Daily Life

This is Why I Now Wait in the Car at School Pickup

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The Awful Case of Kristen Lindsey

In April 2015, Kristen Lindsey, DVM, shot a cat through the head with an arrow and then posted a picture on Facebook with the following caption:

“My first bow kill … lol. The only good feral tomcat is one with an arrow through it’s [sic] head! Vet of the year award … gladly accepted.”

These facts are not in dispute. Why she did it, however, is. This is why she is currently testifying in an administrative hearing in order to try and keep her veterinary license. At its heart is the question, “Is there any justifiable reason for her to have done that?”

Lindsey-with-cat

The answer is no. It is an unequivocal no.

I have avoided commenting on the topic because once the image went viral, the reaction was swift and potent. She has received death threats and her family has been harassed. What she did was horrific and wrong, and sending death threats is also horrific and wrong, and I didn’t want to embolden the sentiment that might encourage one more person to do so.

I have yet to read a single sentiment from the veterinary community that attempts to defend Lindsey. What I have read, and it reflects my own views, is that her actions are utterly condemnable and she needs to be removed from the profession. Physically attacked or threatened? No.

But Please, Please Go Away

The reason I am speaking on this now is to clarify the position that just because many of us have not clamored to do the same to Lindsey as she did to (what most presume to be) Tiger, this does not mean we want anything to do with her in the profession.

This was a career-ending action. There is no place in this field for a colleague who thinks it is 1. appropriate to do this in the first place and 2. post it on social media. There just isn’t.

Had she simply disappeared under the radar and gone on to find a job in a non animal-related field, I would never have even written about the case. But she didn’t. She is fighting to keep her license. The VIN News Service is sharing the testimony on Facebook and it is alternatively sad and horrible and infuriating.

She is continuing to try and justify her actions based on what she thought the cat was (feral, intact, rabid, it keeps morphing.) There are no justifying conditions. 

She is arguing that if she loses her Texas license, she will not be able to get licensed anywhere else, that she is unemployable. That is a consequence she brought upon herself. The only remorse she has expressed is for herself.

She has forced a hearing at which the presumptive owners of Tiger have to come in with lawyers, be cross-examined, and again view what happened to the cat. She is continuing to cause distress to these people by forcing them to participate in this hearing.

I will continue to state forcefully and with great passion that I do not think violence, or even threats of violence, are an appropriate response to a violent act. But I will also state forcefully and with great passion that Dr. Lindsey, we do not want you in our profession representing what we work so hard to do every day to better the lives of people and animals.

It doesn’t really matter what the board decides in terms of your license, I highly doubt you will ever practice again. So please, for the sake of everyone involved, please- stop this fight to stay within the field. You’ve already shown yourself out.

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Coco’s Bad Breath: April 20

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The New Doc

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Why I Tell People I Sell Life Insurance

What do you get when you cross a Dr V with an Apple pencil? (Aside from bad art, but that goes without saying.) A new set of cartoons, that’s what!

When I was in vet school, I was (rightfully) proud of my fledgling career choice. I shouted it from the rooftops: I’m about to be a vet! It’s so cool! Check it out! Tell me everything about your guinea pig!

But of course, with age comes both wisdom and boundaries, as well as an understanding that many people lack both. So without further ado, here are but three of the many reasons that I avoid telling people what I do unless absolutely necessary.

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cartoonobgyn cartoonkids

And before you ask, yes, all three have happened to me. :)

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How To Avoid the Bends

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When I was in college, I decided to conquer my fear of drowning by getting certified in scuba diving. In retrospect, I really had no business being there, but I guess that’s what your twenties is for.

At one point during the training, you have to take your mask entirely off and then get it back on. No biggie, right? I was not a water person and had no idea what was going to happen. When I removed it from my face, my nose filled with water and I found I couldn’t inhale through my regulator. My throat was just closed up.

Of course, I panicked. My instinct was to leap up to the top of the pool as quickly as possible and grab a breath of air, but I forced myself to take a moment, realize the problem, and plug my nose so I could get the mask back on and pass the test. But I never forgot the sheer terror of that first moment when your body is screaming at you, “You’re DROWNING you fool! Fly!”

