‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all

26 Sep

I’d like to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and support my family and I received since my last post. It’s going to be a rough next few months (especially once I’m home again), but it’s good to know the little dude was loved, even by those who only knew him through his annual Christmas letter and my Facebook photos.

If by chance that last heart wrenching post gained me any new followers, welcome. I promise I don’t always post such emotional entries. We’ll get back to fat pugs, complaining about the weather, grocery shopping, baby pandas and zebra wieners in due time. But first, some more mourning talk.

My first real experience with death was with my childhood guinea pigs. Mr. G. crossed over the rainbow bridge at our home, while Hershey required veterinary assistance. At the time my little heart had never felt such sadness, and I dealt with it the only way 11-year-old Renee knew how: by crying and writing dozens of poems and stories about them. If you’ve ever seen or had a guinea pig, you know that they don’t do much — eat, poop, repeat.

guinea pigs eating

But my younger self gave them each personalities and elaborate back-stories and lives. Those two deaths affected me so strongly, yet we had four other guinea pigs after them. As I was speaking to my mom the other day I had to ask her about each of their deaths because I honestly could not remember. I felt so bad, but then I realized that’s probably the best thing that could happen — I remembered them in their best of times and not in their last. It makes me almost feel guilty that I was not there for Squirt in the end because my images of him are not at his worst. I’ve been dreaming about him a lot lately, but in my dreams he’s always youthful, running around the kitchen like Speedy Gonzales as he used to do after a bath, or chasing after his rope in the backyard — two things he hasn’t done in many years. My parents and I have been texting memories and photos back and forth.

“I just don’t want to forget anything about him,” my mom said to me the day after they put him down. It seemed almost silly — with old home videos and both print and digital photos in the thousands, that seemed impossible. But then I realized with grief comes nostalgia. As I said in my last post, in the end he was not the same dog anymore. Even if he lived 10 more years, he would never walk down to the lake lot or fetch a rope again. So while I will miss even his annoying “Feed me!” bark, what I really miss is the old times, just like I miss my old schools, apartments, jobs and friends and the memories I made with them. But life goes on. You remember the good, try to forget the bad, and make new memories. Even though I am alive and well, my mom can still be nostalgic for Baby Renee, since I no longer make animal noises or get food all over my face when I eat … OK, maybe those were bad examples (moooooo).

This year I made a new friend in London whom I really got along with, but she recently moved away. In a fit of sadness a part of me thought “If I had never met her then I wouldn’t be sad right now.” But you could say that about every relationship that ended, pet that passed or friend who moved. We would have less sadness, sure, but we’d also have less joy from the good times we did have together. Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.” And as Elphaba and Glinda sing in Wicked, “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” (I saw the musical with my friend who moved and told that to her before she left.)

So now I’m trying to just focus on the good memories. I’ve pulled myself out of my pit of sadness. Just today I was finally able to look at the pugs frolicking in the park and smile instead of thinking “How cute, but one day they’re all going to DIE.” (Yes, I became Emo Elmo for a bit recently). Both my parents and I had the same thought as we were going through the last few weeks — we can’t go through this again. We can’t get another dog. Instead of the happy memories I could make with my hypothetical pug or corgi, I was focusing on the fact that one day it would die. My parents were too. It’s still too soon for them to even entertain the notion — it’s like asking a widow at her husband’s funeral if she thinks she’ll remarry. But I told them not to get rid of his crate — disassemble it and store it away, but hang on to it… just in case.

(And now, for no reason at all, a baby panda!)

baby panda bars

Crossing the rainbow bridge

22 Sep

It seems the inevitable could be prolonged no longer. This afternoon Squirt crossed over the rainbow bridge at the vet’s office. When I worked in the pet industry I thought that was such a silly phrase — “cross over the rainbow bridge,” but now it seems fitting. “Died” is too harsh, “passed away” too proper. So “cross over the rainbow bridge” it is.

