Location Notes – Traveling with Kids in France

After a busy week in metro-Paris with excellent WiFi but limited free time, we returned to connectivity-purgatory in Strasbourg.  I started this post while I waited for the laundry to dry, because the local laundromat had way better internet access than our hotel did, but apparently we don’t generate enough dirty laundry to support my blogging habit.  I’m now home and finishing up these comments, and then over the next few weeks I’ll do some more photo-blogging of the epic vacation.

Meanwhile, here are some quick notes on the types of places we’ve stayed, and what’s been good for kids, and how the logistics all worked out:

Location #1 – Rental house in a large village outside of Colmar.  The house was beautiful but fragile.  That was fine for our older kids, but with little ones look for something durable.  There was a courtyard, but it contained a fish pond and a barn with farm machinery — lovely spot for grown-ups, not great very young people.  The village was quiet and equipped with basics like a bakery and a playground, so for older kids who could roam at will, it was super.

Being out in the countryside was ideal for visiting around the region, because we didn’t have to fight in-town traffic getting in and out.  If your goal is to see sights outside of a metro area, I think looking for a village location is the way to go.

Location #2 – Apartment in downtown Chamonix.  I had no idea how much I would love Chamonix and the surrounding area!  In addition to being stunningly beautiful (because: Alps), the people, mostly tourists and expats, are the most content visitors I’ve seen anywhere.  Our little apartment was perfect for us, because it let us be right in the middle of everything, but again it would have been rough with small children.   If you need space for your kids to run around, get a house at the edge of town or in one of the many villages up and down the valley.  However, parking in Chamonix is tight, so if you mostly want to be in the town itself, stay in town.

Note that the underground parking garage that came with our apartment, typical, is not suited to anything larger than a modest sedan.  If you are traveling with a larger vehicle, discuss the parking situation with your landlord or hotel-owner before you make reservations.

Location #3 – Bed and breakfast at the edge of the suburban train lines outside of Paris.  I have mixed opinions about my decision to not stay in the city when visiting the city.  What I loved: The restful, friendly, calm, beautiful location in the countryside.  Our hosts had games for kids to play in the small-but-beautiful garden, there was room to stretch out, and overall I think for our kids it was the better choice.  However, I did not anticipate how hard it would be to get the kids up and out in the morning to catch a train, we ran into various logistical challenges, and commuting does reduce the amount of time you have in the city.  On the other hand, passing through the burbs and being on a commuter line is a cultural education in itself, and one I’m glad we had.

It was definitely less stressful for me to never have to drive in Paris, and to be able to pick my preferred train station along the RER line.  I’d say that an apartment in the city would work better if either:

  • Your kids are calm and quiet and do well hanging out in a small indoor space together.
  • You have enough adults to take the crazy youngsters out as-needed.

Look for a place near a playground and bakery if you’re going to stay in town with kids.

A couple notes about Paris:

1. I’d forgotten how BIG the city is.  Getting from sight to sight, or realizing you need to go find lunch, or a toilet, takes a ton of time.  If visiting many sights is your big priority, stay in town and allow a lot of time in town.

2. The big museums were absolutely packed with people  Security lines were long, so coming and going was not an option.  The Louvre and Musee d’Orsay were both well worth the hassle (for us), but we skipped lower-priority attractions because a person can only stand in so many lines.  Lesser known sites were not a problem at all.

Location #4 – Hotel in downtown Strasbourg.  We booked the “family” room at a small hotel (not a chain) near the train station.  It had two twins pushed together to make a king-sized bed on the floor, and then a set of bunk beds.  This is a bit of a cultural difference, I think: American hotels will overlook the part where your family crams itself into a single hotel room with a pile of sleeping bags for the kids; European hotels expect you to match the official sleeping capacity, but they offer extra beds so you can do that.

Strasbourg was the right sized city for us.  I could set the boy (age 17) free to wander at will without concerns about him getting lost — if you hit a canal, you’re leaving downtown, very simple system.  The downtown area is mostly pedestrian-only, and contains all the tourist things (stores, restaurants, markets, museums, old beautiful buildings) within a walkable distance.

Our location near the train station was handy for departure day, because I could turn in the car the evening before, and then we could just walk our mountain of luggage down the block.  It was, however, not a quiet location at night.  Given that the A/C system is called “Open Your Windows and Turn on a Fan,” let’s just say that we know an awful lot about what happens at night in a bustling European metropolis.

The big downside to a hotel, though, is that there is zero cooking to be done.  Unlike American hotels, where a coffee maker is standard in every room and a mini-fridge is very easy to come by, there is nothing, whatsoever, in terms of provision for eating in your room.  Breakfast is simple enough to put together (see “French bakery”), but lunch and dinner got expensive, even with trying to favor places that weren’t that expensive.