Lots of diving safety training is about how to get safely to the surface when the poop hits the fan, and one of the most important tenets is to work your way slowly and methodically through your problem so you can surface slowly. Running out of oxygen at depth is a big one. If you come up from the depths too quickly, you risk the bends- when dissolved gases turn into bubbles inside your body as the pressure changes. It’s Not A Good Thing. Remaining calm in a trying moment a good skill to have not just in diving, but in life.

Of all the scary things I have been through since then, the near-misses in the car or the dropped pedicles on a fat dog spay, none hit me with that same physical sense of drowning until one year ago, when I got the news out of the blue that my mother had a brain tumor. I was more than scared. I was terrified. I felt like someone had dropped a weight directly on my lap and plunged me down to the bottom of the ocean.

I get why people tend to freeze, or run in circles when things go haywire. The adrenaline does weird things to your body, and it takes real conscious effort to talk yourself off the ledge. I get now why people flip tables and throw things and run off to the Yukon when it gets to be too much, but of course all that happens when the dust settles is you’re left with a new mess to deal with.

When my mother got sick, that temptation to rush to the surface took the form of the blind panic we get when a loved one is facing death: DO EVERYTHING! Biopsy it now! Chemo! Nuke it! GOGOGOGOGOGOGO. It would have been a mistake.

When she died, I held my breath and prayed my father wouldn’t sell the house immediately and disappear to the woods of Maine (he didn’t.) It would have been a mistake.

It’s been a year of slow surfacing, realizing that like many toxic substances in your body, some types of grief simply need to leach out with time. You really can’t come up before you’re ready.

Last year I gave a talk on mourning customs around the world, and I was struck by the fact that so many belief systems have a structure and framework for mourning, but Christianity, the predominant belief system many of us are most familiar with, has none. In Judaism, the mourning period is divided into the first seven days, the first 30, and the first year. The rules about what you should and should not do during each period serves to protect the grieving heart and also give permission to re-enter the new normal of their life. It’s like a decompression chart for death. Unintentionally I’ve been bobbing along on the same timeframe, getting guidance where I can.

In January, my sister surprised us with the happy news that she decided to get married earlier that day to her long-time partner and soulmate. My mom loved this guy and I knew two things: 1. She would be thrilled; and 2. She would find a way to give them a cake, because that is what my mom did.

My aunt was planning her yearly trip to my sister’s hometown of Vegas right around Easter, and sensing the same need as I did for some sort of event, managed to arrange a surprise get-together of the family this last weekend, complete with- of course- a wedding cake. You surprise us with a marriage, we surprise you with a reception. It’s what Mom would have done.

As we sat together in my cousin’s living room, laughing and sniffling, I looked around and realized this was the first time we had all gathered since my mother’s memorial service. And right then, as if an invisible hand swept by and grabbed me by the shoulders, I realized I had just popped to the surface.

There’s such a sense of relief to that first intake of air, and in that moment, as the tension you forgot was there leaches out of your muscles, nothing else matters. The sky looks different, time has passed, but you’re here, you’re still here, and sometimes, that alone is enough.

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Musings Tagged: ,

Why You are More Powerful Than Any Counselor

The phone rings, and I answer it with an admittedly impatient voice since someone sold my phone number to a marketer and I’ve been getting deluged with spam calls all week. I have the phone in one hand and Brody’s tail in the other, as he chewed up his bandage when I wasn’t looking and now I have to re-wrap the whole thing.

It’s Chaplain Gary this time, calling as he does, every few months, to see how I am doing.

I met him once, when he came to the house to talk to the kids when my mom was sick and give them a book. They sat looking at their hands, not sure what they were supposed to say to the stranger who was trying to get them to open up about their fears.

“We’re fine,” they say, because that is what they see me say. It is what all New Englanders learn to do from a young age, saying they’re fine even when their house is on fire, their leg has fallen off and one eyeball is hanging by a stalk. “Fine fine, under control, it’s fine.”

“I just was wondering how you guys were doing with the anniversary coming up,” he says. Ah yes, Easter, the last holiday we shared together as a family, the week before my mom’s seizure changed everything and brought our charmed existence to a screeching halt.