Even though we had a month to prepare for this, you’re never really ready. We got Squirt when he was 1 year old and had him for 14 years — more than half my life. I should speak fondly of him, saying he was a good dog, but as any friend or family member (or repairman) who visited my parents’ house over the past 14 years can attest, he was a mean little bugger. But he came from a troubled background, years before my job would entail reading and writing about dog training, so we did the best we could as inexperienced as we were.

Though it’s sad to say goodbye — especially from across the ocean — lately he hasn’t been the same dog we adopted on July 29, 2000. Over the course of his life he had two loves (no, not people and other dogs): walks and food. Neighbors used to joke that he was the most well-walked dog out there. When I was in high school I used to attach him to my Razor scooter and make him pull me around the neighborhood. (Yes, I made a 12-pound Chihuahua pull me like an Iditarod husky.) On our long walks pre-Fitbit I used to have to beg and pull him to turn around. As he got older, he slowly stopped walking so far and eventually was content to just explore the front yard, especially when he discovered he could get a treat for every time he went out. He had a one-track mind at that point: food. We could not enjoy a meal without him barking alongside us, all because 14 years ago someone decided to feed him a table scrap (who that someone is is still up for debate in my family). When I was back home just this April I had to sneak around the house during the day because if he noticed me, he’d start barking for his dinner two hours early. So when a month ago my mom told me he wouldn’t eat his dog food anyone, I knew something was wrong. He was not the same Squirt I knew. Over the past month he indulged in various people foods, from pancakes and eggs to fish and chicken until whatever was ailing him — canine cognitive disorder (doggie Alzheimer’s) and cancer, likely — prevented him from eating even boiled chicken. In a prime example of a head-on collision between comedy and tragedy, yesterday he sat in his food bowl, staring out into space. My parents sent me a photo and I could not stop laughing (and crying).  It was time. He would not eat or drink, could barely walk, and seemed to have no mental capacity left whatsoever. The inevitable could no longer be prolonged.

I want to thank my parents for taking such good care of him in his final days and for making the difficult decision to put him down while he was suffering. Know that however hard it was and while it might not seem like it right away, you did the right thing.

And little dude — I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you in the end, but I’m not sure you’d know who I was anyway. I’ll remember you at your best, like when I tried to enter you in a local dog show our first summer together and you almost bit the judge. One day I’ll see you again on the other side, probably by the unlimited cheese buffet. (And as the poem goes, we’ll cross the rainbow bridge together).

squirt christmas portrait(This ridiculous Christmas portrait they took at the kennel in 2005 never fails to make my family laugh.)

Coping with mortality and ancient Greek quizzes

9 Sep

When I was in high school I took Ancient Greek as an elective. While the rest of my class had a free period, three of us were conjugating irregular verbs in seven tenses. We were overachievers who bordered on masochistic. At different times we each thought about quitting, saying screw the aorist active optative, and go back to studying and goofing off with the rest of our classmates, but we never went through with it. I remember one particular morning we had a big biology test coming up. None of us could focus on Greek vocabulary when there was the Krebs cycle to memorize. So we came up with a brilliant plan – we would ask our teacher to push back the Greek quiz a day. If all three of us agreed and asked, she’d have to, right? And she did. And thus began a very dangerous journey down a dangerous path. Greek quiz dates were not set in stone. So whenever a quiz fell on the same day as another class’s test, or even if one of us just didn’t feel like studying the night before, we asked for an extension. And by “we,” I often mean “me,” as I was the only girl and the others claimed the teacher “liked me” (for the moment). Every time I would ask her to move the quiz she would say the same thing – “Alright, but you’re just prolonging the inevitable.” I believe at one point we even started asking for it that way – “can we prolong the inevitable?” We knew eventually we’d have to regurgitate vocab and conjugate verbs, but in that moment the weight was lifted off and the third declension became Tomorrow Renee’s problem.

Why am I writing about this? Because my teacher’s words have been going through my head lately regarding our family dog, Squirt – “you’re only prolonging the inevitable.”

Two and a half weeks ago my mom sent me a text message: “Squirt has been having a rough few days. Not looking good. He can’t get out of bed. He won’t eat today.”

