Archive for the ‘Bear’ Category

I admit, I’m always a little bit behind on the general news from St. Neots as well as my holidays. Just a week or so ago, we took down the Christmas shrub.

Lest there be any doubt exactly where the Christmas shrug rested.

Lest there be any doubt exactly where the Christmas shrub rested.

And after an entire year, I finally got around to finding a dentist. With the full knowledge that I have about four fillings that need work, I dragged myself down in fear and trepidation, but they were extremely nice to me and it made me want to be a better person, the kind who flosses.

The doorway to better dental health

The doorway to better dental health

I also wound up at the doctor’s for some routine bloodwork, but while I was there they had me fill out a little survey regarding the general services. one question in particular made me laugh.

(I've never seen a dragon.)

(I’ve never seen a dragon.)

Other interesting things happened around town and in the shire this week, some sad and some just funny. At the sad end of the spectrum, someone jumped from the bridge in St. Neots by Priory Lane on Monday night and is presumed drowned.  A local teenager has been missing since about 30 minutes before the jumper was reported. What gave me some faith in humanity though was this part of the report from the paper: “…dozens of cars parked up on the river bank and shone their headlights into the water to help the search party.” [Steve Iley of Eaton Ford] said: “Later, lots more cars arrived and parked up — in places you wouldn’t expect — shining their headlights into the river to help the search.”

On the more humorous side of things, 5 caravans (RVs) were set on fire with 5 separate fires. “The fire service is treating the incident as deliberate.” And in the annual Pancake Day races (that’s the English term for Fat Tuesday before Lent where you eat lots of pancakes because…well, who wouldn’t want to do that?), the Mayor of St. Neots took a hard fall during the  Huntingdon races. “He crashed to the ground, ripping his trouser knee, and part of his chain of office fell out of its mount and rolled across the road.” His comment was, “You expect these injuries every so often when you do extreme sports.” Four years ago, the chairman of the Huntingdonshire District Council also fell during the race, suffering a cut to the head and shoulder and rib injuries.

People, all you have to do is run in a straight line while carrying a frying pan with a pancake in it.  This is not rocket science. I love you, but you make me fearful.

These people are upright and ambulatory. Try to be more like them.

These people are upright and ambulatory. Try to be more like them.

I’ve been torn between being concerned for Bear and happy that he’s continuing to lose weight. He’s been very dedicated to his health over the course of our marriage, steadily losing over 50 pounds and improving his workouts and nutrition. He’s always worn his clothes on the baggy side, but lately it’s gotten a little over the top.

He's in there. Somewhere.

He’s in there. Somewhere.

So to try to help ease this in the other direction, I took advantage of a special deal that Waitrose offers for a Valentine’s dinner for two. There were 6 categories to pick from for a total of just 20 pounds: appetizer, side, wine, dessert, main course, and box of chocolates. 20 pounds! We wound up with a vegetarian pasta dish, roasted potatoes, chocolate mousse, Belgian chocolates, an assortment of olives/almonds/manchego cheese, and a bottle of wine for Bear.


Bear poured a glass of wine and I asked him how it was.

"Excellent vinegar," he said.

“Excellent vinegar,” he said.

"But lousy wine."

“But lousy wine.”

The food itself though was excellent and there are no more pictures as it’s all gone!

Since we were sticking with the dinner and a movie formula, I picked out Warm Bodies, a new zombie, comedy, romance that was really fun, sweet-natured and a cool kind of re-working of Romeo and Juliet (with a happy ending). It was funny, adorable and had some good things to say about the general zombification of American culture. Two severed thumbs up. 🙂



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Early on in our marriage, I would find little scraps of paper around the house where Bear had items jotted down. At first I thought they were shopping lists or To Do items, which I know now is silly because bears don’t like to shop and they certainly don’t like to do things around the house.

Bear’s idea of grocery shopping

The lists were of things he wanted to own, or occasionally what he wanted to be or to overcome. The ones that amused me were lists of very upscale, pricey items like thousand dollar sunglasses, a Lear jet or a wardrobe by Armani. Many people are afflicted with the curse of champagne taste on a beer budget, whereas we’d all be a lot happier with beer tastes on a champagne budget. Bear’s problem is that he has a champagne brain but beer tastes–he just doesn’t realize it until after he buys the item, becomes disillusioned and returns it for something much cheaper that actually makes him happy.

Bear has a somewhat checkered past when it comes to returning items. His genuine heartfelt belief is that if it still looks brand new, then he should be able to give it back and get all his money back, no matter how much time has passed. He’s done this with everything from books (he was single-handedly responsible for the demise of Borders), golf clubs (which he touched up with white-out so the little club head stripes would look just perfect…until the first time the new owner played in the rain), and even a set of CD shelves to Wal-Mart which he had owned and used for over three years and then returned for $50 more than he had originally paid. He owned and returned so many vehicles in a 12 month period (a Saturn SL2, a Cobra Mustang, a Renegade Jeep and two jet skis)  that the cop up the road thought he was a drug dealer. Later, Bear got to know this cop who said how relieved he was to have been wrong because he liked Bear and wasn’t looking forward to arresting him.

