Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why I'm glad I didn't get sick in Elizabeth Bennet's time, plus where to find guys hunting for cougars

It started around the middle of the afternoon on Friday: sore throat, swollen and tender lymph nodes in my neck, fever-chill.  I figured it was tonsillitis.

With the exception of getting up on Saturday to go to Josie's soccer game and birthday party (a mistake, though it would have been awful to miss it), and then going to the doctor on Sunday, I was in bed from Friday afternoon through Monday morning.  The fever seemed to peak at night - I was so overheated Friday and Saturday nights that I took to sprinkling water on my sheets and lying with freezer bags full of ice on my neck and head, and even then, I couldn't cool off.

At the doctor's office, they gave me a throat culture and the test for strep, which came back positive in seven minutes.  The doctor prescribed oral antibiotics, but was alarmed by the size (huge) and condition (covered with white abscess-looking spots) of my tonsils, so she also gave me a shot (in the ass) of a powerful medication generally used to fight bacterial infections, including life-threatening diseases like meningitis. Doc wasn't fucking around.

I appreciated her aggressiveness from the get-go, but particularly when, within about 7 or 8 hours, I was feeling so much better that I could hardly believe it.  Huzzah for western medicine, y'all.

Naturally, all of this got me to thinking about Jane Austen.

One of the things I always notice about Jane Austen novels - other than how fantastic they are - is how the characters are always inquiring into the health of other characters.

"And how is your family?  Are they in good health?  Are they well?"

Illness was greatly feared in those times, and rightly so.  Medicine was primitive, and illnesses that would temporarily knock you or me on our asses, to lie in bed drinking chicken soup and binge-watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix while waiting for the antibiotics to kick in, were often life-threatening.  Like Jane in Pride and Prejudice, when she gets caught in the rain going to Netherfield and ends up horribly sick in bed for days.  Or Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, who almost dies near the end because she gets really sick after neglecting her health upon hearing about Willoughby's marriage.  It was some serious shit.

Meanwhile, 200+ years later, I felt awful for a few days, but the fact that I would get medicine and recover quickly was never in dispute.  I didn't spend my time in bed worrying.  I spent my time in bed watching everything in my DVR and a jillion other movies, and trolling online dating sites.

Speaking of, it continues to be a fascinating process.  I've had a couple of pleasant dates with guys who were interesting and smart, but with whom there was no chemistry.  I've had a couple of dates that were utter fucking disasters - the best I can say is that they make for a good story when I'm out with my girlfriends.

I've learned that if you're a woman in your 40s and need a confidence boost, get your ass onto OKCupid, pronto.  Within 6 hours of putting up a profile, I had been propositioned by at least 15 men in their 20s and 30s (including one guy whose screen name was, no lie, "Hunting_Cougars69") telling me how gorgeous and sexy I am and begging me to overlook the age difference and would I consider something on a purely physical level pretty pretty please? Please?  I swear I never do anything like this and I'm nervous about even contacting you but you're so preeeettttyyyyyy...

Um, no.  But thank you for your kind words.

I also got a message from some poor schlub in Kansas who all but proposed marriage, a dude in England who insisted we could make it work because he's moving back to the States, a military guy who just moved to Colorado and asked if I would be his "first friend," and about 50 that were some form of "hey your (sic) hot."  I guess I should be thankful that no one sent me a picture of his dick.

But it is a numbers game.  For every 25 or 30 "ur sexy" messages, there's one from someone who is cute and smart and interesting and age-appropriate, and who knows how to write.  And sometimes there's a connection, and sometimes there isn't, but it keeps the hope alive.

It's a wild time to be 45 and dating again, that's for sure.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Everything I need to know about surviving in the wilderness I learned in college

Last week my Denver sorority buddies and I had a lovely dinner.  We caught up on what everyone is doing and how our families and kids are and dissected my recent online dating foibles and talked about Karen's upcoming wedding. We reminisced about our sorority days and tried to remember long-forgotten details, like exactly what happened on Bid Day, or how brutal the rush process was.

It's a great group of women - smart and accomplished and incredibly active.