“Fine,” I say, “We’re hanging in.” Brody forgets his distress over his tail and puts his head in my lap, sensing the tension in my voice.

The chaplain calls because it is his job, and I am grateful he is there, but he’s not the one I want to talk to. He cares, but he doesn’t know me. When I see a butterfly zip by out of the corner of my eye and I’m hit with a wave of sadness, I want to talk to my sister. When I wake up from a dream where I’ve been out with my mom doing the little mundane things we always used to do- grabbing a Starbucks, pawing through the racks at Marshalls for a deal, I want my husband to hold me when I explain why I woke up crying. When I greet my Dad on Sundays and we both look at each other a little lost, I want Brody to come up and bully him into giving him treats, because that’s one of the few consistent ways to get a smile.

Grief is a family affair, and we’ve completely forgotten how to do that as a society.

Loss: The elephant in the room

Loss: The elephant in the room

When I started with Paws into Grace, I thought it was such a great boon to offer people a comprehensive list of pet loss support groups, counselors, social workers, psychiatrists. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing, but I was naively surprised when people almost universally declined to use their services. They are there to fill the void of a support system we no longer have and to help those in crisis, but it doesn’t replace our innate desire to turn inward during these times, to those close to us.

I gave a talk last year at a hospice conference about grief around the world, and one universal commonality was the ritual of community, surrounding families like a cocoon as they healed, giving structure and a safe place surrounded by friends to fall apart and, slowly, rebuild. Most important of all, the cocoon, the safe space, comes to the family- not the other way around. It takes a lot of energy to be sad, and who wants to do that in a strange place like a church basement, surrounded by other strangers, when you could be at home in a Snuggie close to the coffee pot and your dog.

I was at Western Vet Conference this week, and I ran into my friend Bill, who even in a rush to get to his upcoming afternoon of talks took a moment to say, “I’ve been thinking of you.” That meant more to me than 50 calls from the stranger chaplain. This is how it’s supposed to work, right?

When someone near to us loses a loved one, it seems these days that our instinct is to run away instead of to them. It is, I think, because we’re scared, we don’t know what to do, and no one has taught us how to scrape someone off the pavement. We don’t want them to know we’ve seen them upset.
 

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We’ve made grief pathological, something ‘wrong’ that needs to be fixed by a professional, implying that we are somehow broken for having felt it. We’re so removed from this part of living that we can’t even manage the basics of grieving, needing booklets and chaplains and groups to manage even the simple things like, “am I normal to feel sad.”

As always, I keep trying to file these tidbits away into something useful for my own work, and in this case it’s dawned on me that it’s not the person who lost a pet who needs the guidance, but their family and friends. It’s a work in progress but it feels right, just as it’s a reminder to me how to be a better friend. I know 3 friends who lost a parent this year, and countless more who lost other beloved pets and family members. One little note from a friend, a Facebook message or a mailed card, means more than 50 calls from a stranger.

This is something we can all do well to remember.

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Musings Tagged: ,

Cancer Is Fun

That’s sarcasm, by the way. Cancer sucks, I hate cancer, cancer can go suck it.

Anyway.

When you have a dog, but especially when you have a dog who is a breed with a 50% occurrence of cancer in their lifetime, you learn to be vigilant. And by vigilant I mean you pick over your dog like a chimpanzee searching out ticks, and with good reason. So far, as you know, I’ve lost one dog to lymphoma, one to probable melanoma, and Brody’s had the following removed:

  • low grade melanoma on his lip (so far, so good)
  • medium grade mast cell tumor resulting in loss of ear

I’m a big fan of Sue Ettinger’s See Something Do Something initiative, and with good reason. Small masses are exponentially easier to deal with than large ones, for many reasons. It’s a gift to be able to catch things early.

So it was with a resigned trepidation that I noticed, buried in the vast recesses of Brody’s voluminous tail, yet another weird looking mass:

brody tail2

I don’t like masses. They make me scream like I’ve seen a spider over the bed.

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We went and visited Highlands Ranch Animal Hospital to get it checked out yesterday, where Brody was his usual charming self. By the time we left he had the entire waiting area sitting on the floor petting him. Such a ham.

