Monthly Archives: August 2012

Wyoming 1: Wildlife and Yellowstone

Andrew worked hard to plan our vacation in Wyoming. He researched flights and hotels, studied Trip Advisor for places to go and things to do, and poured over Google maps. Now I get to tell the stories. However, there’s no way to recount a week’s vacation in a single blog post, so you’ll have to bear with me.

Our flight out included a stop in Chicago. While loitering in the terminal there, I observed a family that caused my antennae to go up. The patriarch was a youngish man, maybe in his late twenties, with neatly trimmed blond hair, wearing a blue t-shirt emblazoned with the American flag. He was corralling three boys, all mini versions of himself, none older than eight or ten, each one wearing the same t-shirt. When the mom came out of the restroom, she was trailing a little girl and pushing an even littler one in a stroller. All three were wearing the same t-shirt as the boys, but the mom’s was red. Where I come from, a family of this size, in matching patriotic garb, is  unusual, and therefore notable. It was like a wildlife sighting; the first of our trip.

We spent the first day touring Yellowstone National Park. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Everything we encountered was a delightful surprise, from the herds of bison to the pools of boiling, bubbling water; from Artist Point at Canyon Village where we saw the yellow stone that the park is named after, to the waterfall at Uncle Tom’s Trail. All the vistas were unique, each more awe-inspiring than the one that came before.

There are lots of hot springs inside the park, some surrounded by glorious rings of color. We were following a boardwalk around one of these springs when I saw a young, blond man wearing a red t-shirt with the American flag emblazoned on it. The boys who accompanied him were wearing the same t-shirt, as was the woman following behind. I was flabbergasted. It was the same family! I approached him and said, “Aren’t you missing a few children?”

He looked vaguely startled and answered brusquely, “No.”

“Really?” I asked. “But when I saw you in the airport you had more children with you.”

He ignored me and kept walking. His wife was far enough away that she hadn’t overheard our conversation. I tried again. “Aren’t you missing some children?”

She smiled absent-mindedly and said, “Oh, no.”

“But when I saw you in the airport you had more children with you.”

“We didn’t fly, we’re from Utah. We drove. But yes, I left the young ones in the van with their grandmother so they could nap.”

“Are you sure I didn’t see you in the airport?” I persisted.

“No, no,” she responded, pleasantly enough, “we drove.” And she walked past to catch up with the rest of her family.

Andrew and Hannah were horrified, and rightly so. I sounded like a stalker, or worse, a kidnapper! What was I thinking? In hindsight, they were clearly not the same family. The man in the park was definitely older than the one in the airport. There was no grandmother with the original group. And, as Andrew pointed out, the family I’d seen in Chicago could have been flying anywhere in the world. But why, then, did the mom tell me that there were other children in the van… It doesn’t matter, there’s no excuse for my crazy behavior. My desire to make a connection was stronger than my sense of propriety.

People behave in strange ways inside Yellowstone. There are signs posted all over informing visitors that they should keep a healthy distance from the wildlife, and yet, as you can see from the picture below, that advice is regularly ignored. Next time, I’ll be more careful.

The Way He Was

When Marvin Hamlisch passed away, I felt sad, like so many others who had enjoyed his music for so many years. He was a prolific and award-winning composer. According to his obituary in The New York Times, “…he won three Oscars, four Emmys and four Grammys.” And let’s not forget the Pulitzer. He wrote the music for The Way We Were, and Nobody Does it Better, songs that were written for movies, but also became big radio hits. If I hummed a few bars, you could all sing along; they were that big. He was young, only 68, which means he was in his late 30s when I met him. I had no idea who he was.

My first job out of college was as the traffic coordinator at a Boston radio station, WVBF-FM, known as F-105. The now defunct station played top 40 hits and was actually in Framingham, MA, along with its sister station, WKOX. As traffic coordinator, I was responsible for scheduling commercials and making sure that they ran as scheduled. If there was a problem, I scheduled “make goods.” If we had slots that had not been purchased, I plugged in PSAs (Public Service Announcements) and extra airings of whichever customers needed a boost. The process computerized on my watch, which made a rather simple job that much simpler, so I apprenticed myself to our Music Director and started learning how to do his job. Then he left.

In addition to my real job, I became the Assistant Music Director to – nobody. That meant that I inherited the job of meeting with artists who were touring radio stations to promote their records (by which I mean records, the vinyl kind). The record company representative would call me to arrange a time, and when they arrived with the artist, I’d listen to the new record and chat with them for a while. If I liked the record, I would add it to the rotation and we’d start playing it.

Then Marvin Hamlisch came to town. The movie, Ordinary People, had been released, along with his score which included a version of Pachelbel Canon in D. When the rep from Planet Records (no relation to the company by the same name currently operating in Cambridge, MA) called to schedule a visit, I asked him what else Mr. Hamlisch had done. He had no idea. This was 1980 and A Chorus Line had been on Broadway since 1975, but neither the rep nor I knew that Marvin Hamlisch had written the score.

When I sat down with Marvin Hamlisch, without his rep who had wandered off, bored, I smiled and said, “So, tell me what else you’ve done.”

He replied, “Are you kidding?”

I allowed as how, no, I wasn’t familiar with his work. He was not pleased and responded, “Well if you don’t know what I’ve done, I’m not going to tell you.”

Briefly, I was stymied, but I pushed on talking about this and that. At some point we got onto the subject of an elaborate stereo system that he was installing in his home. That he was happy to tell me all about. After fifteen minutes or so, the rep wandered back and they left. I’m vaguely embarrassed by this story, but I was only twenty-one at the time, and as far as music went, I was all about rock and roll.