I would collect the little slips of paper with his lists as they would turn up around the house, in the car, on the floor behind doors, and once in the bathroom. Then I found The List.

  • 9mm Glock
  • K-Bar knife
  • duct tape
  • coat hangers
  • night vision goggles
  • Zodiac landing craft
  • Smell of flesh

In case you’re unclear about what a zodiac landing craft looks like (Navy SEALs not included)

I’m not really certain how long I stood there holding the paper between my fingers which had gone numb because, really, how important is blood in your extremities when your brain needs every available drop to try to figure some scenario by which your husband is not secretly a serial killer. Dexter is all fun and games when it’s on TV, but not when he’s sleeping in your bed.

Bear loves Dexter, but had he taken his admiration a bit too far?

My belief is that there’s absolutely no point in not confirming a theory. If it’s true, then it’s still true whether you know it or not so you might as well face up to it. I walked into Bear’s office where he was sitting and surfing the Internet, probably in the Serial Killer Forums looking for playmates in his area.

“I’m curious, honey–what are these items for?”

Bear put on his puzzled face as he held the list at arm’s length and read, lips moving. He has trouble remembering things sometimes even from earlier that day, so you have to wait a moment for him to dredge up the memory. (If he’s not using the memory in that very instant, it gets archived and shoved to the back.) Then his face lightened.

“I was reading an article about the first responders to 9/11 at the Twin Towers and this one doctor was talking about all the things he really wished he’d had with him so he could have helped more people.”

“Smell of flesh?”

Bear looked sad. “From the bodies. He wasn’t able to do as much with the search and recovery and some victims went into shock from the smell of decay and he could’ve saved them. I was thinking maybe that eucalyptus stuff, like Clarice Starling had in Silence of the Lambs?”

To say that I felt relieved would be a gross misuse of the word. The only serial killer in the house was the specter of Hannibal Lecter, and he was offering some very good advice. All Bear wanted was to be ready to help others if something on that kind of terrible scale happened again in his lifetime.

I realized then that these lists represent little landmarks along Bear’s journey towards some undetermined point where he has eliminated everything that society and its marketing machine has told him he needs to want in order to be the person he thinks he should be.

At last he had hit on a goal that was far more worthy of him than any of the previous windmills he had tilted at. In fact, he’s already succeeded. He doesn’t need the things on The List to be that guy. He already is, but he’s the only one who doesn’t know it.

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Stage One of Bear’s Birthday Bash was to attend a Loreena McKennitt concert from the Celtic Footprints Tour at the Barbican Center in London. I had first heard LM’s music back in 199 when a friend sent me a copy of The Book of Secrets and it was love at first listen. I was working on a book about Robin Hood at the time and it made great working background. I kept picking up other albums, following the spectrum of her work as it made (to me) a perfect blend of traditional Celtic with world music influence, going eastward to the Celtic roots in western Asia and the silk road.

There was a gap in time between 1998 and 2006, following the death of her fiancé, when she wasn’t releasing any studio albums or appearing live very often so I kept replaying everything I had until I wore grooves in the CDs. Along the way, I discovered that LM was from Morden, Manitoba, a town I had actually been to for a week or two in 1987 although this was a few years after she had moved east to the Ontario, Montreal area, and  having been to Manitoba, I can understand why. Ironically, that same summer, my family spent a week in a cabin on the shore of Georgian Bay not too far from the place where her fiancée Ron Rees, drowned in a boating accident along with his brother, Rick and their friend, Greg Cook. I’ve been around that water and while it seems fairly calm, the wind can kick up and the water can be very cold even in the summer—hypothermia isn’t that many minutes away. I don’t believe it’s ever been explicitly stated, but the piece “Penelope’s Song” seems to be very much about someone who has lost their beloved and is pledged to wait faithfully.

Now that the time has come
Soon gone is the day
There upon some distant shore
You’ll hear me say

Long as the day in the summer time
Deep as the wine dark sea
I’ll keep your heart with mine.
Till you come to me

All of that to say that even apart from just really, really liking her music, I’ve unintentionally followed small parts of her life history as well. My parents are just lucky I didn’t know about her back in the 80s or I would have taken up the accordion probably instead of guitar and I don’t think anyone would have wanted that. (If we’d been lucky, maybe it would’ve been the harp.)

Over ten years ago, when I first met Bear, he had just bought a copy of The Book of Secrets also, so that was one of the huge votes in his Plus column and we’re a proud two copy family. I had gotten to see LM on her first real public tour of the States in nearly a decade back in 2007 but Bear couldn’t go. It was at the Fox Theater in Atlanta and I tagged along with Amanda DeWees and her mom. It was a perfect evening given that the musical theme was heavy on the eastern influences in McKennitt’s music and the Fox Theater is just perfect for that, decorated as a palace out of the Arabian nights.

