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Ellie’s Grey Eye

            For a few days in a row, Ellie’s left eye was a little bit red and she occasionally seemed reluctant to open it, but she’d had similar symptoms before and they usually cleared up on their own, so I wasn’t worried. The vet had given us an ointment way back when, but when we ran out we didn’t bother to get it refilled. When I saw the redness in Ellie’s eye I had it in the back of my mind to call the vet and ask if she should come in, or if we could just refill the old prescription, but it didn’t feel like an emergency.

“Really?”

            And then, at around ten thirty one night, Ellie looked up at me (to tell me that it was time to go out for the final walk of the day) and her left eye, almost all of it, was grey. It looked like a particularly opaque cataract, except that her eye had been clear just a little while before. I started to panic. My baby was going blind! She had multi-system organ failure that was showing up first in her eye! The emergency vet clinic would cost thousands of dollars I did not have, but how could I not rush her out to the car right away!

            I was freaking out.

“EEEEEK!”

            Mom went to the computer to google the symptoms while I watched Ellie dance around on her toes to let me know that she really, really, really wanted to go outside. There were a bunch of possibilities, like a sudden cataract or irritation, Mom said, so let’s wash her eye with warm salt water and see of that helps. We took the girls out for their walk, because they were now barking up a storm, but I was still freaking out. When we got back inside I made the salt water mixture and held Ellie in the bathroom sink and poured the water over her eye, over and over again, to her great frustration. I was hoping the greyness would just disappear with the water, but no such luck. At least the salt water didn’t seem to be hurting her (though she was very annoyed at getting wet and required serious treats as a reward).

            I went to sleep that night worried that I was condemning my baby to death, or at least blindness, by not rushing her to the emergency vet, but Mom said we would go to Ellie’s own doctor the next day and he would know what to do. I was not convinced. I had nightmares about stray dogs coming to my house for help with serious medical problems and I couldn’t help them. The guilt was endless and I woke up feeling like the most awful, selfish, hopeless, incapable person to ever live. And then Ellie came running into my room with a smile on her face and almost no greyness left in her eye.

            Oh Lord.

            We made the appointment with the vet anyway, and did everything we could do to distract Cricket while shuttling Ellie out of the apartment. Ellie cried in the car, but she always does that. She sits in the back seat and makes very high pitched conversation with us, to make sure we don’t forget she’s back there (when her sister is in the car with her, Cricket will climb behind my neck, in the passenger seat, to deal with her anxiety and leave Ellie in the back on her own anyway).

“Hey! Don’t forget about me!”

            By the time we’d reached the vet’s office, and the vet tech came out to get Ellie, I actually had to point out which eye was bothering her, because it was hard to see even the redness now. And then we had to sit in the car and wait. I hate this. Going to the vet is always anxiety producing (for me almost as much as for my dogs), but at least I can be there with them to give them comfort and ask questions and remind the doctor of whatever I think he needs to know. With Covid, I just have to sit in the car and wait while they steal my baby away from me.

            Eventually, the doctor came out and told me that Ellie had had a thorn in her eye (!) and he’d removed it, but there was an ulceration at the wound site and she would need eye drops twice a day, and she’d have to come back in a week to have her eye examined again to make sure it was healing. The vet has something of a hang dog face to begin with, but he looked even sadder this time, clearly upset for what my baby girl had been through; which sort of helped, but also sort of made me worry more.

            Then the vet tech brought Ellie back out to the car and, other than the yellow stain on the hair around her eye from the examination, Ellie looked fine. She was eager to get onto her own feet and get the hell out of there, and she had a lot to say about her adventure on the drive home.

            As soon as we got home, Ellie and Cricket had a tête à tête about the vet visit (mostly Ellie reassuring Cricket that she really didn’t miss anything good), and Cricket seemed to be reassured. They both got a treat for their different traumas and then bedded down for their afternoon naps.

            My first attempt at giving Ellie her eye drops that night was not especially successful (she kept closing her eye so that the drop just rolled down her face, but I eventually figured out how to tilt her head back far enough to get the drop into her actual eye). Once she got the hang of the eye drop routine, though, she got so excited about the treat-to-come that she started to dance around before I could get the drop into her. By the end of the week I just accepted that I would never be good at this, and if it took three drops before one got into her actual eye, so be it.

            We never figured out how Ellie had gotten a thorn in her eye, but given her propensity for rolling around on the floor, bed, and ground whenever and wherever she can, it’s not a big mystery. Days after her visit to the vet she managed to get what I hope was just poop on her back (we have dead mice out there in the yard, and who knows what else I don’t what to know about), and she had to have a full bath to wash it all off, and of course treats to make it better, which meant that along with the twice daily eye drop treats she and her sister had pretty much hit the jackpot.

            We went back to the vet after a week of eye drops and he stained her eye again and there was no sign of the ulceration. I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be, because of how healthy and wide open and brown her eye looked, but we had to check and make sure.

            So now we’re back to the usual problems – with Cricket intimidating Ellie away from Grandma, and off the couch, and away from the leftovers meant for both of them. Not that any of that went away while Ellie was suffering; Cricket doesn’t believe in having mercy on an injured opponent. She takes any advantage she can get.

“Who me?”

            G’mar Chatima Tova! To another year of silliness and treats and good health for everyone!

