March 2008 - Posts
When we adopted our new dog from the local shelter six months ago, it had been four years since my yellow lab, Jessie, passed away. She was two when I got her, and 13 when I had to help her pass onto the great beyond. I'd had her longer than I'd had my husband, my son, or even my own last name. She was my only family when my earlier marriage ended. Together, Jessie and I climbed mountains, swam oceans, and weathered hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, snow storms, a broken marriage and many changes of residence. Like most labs, she loved children and a good meal. She was scared of cats. She was gentle, mellow, and had a wicked sense of humor and perfect manners. But there came a time when she couldn't control her bowels or bladder, she was almost totally deaf, and lived in constant pain. The day she fell off the ramp and ripped a hole in her side, we knew it was time. We'd already set an appointment four days off for the vet to come to the house to euthanize her, but we couldn't make her wait any longer. So we loaded her in the car, drove to the vet's, and parked out front under a big live oak tree. The vet came outside, told us what to expect, and then gave us a couple minutes to say our goodbye. She took only one more breath after the shot was administered.
In the four years since her last breath, I never stopped missing her. My six-year-old son had no recollection of Jessie, and had been begging for years to get a dog of his own. I'd bought as much time as I could with a tankful of fish and a cat.
Peaches is about a year old, maybe a year and a half. She's a mix of American Bulldog and something else. She weighs about 60 pounds, and she's beautiful, athletic, powerful, and a doofus. Her fur is white, except for her brown ears, a beauty mark next to her right eye, and the bullseye around the base of her tail. Her face and her belly are pink. Through her fur you can see black speckles on her skin that make me think she's got some hound in her.
She loves kids, other dogs, and whatever you're eating, including apples and bananas. She loves to fetch and can play the game for hours on end; my husband and I take turns when we tire out. She loves to chase cats. She loves to snuggle, and she's too strong for me to shove her off the sofa or out of my bed. She loves to watch Animal Planet, cocking her head left and right. If the onscreen animals leave the screen, she sniffs around behind the TV looking for them; failing to find them there, she checks on the other side of the wall in the living room.
She chews books, furniture, candles, shoes, dog beds, my son's toys, hand cream bottles and pretty much anything she can get her powerful jaws around. She's allergic to soy, corn, wheat, fleas and something else we haven't figured out yet. She steals sandwiches or entire loaves of bread off the kitchen counter. She jumps and claws at us when she's not getting enough attention. I have bruises on my arms, legs and feet from her toenails. One of my front teeth is loose from getting bonked in the face by her massive head over the weekend; I'm praying it doesn't become discolored or fall out (my tooth, I mean). If you tell her to do something she doesn't want to do, she refuses. If you're adamant about your demands, she'll usually acquiesce, but she'll grumble sassily about it. If you scold her, she drops her ears, tucks her tail and whimpers. She snores loudly, and sleeps best when our little boy climbs into her bed with her to take a nap.
And I've never loved a dog more than I love Peaches...longer, maybe, but not more.
We've reached a tipping point in our office, and I'm proud to give myself credit for the last and final shove. In response to my recent blogs and forum entries on going green, The Boss has asked me to help make our office a little greener, and I'm mighty pleased to take it on! As we make progress, I'll be writing about it here. I hope you'll let me know, too, about what you're doing at home or at your workplace.
We're starting with recycling, of course. Fortunately, we live in a town that really supports green living, and gives each household what they call a Smart Cart. It's a big, honkin', divided trash can on wheels; one side is for paper, and the other is for plastic, glass and cans. Once a week a special truck pulls up to the curb out front, its mechanical arm reaches out, fits itself precisely into the holes in the side of the bin, and then lifts the bin exactly so in order to line it up with the divider on the truck. Voila! Paper here, and the other stuff there.
Now the fact that we haven't been recycling probably means we're less evolved than our trash cans and garbage trucks, but we're getting with the program. Here are a couple of other things we're putting in place:
We're joining Freecycle. If you don't know about it yet, you can thank me after you've become a member. The idea here is that everybody has stuff they don't need, and somebody else needs some of the stuff you have. And it's free. The only thing is you have to give something away before you can take advantage of one of the freebies from the other members. The green advantage here is that you aren't adding more stuff to the landfill, and one of the best ways to conserve energy is to limit the manufacturing and consumption of new stuff.