The thing I walked away with that night was just how amazing her band is, if you can even call them that. It’s an ensemble of eight+ extremely talented musicians in their own right and they just happen to like her, as she puts it. Well, like her they must because they were all back for this tour and just as tight as ever.

I had gotten the tickets back in December before we even immigrated so the anticipation had been building up for several months. I even dutifully paid the congestion charge in advance and secured parking at the Barbican in their garage which is definitely the way to go. We got there early and had time to walk over to see St. Paul’s Cathedral before hand which is about 5 minutes away. It was just at the beginning of Maundy Thursday services so it was packed and we couldn’t stay long but it was beautiful and I’d love to go back. Maundy Thursday is one of my favorite services and one of my fondest memories of living in Athens, Georgia was going to the service at University Church and sitting at the tables in the main room in the manner of the Last Supper, listening to Dan Orme give the service.

Roman City Wall

On the way back, we walked along the stretch of the old Roman city wall that had been exposed by some of the bombing during the London blitz. When we got back to the Barbican, we explored outside in the terraced garden area where they have apartments overlooking the gardens and water.

Really wonder how much the rent is here.

When we got back into the Barbican itself, we walked all around the public library and there was some confusion as we tried to locate things, essential little things like the bathroom. The Barbican is the largest performing arts complex in all of Europe and was not in fact designed by M.C. Escher although that would be a very good guess.

Sure, it looks like the stairs are going down. That's what they want you to think.

We showed up a little early for our dinner reservations at the Lounge, a tapas restaurant inside the Barbican itself where we ate ridiculously well and for not very much all things considered, which was the perfect solution dinner and a show.

Birthday Bear

We went with feta stuffed chillies and a bowl of olives for appetizer, then I had pan seared scallops (approximately $12 for two scallops — must ask Dad to mail some from Florida) and Bear had chicken satay, plus bread with a mojito for Bear. We finished off with treacle tart and lemon curd and vanilla clotted cream ice cream which was unbelievably tasty and an Americano for me.

We had just enough time to pick up the tickets from the box office and find our seats. Bear had been asking about them and I told him truthfully that they were in the center. As in, they were aligned perfectly for the stage, not too far off to the side. What I had neglected to mention was that they were on the very last row. I mean, our backs were to the wall. In case of a fire, we would’ve been the first ones out—safety first! However as the hall is fairly small and only holds about 1,500 (and every one of them showed up) this was still really great seating. All in all, the average Loreena McKennitt concertgoer is not the wild, unruly type but lots of academic-ish people in their 30s and up, wearing comfortable clothes with a Celtic/Middle Eastern theme.

Why, yes, I own all her albums and two copies of The Book of Secrets, why do you ask?

Then came a moment that took me back to a time in college when a friend mentioned that she had been out for a walk and seen a guy coming towards her who was, for lack of a gentler word, really ugly. She tried not to make eye contact because he was coming directly at her. She made it past him though and turned to see that there had been someone behind her and that this woman had been headed towards him just as intently, and according to my friend they were a perfectly matched set. Isn’t it beautiful, she said, when two ugly people find each other? As awful as that sounds, it was very funny too and it made me glad that we can hope to find a place where we all fit and belong. The reason this popped into my mind at the concert is that there was a couple exactly like that a few rows in front of me and I didn’t take a picture out of respect but never have I seen two more awkward people who perfectly belonged together and looked so blissfully happy,

The set list for  the show is as follows, although I confess that there were some instrumental tunes that I didn’t know quite well enough to confidently identify and I was trying to write in the dark.

  • Two instrumental pieces without LM on stage yet
  • Bonny Portmore
  • Star of the County Down
  • The Highwayman
  • As I Roved Out (funky, bluesy underbeat to it)
  • Immigration Tunes (originally a piece she wrote as part of a one woman show she had worked on in the 1980s but abandoned)
  • Sally Gardens (remarks on how Yeats had been in love with Maud Gonne and possibly written this about her and how she had been an unusual, striking woman who dressed in black and traveled with monkeys, “Not so unlike this tour”)
  • Musician introduction
  • LM offered apologies to the left side front for the bad line of sight. She leaned over from the piano bench to wave at them and assured them that she was thinking of them even though she couldn’t see them. Overall LM’s mood seemed very light and excited to be performing and back in London.


  • Wind that Shakes the Barley
  • Raglan Road
  • The Old Ways
  • Santiago (featuring extensive interplay between fiddle and clarinet)

Following Hugh Marsh’s frenzied finish to the song, LM remarked dryly “We’re still collecting for Hugh’s fiddle lessons.”