We decided to plan a hiking/backpacking trip to do together next year.  A real one - 3 or 4 days in the wilderness, carrying our tents and food and clothes, climbing mountains and testing ourselves and enjoying each others' company.  The thought is both exhilarating and scary to me.  I've done plenty of hiking, and I certainly feel physically strong and capable to handle it, but I've only done day hikes.  I've never put a pack on my back and walked into the woods with the intention of staying there overnight.

We were all encouraged and motivated by a week-long wilderness trip my friend Christin (the one who hiked Quandary with me) did this summer.   Christin raved about it, and her experience was what fostered in us a desire for a similar experience.  Ten women of varying levels of wilderness experience, roughing it together, making new friends, and achieving renewed clarity and focus about who they are and what they want their lives to be.

Christin was describing how amazing it was for all the women, including those who had never hiked or camped.

"There was a woman on the trip who had not only never done any kind of wilderness stuff, but I don't think she had ever peed outside in her life," she marveled.

My friend Jen chortled.

"She obviously never went to a fraternity party."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

But all the magic I have known, I've had to make myself

My dearest Josephine,

This morning I woke up and went into your room and sat on the floor next to your bed.  I pushed your hair out of your face, leaned over, and kissed you near your temple, pausing to breathe in your delicious smell of sleep and shampoo.

"Josie," I whispered, kissing you again.  "Happy birthday, sweetie.  It's your birthday today."

You kept your eyes closed, but put your hand on my cheek.

I lay down on the bed and hugged you, big-spoon-little-spoon.

"Do you want me to tell you about the day you were born?"

You nodded, still with your eyes closed.  You put your hand over my hand and squeezed my fingers.

So I told you about going to the hospital early in the morning, and being there with Daddy and Mimi. About how wonderful it was to see you for the first time, and how you loved having your head scrubbed while the nurses gave you a bath. About how you loved sleeping with your head on my shoulder.

I heard Zeke stirring in the bunk above us.  He climbed down the ladder and wriggled into bed on the other side of you, putting his arm around you and giving you a kiss.

"I love you, Josie! Happy birthday!"

He really is the sweetest brother.

Your eyes popped open and you put your hands on the sides of his head, scruffling his hair up.

In your goofiest voice, you said, "hey there, little kangaroo!  You look like a kangaroo because your hair is sticking up like ears!"

The two of you cracked up.  You kept messing with his hair while he laughed.

"You're my scruffy little bird!" you said to him.

He laughed and laughed, and I laughed along with him.

Predictably, somebody tooted (not me) and you and Zeke rolled with laughter and kept goofing off.  I was lying there with my arm draped over both of you, and the three of us giggled and talked about what we wanted to do after school - bake a cake? have a special movie night so you can pick the movie and eat your beloved popcorn to your heart's content?  Both?

It was one of those moments when I kind of step outside of myself and look down at the scene to appreciate it more fully.

You are so gorgeous to me, and such a total ham, always making a joke and performing for an audience.  People tell me how much we look alike, but I don't really see it - you're so much prettier than I could ever hope to be.  And I love that you're always trying to make your friends giggle, posing for a camera that isn't there, rolling your eyes and shaking your booty and talking in funny voices and being silly.

Yes, you have a hair-trigger temper, and you vacillate between despairing that you can't do something and then quickly insisting that you are a total expert.  And yes, sometimes your utter fearlessness when it comes to climbing and jumping terrifies me - but not enough for me to stop you.  I want you to be bold and fearless.  And yes, sometimes you've got a smart mouth on you and you get up in my face - but even when I have to check your behavior, a part of me loves it that you're not a doormat.

Mostly, you're affectionate and exuberant and hilarious and fun.  Even though you keep getting taller and taller and your legs are impossibly long, you still crawl into my arms every morning when you wake up and wrap yourself around me for an extended morning hug.  You make me smile and laugh every day.

Happy 6th birthday, my love.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Livin' just enough, just enough for the city

Sometimes I feel like I live in a weird parallel universe in which I'm the only sane one, while craziness swirls around me.

I was walking to work and I passed a cake shop that specializes in wedding cakes.  I've walked by it a hundred times but for some reason, only yesterday did I really notice the side window display.