It was, however, much simpler to check out of the hotel on departure day than to clean and vacate an apartment.

If I had to do it again, I’d get an apartment for most of the Strasbourg leg (or whereever), and just book a hotel room next to the train station or airport for departure day.

City vs. Countryside Touring

I was confirmed in my decision to separate the countryside and city legs of the Alsace trip, because yes, driving in a European city, even a small one, is not fun.  It’s complicated and time-intensive and depends on a knowledge of the city that you as a visitor just aren’t going to possess.  If you want to get out into the rural areas, though, you do need a vehicle.  If you’re doing something like staying in Paris and you just want to make a one day trip to Versailles, no problem — transit is set up to accommodate that.  But otherwise, know that you need a car out of the city, do not want a car in the city, and you don’t just hop in the car and zip off.

There are, however, a load of options for renting vehicles.   So if you booked an in-city vacation and find yourself getting restless, ask around for ideas on how to escape for a bit.

Two children walking down a tree-lined alley in a Paris park.

 

Castles in Alsace, Part 3

Do not trust me if I say to you, “I know there’s a castle around here somewhere . . .”

Unless you want to be taken for a ride.

A long ride up a windy mountain road, and then back again by a different way, with a stop for photos in a picturesque village because it isn’t fair that the children get to take all the photos out their windows while I keep my eyes on the road, so humor me we are going to stop and park so the mother can get out and take pictures . . .

Eventually we did end up in Katzenthal (also picturesque), home of the Château de Wineck.  FYI, Wikipedia seems confused about this castle, in both French and English.  The place we visited, as you’ll see, is the one I’ve linked to — hit the Google translate button and scroll down for some history.

I’m not sure whether I would have marched myself up the hill or not, but a tired child dug her heels in at yet another evening-after-a-long-day castle hike, so the two of us walked the other siblings as far as the trail at the edge of the village, then ambled back towards our car.  We were halfway across the village when the two hiking children raced back and intercepted us excitedly: “There’s a road!  We can drive up!”

Foolishly, I believed them.

We loaded up and headed towards where I’d left them.  The “road” begins with a teeny-tiny alley between two buildings, ample for pedestrians and more than sufficient for those narrow tractors that the farmers drive through the vinyards, but not the sort of place Americans drive automobiles.  Warnings from the rental contract flashed in my head.

Conveniently, I have rented a French car.  It knows the way French drivers behave, and so it has sensors that beep ruthlessly at you if you get anywhere even vaguely French-like in your parking habits.  I really wanted to see this castle.  Possibly an addiction is forming.  So I sucked in my gut (as if that would help) and thought French thoughts, and threaded the needle.

No furious beeping.  No scratches for the rental car guy to charge to my credit card.  Apparently it is a road.

Except that the “road” never turned back into a full-sized road.   As we wound our way up, I grew increasingly suspicious that I was on a private road belonging to the vinyard owner.  Also: I wanted to see that castle, and anyway there was no place to turn around.  So up we drove, and sure enough there was a wide spot for parking right at the castle, and that, too, was probably meant for castle custodians and not for us, but the place was empty because it was late, so if we were supposed to get in trouble the villagers were slacking off on that job.

***

The remains of Wineck are small – here’s the keep and tower.  You can go inside on the occasional opening hours, but we declined to trespass (we’re like that — our ambiguous vehicle situation not withstanding).

Castle Wineck Keep

Here’s a detail from one of the walls at the base of the structure:

Castle Wineck - Wall detail

And here’s a wall cross-section:
Castle Wineck - Wall Cross-section

There are some slight but distinct differences, you’ll note, between this wall cross-section and the cross-section of wall from the Eguisheim castles in Part 2 of this series.  If you are just joining us on the castle tour, Part 1 is here.  The last thing I  have planned for the  (Alsatian) castle series is a look at the furnishings in Haut Koenigsbourg, coming next.

The Epic Vacation Archives:

Alsatian Castles Part 1
Alsatian Castles Part 2
World War 2
Alsace Scenery

 

Castles in Alsace, Part 2

Part 1 is here.

The next place we went after Ribeauvillé was the Ecomuseé  d’Alsace, outside of Mulhouse.  (Say it: Moo-Lose, as in, “the first cow to moo loses the game.”  Resist the natural urge to prounce it “Mull-House.” You are not mulling the house wine, you are playing the quiet game with cows.  Also recall: Google Translate is your friend.)

There are no castles at the museum, but there is a strong house – une maison forte – built on site from salvaged 15th century components rescued from Mulhouse.