A lot has changed since then, and when Marvin Hamlisch passed away, I took a moment to send up a silent apology for my naïveté, and my sincere thanks for having had the opportunity to spend a few minutes in the presence of what I now know was a musical genius.

Gluten-free living

We are now a gluten-free house, because one of us has been diagnosed with Celiac disease. (In a rare attempt to be respectful, I’ll refrain from telling you which one of us it is.) According to a random website that looks official, Celiac “…damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy.” And the villain doing the damage is gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. No problem, right? Avoid wheat, barley and rye and you’re good to go. Putting barely and rye aside for a moment, because really, who would miss them, let’s focus on wheat.

Wheat is what makes the staff of life the staff of life. Delicious bread is made of wheat flour (except when it’s made of the aforementioned grains, which is why I said delicious bread). Wheat flour is the main component of cookies, and cakes, and muffins. Wheat flour is in pizza crust, bagels and pasta. Wheat flour is in places you wouldn’t think to look, like soy sauce, and probably under your bed. Not eating wheat is not easy.

The doctors will say, sympathetically, “You can do it, just shop around the perimeter of the supermarket.” They mean that natural, unprocessed foods (and I use the term loosely) like produce, meats, and dairy are all okay to eat when you’re going gluten free, but if you venture down the aisles, shopping becomes risky. The fact that my husband is trying to embrace his inner vegetarian makes hugging the perimeter a little more enticing, but because I don’t like to cook, providing sustenance for my little family has become quite the challenge.

It turns out that you don’t have to have Celiac disease to have gluten intolerance. According to our dietician, wheat is now the seventh most prevalent allergy and that’s good news for Celiacs. Whenever there’s a growing trend, like an allergy to gluten, there are enterprising manufacturers waiting to make a profit. Consequently, the number of gluten-free products you can find in supermarkets is growing rapidly. They cost more, those manufacturers are no fools, they know they’ve got us over a barrel, but there’s more and more of it out there. You can get gluten-free cookies, pizza, and pasta. There are specialty shops for gluten-free cupcakes and muffins, and birthday cakes. And yes, you can buy gluten-free bread. But that’s where, so far, we draw the line.

Gluten is, according to this stray video I found, a protein that helps makes wheat flour rise. When you bake bread without gluten it’s firm, inflexible, and reminiscent of Wasa, the scourge of dieters everywhere. This is not good news for lunch given that the traditional American lunch is – a sandwich! But as long as there are leftovers from dinner we can finesse lunch.

Apparently, science is working on something that will help people digest gluten, or at least keep it from damaging your intestines, much the way they’ve dealt with lactose intolerance. We look forward to that, sure, but in the meantime, living gluten free seems to be agreeing with us. We’re all eating a healthier diet, which has to be a good thing, as long as the stress of trying to keep all of us fed doesn’t kill me…

Cured of the urge

A little while ago, we babysat a puppy, in our home, for four days. You can see by the adorable picture below, taken when he was two months old, why I offered to baby-sit. Now, however, in order to preserve his reputation at doggy daycare (and my friendship with his parents), I’m going to give him a pseudonym, Tybalt. At the end of his stay, the accident count was four pees, five poops, and one vomit.

Butter wouldn’t melt in this mouth.

I don’t blame Tybalt, entirely. He is, after all, a puppy, and at his house there is a fenced-in yard. His family slides open the back door and off he goes, to pee or poop, or run around in circles.

He’s a small dog, the kind some people carry as an accessory; carry being the operative word. When he came to us, he hadn’t yet spent much time on a leash. As a matter of fact, he was delivered to us with a harness that had been purchased that day. The point of a harness is that it allows you to walk a dog without choking it to death. However, it does take a moment to put it on. If I was racing against the call of nature to get him outside, I’d skip the harness, clip the leash to his collar and out we’d go. I made that sound easy. It wasn’t.

Tybalt hadn’t yet had any training per se. The words sit, stay, come and heel all meant let’s play. Each time I wanted to take him out I had to catch him. One day, while indulging him in a game of chase, through the living room with its dark rug, thank goodness, I stepped on one of the five poops. The good news was… who am I kidding? There is no way to put a good spin on stepping on poop.

Things didn’t go too smoothly when I put on the harness to take him for a walk either. Once outside, on the ground, he resisted the suggestion we walk. It didn’t take much pull to inadvertently drag him. That was horrifying for me, and probably humiliating for him, but at least he wasn’t choking. We did meet a neighborhood dog on one of our outings, a nice older guy named Jake, a Pekingese, who tolerated Tybalt’s jumping and sniffing. The fifteen minutes he spent annoying Jake was probably the most exercise he got in the four days he was with us.

But the biggest baby-sitting disconnect was on the subject of Tybalt’s crate. When his family is out of the house, at work, school or camp, he spends hours at a time in his crate. We were told that he liked being in his crate, but somehow I didn’t translate that to, “you should leave him in his crate most of the time.” I naturally assumed that the less time spent in a crate, the better. Apparently I was projecting, because that is how modern-day dog training is done. They spend most of their time in the crate. You take them out when it’s time for them to go to the bathroom, and then you put them back in.

I haven’t had a puppy for forty years, or owned a dog for thirty. I had no idea what I didn’t know. And Tybalt’s family assumed too much about our state of readiness, and failed to provide proper guidance. I love the family. They’re wonderful people, and Tybalt is an adorable dog. When he’s grown up, if he can demonstrate the ability to sit, stay, and most important, come when he’s called, I’ll be happy to have him visit again. Until then, this dog sitting service is closed.