It was completely out of the blue – just four months prior he was going on hikes and begging me for dinner two hours early. He’s 15 years old, I knew his “time” was coming, but I wasn’t ready. And so began a spiral of sorrow in which Stephen questioned how I will ever be able to handle the death of my parents if I act this way over a dog who doesn’t even live with me and isn’t even that nice.

I continued to text my parents every day for updates. He’d seem better, then worse, so eventually they took him to the vet. He had a fever and they gave him fluids and antibiotics and said if he didn’t spring back the next day, it was time to talk the big “E.”

I waited anxiously for my mom’s text that next morning.

“Squirt is better today. He’s up and around and eating.” I was so relieved!

“He’s still old though,” she added.

I could hear my teacher’s words: “You’re only prolonging the inevitable.”

Still, we let out a collective sigh of relief and I resigned that Squirt would beat the record for oldest Chihuahua (20 years).

A part of me almost said, “What a relief, I’m glad I won’t have to go through that again!” as if because he survived this one brush with death he was never going to die.

Just prolonging the inevitable.

Every day my parents text me updates.

“He ate all his food!”

“He’ll only eat people food.”

“He’s not doing well.”

“He crapped everywhere!”

“He dumped outside on his own!”

“He’s up and around!”

“Bad morning, he won’t eat at all.”

We think he has canine cognitive disorder, which is like doggie dementia or Alzheimer’s, so sometimes he forgets where he is or what’s going on. And like those patients, he has good and bad days. The good days make me think he’s going to live forever, the bad days that he’s old and his organs are probably shutting down and the end is near. Yesterday was a good day, today is bad. This yo-yo effect is exhausting and disheartening and I’m not even there – my poor parents have been there to comfort, cook and clean for him. We’ve had Squirt half my life and it’s hard to imagine life without him. (Whenever we talk like this, one of us always chimes in imitating Squirt’s voice saying, “I’m not dead yet!”) My parents are doing all they can, even though there’s not much we can do now – just prolong the inevitable. But if I learned anything from Greek class, that’s what life is – prolonging the inevitable and savoring the time you have.

 

Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it’s Istanbul not Constantinople

7 Sep

A week ago we went to Istanbul, Turkey. I believe Istanbul can be summed up in this one photo I took:

essence of istanbulSomething really old and historical (Column of Constantine on the left, from 330 A.D), a mosque and a stray cat. In reality, the city has a crapload of history, a crapload of mosques (is that sacrilegious to say?) and a crapload of stray dogs and cats, so I’m oversimplifying it a bit.

We did a full-day walking tour of Sultanahmet our first day there, which was full of all of the above. We saw Topkapi Palace, the underground basilica cistern, the Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, an Ottoman cemetery, the Column of Constantine and the Grand Bazaar. If anyone reading this post found it because they’re actually curious about Istanbul tours and not the usual fat pugs and zebra penises (my top blog search terms), we used Efendi Travel. The tour was reasonably priced considering it included hotel pickup and admission to all the sites and we got to go to the front of the queue most of the time. I would recommend them. They said the group tours usually have 8 to 10 people, but our group only had 3 — including Stephen and me, so it was almost a private tour for the price of a group tour.

Anyway…

The main reason we did the tour was for peace of mind and safety — though friends and random strangers on the Internet assured me Istanbul was perfectly safe, we were a little concerned about the recent protests and the fact that Turkey shares a border with Syria and Iraq (although Istanbul is 800 miles away from that border). I was also a little nervous visiting a predominantly Muslim country for the first time. Did I need to act or dress a certain way to fit in? While I did have to wear a headscarf inside the Blue Mosque (and take off my shoes), I soon realized that while the majority of Istanbul is Muslim, a lot of them seem to be Muslim in the way that people who only go to church on Christmas are Christian — i.e. few were flocking to the mosques five times a day for prayer and most women were not wearing headscarves outside the mosque (and the only ones wearing full burqas were visiting from other countries). The Sultanahmet area is also at least 87% tourists I think. Still, it was interesting to hear the call to prayer resound from the minarets of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia while we were near and to experience a different culture.