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The great thing about aspirating little masses is that, while not totally diagnostic, can often give you a good feel for what you’re dealing with. In this case, no mast cells were noted. Why does this make me happy? Because he would probably have had to lose his tail and that would really really stink. The dog’s got to keep some of his parts, right?

The mass is coming off while it’s small enough to fully remove and still be able to close the skin over his tail. We are also going to send it in for pathology, which is essential for determining whether it’s something you need to follow up on. I’ll keep you posted.

I share all this in the hopes you too take a moment to go over your pet and check out the lumps and bumps while they’re teeny. It’s worth it! This is how we keep our pets around till they’re old and grey.

 

Filed: Blog, Cancer sucks, Daily Life, Health Tagged: , , ,

Top 5 Ways Being a Vet Prepared Me for Parenthood

It took me a good decade, but I can finally say I think I’m getting this motherhood thing figured out. It was not intuitive for me, not easy or instantly amazing the way it was when I brought home my first pet. With my animals, I knew no matter how challenging things were, we would figure it out and it would be ok. I don’t know why I lacked that confidence with the kiddos. Maybe I’m just part dog.

But no matter! We all have our strengths in life, but the one thing I wish I knew a lot earlier was the idea of resilience, that just because one thing comes naturally to us, it doesn’t mean we can’t take on other things and work our way up to competence. It’s too late for me now: I will never know if I could have been a decent volleyball player. All I know is I was horrrrrrrible at it in school, I dreaded volleyball days in PE, and as soon as I could give it up I did.

But parenthood isn’t like volleyball, a hobby you can dabble in and put away when your back hurts. It’s there, sink or swim, and even if all you do is hobble along, well, that’s all you need to do.

I found myself leaning on my veterinary experience quite a bit those first few years, actually. You draw on your own experiences, so it makes sense. I was actually pleasantly surprised at how many things I learned from the clinic that I could apply to parenthood:

TOP 5 WAYS

1. Your brain can adapt to an obscene level of noise.

Barking dogs, screaming babies, howling cats, ringing phones, all can be intercepted before they hit your cerebrum by some amazing subconscious mom-filter that allows you to get your records completed or bills done. While others may think you oblivious, the truth is you are an amazing compartmentalizer.

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2. Multitasking is an art.

Mrs. Jones is on line 3 and will only speak to you, and she insists she will hold. The cat in room 4 is having a seizure. The man in the lobby is yelling at the receptionist about his dog’s worms, something is bleeding in the treatment area but we don’t know who, and you’re still scrubbed into surgery. Getting used to this level of chaos is the only reason I was able to survive the first years of classroom volunteering, PTA politics, work, groceries, and remembering my husband’s name.

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3. Blood and poop are things you can get used to.

I don’t think I even need to elaborate on this, do I?

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4. The ones who scream the loudest are not the ones you worry about.

If you’re screaming, you’re breathing. It’s the quiet ones you need to check in on, because it usually means one of three things: they stopped breathing, they are getting in a large amount of trouble, or they are about to have a nuclear meltdown. This rule applies to both pets and their owners. And, I learned, to kids.

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5. You don’t need to be the best at something. You just need to want it the most.

In a clinic full of creatures without opposable thumbs, it was astonishing to find out how good some of them could get at accomplishments they weren’t supposed to be capable of. Like, how some dogs could patiently sit in a cage for hours and work at a jiggly lever in order to release themselves and merrily run around the treatment area. Or how some cats could push a jar of treats, centimeter by centimeter, all the way across a table until it dumped its chicken-y contents on the floor. They do it because no one told them they couldn’t.

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To me this last one is the most important lesson of all. I remind myself of this often, for myself and for my kids. I don’t want them to be the kid who stops trying to open the cage. I want them to be the one who takes the whole thing apart.

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I learned, more than anything, to be this dog. :)

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How To Spot an Animal Social Justice Warrior

There’s something happening in the animal world, something sticky and kind of ugly, and we need to talk about it.

You learn to spot patterns when you’ve been around long enough, trends that start in one area but quickly pick up steam in your own neck of the woods. And that, my friends, is what I’m bringing up today: the emerging trend of the Social Justice Warrior, and how that relates to people in pet care.