  • The Stolen Child (reflections on her own childhood in Manitoba in the outdoors and what childhood is like for many children now)
  • The Lady of Shalott (greeted with advance clapping)
  • Mummer’s Dance
  • All Soul’s Night
  • Never-ending Road
  • Beltane Fire Dance (entire hall was clapping along)
  • The Parting Glass (and if you didn’t know that was going to be the last song, you really weren’t listening to the album)

All in all, two encores (the song order got a little jumbled in my note taking) and a third for a curtain call. After the second encore, she asked lightly “Don’t you people have homes?” and I really think many of us would have camped out for another hour if she would have kept playing.

While I do really love her take on the traditional Celtic pieces, I confess that my favorites will probably always be the more Middle Eastern arrangements and the larger band pieces like “Santiago” and “All Soul’s Night”, so it was wonderful to see those included even though this tour’s emphasis is on the new (old) material and sparser arrangements with harp, piano, cello and fiddle. (The live version of “The Bonny Swans” takes on a really nice edge all its own.)

Bear gave it two huge paws up and we wandered out, happy little travelers to have shared a stop along the way with our favorite musical tour guides. According to the ‘net, her next stop is Paris and that’s exactly where we were headed also, leaving for the ferry directly from the concert. Great minds think alike. Godspeed until next time, Ms. McKennitt. We wish you all the peace, joy and happiness you have brought to us.

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“Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug”

–Mark Knopfler

I first heard the lines to that song not from the original Dire Straits but from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s cover of it in 1992, twenty years ago on The Hard Way. That album spawned a ridiculous number of country hits and went quadruple platinum, which is not to say that it wasn’t a very good album. It just always surprises me when radio and the critics align like that.

In this case however, I feel like it’s Bear who has been the bug lately, smashing against the implacable glass windshield of food in England. I have made a commitment to try to make his life as easy as possible since he’s given up basically everything to follow me over here for a few years (his job, his friends, his family, his beloved Nissan 370Z convertible–everything except his cat and me, his ‘munk).

I had thought when we first knew we were going to move, hey, I’m a good cook — they have ingredients here, I’ll just cook at home like we used to and it’ll be better and healthier and cheaper. (Bear thinks that Cheap is my middle name. It is in fact my first name.) Well, that’s true except I keep hitting problems with basic ingredients. Please witness my evidence:

  1. Made him a favorite cookie recipe (Chocolate Chip-Cranberry-Walnut-Oatmeal) and sent him into wild gastric distress. I blame the Scotch porridge oats.
  2. Made him mussels in garlic butter sauce straight from Waitrose in an hermetically sealed pouch. He got a horrible fever, shakes and chills. I have never in my life felt a forehead that hot. I really thought I’d burned myself. Ironically, I didn’t suffer a single problem even though we split the bag.

Then came the Egg Incident. Back home, Bear made Egg Beaters every day for breakfast with his little carton and some garlic powder and hot sauce. He was really proud of himself, and rightly so, for having figured out how to microwave them in a way that came out really well and about as good as anything in a skillet. But they’ve never heard of Egg Beaters over here and all the eggs are in fact stored out on the shelf, not even refrigerated. That was a little scary at first, but everyone does it and so we did it too, just like your Mom asked you if all the other kids were jumping off a bridge, would you do it too? (Probably so, especially if it’s the bridge over the St. Marks.)

So I said hey, what are egg beaters except egg whites with a little yolk and coloring? We’ll make our own! It worked for about two months, but yesterday, I made scrambled egg whites for lunch, we both ate from the same pan (which had been washed, yes, thank you) and I was fine, but he got violent shakes, chills, sweating and fever. He crawled into the bed and the shaking got so bad that it was actually vibrating the bed, sort of like those Magic Fingers machines in cheap hotels. He didn’t get delirious this time, unlike the previous time when he briefly hallucinated that we were standing in a Bass Pro shop in the Florida Keys, looking at a boat filled with t-shirts (although I’m certain that Bass Pro Shops has set up that kind of display more than once). However, when I got off the phone with the doctor, I’m pretty sure the nurse muttered “Well, that’s two more Yanks we probably won’t have to deal with for very long if they keep trying to kill themselves like that.”

She had advised giving him some Tylenol along with fluids and rest, etc, the usual and keep an eye on him (as if I was going to let him out of my sight). There is however a long family history with Tylenol among the Bear clan which is worth mentioning here. When his little brother Bert was about 3 years old and Bear was babysitting him along with their little sister, Ginny, Bert experienced what can only be described as horrible growing pains. To hear Bear tell it, his joints and sinews were being ripped apart and he couldn’t stand to see the little guy in agony, so he gave him Tylenol. About seven. Maybe eight. Extra-strength. (Does it even come in regular strength anymore?)