P.S. Ellie begs for treats even while she’s sleeping

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Hebrew Class, Continued

            The night before my online Hebrew class started, I suddenly got anxious. I had the link to the class ready, and the WhatsApp group set up on my phone, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect. I had nightmares that night about racing around Long Island trying to get to my class on time, and, of course, continually missing the class. And when I woke up, the anxieties just multiplied. What if the class was too hard? Or too easy? What if I didn’t like the teacher? Or my classmates? What if I couldn’t stay focused for 90 minutes at a time? What if there were too many students in the class and it was too easy to fade into the background? Or what if there were too few students and I felt like I was being watched and judged the whole time? What if the teaching method overwhelmed me? Or I forgot all of my Hebrew? Or I got bored? Or I was already exhausted by the time the class started and couldn’t keep my eyes open?

Huh?”

            The hours leading up to the class dragged by, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything except the endless worries. But, when I sat down in front of my computer and logged into class, it was fine. There were ten students, not too few or too many, and the teacher was friendly; she made sure everyone could participate and she repeated conjugations and sentences as many times as necessary for us to catch on. The class felt a little bit easy, but that was a relief for day one. The only real problem was trying to figure out the tech (I didn’t understand how to use the WhatsApp group or the Quizlet flashcards), but I survived, and the nightmares went away.

Sweet Dreams

            The second class, a few days later, was more challenging and moved faster, and I started to feel like a spigot was opening up in my brain and my long dormant Hebrew vocabulary was starting to flow again. Except, I felt kind of bad about how easy it all was, as if I’d taken the easy way out by accepting the level I’d been put in, instead of challenging myself to go into the next level up. And I felt lazy for not pushing myself to study more between classes, or watch more movies in Hebrew, or seek out random Israelis to talk to.

            The thing is, I still forget words in Hebrew that I should know, like the word for “to study,” or I confuse the conjugations for You (f) and She. And I feel the squeeze in my gut, and the beginning of humiliation that after all these years I still can’t master Hebrew. And then there’s this old feeling, where I worry that I’m showing off too much and that if I make a stupid mistake my classmates and my teacher will say, Gotcha, you’re not so great after all. But, actually, that hasn’t happened in this class, at all.

            Even in the practice groups, on different days, with different teachers and classmates, the overall vibe is eager but non-judgmental; everyone is trying and everyone is making mistakes and it’s kind of great.

“Yeah!”

            We spend a lot of time in our class just repeating the words the teacher gives to us, both asking the set questions and giving the set responses in turn; so not only are we saying the words, but we’re hearing them over and over, creating a sort of muscle memory for common phrases.

            My favorite thing is how much we’re learning about the Tel Avivians who created the class materials through the sentences they have us saying. We learn how to say: my back hurts, my teeth hurt, or my legs hurt because I was walking all day; I didn’t get to it because I had a crazy day; I missed the party because the traffic was crazy; and I’m tired because I work all day every day including the weekend. You can get a pretty good idea of a culture from the kinds of things they teach newcomers how to say.

“Woof.”

One of my favorite new phrases is Al HaPanim which translates as “on the face,” or “falling on my face” which basically means, I feel terrible. I definitely want to teach that one to my synagogue school students. By the time they get to class, after a full day at regular school, they really, really love to complain; why not give them a chance to do it in Hebrew?!

            My social anxiety is still an issue. I feel embarrassed when I have to make conversation about my life and my answers sound childish or uncool. I’m also self-conscious about the way I look on screen, especially because my living room is warm in the summer, even with the air conditioner on (it’s a big room and the air conditioner is far away from my desk), so I get kind of sweaty. Ideally, I would be the kind of person who blow dries her hair and puts on make-up before every class, but I am not, so my hair is usually up in a ponytail and my bangs are either stuck to my forehead or floating in the air willy nilly. So be it.

“MY hair looks fine.”

            I still get anxious before every class, of course, and I still hurry up and do my homework right away out of fear that I’ll forget everything I learned within minutes. I’m still me; but I’m trying. And even when I’m anxious or overwhelmed, learning Hebrew still seems to fill up an important place in my heart where my kindergarten self is always hungry for more; so it’s worth the trouble.

My hope is that all of this practice speaking Hebrew, and making mistakes and moving on anyway, will help create circuits in my brain that will be useful in other parts of my life as well. That’s always the goal – that each time I challenge myself to learn something new I’m actually healing my brain, and becoming more fully myself.

“Like me!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Cricket and the Pee

            I was slow to notice the excess peeing. We have wee wee pads by the front door of the apartment, despite taking the dogs out four times a day, and over the summer we noticed that the wee wee pads were getting filled faster than usual. But I couldn’t determine which one of the dogs was peeing extra, and it didn’t really seem important, except for the cost of the wee wee pads adding up.

            But then there were tiny puddles, not even puddles, just wet spots really, on the dog beds, on the couch, and Cricket was licking herself clean more often, and Mom was getting concerned. So we moved up Cricket’s yearly Vet appointment from December to November and had the doctor check her out. He did pee tests and blood tests and checked her ears (both ears were infected after so long without the hair being removed) and her teeth (a mess), and her spine (she’s had lower back issues in the past). But the Vet said she was in good health and most likely the problem was incontinence related to aging. He made an unfortunate comment about females tending toward incontinence in their older years, but at least he was awkward about it.

“Rude much?”

            He prescribed a medication to help relieve the incontinence, and cleaned Cricket’s ears, and told us to schedule a dental cleaning, despite her advanced years (she’s thirteen and a half). He also told us to keep her away from the groomer for ten days, because of the medicine he’d put in her ears, even though a haircut was clearly overdue.