Medieval "Strong House" reconstructed at the Ecomusee d'Alsace

The tower is not a perfect reconstruction.  The curators took the remains of the original building parts and gave their best rendering of what it might have been used for, and what would be most interesting or educational for museum-goers.  Like Kaiser Wilhelm’s reconstruction of Haut Koenigsbourg, it’s an interpretation, not a replica.  It’s useful for thinking about how fortifications were made for various purposes.

After a full day at the museum (topic for another post or two), we drove north towards our home village and of course we spied castles on the western horizon.  There was no other choice but to hop off the autoroute and pick a departmental road that pointed in the general direction and try our luck.  After several missteps we succeeded in the following the promisingly named Route des Cinqs Châteaux to the parking lot for Les Trois-Châteaux du Haut-Eguisheim.

There are two trails out of the parking lot, one of which will take you in five or ten minutes to the three castle ruins above the town of Eguisheim.  The other trail will take you all kinds of places far, far, away.  It was only obvious in retrospect which trail we should have tried first.  Eventually, however, we reached our goal.

As you come up the trail from the parking lot, the first castle is this rectangular tower.  We’re viewing it in this photo from the north, standing in the ruins of the second castle, but you actually arrive on the site from the west.  (These photos are from about 6:30 in the evening, beginning of July, so the sun is informative for directions.)

Rectangular tower of the first of the three castles of Eguisheim

To the right of all those low walls of Castle #2 in the foreground are two towers.  Below you can see the remains of the northern of those two towers.  Both are closed (for safety reasons) but trespassers with decent climbing skills do go up to recreate. (Not us, thanks for asking.  All these easily-accessible high places along the edge of the Vosges are popular with local teenagers.)

One of the towers of the second of the three Eguisheim castles

You can see in the above photo a bit of broken wall between the sites of Castles #2 and #3.  Here’s the cross-section of that wall:

Cross-section of a wall between Castles 2 & 3 at Eguisheim

In case you tend to wonder, like I do, how the insides of walls are built.  And finally, here are the foundations of Castle #3:

Foundation of the third ruined castle at Eguisheim

The three castles are right up on top of each other.  It’s more like a castle complex.  Or one of those castle-subdivisions where the neighbors all complain about how they have no side yard and you can see into each other’s kitchens.   It’s enough, though, to make you wonder about the other two châteaux implied by the road name.  There was plenty of daylight, so we decided to keep driving up the mountain.

The parking lots at Château du Hohlandsbourg were all packed at 7pm, which at the time we resigned ourselves to hiking up from the farthest of the parking lots seemed like no big deal.  What do we know about castle popularity?

So we haul ourselves ten minutes straight uphill, which after already having walked around all day took a lot of castle-hunger, and were rewarded by this massive impenetrable edifice:

Entrance - Chateau Hohlandsbourg

Wait.  Except that we’re looking at a wide open door, right?

What you don’t see is the hired security guy whose job is to inform us that under no circumstances can he let us inside, because it is now 7:15, and the castle closes at 7:00, and there’s a big government meeting going on inside.  Ah.  So that’s why all the parking lots are full.

We resigned ourselves to staring out at the view of Colmar in dazed dejection at our fifteen minutes of misfortune, and took photos for a bit, because we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave.

View from Chateau Hohlandsbourg

The security guy was, however, fine with us walking around the exterior of the building.  After enough landscapes and selfies and group portraits and eavesdropping on the sorrows of other rejected hikers, we were feeling energetic again.  We scrambled up an informal trail and started our tour of the walls.

For the most part, Holandsbourg looks like long stretches of blank wall, which make for horrible photos, and a few of these on the corners:

Corner of Old Holandsbourg

You can, however, look in through the arrow slits down at ground level, which from some angles gives you a view of the governmental party-tents, and into other holes you see things like this:

View into Hohlandsbourg castle

Honestly I think we had more fun scrambling around the perimeter of the castle than we would have had if we’d been let inside.  We never would have circumnavigated the place if it hadn’t been our only choice.

Jen looking into the Forbidden Castle (Hohlandsbourg)

Me, looking into an arrow slit of the Forbidden Castle.  There is glass behind this particular slit, hence my reflection, but you can see into the meeting space that’s been created within.  Two more castles still to come in this series.  And for those who are wondering, all the photos in these posts are mine, all rights reserved.  See the copyright notice in the sidebar.

 

Castles in Alsace, Part 1

After Haut Koenigsbourg, we transitioned to compulsively hiking up to any ruined castle we saw from the road.*

Castles tend to be built in sets, it turns out.  The first group of ruins we visited were the three castles above the town of Ribeauvillé.  You park at the base of the mountain and walk up through the woods, and though the trails are well-marked, if you aren’t sure which trail you are supposed to be following, that can create a nagivational difficulty.  But we eventually got to all three.