Ginny was the voice of reason in all this and kept telling Bear to read the label, which he never does, and so when Bert flat passed out in about thirty minutes she may or may not have suggested he was entering a coma. (Ginny is now a nurse at a hospital which goes to show you that kids really do know what they want out of life sometimes. She also bears a terrifying resemblance to Gretchen Wilson, but apparently they had stopped taking applications for country singers at that point.)

So with all this in mind, I gave Bear just a few Tylenol to start with because he was asking for nine, but when he tried to put them in his mouth he was shaking so badly that they fell out of his hand and got lost in the bed clothes for a moment. I was trying very hard not to look as worried as I was, but I was already having a pretty shaky week. In a nutshell, too much work, not enough rest, and generally stressed and feeling responsible for decisions that terrify me, and now my husband was looking on the verge of death for the second time in two weeks.

(Side note: Bear asked me not to post this on Facebook because honestly it’s embarrassing when you’re shaking so hard you can’t even take pills, but he forgot to say anything about the blog. Let’s not tip him off.)

To cover up how worried I was, I went to get some socks for Bear because his paws felt cold despite two quilts and a sweater. I randomly pulled out a particular pair of fuzzy tan socks with pink, blue and green banded stripes. As I looked at them I was overwhelmed with the stinging urge to cry because I remembered the last time I’d given him these socks.

The Infamous Stripey Socks which brother Bert of the Tylenol Overdose had given us for Christmas

Since his real Dad had died fairly young of a heart attack, Bear has always told me to prepare myself because he’s going to die young and I always respond that he should prepare himself to suffer many more years with me. Despite my lighthearted approach, he regularly told me he thought he was having a heart attack, so I would either take him to the ER or get him more heartburn medication, and life just seemed like it would go on as normal. (It didn’t help that Bear’s Dad had actually died in front of him when he was seven and the whole thing got etched in his memory like…like something etched in your memory.)

One time I went to go see Fellowship of the Ring, admittedly a long-ish movie, and came back to find him sitting in the exact center of the couch, arms crossed, staring at the door and waiting for me to come through

“How was the movie?” he asked.

“Great. Sauron’s still evil, Viggo’s still hot. What did you do?”

David Wenham is still hotter than Viggo IMHO, but he wasn’t in the first movie so I have to find a roundabout way to bring him up so I can justify this picture.

“Oh, I had a heart attack, went to the hospital but they told me I wasn’t really so I’m back now. Do you want dinner?”

This was my life for many years and I admit that I got a little desensitized. Eventually our (wonderful, beloved, never-to-be-replaced) doctor sent Bear to get a stress test which led to other things which led to the decision to do a cardiac catheterization just to rule out anything dire. The doctor said to send socks along so Bear wouldn’t get cold during the exam so because who could take this seriously—I mean, really—I gave him the funniest, fuzziest pair I could find with multi-colored stripes.

I waited in the prep room, tried to do some work, and wasn’t surprised when the doctor came back fairly quickly. What did surprise me was that he told me Bear had in fact had a heart attack at some point and a small portion of the bottom of his heart had died. When I heard that, so did mine.

Working backwards, it was easy to determine when it had happened – a few Saturdays ago, on a day when I wanted to go to the movies and then write at a coffee shop and had been exasperated that Bear was feeling sick again and wanted to go to the ER. I was angry that I was giving up my plans yet again and sitting in yet another waiting room. He had lost a lot of weight and gotten in great shape since we got married.

Single Bear, living good off unattended picnic baskets

Married Bear, after seven years of good food and clean living

After seven years, I thought, was anything really ever going to happen?

The answer to that would be yes. My husband had a heart attack at 40 and I hadn’t believed him.

To say that Bear looked saintly in his little hospital gown with his feet sticking out from under the sheets in those goofy striped socks would be an understatement. To say that I felt like the worst person in the world and a horrible excuse for a wife would be an even bigger understatement. Somehow I managed to get him home and went back out to the store to pick up what would be the beginning of his life as an even healthier person, if that were possible. I stalked up and down the aisles, picking up every label and reading it with laser-beam eyes, chucking out even the most innocent items for a trace of cholesterol.

I hate fish with a violent passion, but (like all bears) mine loves salmon and I had read somewhere this would be good with his heart. I couldn’t tell what would be good – it all looked disgusting – but then I saw the price difference between farm-raised and wild salmon and nearly dropped my wallet. I was wondering how to sneak the farm-raised past Bear so I could save six dollars on a fillet and then I realized, standing there at the chrome lined Publix fish case, that I was putting a price on my husband’s life. I was literally calculating up how much he was worth to me and if I was willing to pay for the better food.

We can skip over some of what happened next, but whenever I go back to the fish counter at Publix, the workers tend to huddle up as if they’ve set up a buddy system just in case that crazy woman who broke down crying while hugging three wild salmon fillets comes around again.

