Hirsute, and Nothing But Hirsute

If this were a celebrity magazine, the headline would read: “Balding Woman Caught on Tape!!!!” Or perhaps, “Hirsute, and Nothing But Hirsute” with a sick, punning irony. Perhaps you’ll see this at your newsstand tomorrow:

Yes, I’m coming out of the closet on this one. My hair, never my crowning glory, is taking revenge on me for all the rotten things I’ve said about it – and done to it – over the past many years. And its revenge is truly terrifying – it’s disappearing on me. I swear the only thing that’s saving me a few sad hairs in front is my almost maniacal application of Rogaine twice a day.

But it’s not enough. I’m at that in-between stage – somewhere between Larry of the Three Stooges and a Conehead.

Well, OK. Maybe I’m not quite that bad.

I know, I know. In the world of bad things happening, I need to get over this minor problem. But as I struggle to get my hair to look anything other than stupid, it doesn’t feel minor. In fact, it sucks.

If you’re a guy, you can shave your head and look way cool. (My son, who inherited his male baldness pattern from my father, does this every spring and looks amazing.) If you’re a bad and brave woman, you could shave your head and boldly have some scary tattoo drawn on your naked scalp. But I’m not a guy. And I’m not bad and brave. I’m just kind of befuddled as to what to do, because this isn’t going to get better with time, methinks.

One the other hand, one day you just might seeing me look like this:

And you’ll know that somewhere in Los Angeles, I’ve made a wig maker very, very happy.

My Electronic Jailer

No, it’s not locked onto my ankle (I thought that was a nice look on Lindsay Lohan but it tends to work better with Christian Louboutin’s, which are a tad out of my budget.).

Rather than lock onto my leg, my electronic jailer is firmly attached to my bra, where I conscientiously clip it first thing in the morning. It’s a chirpy jailer, greeting me everyday with an upbeat “Rock On!” And, “You Can Do It!” That’s the last nice thing I hear from it, though, because the rest of the day it is coldly counting how many steps I take, how many hills I climb, and how many calories I burn. My electronic jailer, aka my Fitbit, has the steely resolve I lack, and makes me feel incredibly guilty if I’m slacking off.

See what I mean? Man oh man…

Hey, just kidding. My Fitbit doesn’t really lecture. It does something worse, setting my own conscience on fire. Until I got my Fitbit, I thought my dog had the lock on making me feel horrible if I wasn’t jumping up first thing in the morning to walk her. Ha! The Boo, who is damn good at the pathetic stare, mind you, doesn’t compare to knowing that my steps are heartlessly being counted.

Consider this. There was a day not too long ago when I actually had to (gasp) work. All day long. I was tethered to my laptop, sweating a deadline. I wrote, I rewrote, I scratched my head, I played the occasional game of Bejeweled Blitz, I went to the garage for several diet sodas, I tossed my first draft and started again, I went to the kitchen to make a quick lunch, but that was about it. At the end of the day, would you like to know how many miles I had walked?

.34 miles.

Apparently mental gymnastics are not tracked by my jailer.

Did you know that doctors recommend you walk 10,000 steps a day? That pitiful third of a mile clocked in at about 680 steps. I know this because my Fitbit had me dead to rights.

I got my Fitbit at the end of October last year, because I’m compulsive enough that I knew an electronic jailer would actually get me moving. And it did. Here are some stats that I’ve racked up in the past six months:

  • 1,808,797 steps
  • 802 miles
  • 4,982 stories climbed (I live in the hills where it’s impossible to walk without putting in a fair amount of vertical effort)
  • Sneakers worn out: two pairs
  • Pounds dropped: 7
  • Jean sizes dropped: 1

I am NOT an athlete. Never have been. Never will be. So I am awed by what I’ve accomplished. The fact that Fitbit synchs with your computer and tracks your stats – plus you can compete with friends to see who walked the most each week – I find really motivating. Because I’m type A, neurotic and compulsive.  And although I complain about my Fitbit, it works. (Although it doesn’t get to go with me on vacation unless it’s a hiking vacation – everyone deserves a break now and then.)