Giersberg is the lowest, smallest, and you can’t go into it.  But it’s pretty satisfying if you’re not from around these parts.  (Tip: For any of these links that take you to French-language sites, Google Translate does pretty well. Just hit the magic button in Chrome and you’re set.)

Giersberg castle as seen from St. Ulric castle

Giersberg seen from the trail.

St. Ulric is next to Giersberg, and you can go inside and climb all over the place.  We did that.

St Ulric castle seen from Giersberg

Here are details from above and below of that room full of windows.  You can see where timbers were supported to make a floor.

Hall, from above, St Ulrich

Hall, from below, St Ulrich
This is a view looking up to the main tower from within the castle.

 

 

Tower, Haut Ribeaupierre

Here’s looking down from the tower into the valley.
Tower view St Ulrich

And here is looking down from the tower into the other parts of the castle.
Interior Birdseye St Ulrich

Here are wall details.  You can see there are multiple construction techniques going on over the years.

Wall detail St Ulrich  Wall detail #2 St Ulrich

 

After that we took the wrong trail towards Haut-Ribeaupierre, but quickly figured out that going down the mountain was not going to gain us any elevation, and turned around and picked the correct trail the second time.

Haut Ribeaupierre main non-entry

Canon hole? Haut Ribeaupierre

Wall detail with contrast, Haut Ribeaupierre

Goth arch side entry Haut Ribeaupierre

Haut Ribeau Pierre round tower.

After that it was late and we were pretty happy to descend and go home.  Here’s a view of our car from about 2/3rds of the way up the mountain:

View of Ribeauville from St. Ulrich

Yes, I walked all that!  I know!   Part 2 of the Alsatian castle tour coming in the next post.

 

*Tourism tip: An advantage of visiting Alsace during June or July is that you have until nine or so to be off the mountain each evening, which means you can head off on a hike anytime you see something interesting as you’re driving home from your main event activity that closed down at some civilized hour.   FYI this practice can interfere with dinner.

 

What It Takes Not to Be a Nazi

Fourth of July a fellow on a bicycle saw me photographing the parish war memorial in Sigolsheim.  He asked me where I was from, and I told him the US, and he proceeded to thank me for coming.  Periodically throughout the conversation he thanked me again, and before leaving he repeated merci about seven times.  There was a reason for that, which I’ll get to.

A typical way of inscribing a war memorial in France is to write Mort Pour La France, but in Alsace that’s not usually the case, for the obvious reason.  A Nos Morts is the common alternative that glosses over the whole question of whom you died for, and gets to the point: You died.  Here’s the memorial outside the parish church in Uffholtz, A Ses Enfants Victime de Guerre:

Uffhotz War Memorial

Here’s Sigolsheim, in two parts.  You’ll notice WWII was disproportionately bloodier than WWI for Sigolsheim, including a significant number of civilian deaths:

Sigholsheim War Memorial 1

Sigolsheim War Memorial 2

That’s because the Nazis dug in and held hard, and a giant set of battles were held in the village itself, which you can read about in extensive detail here.  When German empires decide to assert themselves, annexing Alsace is the default method.  (And why not throw in Lorraine while you’re at it?)   This is the reason that headquartering European postwar peace initiatives in Strasbourg is so symbolically important.

Persuading the Third Reich to retreat from Alsace was bloody-difficult, and American soldiers played a major part in that work, which is half the reason the fellow on the bicycle was so profuse in his thanks for my coming to visit and taking an interest in the local history.

Here’s the village of Kayserberg’s thank-you plaque:

Kaysersberg Allies LIberation Memorial

The American flag flies above Sigolsheim at this war memorial:

US War Memorial Sigolsheim

Everything in red on this map of the the Allies’ Alsatian offensive is American forces:

Map of the Allied Offensive to Retake Alsace

American soldiers aren’t buried at the Sigolsheim memorial (there are American war cemeteries elsewhere).  There is a cemetery, though, for the French forces killed in battle in the immediate vicinity:

French war cemetery Sigolsheim

You’ll notice in the picture above that most of the graves are crosses, and a few are not.  Here’s a detail of the rounded-rectangle gravestone in the bottom right:
Detail of Jewish headstone

It would obviously not be kosher (pun intended) to use a cross to mark the grave of a Jewish soldier.   It is not only American and native-born French soldiers, however, who were instrumental in liberating Alsace.   The Zouave soldiers buried at the Sigolsheim war cemetery have grave markers like this:

Detail of Muslim headstone

In other words, if you’re grateful France is free, don’t just thank an American — thank a Muslim.  Ah, but how much did those Muslim soldiers contribute?  About like this:

As the video shows, the cemetery is built on a hill in a half-circle, and the graves are laid out in four equal sections.  The two flanking sections are Muslim graves, and the center two sections are mixed Christian and Jewish graves.  History is complicated.