            We started Cricket on the incontinence meds, twice a day, and watched for any improvements, but if anything the peeing issue got worse. We finally got her to the groomer a few weeks later and by then her hair had to be cut very short, but more than that, the groomer said that her pee smelled bad and the hair in that area was discolored and it seemed like an infection. We called the Vet and he told us to switch from the incontinence medication to an antibiotic for the next ten days.

            But again, nothing improved. The pee puddles got bigger and more frequent. We were doing an enormous amount of laundry and found reusable dog diapers at Petco, but they didn’t work (the pee leaked through the hole left for her tail).

            We called the Vet again and he suggested a urine culture, more sensitive than a regular pee test apparently, once she’d finished the antibiotics. We made an appointment for two days after the last dose of antibiotics, but then the snowstorm intervened and we got a last minute appointment on that Wednesday afternoon, right before the snow was supposed to start, with one of the other veterinarians in the practice.

            Cricket was anxious in the car, as she always is before going to the Vet, and shaking, but when the Vet Tech came to get her through the car window, Cricket went without a fight. They only needed a pee sample, so we expected the visit to be pretty quick. I wandered over to the CVS next door to get some colored markers and butter cookies, to get me through the snow storm, and I was surprised that Cricket wasn’t back in the car before I was. Mom was starting to get a little bit worried about the delay, but not too worried, yet.

            The substitute Vet came to my window a while later, after the snow had started to swirl. I didn’t recognize her with her mask on, even though we’d met her once or twice over the years. She wasn’t acting like herself, though. She was sort of hysterical. At first I thought she was telling me that Cricket was a difficult patient, which I knew very well, and that Cricket had been anxious during the procedure, but then the Vet said, “I thought she was going to die!” and everything changed. She said that Cricket had peed all over the place, including all over her, and there was blood in the urine, and then she seemed to go into shock (Cricket, not the Vet) and, the Vet repeated, “I was afraid she was going to die right there!”

            I was having a very hard time following her narration, because it was out of order and unexpected, and it seemed like the Vet was angry or scared or something else I couldn’t pinpoint, and I couldn’t make sense of any of it given that Cricket had only gone in for a urine culture. She told us that they’d been sitting with Cricket in the office, monitoring her vitals, and she was going to give Cricket subcutaneous fluids, and medication for shock, and then she could let Cricket sit with us in the car, as long as we didn’t leave.

            Cricket came out in the arms of the Vet Tech, looking listless and frail. She sat on my lap and seemed to weigh nothing at all. I kept talking to Cricket and petting her and trying to reassure myself that she was going to be okay, but I really wasn’t sure. I could feel the pocket of liquid under her skin from the fluids. Mom and I went over the things the Vet had said and shared our confusion. I was on the edge of tears, constantly rehearing “she’s going to die!” and Mom was trying to keep things together and stay calm, but it was rough.

            Gradually, Cricket started to recover and look around. When she climbed behind my neck, readying herself for the drive home, I knew she was out of danger, but we still had to wait for an okay from the Vet before we could leave. She came outside as the snow was getting thicker and she checked Cricket’s gums, and looked in her eyes, and said we could take Cricket home as long as we promised to call in half an hour with an update, or else she (the Vet) wouldn’t be able to get to sleep that night.

“Grr. Times two.”

            It took most of a day for Cricket to recover from her urine culture, but she did recover. We ordered new diapers, measured to fit Cricket’s shape and not just her weight, but with the delays in shipping for Christmas we had to make do with spreading towels everywhere for a while. It took five days to get results from the urine culture – positive for two infections – and a prescription for a stronger antibiotic. There was no explanation for the episode at the Vet’s office, though. And it was still unclear if the incontinence was caused by the infections, or if the infections were caused by the incontinence.

            I kept thinking about my friend Teddy, the black miniature poodle, who died over the summer at age fifteen from a sudden onset kidney disorder. He was a little bit older than Cricket, and had a little more blindness and deafness going on, but still, his death was unexpected. I’m not ready for Cricket to be an old dog. The way she allowed me to put the reusable diapers on her scared me – normal Cricket would have tried to rip my fingers off for trying such a thing. She even let us wash her, occasionally.

Teddy and Cricket, a few years back.

            The new diaper arrived, a light pink with Velcro straps, and Cricket let us put that on her too, though she made it clear that it was not her preference. There was only one diaper in the package, instead of the three we expected, so there was still a lot of washing and drying to do, with one memorable night spent hurrying the process with a hair dryer.

            About a week into the second course of antibiotics Cricket woke up shivering one morning, similar to the way she’d done during her Vet visit for the urine culture. We sat with her and massaged her back and whispered to her until she seemed to be okay, and then we called her regular Vet. He said to take a video if she had another episode, but he wasn’t too worried. He was more concerned with her continuing pee puddles and he wanted us to start the second incontinence medication right away. Mom drove to the Vet’s office that afternoon and we gave Cricket the first dose of DES, a synthetic estrogen meant to tighten the urethral sphincter, with her antibiotic and hamburger, that night.

Within twenty four hours of starting the DES Cricket’s puddling stopped. It’s possible that the antibiotic finally kicked in at the same time, but the correlation with the start of the DES was convincing. Cricket got through a whole night with a dry diaper, and then a whole day without a diaper and without any accidents. We put the diaper on her for the next two nights, just in case, but she had figured out how to take it off and she would leave it, still velcroed closed, on the edge of Mom’s bed while she went to pee on the wee wee pad.

She’s feeling much better, and she thinks she still deserves hamburgers every morning and very night, despite finishing the second course of antibiotics. She’s back to peeing only on the wee wee pad and outdoors with no accidents. But, this was not the answer I was hoping for. I wanted so badly for this to be a one-time infection, because incontinence, while treatable, is a sign that she is really aging now. I want to celebrate and feel the relief that she is back to normal, or normal for Cricket, but I’m worried about what might come next.