You won’t find pricy Christian Louboutin’s on my feet. You will find well-worn Adidas, though. Can’t get 10,000 steps a day in when you’re wobbling around in six-inch heels, you know.

And I’d Want to Eat Head of Veal Why?

Because if you can convince me, I know where to get the best head of veal in Paris. Or so I’m told.

I just hope that, when served, it doesn’t look like this:

Lest you think I have no sense of adventure, I did – albeit very reluctantly – order pigeon at a wonderful three-star restaurant, Le Tour, in Sancerre. It’s yet another example of why it’s so important to, dare I say, follow your gut.  I couldn’t look at the dish without think of disgusting pigeons in the park, and then when the song, Feed the Birds, popped into my head, I knew I was pretty much doomed not to finish the plate.

But despite these two sketchy incidents, the food in France was wonderful. Some of our best memories are around food, both at restaurants and put together ourselves. I’m convinced that no one makes cheese like the French, and that their baguettes are to die for. Throw in the absolutely extraordinary produce we found, add some great wine, and you, too, can eat like a king!

I know I’m skipping ahead a little, but I did want to share with you how we ate lunch and breakfast everyday aboard the boat we piloted through the Loire Valley:

This was a wonderful way to see the French countryside and have a relaxing midday meal, unless one of your group is in a hurry to get to the next stop, and insists on driving the boat during lunch. This may have been a fine idea, and perhaps our friend, Doug, really wasn’t drinking too much wine, but when he veered to the far right to avoid a boat coming the opposite direction, the result was a small collision with a large tree branch. Food and wine went flying everywhere!

Quelle tragédie! Wasted wine! Oh no!

So the food was fantastic and memorable. The other experience that we just loved, and that I’d recommend to anyone going to Paris, was our side trip to Giverney, Monet’s home and the place he painted his famous water lilies.

Green, gorgeous, tranquil, and filled with flowers, Giverney takes you back in time. You can see, smell and feel how Monet was inspired. It was extraordinary.

Part of the visit is a tour of Monet’s home. For me, it was like visiting the holiest of all shrines.

Feasts for the stomach and for the eyes. Pretty darn cool. Next week, the long-awaited story of the Metro thief who chose the wrong tourist to pick.

A Sketchy Guide to France

For months, all I had to do was look at my email to see the confirmation for our trip to Paris – and I was happy. And rightfully so.  We just returned from France, and the trip was everything we hoped it would be. Sights, amazing food, good friends – even a thwarted pickpocket! How could you ask for more? Our trip was divided into one week in Paris, and one week boating down the Lateral Loire Canal.

My friend, Joani Porto Bartoli, suggested to me that I keep a sketchbook as my diary during the trip. Inveterate doodler that I am, I instantly loved the idea. Sketching was fun, and I hope you enjoy some of the results (I’ll spare you all 35 of them) – it’s a great way to tell the story.

So a warning to my faithful readers – I’m going to divide this up into a series of blogs.  I get into some of the juicier stuff later on, but what the heck – there are tidbits in this entry as well!

Our story begins at LAX, where we realized that traveling through Washington, DC on September 9 might not be the cleverest idea. Security was a nightmare…

But we made our flight, met up with our friends and family in Paris, and decided that since it was just midday, we couldn’t possibly waste a day in the world’s most gorgeous city. So we dragged our sorry, exhausted butts to Notre Dame. Where one of us (OK, my brother-in-law, Alan) fell asleep in the pews – look for him in the bottom left of the sketch.

Part of the adventure was getting three couples – our old, dear friends Doug and Peggy, my sister and brother-in-law, Joan and Alan, and us, of course – to travel well together. We knew everyone, but the other two couples had never met.  Each and every one of us is a Type A, opinionated sort. I was, with the exception of Peggy, the least so – and if you know me, you can only imagine what the other personalities were like!

I chose not to illustrate how this storming, forming, norming worked, but if I did, the sketch would have a lot of schnauzers top-dogging each other. Fortunately, we figured it out, and the sniffing, snapping and yapping settled down. The key was realizing we didn’t all have to do the same thing, and with that freedom, we could each explore Paris in the way that made each of us happy.