A photo posted by Wendy Jacobs (@wendyalisonjacobs) on

I kind of love it.  Total incongruity.  Nothing about it makes sense.

Further up the street, in a sketchier part of the block, I passed a 7-Eleven.  There was a woman walking out the door, obviously irate, yelling and swearing at some dude inside.  It seemed like par for the course, and she wasn't yelling at me, so I kept walking, listening over my headphones to Alec Baldwin talk to Edie Falco about her life and career.

On the next corner was a woman with a ripped backpack at her feet.  She was wearing dirty tube socks but no shoes.  As I walked toward her, she made the "talking on the phone" sign, holding her hand to her ear with thumb and pinky finger outstretched, and mouthed to me, "call the police."  

At first I wasn't sure she was talking to me, so I ignored it.  She continued to gesture towards me and mouthed "call 911" while punching imaginary telephone buttons with her finger in the air.

I took my headphones off.

"Call the police.  Call 911," she said,

"Why?" I asked.

"There's a crazy crackhead lady in the 7-Eleven, attacking people, ripping doors off cars, she's going nuts and abusing people."

I didn't want to ask how the lady was ripping the doors off cars while inside the 7-Eleven.  It seemed beside the point.

"Call the police," she said again.

"Ok, listen," I said. "I'll dial 911 and place the call, and you can talk to the dispatcher.  I don't have any information to give them."

I dialed 911 on my phone, activated the call, and handed her the phone.

After a second, she says, "Yeah, hey hon.  It's me.  Mmm-hmm.  Yeah, I'm here on Colfax, near the intersection with Pennsylvania.  There's some crazy lady in the 7-Eleven attacking people."

At this point, I'm utterly confused.  I know that the call was placed to 911, and the woman did not hang up or redial or anything like that.  Does she know the 911 lady?  Are they buddies?

"Yeah, you know it,"  she continued, still talking to the 911 operator.  "Always somethin' around here.  Alright, baby.  Bye."

This is the greatest thing ever, I thought to myself.  It was kind of exhilarating.  How amazing would it be to be able to call 911 and be all, "yeah, boo, how're mom'n'ems, maybe I'll see you later..."

She handed me back my phone.

I started to walk away, and said, "OK, well, good luck."

"I don't need luck," she responded.  "Luck is the devil's work."

Okay, then.

Always somethin' indeed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The daddy mac'll make you jump jump

"Mrs. J?"

My mother received a phone call at work.  It was the babysitter.

"Yes? Is everything OK with the kids?"

We had just moved to Israel.  I was 10, Josh was 8, and Sam was about to turn 3.  It was summer, so we hadn't started school yet, and we were living in temporary housing while our regular house was being readied for us.

"Um, the children are jumping off the roof of the house onto mattresses and pillows they pulled into the front yard."

It was a small, one-story house.  So the roof wasn't very high.  And though I don't have a specific recollection on this point, I'm assuming it was just Josh and me doing the jumping.  Sam was too little.

I don't remember getting in trouble, though it's possible we did.  But for whatever reason, we were drawn to that roof.  It was easy to climb onto, and like I said, it wasn't very high.

I've always been drawn to roofs and high spaces. (Maybe that's why, as grueling as it is, I like being on the summit of a 14er, standing right on the edge.) When I was 5 and 6 years old and we were living in Caracas,Venezuela, I could climb from one of the upstairs patios up onto the red-tiled roof of our house in Altamira.  I would sit with my legs on either side of the peak of the house (it wasn't a steep pitch at all) and play with the loose tiles.

I was fine.  We were fine.

So I wasn't remotely alarmed when I walked into the kids' room last night to see what all the noise and fuss was about and saw this:

I guess the apples don't fall far from the tree.

And frankly, I feel like they're aiming a little low.

Monday, September 14, 2015


Later on, when we were driving through Breckenridge on our way back to Denver, I was talking on the phone with my mom and joking about how climbing a 14er is like having a baby, in the sense that you get selective amnesia and forget how grueling and painful it can be - otherwise, you'd never do it again.