I'm setting up a box under my desk for Goodwill contributions. I have a little boy who grows out of toys and clothes amazingly fast, so I keep a box near near my front door, and drop it off every four to six weeks. Like so many other green endeavors, this is one that benefits a community and the planet.
In case, I've led you to believe we're complete Neanderthals, let me tell you about something we already have in place. Just outside the entrance to the building we have a koi pond with a small waterfall. Our offices are in a converted old house on a very busy downtown artery, and the environmental benefits from the pond are many. The sound of the running water drowns out some of the traffic noise. The pond catches rainwater that is no doubt loaded with pollutants from the nearby roads, parking lots and lawns. The pollutants get filtered out, and the lilies, irises and all those other plants release fresh carbon dioxide back into the environment.
Our little pond has one other unintended benefit to the local wildlife: the raccoons love them fishies! So far we've placed a plastic owl and a floating alligator head out there. There's even a lovely statue of St. Francis, but he seems to be siding with the racoons. If you've ever come up with a good solution for this problem, please let us know.
I wrote yesterday about my yearning for quiet time alone. And for me, the word yearning is connotated so powerfully in Psalms 42:11, "LIke a deer in winter yearns for running water, I yearn, my God, for thee."
That thirst has been a part of me for most of my adult life. But, I haven't always thought of it as a thirst for God. It's been a yearning for time alone to hear my own voice, like I wrote of yesterday, that chance to examine my attitudes and behaviors and see if they really do align with and express what I claim are my values. Without it, I'm flying on auto-pilot, and relying on habitual behaviors...and I've picked up a lot of bad habits along the way.
That small, quiet voice that's so easily drowned out in a busy life--is that God? I've needed to be in nature, to gain access to my own most elemental spirit, submerged in a river, or barefooted in moss. Is that God? I've longed to be a part of community, and looked for that in various churches: Methodist, Unity, United, Unitarian. But, like an alcoholic who rejects AA, I have a hard time getting past the god-speak, mostly because everyone else is so confident in it. They all seem so certain that what they seek and find is exactly the same as what everyone else is experiencing...except the Unitarians, who are way too cerebral for me. (Q: What happens when you piss off the Unitarians? A: They burn a question mark in your front yard!)
At the end of a miserable marriage, I went through what's probably a pretty typical phase of "He never loved me." What I came to understand was that in fact he had loved me, and loved me with all he had...but that was all he had. We all mean something different when we say "I love you."
I know what I mean when I say "I love you" and "I yearn." The time in retreat is to help me discover whether I maybe already possess the cool water I need. And if not, do I really need what I think I need? Am I living the way I mean to live to meet my own needs and those of the people I love?
The word is like susurant wind in the pines. It's the sound I've heard alone in the mountains, in a shady, fragrant grove on a hot day. It's the sound of small, slow Gulf of Mexico waves.
In my last blog, I wrote of having gone off by myself into the Ozark mountains, and the yearning to go off by myself hasn't left me. As much as I need friends, and family and society in general, these days I would give my eyeteeth for silence. (Aaah, there it is again: SILENCE. Another balm of a word on a day like heat rash.)
How hard it is sometimes to quiet my mind, or even to hear my own voice in my mind. All day, every day my brain gets filled with voices. I'm suffering from a kind of spoken-word poisoning.
And, so here's my promise to myself: I will, one day soon before the sun gets too hot, drive away alone. I will find a quiet place. I will walk from the car and not take a book, and not take a cell phone, and not take the dog. And I will sit alone. Quietly. And when I get back in the car, I will not turn on the radio, but if the antidote is effective, I will quietly hum.
I finished college at 33. I started a family at 41. I changed careers (again) at 47. It's March, and I've just gotten started on my New Years resolutions. It's been more than a month since my last cigarette. I'm going to physical therapy to strengthen my back so I can become more active, strong and flexible. I've learned the most basic HTML codes.