Ellie has found the whole situation confusing. On the one hand there have been many more treats to go along with Cricket’s medications (hamburgers, peanut butter, chicken livers, anything to get Cricket interested), and Ellie always gets her share, but there’s also been a lot of extra attention going to Cricket instead of to happy little Ellie. For example, Ellie was very jealous of the diaper. For a while there she reminded me a lot of Dobby the House Elf, from the Harry Potter Books, desperate for a piece of clothing of her own. But then our neighbor found out that the sweater she’d ordered as a Christmas present for her brother’s dog was too small for him, and she offered it to us. Cricket, feeling much better already, refused to put her paws through the armholes to try it on, but Ellie was thrilled! Finally, a present just for her! She wore it for a night and a day and had her picture taken and celebrated with some zoomies out on the lawn. The only problem with the sweater is that it covers all of the places where she wants to be scratched and petted, and she eventually decided that scratchies were more important than fashion. So the sweater has been put aside, awaiting the next snow day, when she can wear it out in public and run around in circles and get all of the attention she craves.

“I have clothes!”

I’m sure Cricket will be fine with that. Maybe.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Passover on Lockdown

 

By the third week of lockdown I started to feel the isolation kicking in. I don’t know what made the difference; maybe it was when I started to feel pressure to make videos for synagogue school, or when I rushed to the local grocery store (on news of toilet paper) and found out that I was the only person not wearing a surgical mask (the cashier sold me some at the checkout counter, but by then I already felt like I’d been branded with the cooties). It was the first time I’d been at a store for a week, and it made me feel like hiding out in a bunker for another few months.

IMG_1414

“That works for us.”

I’m having a hard time concentrating, and sleeping, and my nightmares have followed me into lockdown. The anxiety seems to be creating weird attention deficit symptoms (ADD is not usually one of my diagnoses), and I’m having trouble focusing on any one thing for very long. I keep interrupting myself and jumping around from task to task, and then falling asleep for hours because I’ve exhausted myself. Even trying to write this essay feels like grabbing at thoughts trapped in helium balloons that are trying to escape out the window.

I’ve been outside a lot, because of the dogs, but we mostly stick to the backyard of the co-op. Most of our neighbors are careful about keeping ten or twenty feet away, instead of just six, but that’s what they did before the virus too. We walked the dogs up the hill one day, when I had more energy, but seeing the empty train station parking lot, and the empty streets, was disconcerting.

IMG_1408

Though some creatures like the wide open spaces.

I’ve spent hours on Pinterest looking for information on how to use Zoom, and Google Forms, and how to make and upload videos, and looking for games and puzzles and all kinds of things to share with my synagogue school students, on bible passages and Passover and moral lessons, but, you know, funny. And then there’s the time spent on Facebook and YouTube, which just seems to pass without my knowledge.

I’ve been exercising more than usual, trying to wear out the anxiety, and I found a murder mystery series from Australia starring Lucy Lawless (Xena Warrior Princess!), that was a lovely break from the news. But then I ran out of new episodes, and the panic returned.

We celebrated Mom’s birthday in lockdown, with a homemade chocolate chip yogurt cheesecake and lots of calls from family and friends. Oh, and I did the cleaning that day, not the next though.

We heard from my brother’s family for Mom’s birthday, and his wife, also a doctor on the front lines of this pandemic, said that my brother is doing more telemedicine than in-person ER work lately. Even if it’s not true, it was a nice attempt to reassure Mom that her baby boy is going to be okay.

delilah and scott2

My brother’s the one on the left

Mom has been sewing constantly. First there were the cloth grocery bags (because New York forbade plastic bags at the grocery stores starting March first – great timing!), but then most of the stores loosened the rules on plastic bags, probably because they didn’t want us dragging our germy cloth bags through their stores, so Mom moved on to making cloth masks. The first prototype was thick and had a hepa filter in it and suffocated me, but the next design was easier to wear and only made my glasses fog up a few times, so now she’s making tons of them to send to family and friends.

I finally received my latex gloves from Amazon this week, so now I feel a little better about doing the laundry, because for a while there I worried that I was picking up germs from one doorknob and transferring them to another, and killing everyone.

I hear different estimates for how long we’ll be in lockdown. We are supposedly, maybe, in the apex of the thing right now, but who knows. We could get multiple apexes, especially if we leave lockdown too soon. At the very least, we’re going to be practicing social distancing, and wearing masks and gloves, into the middle of the summer.

The hardest thing for me is trying to forgive myself for struggling through this. My expectations of myself are always much higher than I can live up to, and now is no different. I have to keep reminding myself that I am doing enough, even on the days when I’m not doing much at all. And I hate the anxiety. I hate the way it makes my heart beat too fast, and makes me nauseous, and makes it feel like shards of glass are traveling through my veins and airways. And I hate the way it makes me so sure that everything is my fault and everything would be within my control if I just tried hard enough. My little yoga practice helps, sometimes, when the anxiety starts to tell me that I should be able to earn more degrees, and write more novels, and learn how to fly, during all of this free time.

Even Governor Cuomo, Mister tough guy, acknowledged that mental health has been an issue for him, and his daughters, and his dog. Exercise helps, and being heard helps too. Maybe that’s why he does a press conference every day.

Ellie likes to sit on my lap for our noon Zoom sessions with the clergy from our synagogue. One day I even brought a pair of scissors over, to trim the mats from her ears and tail, because those forty-five minutes are her most docile of the day, but I can’t imagine what the other people on the Zoom must have been thinking.