Whether the fellow on the bicycle would have thanked me so profusely if I were a North African tourist I couldn’t say.  I’m not one.  What we do get mistaken for in Alsace is German tourists.  We look the part and come by it honestly, if distantly.  German tourists come up and ask us directions, in German, which doesn’t get them very far.  Locals either attempt to speak German with us or else apologize that they have no German (neither do we — how about French?).

So here are a couple of my cute German kids walking towards the gate out of the KL-Natzweiler Concentration Camp, up near the village of Struthof in the Vosges mountains:

Walking towards the gate - KL-Natzweiler (Struthof) concentration camp

People who didn’t walk out might have died here in the cell block:

Cell block, Natzweiler-Struthof

At which point they would have been incinerated in this crematorium:
Crematorium Natzweiler - Struthof

When we talk about concentration camps and the evil of the Nazi regime, the usual thing is to tell kids, “If you were Jewish . . .”

Struthof, as KL-Natzweiler is often called locally, is different, in that it was chiefly used not for eugenic purposes but for those who resisted the Nazi regime.  Thus more to the point for our nice German boy in the photo above: Let’s talk about the draft.

His great-grandfathers were all about his age (17) at the start of World War II.  They had the luxury of being second- or third- or more-generation Americans, and they all volunteered and served in the War for the US.  It was not a difficult decision.  They were the age your brother is now, I told the girls.

Had he been seventeen and American, the boy would have signed up too, I’m fairly certain.  But what if he had been seventeen and German — which, after a week of being mistaken for a German tourist (or an Alsatian local), is not at all a stretch of the imagination?  He would have had to decide between going into the Nazi army, or going to Struthof.

Which is why a guy on a bicycle, about my age, resident of a nearby village, passing by on July 4th evening outside the war memorial in Sigolsheim couldn’t stop thanking me for being an American who came to Alsace.  He saw I was interested in history, and started suggesting sites.  “Do you know there’s a US war memorial up on the hill?” he said.

Yes.  Just came from there, actually.

“And have you seen the three castles down by Eguisheim?”

Yes.  And the other one, and some other ones . . .

“Let’s see, so maybe you should go to –”

“Well actually,” I tell him, “we only have a few more days here.  We’re going to try to go to Mont Sainte Odile and to–” I try to remember the name —  “Struthof–?”

He stops.  “Oh.  Struthof.  That’s hard.”

I know.

But you can’t really appreciate the significance of the war unless you know the whole story.

“The concentration camp,” he says.  “Struthof.”

“Yes.”

“My grandfather was there.”

White flowers with red centers.detail of white blossom with magenta-red center.

Flowers at the Sigolsheim war memorial, in bloom on July 4th.

A La Recherche Du Wifi Perdu

It’s gotten nice-n-real, other than a few technical glitches, including a little misunderstanding concerning WiFi, and another one concerning whether Visa ought to let me add more data to my locally-acquired cell phone.  (The better to real you with, my dear.)

In the interest of speed-blogging from my very temporary office here at McDonald’s (I know), and given that Google Photos isn’t letting my PC see all the photos my phone can see, quick tour of the first couple days of sites.

1. Haut Koenigsbourg.  Kaiser Wilhelm decided to restore a castle as an expression of his imperial ambitions.  Mostly that didn’t work out (the empire), but the castle tour is pretty good.  It turns out I have a minor obsession with building techniques.  Lots of photos of castle walls.

Three walls of Haut Koenigsbourg castle meet.  Detail on the variation on construction techniques in the stone masonry.

2. The Unterlinden Museum.  I never really did get much past the  medieval art — but you knew that about me.  The number of different versions of the Blessed Mother and Angel Gabriel getting real with each other is pretty amusing.  Just exactly how did she take that news?  Artists’ opinions vary.

The Annunciation, detail from a wood carving by Albrect Durer.

In addition to the collection, the Unterlinden wins points for letting you out for lunch and not charging you to get back in later in the day.  We wandered around Colmar and found lunch at the restaurant on the right (photo below), overlooking the canal, though it was cool enough outside that children asked to eat indoors.  Where the stone walls were pretty nifty, so that worked for me.
View of a canal in Colmar, France, with half-timbered houses.

So the above shows you Colmar being picturesque, but after having accidentally toured the entire Alsatian countryside in the search of our rental house, honestly the kids weren’t as excited about Urban Picturesque, because every.single.village is overwhelmingly charming.  L. had been in-country less than twelve hours when she made the decision to move here.  Because yes, it really is the best place in the world, thanks, as any local will tell you.