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I think it’s pretty clear that I am a big proponent of animal advocacy, from the first blogathons to my work with hospice and this very site, which I’ve written for seven years now in an attempt to keep an open dialogue on important pet topics. I am a huge fan of people who work so very hard and selflessly to make a difference, and this is not who I am speaking of today.

I have also seen a less pleasant side of people, those who use their issue of choice as a shield to build up their own ego and bludgeon others, often at the expense of those very people who are trying to improve the world for others, while tarnishing their own cause by association.

What is an animal social justice warrior, exactly?

While the term “social justice warrior” started gaining momentum with the Gamergate brouhaha specifically in reference to progressive views and speech, the prevailing wisdom is that the term has evolved to encompass a wide array of armchair activists who care less about outcomes and more about dogpiles. No one has specifically defined what it means in our sphere, so I’m just going to go ahead and do it right here.

It matters to us, as animal welfare advocates, healthcare providers, and educators, because we’re often the ones being targeted. Here’s what I’ve observed, over and over:

  • It starts from a good place.

Most of the time, people start on a course of advocacy for an issue they truly believe in: maybe it’s ear cropping, or vaccine safety, or feral cat rescue. Good topics that good people can get behind, which is why it is so hard to call them out. But then something goes sideways.

  • Facts become less important than emotion as time goes on and the ‘army’ grows.

As momentum builds with a social justice warrior’s campaign, enemies are identified and the followers are called upon to ‘take them down’ on social media, which can be annoying for a large pharmaceutical company but devastating for a small business owner or individual. Sometimes it’s very hard to dispute the ugliness of the original offense (like the guy who killed Cecil the Lion), but other times the dogpile results in something far worse than the original problem: people losing jobs, people erroneously identified as child predators. By the time the error is identified, the damage has been done.

  • Methods are as important as ideas.

When a social justice warrior really gets going, they often work to recruit others to the cause. Sometimes those people demur, not because they disagree with the original idea, but because the seek and destroy tactics make them uncomfortable. They become the enemy. There is no allowance to exist in parallel.

  • There is no room for discussion.

This is when you know the game is over, so to speak. Are you allowed to point out an erroneous fact? No. Question a topic? No. At this point, the social justice warrior’s ego has become more important than the actual topic at hand, and no amount of reasoning will change their mind. In fact, it only makes them dig their heels in more. You’ve just given them one more ‘enemy’ to bounce off of.

What does this mean for you, the pet lovers of the world?

If you’re the owner of a small business, rescue, or work with an organization, you may find yourself in the crosshairs for some or other perceived wrong. I’ll talk about what does and doesn’t seem to help in another post, because it’s happening more and more.

How to Spot an Animal Social Justice Warrior

But even you, the general audience out there on the web, has a role to play in this. Before joining a cause or supporting an advocate, ask yourself this:

 

  • How do they respond to constructive criticism? With acknowledgment, or anger?
  • Do they have a revolving door of bullies who they claim are always trying to silence them? Do they ever talk to someone with an opposing view in a respectful dialogue?
  • How do they encourage action? Do they link to legitimate organizations doing real world work, or is it limited to online petitions, reviews, and Facebook arguments?
  • What emotions are they playing to? When you look at their page, do you feel empowered to make a positive difference, or just angry at the world?

If you think this is about one person, you’re wrong. I can’t even point to any one in particular because the truth is, there are too many to list. People like this don’t help the causes, they hurt them. They make animal advocates look bad, incapable of compromise, cooperation, and nuance. Be aware, and ask yourself what the real goals are before liking, sharing, or sending money. Real advocacy exists, but this isn’t it.

We still have lots of work to do, but this isn’t the way to do it.

 

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Musings Tagged: , ,

I Think SoCal is Pretty Much Screwed This Winter

If you haven’t heard the news, we here in Southern California are finally starting to see the effects of the massive, gargantuan El Nino the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes. And I think it’s going to be ugly.

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Every time we deal with a natural disaster, everyone runs out and gives people tips for preparing and being ready and most people do one or two things but the reality is, there’s only so much time in the day and so many disasters one can prepare for without going full on survivalist. At some point you have to get on with your day and hope you’re not separated from your family when the Big One hits.