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“They were thinking that my Mommy is insane.”

Cricket prefers the streaming services on Friday nights, probably because we sit on the couch to watch those in our pajamas. That’s more her speed. She needs the rest after long days spent screaming at possible zombies, or squirrels, passing by our door.

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Cricket likes when the cantor sings to her.

I’m too aware of how well other people are adapting to the shutdown, and adapting to the technology, while I struggle just to keep my head above water. I watch as my fellow synagogue school teachers make videos and run Zoom classes, while I’m still trying to learn how to do Google Forms. I watch all of the videos people are making on Facebook, where they’re making chair lifts and fake snow hills in their backyards, or singing incredible duets, or making Covid 19 parodies to keep people entertained, and I feel like a turtle, no, slower than a turtle, more like a snail.

I feel like the kid standing ten feet behind the diving board, watching while everyone else lines up to dive in. And all of this is making me even more anxious about what happens once the shutdown ends, and even more changes take place in the world, and I need to keep catching up, or at least running behind with the stragglers, to prove that I’m trying to keep up, even if I won’t ever actually catch up.

I guess Passover is an appropriate time for this type of internal crisis. I am in the Sea of Reeds, waiting for God to part the waters. I jumped in with everyone else, because I couldn’t stand the peer pressure of standing on the shore, and because I didn’t want to be killed by the Egyptian solders rushing to capture us, but while everyone ahead of me has faith that the waters will part, or that they will be able to swim to the other side, I am treading water, barely breathing, and holding onto the tiniest bit of hope that I won’t drown.

We never hear that version of the story. We hear about the brave ones who jump in first and lead the rest to safety, or the evil ones who chase them into the sea, but I’m the type of person who jumps in because I see no other option, and I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I’m already scared of what’s going to happen after we make it to the other side and have to then travel through the desert, which is full of even more unknowns. But I’m holding on anyway.

We had two communal Zoom Seders in our congregation, one for each night. They weren’t perfect, of course. Sometimes the sound dropped out, or the shared-screen froze, or people forgot to mute themselves. But we were brought together when we really needed togetherness to help us manage the fear and isolation. We have a virtual place to go while the real world is off limits, and I can bring my dogs with me to that safe place.

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So, yes, I’m scared, and overwhelmed, and feeling intimidated and not good enough, but I’m also feeling held and seen, and feeling like, just when I thought the bottom was going to drop out of the universe and send us hurling through space, we’ve created a magic carpet to catch our fall.

There’s a song that we sing a lot in our congregation, in Hebrew and English and in many different musical versions, but the line that resonates the most for me is:

“Spread a canopy of peace, a canopy of love, for everyone.”

And that’s what it feels like we are doing, with all of our Zooms and YouTube videos and group freak out sessions on Facebook. We are creating a patchwork canopy of peace for everyone to grab onto. It’s not like standing on solid ground, but when there’s no solid ground it’s a pretty damn good substitute.

Ellie and the Afikomen

“Okay, but what’re you gonna give me for this piece of Matzah I just found?”

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

 

CBD oil for dogs, and maybe for me

 

A number of different people have been singing the praises of CBD oil for their dogs lately, so Mom decided that we should try it out on Cricket. Cricket is eleven and a half years old and has struggled with a reactive nervous system her whole life, and a tendency to back injuries over the past few years. The hope was that the CBD oil could help ease her pain and calm her down, maybe even make her less reactive to loud (or almost imperceptible) noises, and less likely to bark at random neighbors trying to enter or leave their apartments. We’ve tried Prozac and Neurontin and doggy Xanax in the past, without great results, so, I agreed that it was worth a shot. And they sell CBD oil at the local pet store, in bottles and baked into doggy cookies. I assumed that CBD oil, being made of hemp, would be the equivalent of marijuana, and require a prescription, but I did some research online and, supposedly, CBD oil has no THC, which is what gives Marijuana its psychoactive properties. That means you can even buy CBD oil on Amazon!

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“I’m not grumpy!”

We bought a packet of CBD cookies at the pet store, because Mom got a recommendation for a specific brand from a friend. I was a little nervous about giving Cricket her first dose, because I’d been hearing stories about humans vomiting prolifically after a single unregulated dose of CBD oil, so I broke the cookie in half, and Ellie volunteered to eat the second half. I watched both dogs for the next few hours, more for signs of distress than expecting any great miracles right away, but there was no vomiting, and no seizures, and Cricket even smiled at me, though it’s really dry in the apartment with the heat up, and it’s possible that her lip just got stuck on her teeth. I refilled her water bowl, just in case. Both girls ate a lot of chicken after their CBD snacks, but it’s chicken, and they don’t need to have the munchies to make them overeat chicken. Ellie did go ahead and eat through the parchment paper the chicken had been baked on, but that’s also something she’s prone to do, without the excuse of drugs making her do it.

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“Mmm. Chicken.”

The second day’s dose went similarly, without event, nothing negative and nothing specifically positive either. So for day three we decided to give Cricket half a dose in the morning and half in the afternoon (slathered with plenty of peanut butter, because once her sister was not sharing the treat anymore all of Cricket’s motivation to eat it disappeared). We finally gave her a whole treat on the fourth day, but the only noticeable result was a tiny bit more napping, which is hard to prove, since Cricket naps quite a lot as it is. We wondered if maybe the treats were the wrong form for her and we should try the oil tincture instead, but we put off a second trip to the pet food store, because, laziness.