Also, the ice cream for the kids’ menu came in these little plastic cows:
Plastic toy cow that opens to hold a scoop of ice cream.

Nearly covered over the sin of one of my children ordering chicken nuggets.

Since then – Obernai, castles, castles, castles, the Ecomusee, a Trappist guitar Mass, and also castles.

Pain Bleg Update –> How’s It Going, Jen?

So if you post something like last month’s Name This Pain bleg, it’s a good idea to update sooner, rather than later, when you rejoin the happy world of healthy-type people.  Otherwise, every time you turn up some friend will peer at you with concern and ask gravely, “How are you?”

If you are me, it’ll take you a minute to wonder why they are asking this way, because I’m somewhat forgetful in this regard.

(My description of a particularly difficult bout of unmedicated childbirth:  “It took me several days to be willing to do that again.”  Whether this level of forgetfulness is good for the overall survival of the species depends on which sort of calculations you favor.)

So first of all, many thanks to those who replied to me.  The most interesting response was that many people wrote in to say it sounded like their own experience with Restless Legs Syndrome.  This was curious, since it means that a number of physicians have ditched the “urge to move” component of the diagnostic criteria for that disorder.

More interesting: Two readers with RLS and one reader who did not mention RLS said that their symptoms (identical to what I described) were caused by medications.  The three medications mentioned were: Antihistamines, ibuprofen, and migraine medication (Imitrex, I think?)

Whether any of these are a factor for me, I do not know.  I ran some experiments which were inconclusive.

Here is something I do know: God hears the cry of the migraine sufferer.

That’s not me.  That’s my poor friend and colleague from whom I really needed some information, and even when she explained that she was standing in the dark because she had a migraine, did I leave her in peace?  No I did not.    Even though I KNEW that I was being a horrible person and begging for divine retribution, I persisted in asking my questions anyway — which she answered quite helpfully, just as I’d hoped.

So then when I came down with a couple days of non-migraine-but-still-deeply-irritating headache shortly thereafter, the explanation was obvious.

I don’t know that I wouldn’t risk it again, honestly.

***

Anyhow, I am doing wonderfully this month.  Perfectly perfect, other than when I’m courting wrath.  You who have been praying, I am immensely grateful.

Me with Larry Peterson

Here’s me looking as happy as I am, after lunch with Larry Peterson today.   I am really enjoying this thing where I just go around places having a good time, done.

 

The Makings of a Psychiatric Service Dog – Meet Frank and Josef

I’ve long been interested in service dogs, but something new to me is the idea of a psychiatric service dog.  You may have heard of “emotional support animals,” companion animals that help a person stay calm and cope with challenging situations just by being around in a general way.  You might think of it as passive support.

A psychiatric service dog, in contrast, is trained to perform specific tasks that actively help the handler through PTSD, anxiety, or other crisis episodes.  The dog actively monitors the handler’s well-being, and takes action to intervene or assist when needed.

Now a dear friend of mine is in the process of seeing if he and his dog have what it takes to be formally trained as a psychiatric support dog team — and all signs are very promising.

 

This is Josef Hathaway:

Image contains: 1 person, sunglasses, hat and closeup

Josef being himself.  Photo by Mary Hathaway, used with permission. 

He’s creative and insightful and a natural problem-solver.  His father John writes:

Josef was asking about getting an outside cat. Mary facetiously suggested, about an hour before Mass, that he catch one of the feral cats that prowl our yard. A bit later, we’re in our room getting ready and hear a loud crash! I thought another tree had fallen. We heard the girls, but no Joe.

Josef?!” Mary called.

“Yes?!” called a voice from below our feet.

“What are you doing?”

“You said I could trap a cat!” He was in the basement, pulling out the old dog cages.

“I also suggested you clean your room!”

“Yeah, but that’s boring!”

He’s funny and playful and loving.  This is a story Mary tells about Joseph and one of his three sisters:

Josef (menacingly): Gianna, you’re about to have a HEART ATTACK!

Me: Josef!

I turn around, and he proceeds to attack her by throwing paper hearts at her. (Phew.) LOL

Josef also has high functioning autism (Asperger’s) with a mood disorder, for which he receives professional treatment supervised by a psychologist specializing in his diagnoses.  At home, his parents provide the structure, diet, behavioral interventions, medical care, and family life adaptations designed by his care team for his situation.

One thing that helps him is time spent with animals.   Josef volunteered for about seven months in the puppy room at the  CSRA Humane Society.  The decision to adopt Frank the dog, though, was inspired by another Frank:

Dean Koontz (dog aficionado) led me to Frank Redman, who recommended we get Josef a lab, and we ended up adopting a lab already named Frank, rescued from Hurricane Matthew. That’s his back story. The SPCA brought him over from Charleston to their shelter during the hurricane.