They make it look so easy…

I managed to look cheerful when I came in the door with lots of incredibly healthy food and I told Bear I needed a shower. While he was rummaging through the bags of fruit and air-baked crisps, like any good bear in a campground, I sat down in the corner of the shower stall and started to really cry. The fish counter had just been a warm up. With the water running, he couldn’t hear me and it might be my last chance for a while to really deal with how horrible I felt and how much I blamed myself.

I was about two minutes into an Olympic level breakdown when I heard something behind me and I looked up to find Bear standing at the glass shower door with his hands cupped around his eyes so he could see in.

Please note husbands, do not sneak up on your wives in the shower. It can lead to really bad accidents and then it’s your turn to feel bad and drive them to the hospital.

“What are you doing?” he asked. His voice echoed all over the tile bathroom like the voice of God and I had to ask myself, yes, what had I been doing all those years? Had I been paying attention at all?

“I’m taking a shower,” except it came out more like “I’b tabing a showah” because I was completely congested at that point.

“Are you…crying?” He was looking really pleased that I cared this much.

At that point I said a few unprintable things that culminated in my ordering him to leave the bathroom and not come back even if he was having another heart attack.

Eventually I pulled myself together, he became pescetarian (fish but no other meat), lost even more weight and his doctor no longer considers him a cardiac risk and possibly may have called Bear his favorite patient. Not to be outdone, I became a mollusketarian (that’s my own word I made up which means bivalve mollusks but no other meat–“bi-vegetarian” was going to lead to some humorous confusion) and ran a marathon.

All of this came into my mind less than half a second when I opened the sock drawer and saw those insane stripey socks, then looked up at Bear who was lying so sick, feverish and trembling in the bed. For a moment we were back in the hospital again, he was smiling at me, telling me it wasn’t my fault and he loved me, and I felt like part of my heart was dying. But in the intervening years since then, I had come to realize what most reasonable people already know, that no matter what I do, I can’t save anyone else’s life. You can wear a seatbelt, keep your pets on a leash, and tell your kids not to talk to strangers, but it’s a fallen world and bad things still happen. You just get up each morning, do your best, trust to a loving God, deal with what happens next, and try to keep the crying at the fish counter to a minimum.

Bear smiled back at me, a little wobbly but real and stuck his feet out from underneath the quilt for his socks. While I wrestled them on, I told him I thought he said they looked silly but they were his special socks. “When you have those on,” I said, “nothing bad can happen to you.”

His eyes were closed again and the shakes were coming back but he shook his head and held my hand. “No…when I’m with you, everything good happens. That’s even better.”

So it seems that everything he does makes me want to cry.

Sometimes you’re the windshield

Sometimes you’re the bug

Sometimes it all comes together

Sometimes you’re just a fool in love.

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Bear with me – this really is about crepes and there’s even a good recipe. But first, some background.

The first time I had crepes I didn’t even know what they were called and the menu at the DeLand, Florida International House of Pancakes didn’t help any. It called them German lemon-butter pancakes and I was in love.

The problem in getting them was in getting there. I didn’t have a car, which is another long story, and I had to rely on people to get me to the IHOP which was too far to walk (as in, more than 500 yards). My roommate was quite possibly the only other person at Stetson University without a car, so I discovered that one of my friends was equally in love with IHOP and I would talk him into making a run.

The all glorious International House of Pancakes

Millard and I were friends from campus and we had clicked in a sort of weird way, mostly over food. Whenever they served barbecued ribs at the cafeteria, whichever of us spotted it on the menu board first would call the other and we would meet up in the Garden Room and get plate after plate of ribs. He brought his giant folding knife because the cafeteria knives weren’t sharp enough to crack into the marrow and I had a respectable one-handed folding utility myself. We looked ridiculous, grinning with sauce from ear to elbow.

I knew a little about his background that wasn’t generally common knowledge – why he had gone to France for a year, changed from his middle name to his first name, and why he usually had a pistol somewhere fairly close at hand. (I happened to agree with all three of those decisions, as well as what he did that had made them necessary actions.) I wasn’t afraid of him, and in return for this confidence, he invited me to write at his family farm, sitting at his mother’s plastic-covered dining room table. While I worked, he would hover in the kitchen with the radio playing softly. Plates of bacon cheeseburgers appeared mysteriously by my elbow with iced tea and wedges of lime from the trees in his orchard.

(L. Millard, R. Evan Keller) One of the only two pictures I have of Millard

He had a headstrong streak, I don’t think anyone would argue with that, but we got along very well — he took me seriously that that was precious to me  — and he was the one man I trusted to protect my stories, which were like children to me. He was, in some sense, their father. He had even been more than a little responsible for my getting the money to buy my first laptop so I could write novels day or night, rain or shine, with or without electricity. A number of other people were at that point trying to get me to stop writing, for the world’s protection, so this was something of an exciting change of pace.

Eat crepes every night and refuse to walk anywhere and you too can look like this. And that caption is a lie — I was writing a fiction story not doing homework. Although the line did often blur. That silver nameplate on the Mac Powerbook lid says “Millard”. I had promised to name it after him if he could get me the money to buy it.