The thing is, when I went to a new Rheumatologist this past fall, to see if there was some good alternative to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) I’ve been taking for ten years, which have been known to cause kidney damage, the doctor suggested CBD oil. At the time I said a polite no, because I assumed she meant medical marijuana, and that I’d need a prescription, and then I’d have to find one of the few dispensaries on Long Island, and then I’d end up hallucinating, and then eating the whole contents of the pantry in one sitting.

But a couple of days after Cricket’s CBD experiment, my own pain ratcheted up, and I saw the little bag of CBD dog treats sitting on top of the bookcase, abandoned, and decided to give it a try. I don’t generally feel tempted to eat dog food, and the first taste reminded me why: it did not taste good. Supposedly it was pumpkin flavored, but it didn’t taste like much of anything, except bitterness. I couldn’t force myself to finish it, so I shared the last few bites with the dogs, who looked up at me like, see what we have to put up with?

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“We suffer so much.”

            I took a nap soon after, and woke up feeling better; I was even able to get some exercise done. I didn’t want to make a habit of eating dog treats, but when the pain kicked in again the next day I shared the last treat with the girls, took another nap, and woke up feeling like the world might not be ending, at least not right away. Mom, because she’s a reasonable and responsible adult, said that I should call and make an appointment with the Rheumatologist to get a prescription for CBD oil or the equivalent. But I hate going to doctors, and I have no patience, so I went on Amazon and ordered the nonprescription form of CBD oil for humans. I studiously avoided the edibles (gummy bears! brownies!). I have a hard enough time eating a single cookie as it is, if you hand me a bag of gummy bears and tell me to eat only one you’re basically sending me to the hospital. I also ordered a separate bottle of CBD oil for dogs, in case there’s a difference.

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“We like Gummy Bears.”

We’ll see how it goes!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl.

yeshiva girl cover

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

Cricket’s Anxiety Disorder

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Cricket’s anxiety has increased tenfold since Miss Butterfly died this summer. It’s been five years since we’ve seen Cricket quite this clingy and over the top; not that she was calm and pleasant during Butterfly’s tenure, but she was at least demonstrably better. She’s at a level ten now (or an eleven, really), but for a few years she managed to get down to a seven, or even a six on occasion, with Miss B’s help. Now, Cricket is bullying her Grandma more than ever: physically pushing Grandma around, instead of just moping, and leaning on her, and making puppy dog eyes. If Grandma dares to eat something, Cricket will sit in front of her and yell – “Where’s mine!” – endlessly, until she gets her share. She doesn’t do this with me, partly because she knows I’m a harder nut to crack, but also because I know how to deploy “the look,” persistently, until she loses hope and hides under her couch in frustration. But giving that look wears me out, and the effect is only temporary.

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“Harrumph.”

 

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Cricket has her own version of “the look.”

 

The fact is, Miss Butterfly was the best medicine for all of us. She brought happiness and peace with her everywhere she went. Cricket was pretty sure Butterfly radiated calm from her butt, and therefore sniffed it regularly. Butterfly could even get in Cricket’s face, in a non-threatening way, and interrupt a tantrum.

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It seems obvious that my only option, for the sake of Cricket’s sanity, and Mom’s, is to go out and look for another dog, someone mature and generous and compassionate, to act as Cricket’s therapy dog when needed, and her friend the rest of the time. But I’m not ready. When I try to think about finding a replacement for Miss B, I fall apart. I know I‘m being selfish. I feel cruel leaving Cricket in her current state, just because I’m not ready to let go of Butterfly, and the illusion that she could come back, somehow.

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In the near future, we will be pet sitting for an old friend of Cricket’s, a nice old gentleman who used to be my therapy dog, and will now make an effort to bark Cricket into shape, if he can. And then we’ll see. Hopefully having Teddy around will also help me become ready for a new dog, but his Mom made me promise that I won’t try to keep him.

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We’ll see.

I Hate Driving on Highways

 

I will have to drive on a lot of highways this year for school, and I’m not happy about it. I hate the short entrance ramps, and being squished between two trucks, and having no stop signs to rest at. My ability to read road signs and drive at the same time is very limited.

I did a practice drive for an interview a few weeks ago, with Cricket in the car. I had already done one practice drive and I kind of thought it would be good to practice again, with some distractions. I did not realize that Cricket’s car anxiety had ratcheted up quite so high that she would try to climb behind my neck while I was driving and screech at the top of her lungs. She clearly thinks she can drive better than I can. I’m not sure she’s wrong.

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Don’t worry, neither one of us is driving in this picture.

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“I would be so good at this.”

I’m overwhelmed by the number of highways that even exist on Long Island: the Northern State, the Southern State, the Meadowbrook, the Long Island Expressway, the Cross Island parkway. There are more highways further out on the island, but I don’t know their names, and hopefully will not be required to drive on them any time in the near future.

The worst, for me, are the exits that are so curvy and loopy that they turn you more than 360 degrees around, and some guy behind me always thinks I should be taking this roller-coaster at high speed. Not gonna happen.

I have to stay very present while I’m driving and make sure not to drift off into thoughts, of any kind, because I have a tendency to lose track of lane lines when I’m distracted. And if I get too comfortable, I’ll forget when I need to shift lanes in order to avoid hidden exits that will take me out to the Hamptons (though, that could be nice).

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Cricket loves the beach

Driving has never been my favorite thing in the world. It took me a long time to even attempt highway driving because of the speed and the feeling of being pushed along by peer pressure. I can almost hear the other drivers complaining about me from inside of their cars. What’s with this freak only going the speed limit? I want to get home!