Because hours earlier, when we were still a steep, rocky half-mile  or so from the summit (or maybe it was more - I was so fried that it was hard to tell), breathing air that seemed to have no air in it, I couldn't help thinking to myself, "this is so brutal.  My lungs are on fire and my heart is about to pound out of my chest and my legs feel like stumps.  Why am I putting myself through this again?"  We were climbing up a bare ridge above the tree line, to a point that seemed to not get any closer no matter how many "75 steps then 50 breaths" I did.

The view up from 13,500 feet.  Only 750 vertical feet to go, but it looks and feels endless.
But of course, that pain was the point today.  It hammered home that I am alive.  Physical suffering, as hard as it is, is life-affirming.  And I was climbing today to perform a specific task.

The ashes arrived late last week, in a small, rectangular box taller than it was wide.  I had initially thought I would do the hike on Saturday or Sunday, but then decided that there was no better way to celebrate Rosh HaShana than to do it today.  It would certainly be a more meaningful, spiritual experience than sitting in a synagogue with strangers.

Last night I loaded up my pack - I filled the hydration bladder with water, made sandwiches and packed snacks, tucked sunscreen and chapstick and a windbreaker into various pockets.  The ashes went into a top pocket, along with a printout of the mourner's kaddish and a sign I made with the name of the mountain, the altitude at the summit, and the date.

The hike was beautiful but hard.  We saw mountain goats (including a mother who gored a dog in an effort to protect her kid).  We greeted and chatted with our fellow climbers.  We ate our snacks.  We admired the view.

A long way up and still a long way to go
Eventually, the 75 step and 50 breath intervals add up.  It feels like you'll never reach the top, and then all of a sudden you do.

And when I came up over the top of the rise, and saw the lonely little tree marking the summit, the weight of my task overwhelmed me and I started to sob.

Grief is such a strange thing.  I knew I would be emotional, but I was not prepared for the immediate flood of tears.

I went to a spot looking north, and tried to catch my breath.

I took the ashes and the papers out of my pack.  As Christin and I sat together on the ledge, crying, she with her arm around me, I recited the words, first in Hebrew and then in English.
Exalted and hallowed be God's great name in the world which God created, according to plan. May God's majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime and the life of all Israel -- speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen. 
Blessed be God's great name to all eternity. 
Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen. 
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,to which we say Amen. 
May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel. To which we say Amen.

And then I opened my hand and let her go, and said goodbye.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

You're in the arms of an angel, may you find some comfort here

It has been a year.

A year of difficult milestones, a year of the ebb and flow of grief, a year of heartbreak compounded by stress and depression and more heartbreak.

On one hand, it's hard to believe it's been a year already. On the other, so much has happened, I've caromed from Death Valley-esque lows to periods of hope and back again, that the year has felt like five.  Or ten. I feel older and sadder and mortal in a way I never used to.

For some reason, I didn't think the year anniversary would be as hard as other milestones.  Events like Thanksgiving, or Emma's birthday, or the day she would have graduated from high school - those were dates that were so intimately intertwined with her.  Her absence, and the realization, over and over again, that she is gone and we will never see her again, never hug her again, never go to a post-Thanksgiving hockey game with her again, never surf with her again - the realization that she will never get to experience life as she should have -- it's a visceral, gut-wrenching feeling that makes my chest tighten and my eyes immediately start to water.

I have never been one to go from not crying to bawling in an instant - it takes a while for the emotion to build and manifest itself in tears.  But now it can happen in a matter of seconds, when I'll suddenly think of her and suddenly be sobbing.

My brother and sister-in-law have been gracious in agreeing to send me some of her ashes, so I can scatter them from the top of a mountain.  The juxtaposition of the wonderful, beautiful, life affirming hike I did last year, followed by Emma's death four days later, has turned the act of walking, of hiking, of being out in nature, into a transformative experience for me, and one that I will forever associate with her.

This weekend I plan to climb to the sky again, pushing my physical and mental endurance but also reinforcing the miraculous life and health that I continue to enjoy.  I will be carrying her with me - literally carrying a physical piece of her that I will touch and hold until I can't climb any higher.

And then I will release her to the heavens, into the beauty and majesty and wonder of the Rocky Mountains and the sky above, so that she can fly even higher, forever.