One thing we all agreed on was that the Musee d’ Orsay was top of our list. I was fortunate enough to spend a day here on an earlier business trip to Paris, and I was itching to go back.  One of my favorite paintings – the one by Cezanne with the hidden pig in a nun’s habit – hangs there.

So on a rainy Sunday, off we all went, and it was every bit as glorious as I remembered it. The greatest collection of impressionist art in the world. The collection is so big that we had to take a break for cafe au lait and pastries – not exactly a sacrifice!

There is no shortage of sights in Paris. And we did our very best to see them all. Including, yes, the Eiffel Tower.

Where I had a height-driven panic attack, and found myself clinging to an inner wall, sweating profusely. Every party needs a pooper, and that was my role for the day. Click on the picture and look at the top right – you’ll see me in my full, anxious glory!

I’ve rambled on long enough for today. And if this hasn’t scared you off, there’s more coming.

Next week: The highlight of my trip: Giverney. Plus musings on why anyone would want to serve head of veal. And why butter and garlic with NO moderation is a very good thing…

The Life – or Lives – of a Dog

I’ve been anxiously following the posts of my friend, Kathy Knopoff, as she cared for her dog, Laszlo. Laszlo’s kidneys were failing, and Kathy was by his side nonstop, trying to get him to take his medications and trying to tempt him with his favorite foods.  My heart has been heavy for her.

Laszlo left this earth yesterday, bound for… well, really, who knows? All I know is he left an empty collar, an empty spot by the bed and lots of memories behind.

By coincidence, I’m finally reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, the story of family, love and loyalty told from the perspective of Enzo, a dog on his last night of life. I was instantly taken by the book’s philosophy that when dogs pass on, they are reincarnated as humans. In Enzo’s own “words:”

In Mongolia, when a dog dies, he is buried high in the hills so people cannot walk on his grave. The dog’s master whispers into the dog’s ear his wishes that the dog will return as a man in his next life. Then his tail is cut off and put beneath his head, and a piece of meat or fat is placed in his mouth to sustain his soul on its journey; before he is reincarnated, the dog’s soul is freed to travel the land, to run across the high desert plains for as long as it would like.

I learned that from a program on the National Geographic channel, so I believe it is true. Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.

I am ready.

From the first moment that I had my own place, at age 22, I’ve had a dog. Every one of them has been the very best dog ever (Well, except for the ill-fated Nell – for more on her story check out this post). I’ve thrown my entire being into loving these dogs, and so have had my heart broken time and time again when the inevitable happens. And while sadness has, on occasion, slowed down my need to get another dog, it has yet to stop me. Because the loss is so far offset by the joy of companionship that I swallow my tears in return for the friendship of a dog. A bargain, I should add.

So here I am, this person who doesn’t believe in an afterlife of any kind and who looks at religion’s view of heaven with a roll of the eyes, totally convinced that if anyone gets to go to heaven, dogs should be first in line. That dogs have souls just as much as people have them. And now, thanks to The Art of Racing in the Rain, I have a whole new way to think about the future.

Just imagine… you meet this new person with soulful eyes, red shaggy hair and a kind face. Maybe her ears are a little on the large side.  Could it be my last Golden, Annie, come back to visit me in a different form?? Or you meet a guy who is well intentioned but not too bright, very muscular but sometimes knocks things over in his enthusiasm, who is an independent spirit who will never listen to advice… Why, my goodness, I do believe that Nell, that bad but charming girl, has returned to life as an irresponsible but charming man!

Really, the possibilities go on and on.

When my mom was dying last year, I asked her if she thought she’d see our dad again in whatever afterlife there might be. She astonished me by saying, “Absolutely not! There is no afterlife. I believe in reincarnation.” You could have knocked me over with a feather! And she then said, “I just don’t want to come back as one of those sad cows in Africa with the flies on their eyes…” I assured her that I didn’t think that would happen – surely there’s a better life form for someone as kind as my mom.