In order to manage my anxiety, I do at least one practice drive (preferably two or three) before I have to drive somewhere new for an appointment, so that at least the anxiety of the drive itself can be reduced, and I don’t have to think too much about which lane to be in, or read too many signs to find my exit. Ideally, every place I ever had to go would have a route by the side streets and never require highway driving, but this has not been the case. And, recently, when I’ve found alternate routes that avoided the highways, I found that street names like to change with each town boundary, and three streets in a single town will decide to have the same name, except that one will be a Road, one will be an Avenue, and one will be a Place, as if that makes all the difference and no one will ever get confused.

I am looking forward to the day when we all learn how to Apparate from one place to another. I don’t care if it’s magic, like Harry Potter, or science, like Star Trek. I’m ready. Cricket might need some convincing.

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Cricket prefers to travel by foot.

My Nephew is Going to Israel

 

My nephew is going to Israel for his gap year between high school and college. It has become de rigeur for kids from orthodox Jewish schools to spend a gap year in a yeshiva or seminary (for girls) in Jerusalem, immersing themselves in Jewish studies, Hebrew language, and maybe even the political realities of the Middle East. I wouldn’t want to spend a year in Israel, though, even now. I’m kind of addicted to familiar things. I could manage a week away, maybe ten days, tops. Though even that would strain Cricket’s anxiety disorder to the breaking point. Mine too. I’m impressed by all of these eighteen and nineteen year old kids who have the self-confidence to go to another country for a whole school year.

And the state of peace in Israel is always shaky; flair ups can come at any time. The recent violence at the holy sites could be forgotten by the time my nephew even gets on the plane, or it could grow into a conflagration. Many parents will send their kids to Israel during wars or uprisings. I don’t know why they feel so confident that their children will be safe, but they do.

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This is how I’d feel about it.

 

My nephew probably won’t be visiting a kibbutz, because there aren’t many left. Israel is a tech crazy country with some of the best medical research facilities in the world; it’s not a country of people living on collective farms, picking oranges, anymore. Will the boys get to meet the Palestinians who live on the other side of Jerusalem? Or visit the Knesset (the parliament) to hear arguments from politicians from the many different sides? Or will they spend all of their time studying Talmud and meeting other Jews? Maybe even only other American teens like the ones they grew up with, instead of the Russian or Ethiopian or French or Indian Jews who have found their home in Israel.

It took me a long time to even dip my toe into the waters of modern Israeli history, and I still can’t say that I fully understand the conflicts and points of view of everyone involved. I know that my support for Israel is tribal rather than logical, but then, I think that’s probably true of everyone, on either side.

I have seen and heard a lot of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric recently, and some of it goes over the line into the anti-Semitic language used during the Holocaust. But I have also heard prejudiced arguments and comments from some Jews that are not only unconvincing but disturbingly racist in nature. Smarter and better informed people than me will have to figure it all out and find the compromises that will work. I don’t have answers, or ease, on this issue.

But what I do have is a deep understanding of the need to live somewhere surrounded by people who are like you. I grew up going to Jewish schools where we could each be who we were – the athlete, the musician, the artist, the brain, the druggy – and not be defined by everyone around us as “the Jew.”

I am an American Jew, though. America is my country, my home. This is where my family is, where my dogs are, living and dead. It would be nice to visit Israel, though, and see how it feels to be one among many, and no longer in a minority, surrounded by my people’s history, deep in the ground under my feet.

Unfortunately for me, the Jewish state is in the Middle East, in the desert, where it is too freaking hot. Maybe if the Jewish state were somewhere like Vancouver, I’d be more eager to go. I wonder how Cricket would take to traveling in a plastic crate under my feet.

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I mean, she has fit herself into smaller places.

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When she was a puppy.

The Research Class

 

The administration at my online Social Work program decided to change the hosting format, right before the new school year began. The previous format for our classes was a bit stodgy, yes, but you could find everything you needed. The new format is not just new to the students, but also new to the teachers, and there hasn’t been any time to work through the bugs and figure out how to manage the new layout. So it’s a mess.

And maybe that would have been okay, if I were taking a less stressful class to start the semester, but I’m in Research One, and each assignment involves group collaboration and has to be finished in less than a week. I have bad memories of working in groups in high school and college, and having to either do all of the work myself, or spend all of my time gently, nicely, pushing my classmates to do their share of the work, or editing their attempts before the rapidly looming deadline. Some people think that ten o’clock the night before it’s due is the perfect time to start working on a project. I don’t. I really, really, really, don’t.

I want to use my insight and imagination and empathy and creativity, and none of those are allowed for a research class. It’s all about formatting and organizing other people’s work. I feel like a marathon runner forced to do finger exercises for hours on end, in a seated position. Every once in a while I may be allowed to move my whole hand, but rarely.

I want to scream. I want to throw things. I resent that it feels like the online faculty at my school is running a secret experiment on us – testing the impact of unpredictable stressors on student work quality and psychological wellbeing (I wrote that to my teacher in an email, and he seemed to take me seriously instead of getting that I was, sort of, joking).

My anxiety about the Research class and the new online format is making me obsessive. I’m overworking and under-coping. I feel a desperate need to control everything that feels chaotic to me. I can’t find restful or fun books to read. I can’t find anything decent to watch on TV. My mind just keeps filling the gaps with more work.

I need to take a nap and rest and recover and focus on other things, but my brain keeps telling me to re-read research articles, and do more searches, and try more databases, and do the whole group assignment by myself. But I know myself, even if I managed all of that, I’d just start obsessing about the reading and possible assignments for next week. It would never end.