Now for the animal pictures! We had another woman in our tour group who often got separated from us because she was photographing some historic building or monument. I often got separated because I was photographing cats or dogs. You can see the main sights of Istanbul on Google, so here are my favorite stray animals of Istanbul pics:

(Click to enlarge)

Stray dogs of Topkapi Palace, assemble!

topkapi palace dogs

dogs of topkapi palaceturkey stray dogs

istanbul stray dogsking of the mountain

istanbul cat

istanbul dog

cat placing order

“Um, I believe I was next to be served.”

istanbul cat hungry

istanbul kitten

Stephen and I played with this kitten instead of learning anything about the Ottoman cemetery we were at.

cute istanbul kitten

Not a stray animal, but look, Panda ice cream!

panda ice cream

Spontaneous Scottish train trip

27 Aug

About two weeks ago Stephen came home from work and asked if I wanted to go to Scotland. So last week we went to Scotland. Normally I don’t do well with last-minute trips — I was still working on planning our upcoming Istanbul and Cannes holiday — but I decided to embrace it. We overpaid for the train and hotel thanks to the Fringe, but we made it to Edinburgh. I was apprehensive about visiting in August, when the population of Edinburgh allegedly doubles because of the festivals, but it surprisingly wasn’t bad. There were crowds of people on the Royal Mile where the festival was headquartered, which was to be expected, but elsewhere like the castle we didn’t have to wait in line (I’m sorry, “queue.”). I really enjoyed Edinburgh as a city — even with the festival and people, it had an authentic aura. I was impressed that there wasn’t a souvenir stand on every corner like in some tourist-heavy cities (just the occasional kilt-wearing storm trooper posing for pics). Stephen kept comparing elements of it to Harry Potter, like the stadium adjacent to the castle for the Edinburgh Tattoo (JK Rowling allegedly wrote a lot of Harry Potter while in Edinburgh. The local cafe has capitalized on this). Side note: If there are several different festivals and events going on in Edinburgh during August and one of them is called “Edinburgh Tattoo,” would you also assume it would be full of people with full sleeves and face tats? Nope, it’s a military performance. Apparently I have zero knowledge of military terms.

Does this make you think of Hogwarts and quidditch?

edinburgh castle tattoo

(Click photos to enlarge)

edinburgh castle stadium

Shows for the Fringe were publicized everywhere. I don’t know who this comedian is, but if the pug is part of his act I really should have gone.

edinburgh fringe pug

And now some random photos I took around Edinburgh and hastily edited.

edinburgh treeedinburgh rose edinburgh houseedinburgh cemetery

edinburgh arthurs seat   edinburgh street

We were only there for about 29 hours, and while we saw a lot — and walked a lot, 9 miles each day according to my FitBit — I would not mind going back again. It so happens that the only pandas in the UK are at the Edinburgh Zoo, but the exhibit was closed while we were there because they suspect the panda is pregnant. If a baby panda is not the perfect reason to go back sometime, I don’t know what is.

The past two weeks in pictures and a corgi butt

8 Aug

There is the sprint you do at the finish line of a race, and then the sprint you do when you spot a corgi at the end of the street IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD ASAKSDFJLKADF HOW HAVE I BEEN OUT RUNNING AND WALKING SO MANY TIMES AND NEVER RUN INTO THIS MAJESTIC CREATURE?!

Ahem.

So I ran faster than I have ever run before to catch up to this little guy and slyly took a photo. In typical Renee/British fashion I was too shy to ask the owner if I could pet her corgi or perhaps steal him. The photo came out horrible because it was slyly taken, but here it is zoomed in so you can see the grainy momo and tail. (The fact that this corgi had a tail probably means he’s related to the royal corgis because the queen prefers corgis with tails. Obviously).

crappy corgi pic

And now I will proceed to use my Instagram account to remind myself what I’ve been up to lately and what I wanted to share with you.

hot buttered cherriosI am all about hot buttered Cherrios lately. It’s exactly what it sounds like — Cherrios (or in my case, cheapo Aldi brand honey hoops) cooked in melted butter until lightly toasted and hot. It’s from a 1982 Cheerios magazine ad. Chocolate Cherrios were on sale this week so I hot buttered those too. I can never go back to eating Cherrios out of the box like a normal person now.