The more likely you are to suffer a disaster, the more likely you are to prepare for that particular situation. All Californians know what to do in an earthquake; it’s drilled into us starting with kindergarten (as were nuclear meltdown drills in the 80s when I lived by the San Onofre plant, but in retrospect I’m not sure what good hiding under a desk would have done, really.) The beach roads by my house are helpfully marked with convenient evacuation routes for tsunamis. And after last year, when my kids were whisked out of school while a massive wildfire bore down on my neighborhood, I also revised my wildfire plan. 

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I figured since I knew what to do for earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, floods, and nuclear core meltdowns, I had all my bases covered and could relax and enjoy the thunder a little without worrying too much, right?

But no one ever taught me what to do about a tornado.

Around noon yesterday, I got a call from my kids’ school that due to the thunder and lightning, they were not letting kids walk out to their parents like they usually do and each of us would have to individually pick up our kids in the car pickup line or park and go into the school. Fine, I thought, and showed up 45 minutes early to get a spot in line.

About 10 minutes after that, I get a panicked text from my daughter that one of her counselors received a tornado warning on her cell phone.

“Don’t worry,” I texted back. “She probably lives out in the boonies somewhere.”

“SHE LIVES HERE,” she texted back, followed by 10 crying emojis.

Then my phone buzzed. “Tornado warning until 3:45 in your area,” it said. “Seek cover immediately.”

Now by this point all the parents in the parking lot are grabbing their buzzing phones like a scene out of a Steven King movie, looking at each other with a quizzical “What the heck does this mean” look. What’s a warning? Does that mean it’s a little windy? Or does it mean an F-3 is bearing down on our little line of cars?

Meanwhile, my daughter- who has been studying geology in school and has a deep and abiding fear of all natural disasters including tsunamis, super volcanos, and the San Andreas fault, is calling me in tears because she got the text as well and now she’s convinced we are all going to die, and I am trying to reassure her everything is fine while a small part of me started thinking about tying myself to the flagpole with a slip lead.

Being the cautious  type, I pulled out of the pickup line and parked the car so I could go inside the sturdy concrete environs of the school and join a teeming mass of alarmed parents, none of whom knew what a tornado warning actually meant. A smaller but hardier number remained stubbornly in the parking lot, because in the Southern California school jungle, The Wicked Witch of the East fate is an acceptable risk when it comes to giving up a prime spot in the pickup line.

My daughter requests that we not leave the school grounds until the tornado warning expires, which happens about half an hour later. Most people do not wait, rolling their eyes at the National Weather Services’ overabundance of caution and running off into the winds, umbrellas inside out. I learn later that most of the county schools were ordered to shelter in place, but not us. Fortunately for all involved no tornado actually materialized, because it probably would have eaten up the vast majority of minivans in the region, leaving no one standing but the school principal and us, while my daughter says, “Told you so.”

On the way home, my phone buzzed again. FLASH FLOOD WARNING, it said. STAY INSIDE. There at least was something I knew what to do with. Avoid creeks.

I came home to find poor Brody curled in our laundry room, the only windowless room in the house. My friends in the midwest reassure me that a tornado warning is a big deal and instead of playing Bejeweled in the car one is supposed to run to the center of the house- in my case, our laundry room- and pull a mattress over your head.

My point in all of this is, you can prepare all you want but there’s still always going to be something you just never thought you needed to be able to handle, and that’s probably what is going to get you. And when that happens-

If that happens-

Look to your dog for guidance. He’s the only one with any sense.

Filed: Blog, Daily Life Tagged: , ,

Life is a macaron

My mother was not a great cook. I think she would happily cop to that. She made spaghetti, burnt steak, and stuck underseasoned chicken breasts in the oven until they turned rubbery. Her mother was not a great cook either. She was Irish, so I guess that was part of her legacy to boil everything until it fell apart and all the taste seeped out, or so she claimed.

However, her father was French, so she inherited a different type of culinary genius: boy could she bake. If I had to choose one of the two to excel in, it’s pastry chef every time. Banana bread. Cranberry muffins. Christmas sugar cookies with just the right frosting:cookie ratio. And her New England birthright, the whoopie pie.