It’s frustrating to have to see all of my flaws so clearly – my impatience, and rigidity, my temper, and need for control. I don’t want to know that there is so much still to fix.

For relief, I’ve been watching for the feral cats in the yard, and communing with them as much as they will allow. Hershey actually let me within five feet of her the other night, but then she scooted under the maintenance shed (her palatial estate). I also had a chance meeting with the neighbor-dogs, George and Zoe, and it made me unreasonably happy for a few minutes. Zoe barked a lot, and Cricket stared at her, in silence, as if this behavior, this barking at nothing, was completely alien to her. Then George clapped his front paws at me and asked for pats and a hug, and I willingly obliged. Zoe stood in her perpetual ballet first position and allowed me to pet her too. I even got to walk with the baby next door – or with his nanny, who was holding him as he slept – for a few minutes, and breathe in the utter, unspeakable cuteness of him.

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Hershey, hiding out.

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“Are you taking my picture again?!”

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Zoe and George

But mostly I work. I read and summarize and research, and I attempt to keep my emails to my fellow group members polite and reasonable. I try to follow the conflicting instructions from the teacher, and the disorganized new formatting, but all I want is for the class to be over, and for all of this self-knowledge and hitting-my-limits to end.

Cricket is doing her best to distract me by barking at every moving thing, and Butterfly has doubled up her requests for scratchy sessions (for my sake, of course), but it’s not enough to calm me down. Clearly, I don’t have enough dogs.

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“I’m doing this for you, Mommy.”

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“I work so hard to protect you, Mommy, and you never adequately appreciate my efforts.”

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“We do not need another dog, thank you very much.”

 

 

A Prayer for Healing

 

I have been very anxious lately, about the start of my social work internship and my research class, both of which I’ve been dreading since before I applied to graduate school. I haven’t found much that helps with the anxiety. Anti-anxiety meds like Xanax and Valium just wipe me out, meditation makes me more anxious, exercise is good, but leaves me exhausted. I’ve gotten better at asking for help from the people around me, but there’s just so much they can do. When you have no control, what can you do but pray?

Part of me really does believe that prayers sent out to God do reach some energy in the universe. It’s an imperfect system, like tweeting out to the world at large and hoping that the right person, who may not even be on twitter, hears you. But there’s a chance, and it’s better than not sending the message at all. I don’t believe that God puts my request on a list and then decides whether or not I deserve the help I want. I believe that somehow my message ping pongs around the universe, and if I’m lucky, it snowballs and connects with other energies and comes back to me in some form, hopefully something helpful.

I pray for my dogs all the time. I used to pray for Cricket to find comfort and calm. I would put my prayers into her scratching sessions, hoping that the practical behaviors I could do for her would be transformed into something more. And I am always praying for Butterfly – that she will have a good life, that her heart will last a bit longer – and I believe that my prayers work for her. Butterfly is a very good vessel for prayer, because she absorbs energy into her body and spirit without much of a defense system, whereas Cricket is more circumspect and “rational.” It is harder for Cricket to hear the prayers said for her, and to absorb the love sent her way, because there is so much interference – so much static in her system. But she still needs the good energy to be sent her way, even if only one prayer out of a thousand gets through her tough hide.

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“Do prayers come with chicken treats?”

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“I refuse to be healed. Deal with it.”

The cantor at my synagogue was ill this summer (don’t worry, he’s better now) and had to take months off from work. He spent a great deal of time alone, but, he said, because of all of the people in the congregation who reached out to him, and all of the people he knew were thinking of him and praying for him, he never felt like he was alone. This is what prayer can do. Just knowing that someone is praying for you on a regular basis can be healing, and make you feel cared for and safe.

And reaching out to God ourselves can make us feel less alone, even when we are physically alone. It reminds us of the human beings who wrote the prayers, of the people who taught us those prayers, of the times we have prayed together, and of all of the people who may be saying those same prayers at the same time all around the world. There’s a humility to prayer, a recognition that we can’t solve everything on our own, and are not expected to. Reminding ourselves of that on a regular basis can be healing in itself.

I think dogs pray too. First they ask directly for what they want: a walk, a treat, attention. But when the request is denied, or when they are left alone – when they feel powerless – I think they must pray the way we do. Like Butterfly picking up one of my socks when I was a way at the hospital, and carrying it in her mouth. The sock could be seen as a transitional object, as a way for her to hold onto me and feel close to me – or it could be seen as a prayer, that she would soon see me again.

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“Where’s Mommy?”

Cricket talks to God all the time with her barking. She isn’t so much telling me, or Mom, that danger is at the door, she is calling on God to protect her family. And most of the time, God seems to come through for her, so, it works!

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“Of course God listens to me. I am Cricket, and I am always right.”

Music is the best delivery system for prayer, because it reaches our hearts so much more quickly than words alone. It works especially well when we pray in groups, because it brings all of those heartbeats into the same rhythm, the same space, so that not only can you hear the words being spoken to you, you can feel everyone in the room coming together.

Ever since the cantor’s illness this summer, and the string of national and international disasters that have been overwhelming everyone, my synagogue has returned to the practice of singing a healing prayer at the end of Friday night services. People have found great comfort in singing it together, and saying the names of loved ones in need of healing, out loud or silently. I want it to work for me, but it doesn’t. Maybe the problem is that I don’t believe that my anxiety is worthy of a healing prayer, or maybe my hide is just as tough as Cricket’s and it will take a lot more prayer to get through. We are related, after all.

 

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“Is that supposed to be a compliment?”