Late at night, Mill would drive me to IHOP where we talked, like most college students, about some very shaky political theories, and religion, and pop culture, and guns, and relationships, and one memorable night about the evolutionary logic for the sexual differences between men and male silverback gorillas.

Probably would like some crepes too

Millard liked to order Eggs Benedict, even though he always warned me that they might turn on me, but the orders could take forever to arrive so one night he asked me what I wanted in a mate. We were back to relationships again, so I named off a few easy things like compatibility in interests, but he was bored so he turned over the slick paper place mat and together we assembled a man as you might a set of Legos, block by block.

At last, he examined the list at arm’s length and said: “So, basically you want a cross between your Dad and Jesus Christ.” I felt sick and wondered when the therapists were going to come breaking down the door, but he laughed and said something about admirable qualities before he grew quiet and said, “Actually it looks a lot like me.” And it did look like him, but even as logical as that would have been, it wasn’t where my head was, or my heart. I had known and loved his fiancée even before I met him and that was where it stood, in a very pure, trustworthy and honorable way with nothing that needed to be spoken or defended.

We ate a lot more crepes before graduation and I came back to stay at the farm before I moved away for grad school. Mill even went online and tried to find friends for me, a mathematician named Wally, in my new town. Life got busy and a few months later I got a call. Millard had killed himself. Something inside him had broken while no one was looking and he had gone quite literally insane.

Then followed some very dark years that we’re going to skip past in which I made some stupid decisions but did not go to the IHOP much as you might imagine because I tended to start crying and the waitresses get nervous when you do that. I talked to myself a lot too, and that makes everybody nervous. My problem, as I resolved, was that Mill had broken our lease without notice—he couldn’t leave, that wasn’t part of the deal. I even thought about trying that Christopher Reeve trick from Somewhere in Time where you surround yourself with everything from the time period, even dress that way, and try to trick yourself into believing you’ve gone back in time, but my jeans wouldn’t fit anymore (too many crepes) and it wouldn’t have worked anyway.

A few other things happened that probably shouldn’t be mentioned in a public blog which made me suddenly and savagely aware that I was going to wind up in the exact same place if I didn’t start doing different things to get different results. In the end, it had actually been Millard’s strength that had made it harder for him to get help. I was weak but at least I knew it and that was actually a good thing. I still had my feet under me, and a good head start as well, so I started to run.

Fifteen years later, this Tuesday morning, my husband decided to make crepes. As I discovered when we met, Bear loves German lemon-butter pancakes from IHOP. They’re his favorite pancakes in the entire world. The night I found that out, while we were still dating (in that six minute window before we eloped), I went to the wooden box I keep on a closet shelf and got out the folded IHOP place mat where you can still see Millard’s signature next to mine below everything he had written. I read all the things we had decided about the man I should marry and found that all but one of them matched Bear perfectly. (37 out of 38 ain’t bad.) Mill had always been a little nervous about my taste in men and kept saying that I needed someone stronger and more passionate, and that I absolutely had to marry someone at least as smart as myself. I’m only sorry that he never got to meet Bear because he wouldn’t been insufferable with pride at how well he’d hit the mark.

Paws off, I saw him first

These Tuesday crepes were actually bought at Waitrose and we didn’t have very high expectations for them at first, but Bear warmed them up, got out the butter and found some lemon juice. The texture was perfectly light but chewy with just enough tensile strength to make the bite resonate. The bright, sweet-lemon tang was carried by the melted butter (OK, Lurpak) and it was like a blind roller coaster ride back to the IHOP and all the old feelings came back, but in a good way this time, back to safety and friendship and knowing that I could say anything I wanted to someone who would listen and protect me and still make me laugh.

I thought about telling Bear that eating crepes with him was like time travel, but he had really hated Somewhere in Time because someone had turned the video off just before the end and he spent about twenty years thinking that Christopher Reeve just died hopelessly and he didn’t know about the beautiful redeeming epilogue in Heaven or anything. (I showed it to him on YouTube; he’s over it now.) Instead I said something really incomprehensible about how great it was to actually be in the right place at the right time. He kissed my forehead and said:

“Do you want the rest of those? Because I’m starving.”

Millard would have loved him.

Bear’s favorite crepes are below. We’ll skip the blow by blow account of how I tried to make them one morning, had no ingredients, destroyed the kitchen in the course of three hours while trying to create substitutes for everything but flour, and woke Bear up out of a sound sleep with said flour in my hair, telling him I’d made something in the kitchen, not sure what, but he was going to like it. Or else.

Basic Crepes

Cooking Light, June 2006

Page: 166

Servings: 13


Herbed Crepes: Add 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley and 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives to batter.

Espresso Crepes: Add 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder to the batter

Buckwheat crepes: Omit 2/3 cup all-purpose flour and add 2/3 cup buckwheat flour.