Whoopiepies1

Every Christmas, she would bake piles of these little crack blobs and send them to every corner of the States, where otherwise mild-mannered humans would turn into ravenous wolves and tear into them until nothing was left but a small pile of chocolate crumbs and the satisfied groans of bellies bloated with marshmallow creme. And when my kids were older, they took my place up at the counter to learn the great tradition of cookie decorating:

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They weren’t bakery perfect, but that’s what made them fun.

Mom would also on occasion bake macaroons, those pasty, blobby coconut things that stick to your teeth and cling to the insides of your esophagus like phlegm. I was not a fan. But one fateful day I wandered into a French bakery and admired the little pastel rows of goodness and light known as French macarons, and everything changed. I picked up a rose flavored one and a lavender one, and I was hooked.

By MachineKeebler (talk).MachineKeebler at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

By MachineKeebler (talk).MachineKeebler at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

Before they became wildly popular a year or two ago, they were nearly impossible to find, and I decided that the easiest thing to do would be just to learn how to make them myself. Mom was on board too, ready to add a new treat to her repertoire.

Unfortunately, macarons are known as one of the granddaddies of pastry making, a confection as temperamental as an 80s hair band vocalist. Beat the meringue too long? Ruined. Not long enough? Ruined. Also able to ruin them: temperature too high, too low, overmixing, undermixing, high humidity, Mercury in retrograde, wrong rack in oven, playing country music while baking, etc, etc.

It only made me more determined to unlock their secrets, so last year I procured a cookbook, 5 bags of almond flour, and spent an afternoon in the kitchen with my mother ruining macarons.

After 3 or so batches, we were able to get a cookie sheet out of the oven with at least half of them edible, and we considered this a great success.

“Next year,” she said, “We’ll have this down.”

We never did get to practice together after that.

So a couple of weeks ago, with this echoing in my mind, I realized I needed to finish what we started and make some damn macarons. They are not like making a batch of chocolate chip cookies where you screw it up a little, meh, still fine.

Macarons are an event. You need to prepare. You need to think about things. You need to time everything just so, knowing the difference between firm meringue and soft, how many folds it takes before the stiff batter melts into pipable lava, make sure to bang the tray on the counter a few times,  you need to rest the cookie before you bake it so you get those little crusty feet. Getting it right is like finding the keyhole into the Misty Mountain, a perfect meeting of all the right tiny details.

And even when you do all of this right, they still get messed up. Sometimes they slant to the left like a manhole askew, sometimes the foot sticks to the pan and all you get is the top half, or they’re overdone and crunchy all the way through. Piles wind up in the trash. And every once in a while you hit the jackpot and get a perfectly done shell, and then- then, it’s magic. Crunchy and chewy and delicate and unlike any other thing out there, and you think to yourself, I have reached nirvana.

Manic Pixie Baker

I went into manic baking mode this week. Between the 3 dozen macarons I took to a cookie exchange (and lost the contest to a BROWNIE, what the heck is that about?), the teacher gifts, the ones my husband wants to bring into work, I can’t keep them in the fridge before they get carted out. Biscoff gingerbread. Pistachio. Cherry cordial. Eggnog. Nutella. I was a macaron machine.

I could have just gone and bought them, I suppose, or picked one of any thousands of easier cookies to make. But there is something special about giving someone a perfectly tied teensy box of macarons that makes a recipient light up- even when the cookies are imperfect, which most of them are. Because you are basically presenting a box that says, “I wasted 40 hours of my life swearing at a bowl of egg whites in order to bring you this,” and when the person squees in delight, you realize it’s not a waste after all.

In the hours I spent in meditative contemplation over a tray of almond meal, it really started to sink in as to why I felt such a need to get it right, to fulfill this promise to my mom that I would nail this cookie in a manner befitting my birthright. Whether or not they came out perfectly was completely beside the point, an added bonus but not necessary.

They are, simply put, a confectionary metaphor for life itself. They’re never going to be perfect. There’s always going to be one more way you can make them better. It takes time and effort and patience to get to the end and it still may not be what you wanted, but oh, even then, it was worth it.

macaron

What you bring to the party, and what you give to others from your own heart and hands- it is worth it. Never stop giving.

 

Filed: Blog, Cooking, Daily Life, Musings, Picks of the Litter Tagged: ,
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