When the family adopted Frank the dog, they were looking for a good companion who enjoyed chasing balls.  They had no idea how attuned he would be to the moods of the members of his adopted pack.  With no training at all, Frank has already started actively working as a psychiatric service dog.

Mary shares an example of way the Frank helps Josef calm down from a panic attack:

Josef had another panic attack.

Fifteen minutes before “Contractors for Christ” [coming to help the family with yard maintenance] showed up…he locked himself in his bedroom (John has now removed the door handle), and he was sobbing.

Frank came back and started barking at the door. John was able to get in, and Frank kept jumping up on Josef (kindly–not vicious) and barking at him and pawing at his hands so he would have to stop hurting himself.

Josef then went and closed himself in the closet, and then Frank barked at the door, I opened it, and he again came in and sat down with Josef and barked at him gently to calm down.

Josef was pretty stirred up–he gets anxious about anyone coming over, even if it’s someone he’s known for a while–so, he was still not 100%. But, thanks to Frank, he calmed down, thankfully.

Here’s an example of how attuned Frank is to Josef’s mood, and how quickly he intervenes to help:

Josef just talked to Frank Redman via Skype, and Josef joked that he was scared of something and fake whimpered. Frank came bolting into the room and started licking his hand.

This is all raw talent.  The Hathaways are arranging to consult with a professional psychiatric service dog trainer, to determine if Frank and Josef are candidates for training as a team.

Frank, black Labrador retriever, resting on the couch with Josef.

Photo of Frank and Josef, copyright John & Mary Hathaway, used with permission.

Concerning Ferocity

Arguing about the “Fearless Girl” statue is old sport now.  Pause for a moment and take a look at a completely different argument.  Here is  Zachary D. Schmoll at The Public Discourse: “Physician-Assisted Suicide Tells People Like Me That Our Lives Are No Longer Worth Living.

As a man with a physical disability, I need a lot of help to perform many basic daily activities. I still consider myself to be an independent thinker, but my physical independence is substantially limited by my severely reduced muscle strength. I need help to drive my van, get dressed, prepare my meals, and complete other daily tasks. For me, this is life. For many others, this level of dependence is motivation to consider bringing life to an end.

If you are wondering why the supporters and detractors of the Fearless Girl both seem to have a point, the point is implied by Schmoll: We are suffering from a fortitude-deficiency.

I give the benefit of the doubt to writers who create super-fighter female characters.  Aren’t all superheros a stretch of the imagination?  It is not necessary to have a feminist agenda to identify with a girl-fighter character.  There is the appeal of the underdog; there is the charm of the unlikely hero.  Quick art relies on facile stereotype: If you want “artistic tension” write yourself a hulking ballerina or a grandmother who hates crochet, done.  Thus one can object to fighter-girls on the grounds of bad artistry, sometimes.  To my mind, the main offense of the female super-fighter character is that she’s mostly hired for the job of over-filling her super-bikini.

Girls are not for that.

I know girls who fight with swords, or play rugby, or do other things that require physical toughness.  They do not fall out of their clothing.  Also, they are women, not wannabe-men.

It should require no proof or explanation that men and women are different from each other.  Faced with a culture determined to argue against the self-evident, conservatives sometimes lapse into stereotypes in order to make that point. Stereotypes fail because men and women resemble each other intensely. We all have wrists and necks and breasts and jaws and feet, which tend to be different between men and women, but the tendencies are not absolute.  It isn’t that women have flippers and men have tentacles; we all have hands.  A male hand and a female hand resemble each other far more than either one is like a dog’s paw or a horse’s hoof.

So it is with human emotions, human reasoning, and human passion.  There are differing tendencies between men and women, but other than motherhood and fatherhood and your part in the act that gets you there, there is nothing in the human experience that is the exclusive province of only men or only women.  A man is sensitive and compassionate and nurturing in a masculine way by definition: If it is a man expressing those traits, he is doing it in a way that men do it.

Women identify with traits likes toughness because toughness is a feminine trait as surely as it is a masculine one.  Like hands or feet or ear hair, there are differences in how that toughness tends to express itself in the lives of women compared to the lives of men.  But it is certainly there.

If you do not think women are made for feats of intense physical difficulty and danger, I fear your parents owe you an apology: That story about the stork is just a myth.

You are here on this earth because a woman gave birth to you.