Laszlo, Annie, Nell, Marley, and all the rest of the dogs I’ve known and loved – have no fear! We shall surely meet again. Maybe next time I’ll be on the leash and you’ll be saying, “Terry, sit! Stay!”

Big Hat, Big Job, Big Sky

You can picture it as well as I can – the prototype rancher with a sun-wrinkled face, wiry frame, cowboy hat, mud-spattered jeans and boots. He’s an icon of the American West, and has shown up in places as varied as City Slickers and Marlboro commercials.

But did you ever think about what it means to live the life, not just wear the hat? And that not all wranglers are weather-beaten guys?

I had an eye-opening weekend at Sweet Grass Ranch, a working cattle and dude ranch about 40 miles outside of Big Timber, Montana. We were there for the wedding of an old college friend’s daughter, a San Francisco-raised young woman who fell in love first with Montana, then with cattle wrangling and finally with a rancher.

There’s a lot to love about this part of the country, where you wake up every morning to spectacular vistas and go to bed every night with stars blazing in a pitch black sky. Where ranches are 10,000 to 20,000 acres, and talk at dinner is about where the cattle will be grazing next. Where you drive very slowly on winding gravel roads, and patiently wait for a calf to wander across the road in front of you. Where your livelihood is your entire life, and you raise your children, hoping that at least one of them will opt for the ranching life so your legacy can live on.

And weddings are not just family events – they are celebrations for the entire town.

Jenny was wed on the side of mountain in the foothills that you see here:

We sat on hay bales, and the bridal path was freshly mowed through the meadow. Our friend, Doug, performed the service against that breathtaking vista.

After the ceremony, everyone hopped into their pick-ups and headed to the groom’s ranch for the reception. Where the entire town was in attendance. Because when you get married in a ranching community, you invite everyone – after all, you never know when you’ll need to drive your cattle across someone else’s land.

But don’t romanticize this life, because there’s nothing Hollywood or glamourous about it. This is a tough, tough life. It’s physically and intellectually demanding. Yes, you need to be able to ride a horse and herd cattle, throw bales of hale and manage heavy equipment. But you also need to know what’s growing in your fields, and if the flowers in bloom will produce good beef or not.  You need to know the land like the back of your hand, and where to drive cattle for the winter, spring, summer and fall.

You need a big heart to go with this very big job.

I take my hat off to Jenny. God knows I could never live the life she’s chosen.  But this weekend has give me enormous respect for our country’s ranchers. Think about it the next time you eat a slab of roast beef.

Like a House on Fire

I was out walking the Boo this week through our hilly, foothill neighborhood when a big fire truck drove up next to me.  A couple of fire fighters jumped out to check the curbside fireplug (a sad reminder that we’re moving into fire season already).  We were in a narrow cul de sac, so I carefully maneuvered the dog away from the big truck.  As I was walking by, one of the guys in the truck yelled, “Hey! Are you ignoring me on purpose?”

Now I know that I possess many charms, but am not sufficiently deluded to think that Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome was trying to catch my eye to flirt. I looked up, puzzled, and realized that he must be our friend Doug’s son, Steve. Who happens to be the only firefighter I know in the entire world. And whom I’ve met twice, once over dinner and once on a daylong wine-tasting trip to Santa Barbara.

A little embarrassed not to have recognized Steve immediately, we caught up with a nice, long chat.  It wasn’t until I said, “Boy, Steve, this trip to France we’re planning with your dad is really giving him fits,” that Steve got this odd look on his face.

“Uh, I don’t think I’m who you think I am,” he said.

“Uh,” I said, “Aren’t you Steve?”

“Nope, I’m Patrick.”

Oops.

We both grinned, a little abashed, wished each other a good afternoon, and I continued on my way.  Boo’s tail wasn’t between her legs but mine was.

To make myself feel better about my poor memory for faces, I tried to convince myself that maybe he was flirting with me.  Then I got home and looked at myself in the mirror.  Shlumpy shorts and top, battered sneakers, and hair sticking up in various directions….  OK, I guess not.

Oh well. A girl can dream, can’t she?