wants to be alone: on the mat by the front door, on the rug in my room when I’m not there, on the bathmat in the bathroom.

When Cricket is grumpy, she wants me to know about it.

When Cricket is grumpy, she wants me to know about it.

Butterfly prefers to keep her thoughts to herself.

Butterfly prefers to keep her thoughts to herself.

It would almost be better if she was reacting to something I’d done, because at least then I’d feel like I mattered.

It’s possible that a lot of things in my life have had this fleeting, ethereal quality to them, and I write it all down to capture it and remind myself that it was real and not just my imagination. I worry about that, about losing wisps of my life into the air as if they never happened, losing people and memories and emotions because I wasn’t quick enough to tie them down and secure them before the rains came.

I love Butterfly all the time, whether she is close and present, or dreamy and far away. But the pull of grief when she’s flitting away can be incredibly painful. There’s a reason why most people don’t have butterflies as pets.

White butterflies.

Butterfly’s white butterflies.

Looking For My Song


I used to write songs. This was a long time ago. I bought a Casio keyboard with my leaf-raking money when I was eleven or twelve, and tried to remember my years of piano lessons to pick out a melody. But I never felt like I could catch the song I was looking for.

I feel like being a musician, for me, is as impossible as being a dog. I don’t have the right internal organs to get there, no matter how much I might want to. I don’t have the right brain, the right ears, and the right fingers. I’m just not that person and I feel the loss acutely. Cricket and Butterfly have their own unique songs. They have particular patterns and rhythms and pitches that really get their message across, but I feel muted. I can write and speak my story, but I can’t sing it, and that leaves something essential unexpressed.

Cricket likes the sound of her own voice and uses it very specifically to express different emotions and needs. She rasps and squeaks, and cries and screams, she barks from her gut and shrills through her nose. She is a diva. She sings variations of the same song, using the same instrument, all day long.

Cricket, mid-Aria.

Cricket, mid-Aria.

Butterfly listens very closely when we’re outside. She collects sounds: like an airplane flying overhead, leaves rustling, a garbage truck rolling down the hill, geese chattering to each other, birds whooshing through the trees. I wonder if she’s looking for her song too, and sampling all of these sounds to see what resonates for her.

Butterfly, listening.

Butterfly, listening.

In college, in one of my early attempts at jumping around the curriculum, I took a class in music composition. I’d taken voice lessons and piano and felt like there was a whole segment of the musical world that I was missing, huge parts of the language that I could not understand. I did well in the class, because it was basically math with musical notes, but I felt like I was being starved for the real stuff, the “aha” stuff, because I couldn’t connect the math to the music. Maybe if I’d tried to stick it out and become a music major I’d have eventually found what I was missing, but most schools require proficiency in a musical instrument and a willingness to perform and I didn’t have either one.

I have a cousin who plays the cello professionally. She plays a regular cello and a baroque cello (don’t ask me what makes them different). She has spent her whole life becoming the cello and limiting the space between her body and the music until the music really does come through her and the cello at once. She inspired me, and I spent a year and a half trying to teach myself how to play the guitar, but I couldn’t make my fingers tolerate the work. My knuckles kept clicking and jamming, because, as one doctor told me forever ago, my ligaments are too loose to hold my bones together. And you would not believe how painful it is to press your soft fingertips against heavy guitar strings.

The most electric experience I’ve ever had with music is when ice skaters have been able to skate as if the music is coming through their bodies, Michelle Kwan could do this, and Kurt Browning and Torvill and Dean. I remember watching Julie Kent at American Ballet Theater, just watching her arms as if the music was living in her body and she was setting it free.

Julie Kent

Julie Kent

Michelle Kwan

Michelle Kwan

Music just seems so forlorn and naked without visual accompaniment. I feel lost, like I’m swimming in too-deep water, when I listen to music sometimes, as if the ground has fallen out from under me. I feel like I will be trapped in an emotional state I can’t identify, can’t tolerate, and can’t get out of. How is the music doing this?

Music is one of the most powerful things I know, and I feel this great need to create it, and control it, and I can’t do either one. I can just sample it, like Butterfly, and pick a sound from here and there to add to my collection. I think this might be enough, for now.