Oh, but that’s not the same as manly physical difficulty and danger!  No, it isn’t.  A man’s body is made to express its strength and daring in a different way.  Strength and daring are not male traits or female traits; they are human traits.  As with hands or feet, there tend to be differences between men and women in the embodiment of those traits. But if we try to say that physical toughness and daring are solely the province of men and not women, we don’t end up with a definition of masculinity; we end up with an argument for abortion.

We are a culture that values not toughness but power.  It isn’t fortitude we treasure but autonomy.  It isn’t the ability to endure great trials that we prize, it is the ability to conquer decisively.  If there is real danger? We want an out.

Life involves danger and pain.  From the moment of conception to the last breath, danger and pain are risks we all run, and sooner or later both will overtake us.

The fundamental argument for abortion is this: I would rather you die than that I suffer.

The fundamental argument for euthanasia is this: We would rather you die than that we suffer.

The fundamental argument for assisted-suicide is this: I would rather I die than that I suffer.

We talk a big talk about being “fierce” but actually we are cowards.  We are only “fierce” in the face of bronzed threats — frozen solid, unable to harm us.  We can stare down a picture of danger all afternoon; real danger makes us proud to run and hide.

A ferocious beast will kill for its own gain.  It is not ferocity but fortitude that we humans undervalue.  We like these girls who fight because we know deep inside that we humans are created for the fight.  We are created for living dangerously, and for facing the trials of our life unflinching.

File:Budapest kunst 0010.tif Virgin Mary with St. Barbara and St. Catherine of Alexandria

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia: The Virgin Mary with saints Barbara and Catherine of Alexandria.  I dunno, were those girls all that tough?  Hmmn.

The Coffee-Beer Cure

I wish to thank everyone who has shared my crowd-sourcing post, and those who have given many helpful responses.  Every clue is a good clue.

Meanwhile, this is what relapsing-remitting chronic illness is like:

After six months of being a completely normal person for the first time in years, I get whammed with the Return of the Thing early last week.  It arrived disguised as a week or two of feeling not-quite-right, and then a bit of a cough when I woke up Tuesday and then Pow! Done.

So I get through the bare-minimum on the schedule (a schedule written for normal people, because I was a normal person a week ago), but not the whole thing.  Thank you caffeine I had a super day Friday, and went to bed excited about Saturday, only to, you know, sleep through Saturday.  Oops.

Sunday morning pain is down and I’m excited about Sunday, but, whoops, remember that thing where talking makes you lightheaded?  Yeah, I haven’t had that in six months.  Sure I mic’d up the other week to talk to a room full of eight people, but that was erring on the side of caution, mostly, though okay yes I know that talking loudly is not a great idea even with the Normal Self.

Anyhow, come Sunday talking was right out.  Even lip-syncing was a no-go.  Worst case of light-headed-while-talking I’ve had in years.  Wicked enough I was glad I had a student-driver to do the driving home from church after Mass.   I did some talking to some people anyway, because I am not nearly the recluse people like me say that I am, then went home after Mass and slept that off.  Went to a friends’ birthday party, sat around listening to people and avoiding talking (mostly), and had a wonderful couple hours and then went home and slept that off.

Tip: If you do something that makes you feel faint, that might make you tired after a while.  Even if you enjoy the activity! It’s like your brain doesn’t consider that sustainable behavior.

So I wake up for the third time Sunday and it’s still Sunday, and I’ve been judiciously avoiding junk food this past week despite the fact that it’s Easter and only heretics avoid junk food during Easter, and since I do make an honest effort to keep the commandments, I was practically obliged to have part of one these with dinner:
Evil Twin Brewing Imperial Biscotti Break

For you uncultured heathens, that would be beer with coffee in it.

And then I felt like going for a walk, which I figured would be short, and I grabbed my rosary, which I figured I would end up not praying because one of the comorbidities of feeling light-headed while talking is losing the ability to keep track of prayers silently either, but you never know so I took it.

I thought I’d be dragging myself home in two minutes, and I was wrong.

My head had been cured by the coffee-beer.  (Or something.) I prayed the whole dang thing including the extra litany of intentions (you could be on there) I try to add at the end, and that was impressive because when I am flopping around the house uselessly exhausted, Rosary and housework are the first things to go, because trying to keep the commandments and actually keeping them are two different things.

The coffee-beer didn’t even taste as good as it should have.  But it effected the cure.

Temporarily.  The thing is back now.  Sheesh.

Did you know that there exist certain neurological disorders whose symptoms are best improved by alcohol?  Neither did I, until I read about one of them this weekend, I can’t remember which.  Unfortunately, coffee-beer is, like nearly all the other pharmaceuticals used to treat unpleasant brain problems, loaded with potential for untoward side effects, so you can’t just have it all the time.  And you really wouldn’t want to, I hope.