Cinnamon Crepes: Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the batter.

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup lowfat 1% milk

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons butter, melted

2 large eggs

  1. Lightly spoon flour, level with knife. Combine flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Combine milk, water, melted butter, and eggs in a blender. Add the flour mixture to milk mixture and process until smooth. Cover batter; chill for 1 hour.
  2. Heat an 8-inch nonstick crepe pan over medium heat. Pour a scant 1/4 cup batter into pan; tilt pan in all directions to spread evenly. Cook about 1 minute. Carefully lift edge of crepe to test for doneness. When it can be shaken loose easily, it is ready to turn. Turn crepe over and cook for 30 seconds or until center is set.
  3. Place crepe on a towel; cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining batter; stirring batter between crepes. Stack crepes between single layers of wax paper to prevent sticking.

Yield: 1 crepe (who are we kidding? You’ll eat several and you’ll like it)

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 62 Calories; 2g Fat (24.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 68mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain (Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 0 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

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Bear does not believe in pants. However, I feel I should make it clear that this is pants in the sense of American pants—trousers, slacks, chinos, jeans, that which clotheth the legs. (Apparently in the UK pants are underwear, and he is in fact a very big fan of underwear, so much so that he prefers them as his outerwear.)

I had no idea he felt this way until we were married, at which point it was too late to issue an edict such as “Wear pants if you want to marry me.” I just didn’t think I needed to make that a part of the wedding vows. Silly me!

Now we face charming situations such as having Girl Scouts come to the door to sell cookies, except Bear can’t get up out of his chair because he’s wearing no pants. To combat this, he keeps a blanket around at all times which he cleverly tucks on. He looks like any normal person curled up under a blanket, doing a bit of reading. I’m convinced it’s only a matter of months before he forgets himself and answers the door to the girl Scouts sans pants and winds up in jail as a convicted felon for exposing himself to minors.

He’s even taken to wearing one particular blanket wrapped around in a sort of sassy-looking sarong which will allow him to move around the house. This is an improvement over my original plan which was to hide pairs of shorts in ever room of the house. That plan came about after my mother dropped by the house one day and Bear was trapped on the side away from the master bedroom so I had to  wad up some shorts and lob them across the great room like a wobbly football so he could dart off to put them on and emerge, fully panted, and greet her.

All of this is background to understand what happened one morning on Queen Mary 2 while we were on our way to England:

Bear <hand on the balcony door>: Ooooo!

Me: What’s wrong?

Bear: Forgot I didn’t have pants on. Man, that’s cold!

Yes, he tried to walk out into the full force winds of the North Atlantic Sea while pantless.

Bear in pants

A rare pant-ed sighting of the Southern Furless Bear

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The Teddy Bear Picnic

I found out all about this recently from Bear as we were driving along. I try to trip him up sometimes to get him to admit that he’s not really a Southern Furless Bear, but his backstory is amazingly consistent. It sort of reminds me of when Kyle Reese is interrogated in Terminator and he never screws up his facts about being from the future (because, of course, he is).

So I tried to cleverly sidle up to the issue and said, “Sooo, what do bears do for vacations?” And this is what I learned.

They have a family reunion every year in the Rockies. It’s the highlight of the bear calendar, up above even Dumpster Day.

“So what, is it a potluck?” I asked.

“Yep. Everyone brings something. We hang out, take naps, play with the cubs. It’s great.”

“But what do you bring? It’s not like you cook.” (I know this for a fact.)

“Don’t be ridiculous, Munk.” He said this very seriously, as if I’d actually offended him. “We can’t afford to cook. It might singe our fur.”

“Ohhhhh…I didn’t think you liked picnics.” I was thinking of the time on July 4th, 2001 when I wheedled him into a picnic and he looked very stiff and uncomfortable. The food was great — rosemary crusted ham sandwiches with gruyere and sharp mustard on pumpernickle (back in my carnivore days), but he wanted to get back in the car. Then he suggested driving around the block. Two hours later we were in Steinhatchee, which I might point out is not around the block.

“Everyone brings something different,” he explained. Grizzlies bring picnic baskets they’ve lifted off of hikers. Black bears bring nuts and berries for side dishes. Polar bears–mostly blubber.

“What about pandas?”

“Stupid camera-hogging celebrities,” he snorted. “Like anyone really wants bamboo again.”

I thought quickly and blurted, “What about raccoons? Do you invite them?”

“Oh sure, they’re great. Ricky and Rocky.”

“But they’re not really bears!” I was very proud of myself for finally finding a chink in his logic.

“Yeah, but they help with the washing up, so we let ’em come. Although,” he said, peering over his sunglasses, “you need to watch your personal items. They’ll make off with anything shiny.”

So now you know the truth, and…

If you go out in the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go out in the woods today
You’d better go in disguise.

For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

Teddy Bear Picnic

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