The girls are thinking about it.

The girls are thinking about it.

Yin and Yang, or, How We Resonate


Some people resonate with each other, not because they are objectively the same but because they complement each other in interesting ways. We often talk about yin and yang, where two people create a whole circle, but I tend to think more of melody and harmony. It’s not a circle with no holes, it’s a song that resonates and echoes.

Cricket and Butterfly are not a perfect match. First of all, they look too much alike. They have the same color hair, both white with apricot markings in mostly the same places. And they both bark, at different pitches, but not in a harmony of beautiful sound; they are not a choir, they are a cacophony of noise. They are not the same height, but also not opposites, like big and small or fat and skinny. They are just small and smaller. They don’t fill all of the possible spaces in the world with their two personalities, but sometimes they harmonize in interesting and beautiful ways.

Butterfly was very excited to meet Cricket on her first day home.

Butterfly was very excited to meet Cricket on her first day home.

Cricket was less excited.

Cricket was less excited.

"Okay, maybe she's not so bad."

“Okay, maybe she’s not so bad.”

Cricket is much more of a protector, wild with noise and ready to lunge at friends and strangers alike, and Butterfly is more of a conciliator, but not always. She is not always slow and Cricket is not always fast. But they have worked out, as sisters. They have not camped out at opposite sides of the apartment, hissing at each other like cats. They do not ignore each other. Sometimes they snuggle or sleep close by each other. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes one is going crazy and the other stands by with a lifted eyebrow, but then the roles reverse.

Cricket, protecting the world from the inherent violence of sticks.

Cricket, protecting the world from the inherent violence of sticks.

Butterfly, meditating on the absence of chicken treats.

Butterfly, meditating on the absence of chicken treats.

They often like to walk in opposite directions, to see how far my arms can stretch away from my body.

Sometimes the girls even work together.

Sometimes the girls even work together.

I think we have this unreachable ideal of perfection in love, of black and white, all or nothing, that two people either match perfectly or they don’t match at all. But what if it’s not supposed to be just two people completing each other? Maybe no one person is the perfect and whole complement to any other person, because that wouldn’t leave room for anything or anyone else. Even the happiest couples crave children, or friendships, or dogs, teachers, or coworkers, or clergy. There has to be some room left over in a couple for the rest of the world to filter in – not like a great flood whooshing through the relationship and wiping everything out, but room for more people, more ideas, more emotions. There are so many couples at my synagogue who have lasted 40, 50, and 60 years together and they still leave room for other people and activities and ideas. They accept that there are unfilled spaces between them, and that that’s a good thing.

Both of my dogs resonate with me (I did choose them after all). Cricket’s Sturm und Drang and high drama and need for closeness speak of the volume of emotion coursing through me all my life. The noise of her happiness and pain and excitement and rage, and her unbearable joy in love and curiosity and new things, resonates with me. And the way she studies the things she loves so carefully and with such attention, is just like me.



Butterfly is this sweet grief, this place of joy and pain mixed together that I remember from visiting my grandfather, and going out for ice cream sundaes at six in the morning because Grandma couldn’t stand to wake up to children in her house. Butterfly is joy tempered by patience, and when she knows what she needs, endless stubbornness and knowledge that she is right. We are the same! This is me! Well, not all of me, but some. And I could make room for more soul mates like these, because there is more of me to be met.

"I think I can...I think I can."

“I think I can…I think I can.”

I am always on the lookout for people who will resonate with me and I’ve had to learn to give the chemistry more time to grow – but there are still people who, right away, glow for me; people whose energy reaches across the room to me so that I can feel it in my fingers and on my face. I don’t understand this. I worry that I can’t live without this kind of glow.

What if, in two or three ways, you have that full on orchestral sound in your ears with someone, but on the fourth note: cacophony? Or, you’re both in sync, but your families hate the sound of each other? Or what if your families like each other and you have no major cacophonies, but the harmonies between you are only middling, is that better?

I don’t know. Maybe I should just leave it to Cricket to decide.

She's ready.

She’s ready.