Speaking of food, I found this bad boy on sale in the Tesco foreign food aisle:

kraft dinner london

It still cost me the equivalent of $2.50, but it was worth it. Sometimes you just need some neon powdered cheese product.

 

broken fitbit force

About a week ago I woke up in the middle of the night and my Fitbit Force was lying beside me in two pieces. I freaked out because I cannot live without it and and I can’t get a replacement because the Force was recalled, but also because I was not going to get an accurate sleep reading with it lying on top of my laptop beside me. I tried fixing it with Elmer’s glue and tape, which lasted all of seven hours, and then I pulled out the big guns — superglue. It’s been holding for a week now ::knock on wood:: My friend sent me an article David Sedaris wrote about his Fitbit obsession and I could fully relate. I’m either going to be curled up in the corner crying if this superglue doesn’t hold or walking around trying to count my steps manually. Let’s just hope it holds and the new model is released soon.

london shakespeare globe

A couple weeks ago I saw Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe. I’m still not a Shakespeare fan, but I’d rather see it live than read it, and I’d rather watch it sitting down than standing. Three hours standing in direct sunlight, no thank you.

1984 london

1984 was more my style (and my 20th show in London!). I did the day seat queue thing, but instead of running back home to eat and change and come back out, I brought my laptop with me, got some work done at the library, checked out the BP Portrait Award winners at the National Portrait Gallery, ate sushi in the park, then went to the show. It was a lovely afternoon, I may have to try it again with another show soon.

A post in which I decide not to complain about the weather then proceed to anyway

25 Jul

Recently someone on Reddit compared getting on the Tube lately to this:

indiana jones melting

And then getting off the Tube:

rhino ace ventura
Sweet, sweet relief.

I’ve only taken the Tube a handful of times since London has reached the temperature of Hell’s waiting room, but I can confirm the accuracy of the gifs. Last weekend I went to see Matilda the Musical with a friend (London show No. 18!). When it was time to go home I had a conundrum — should I walk for over an hour, sweating without sunglasses or headphones, melt on the Tube for 15 minutes (and pay more), or melt on the bus for 30 minutes (and pay less). I opted for the bus because I’m a cheapo, but it was miserable. I ended up getting off early because I was getting nauseous and it was just too stuffy. People occasionally ask me what I miss most about the US. Right now I’d say air conditioning.

But this post wasn’t supposed to be just me complaining about the heat. The other day Stephen asked if we should buy a portable AC, and I actually said no. I don’t even know myself anymore. The first few days the temperature went above 75 degrees (24C) I was irritable and crabby. I tried to go to the library to work, but it was even warm there. Then sometime around the sixth day of muggy hotness I just gave up. There’s a line from Jim Steinman’s play “The Dream Engine” that goes, “You can’t withdraw from reality. Sooner or later you have to succumb to it, sooner or later you have to negotiate with it, you have to work out some sort of peaceful settlement.”

I guess I worked out a peaceful settlement with the heat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a cool weather person who worships at the altar of AC, but the reality is that London has two or three weeks each summer that are unbearably warm, made even worse by the city’s lack of air-con, but the heat wave inevitably passes and we go back to a pleasant 20 degrees. (Side note: every time I quote a temperature in Celsius I can almost feel a bit of my American citizenship being stripped away). So every day for the past week I take a shower, put my wet hair up so it won’t dry, then position myself in front of the fan and get to work. It’s no air-conditioned office, but it also beats melting my face off on the Tube commute every day. Working from home has its perks.

…and I guess this post will be about weather. I’ll save complaining about the tourists at Cambridge for another day. Meanwhile, enjoy this corgi flop:

corgi flop

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers