Ototoxicity and a Christmas Miracle

Some mornings I stay in bed and just listen for a moment. Sound is all around me. The house creaks. Outside are chirping birds or pattering raindrops or distantly passing cars. I can hear myself breathing and the soft rustle of the sheets as I move. A Westie boy sighs in his bed on the floor. I’m connected to the world around me.

Since my daughter lost her hearing, I have never again taken my own for granted.

(Jen adored Joni Mitchell and this song in particular.)

A bond Jen and I shared before her brain injury was our passion for music. Jen’s collection of music rivaled that of any audiophile’s. To rob her of her hearing on top of everything else seemed the cruelest blow of all. I felt her loss almost as keenly as if it happened to me. At my lowest point, I couldn’t bear to listen to music myself, snapping off the car radio violently and in anguish. If she couldn’t hear it, neither would I.

It’s called ototoxicity. It seems the very antibiotics used to eradicate infection can also destroy hearing. It’s one of the ugliest words I’ve ever learned. Along with irreversible. And permanent.

Eventually we adjusted. What choice did we have, really?

When Jen’s nearly useless hearing aid failed, we replaced it with an amplifier. That contraption involved Jen wearing headphones and us speaking into a microphone, very slowly and clearly. With Jen’s intense concentration and her newly developing ability to read lips, she could hear a bit. One-on-one. Still she was sinking into isolation and despair. It all was just too much.

DSC01333One day I read about a new high-tech hearing aid and dragged a very reluctant Jen in for yet another hearing test. She had long ago given up hope that anything could be done.

Giving a hearing test to a brain injury patient is challenging to say the least. If they don’t respond to a beep, is it because they don’t hear it or because their processing is too slow to react?

We were greeted by an audiologist who more resembled a longshoreman than anything else. A big burly guy, he was so gentle and kind to Jen that watching him I was fighting off tears.  The kindness of strangers has been my undoing more than once through this long ordeal. He spoke into her microphone slowly and patiently, guiding her through the test.

Then he sat down to talk to me.

Him: I’m so sorry this has happened to your beautiful daughter.

Me: (throat tightening) Thank you.

Him: You know her hearing loss is profound.

Me: (No kidding.) Yes.

Him: I can sell you a hearing aid, no problem. And it will help a little. But I actually think Jen might be a great candidate for a cochlear implant instead.

Me: No, I’ve already asked about that. Her ENT said she is not.

Him: (insistently) Listen, it’s my job to sell hearing aids. But I’m pretty sure she’s the right type of patient for a cochlear implant.  Please take this list and check into it. There is hope out there for her.

Hope. What can he know of hope? I wasn’t sure if I could make myself – or Jen – vulnerable to hope once again after having it dashed into smithereens so many times.  But I donned my suit of armor and made the call prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of more crushing disappointment.

Yes, Dr. Coelho, the surgeon at VCU Medical Center said. I think we can help her. Do you want to wait until after the holidays for the surgery?

No. Let’s do it now. (faint glimmer of hope stirs)

On December 21, three years ago today, Jen had cochlear implant surgery. We wouldn’t know for another month whether the procedure would work – things needed to heal before the implant could be turned on. She came home from the hospital to spend another silent Christmas with us.

The day came at last. Jen was remarkably composed. We sat in the hospital audiologist’s lab and she turned the device on. She said “Jennifer.” Jen put her hand up to her head and touched the device. I said “Jen.”

And she turned her head towards me.

It’s not like turning on a switch. You don’t go from hearing nothing to hearing everything just like that. It takes months, if not years, to learn to hear again properly.

No, it’s not like it was before. Jen still can’t hear music or talk on the phone. But she can converse now around the dinner table. We were driving and she heard the car’s directional blinker. She came out of the bathroom once with a big smile and said “I heard the toilet flush!”

Small miracles. We’ll take them. Especially in the form of gentle and generous longshoremen.

Here’s my gift to you. Watch this and then listen to a Christmas song. Really listen to it.

I found this song on a favorite blog, “The Immortal Jukebox.” See if you don’t love it too.

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays and a very Healthy New Year,



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Office Christmas Party 1925

My favorite website for vintage photography is Shorpy.com.  Their annual Christmas tradition is to post this photograph. As they so aptly caption it:

Washington, D.C., 1925. “Western Electric Co. group.” There are enough little dramas playing out here to keep the forensic partyologists busy until Ground Hog Day.


If you want me to be happy this Christmas season, you WILL click here for a full-sized version of this festive time capsule. Everybody instantly springs to life. Oh, so many things to study.

Let’s see, it’s 1925, so we’re smack-dab in the middle of the Roaring Twenties. World War I has ended, but surely some of these men are veterans. In just four more years, Wall Street crashes and the Great Depression begins.

And the hair! The shoes! The faces! Not to mention a teddy bear….Tell me what you see!

Fa la la,


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Holiday Wreath Challenge

The minimalist in me might have been perfectly satisfied with this:


But she was beaten into submission by the other part of me – you know, the one who raises her hand to participate in a wreath-making challenge.

The Charming Woodland Gnome over at Forest Garden blog issued a 2014 Holiday Wreath Challenge a few weeks ago. It’s appropriate that she issued the wreath challenge, now that I think about it. If ever a city was identified by its wreaths, it is her very own Williamsburg, VA.

Every year thousands of people descend on Colonial Williamsburg in December for the Grand Illumination and the unveiling of the incredibly beautiful and distinctive della Robbia wreaths which adorn the doorways of the historic area.


Richmond, VA is no slouch in the wreath department either. My friends over at The Gracious Posse recently posted “Wreathing Richmond.” Here is just one of the over-the-top wreaths you could expect to see should you visit our fair city.


Nothing that elaborate at my old Barn, I hasten to add. I chose to use the long basket as inspiration for the front door design. First order of the day was to gather the greens from all around the yard. You’d think I’d be smart enough by now to have worn gloves, but I have the scratches and slivers to prove otherwise.


Next to devise some sort of vessel for the fresh greens to stay that way in the basket over December. That came down to shoving an ancient Cool Whip container into the opening and filling it with wet oasis.

And then the fun part of arranging the nandina, magnolia, and evergreens.


Dahlink, I’m ready for my close-up now.




Protective eye gear highly recommended as you approach front door!

But this is a wreath challenge, right?  Every year I harvest abundant boxwood from the aged shrubs in front of the house.


The clippings soak overnight and then we’re ready to rock and roll. I use straw wreaths, place magnolia leaves on the underside, and then begin pinning neat little bundles of boxwood to the form. Lastly, they get a good spraying of Wilt-Pruf and are hung out to dry.

The boxwood wreaths are particularly nice as small centerpieces with candles.


This year I tried moss for the first time and rather like working with the stuff.  Upside: no need to get out the machete for harvesting. Downside: the wretched glue gun. Let’s just say I had forgotten how hot that glue can get.


Now for a wreath made for somebody special…..


Pine cones and seeded eucalyptus for a bit of “ribbon.”

My little English garden” cherub”, so old and cracked that he must remain indoors now, needed a little something for the holidays, don’t you agree?


All right, that’s enough wreathing for one year. I am heading into the kitchen to bake cookies, and if I’m lucky I may even catch up on my reading. That toppling-over TBR pile of mine is crying out for attention.

Maybe somebody should issue a “Book-A-Week Challenge.”

Thanks for reading,






Posted in Challenges, Garden, Projects | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 101 Comments

A Gift of Blue Spruce or Why I’m No Longer Pining Away

I should be embarrassed to pun away so shamelessly, but, alas, I am not!

Let me tell you about something wonderful that happened to me the other day.

All around our old Barn is nature’s abundance for Christmas decorations. I have a magnificent old Magnolia, golden cypress, boxwood, nandina, and cedar. Not to mention lots of holly laden with berries. And is this good enough for me? Noooo.

My friend, Joanne, up in Northern Ohio has blue spruce. The most glorious, stately, shimmering blue spruce you’ve ever seen. She knows how much I love her trees which don’t do well at all in my neck of the woods.

Me: Have I mentioned how much I love your blue spruce?

Joanne: Yes, once or twice. (Probably thinking, dear God, she is relentless!)

So guess what arrived the other evening in the mail? Really, I was just overcome. All the way from Huron, Ohio, a box for me!!!:


I mean have you ever seen anything so beautiful? Wonderfully fragrant and still damp, a big box full of silvery blue boughs….. AHHHHHHH!!!!!!

And because I am so deliriously happy with this, I want to show you what I’ve done with it. First outside:



Yes, Virginia, there is an urn under there, but it is so cold and rainy today, and I could not get a good shot. This will have to do.

And then inside:




Christmas isn’t a particularly easy time in my household. I have to work at keeping the ghosts of Christmas Past at bay. But always, it seems, something happens to get me joyfully into the spirit and this year, it happened to come early.  In a box of branches.


Decking the halls,


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone But Not Forgotten

When we bought our old barn, I needed furniture tout de suite for the guest room. We found a five piece mahogany set in an antiques mall which I set to cleaning up before company arrived.

As I was putting a drawer back into the dresser, I felt a slight obstruction. I pulled the drawer out completely and this is what I found bunched up against the frame:


Some very groovy pantyhose still in the unopened packaging. Sixties? Early Seventies?

Let’s take a closer look at the traces of the spit-spot Mrs. Harold Diehl, Sr. who hailed from the Baltimore area. My keen sleuthing skills are at work here:


An entirely separate post could be written on the “Gone But Not Forgotten” department stores of yore.


Evidently Mrs. Diehl enjoyed shopping and was a meticulous record-keeper.


Not one of these receipts has a year. Several have a date written thusly: MM/DD/Y. The year is “6” Whether 66 or 76, I’m not sure.

In the days before we plopped everything into a gift bag….remember when we had to actually wrap things?


Neatly folded wrapping paper

And best of all this little notebook:



Nothing particularly interesting lies within and yet I find it rather moving:


Maybe she was a brunette?



The usually neat handwriting now a scribble….has something happened?


And perhaps one of the Diehls was a Mainer:


And that’s it. That’s all I know of Mrs. Harold Diehl, Sr.  Not even her first name. When I eventually sell the furniture, I will include all of this in the neat little plastic bag in which I found it.

Mrs. Diehl may be gone, but she won’t be entirely forgotten. At least not on my watch.

Oh yes, remember to check that furniture before you put it up for sale. It might have something to say…..

Thanks for reading,






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Tomato and Plum

We were at the check-out of an apple orchard near Charlottesville with our bags of Pink Ladies and Pippins, when I spied the crate filled with apple-shaped ketchup dispensers.

What the heck, we agreed. We’re never going to find the tomato, so we might as well buy one. Buy two, I said, I’ll give one to Mom.

Throughout my childhood a plastic tomato ketchup dispenser was a fixture on our kitchen table. What happened to it is a mystery for the ages; nobody will admit to throwing it away or remembering how it disappeared. But disappear it did and for some reason, I felt the need to have one at this stage of my life. Why is anybody’s guess…some connection with my childhood as exemplified by a kitschy 1960s plastic tomato? Evidently.

But one must have standards with these things and the cheap knock-offs on eBay simply will not do. I want the real McCoy, if possible. And so whenever we would pop into an antiques mall, one of us would head over to the kitchenware booths and give a futile look-see.

We left the mountainside orchard with our ersatz dispensers and headed home on unfamiliar country roads when the sign for an antiques mall just ahead appeared. You can guess what’s coming, right?

Yup, not an hour after officially giving up the years-long quest, there it was – just sitting there smugly next to a stack of pink Depression glass plates. The tomato ketchup dispenser.

Isn’t it always the way?

After composing myself, I headed over to the book stacks where my charmed day continued. Nestled in the dusty shelves I found a treasure; a marvelous and musty P.G. (Plum) Wodehouse anthology published in 1932 with foreword by Ogden Nash. To say I pounced eagerly upon it would be an understatement as no other writer has ever caused me to howl with laughter in the privacy of my living room quite like dear old Plum.


The introduction to Section One (JEEVES) reads as follows:

Presenting once more Jeeves, the one and only gentleman’s gentleman; and Bertie Wooster, his gilded charge; together with several ingenious stratagems employed by Jeeves on those occasions when Aunt was calling to Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps.


I don’t which makes me happier….the tomato or the prospect of many hours looming ahead in the Wonderful World of Wodehouse. I think Door # 2.

Sorry, tomato. Plum wins this one.










Posted in Books, Humor | Tagged , , , , | 61 Comments

Pilots N Paws (and flippers)

What an adventure we had this weekend!

Well, to be honest, I had nothing to do with it, but not for lack of trying. It seems I’ve been displaced as my husband’s co-pilot by a stack of turtles. In Chiquita banana boxes.

One of the many hindrances to successful animal rescue is getting them from Point A to B. There may well be a rescue organization in Massachusetts able to take in a dog from Florida but for the transport.

Enter “Pilots N Paws” and my favorite pilot who has recently joined this very cool organization.

Every day the word goes out to the pilot community from Pilots N Paws requesting help getting rescued animals from here to there. And if it’s possible, pilots sign up for a leg of the trip. So far Beloved Husband has not been able to coordinate helping out with a dog transfer, but he spent all day Saturday in the air doing his bit for another transfer…of the endangered species kind!

Turns out there is a bit of a crisis going on in Massachusetts right now. Unusually strong winds and a drop in water temperature have caused several kinds of endangered sea turtles to be stranded along Cape Cod beaches. No way can they survive a New England winter.

NOAA contacted Pilots N Paws for help getting the turtles down to warmer waters.

BH got an e-mail on Wednesday asking if he could help out in the transfer. But it’s not as easy a task as it seems. You see, the turtles cannot get cold. Period. The transfer from the New England Aquarium to the heated van to the heated plane has to happen quickly. Or else.


New England Aquarium staff handing off turtles in SEVENTEEN degree weather. BRRRR.


They loaded fourteen critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtles and two giant loggerheads into the little Cessna. BH had already taken out the passenger seat (which is why Yours Truly was not on board) to maximize capacity.


Each turtle was numbered.


The loggerheads were so big that while aloft BH could feel them flopping about in their containers. Turtle Turbulence! I was curious about smell. BH reported that there was only the slightest aroma of ocean water.


Hurry up! Close the doors and get the heat on!


I spent the day decorating my mantels for Christmas and anxiously watching BH’s flight via FlightAware.


Almost home!


And once BH landed back in Richmond, the pilot who volunteered to take the southern leg of the trip down to Jekyll Island, Georgia had to be on the runway ready and waiting for the transfer with a preheated plane. Or else.


Unloading for the south-bound leg of the journey, BH (far left) happy to be home.


And miraculously, that’s exactly what happened!

The turtles flew coach to Virginia but once they got on the southbound leg of the journey, the accommodations were First Class with a faster, roomier plane complete with blankets to keep them snuggly warm.

Last word on Saturday evening from Eric, the southbound pilot, via e-mail:

“We’ve landed the sauna-plane. Everybody having a nice warm bath! Well, the turtles anyway.”

How fabulous is that???

Over and out,




Posted in Random Ruminations, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 103 Comments