This is middle age. There are so many tired metaphors and cliches about the reassessing and realigning that takes place at this stage. And it's a long process. I don't think of 40 as being middle age, but that's when I realized I had fewer options. There were things I always thought I could do in life, even if I never exactly planned to, that were just no longer on the table.
I no longer dared to hope that I would become a writer of tremendous talent. Living on the west coast was out, though I love the Pacific. Twenty years of infertility finally led me to the sad realization that family and parenting weren't going to be a part of my life. (Q: How do You make God laugh? A: Tell him your plans!) I went skydiving once, expecting to become addicted like so many other people I'd known. Not only did I not become addicted, I didn't especially like it...and that meant I had to try it again. Having a child changed my mind about flinging myself from a perfectly good plane.
There have been so many surprises along the way--not least of them my family. I'm now part of family with four living generations. My mother is in her 84 with Alzheimers. My son is six. My granddaughter is 2. There is so much I want to be able to do.
And despite some years of pretty awful health problems, I always rebounded. A few months of concerted effort, and I got back in shape and became strong and confident enough to canoe and hike alone in the Ozarks. I may never hike in the Ozarks again, but I'm a frequent visitor to the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, and I want to see more than what's visible from the car.
It will probably take me all of this year to reach my goals. Heck, it's March and I'm just starting to imagine them with any detail! But I've started, and the shift inside me has started. Just taking these first steps is making me stronger, more patient, and more determined.
I grew up in Ohio, full of all the Yankee conceits I was entitled to by virtue of being born a child of the winning side. There's an Underground Railroad safe house in the town where I grew up, and much of my schema for the Civil War was shaped by junior-high school interviews with a descendant of its operators.
In the nearly 20 years I’ve lived south of the Mason Dixon, my understanding of the war and its lasting significance has evolved. Two recently read books contributed new insights.
The first, Confederates in the Attic, is a nonfiction look at Civil War re-enactors. These are obsessed folks that neither the author, Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Horwitz, nor I understood. First of all, they lost. One could understand if it were Yankee re-enactors playing their sweet victory over and over. But for the losing team to fanatically celebrate and re-live their failure? Why?
It seems that for many Southerners the Civil War was the South’s finest hour, a crystallization of who they were, and to a degree, are. But, as much as the book illustrates the differences of north and south, it also brings into focus some of the similarities. For instance, the confederate prison camp Andersonville is compared to less notorious Yankee POW camps, and the Yankees don’t benefit from the comparison.
Horwitz takes the reader on a road trip through historically significant battle sites, and along the way, he becomes one of them, a closeted Confederate. But it's also a long look back at how we got here, who we are and an examination of racism today.
Coincidentally, the second book, March, was written by the wife of the first book's author. Geraldine Brooks won a Pulitzer for this spin off of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Brooks’ fictional work is based on the absent husband and father and tells of his Civil War experiences in the year he's gone from his wife, Marmee, and his daughters, Meg, Jo and Beth.
Mr. March is an abolitionist minister who has joined the Union Army in God’s own righteous fight against slavery. What he confronts, though, is his own hubris, humanity and humiliation. He also paints an unlovely portrait of the heretofore sainted Marmee, whose voice in the final third of the book, relates the story of her husband’s hospitalization and long recovery. With her use of both a husband and wife’s perspective, Brooks provides an intimate look at a marriage within the context of an epic war.
As much as Mr. March’s character is fleshed out, so is Marmee’s. Any character examined from more than a single perspective is a plus for the reader, even if the characterization may not be flattering. Other readers have complained at having lost a literary heroine, but I felt the more realistic portrayal provided a more meaningful understanding of a complex time for all Americans.
I know the whole thing sounds disgusting, but your back will be middle-aged someday, too. And there's a good chance some moron doctor is going to refer you to a surgeon. This blog will be short. Read on.
This problem with my back has been going on for years. I only take it seriously once or twice a year when a flare up can leave me crying at home. A year ago, when an MRI showed two bulging disks, physical therapy was perscribed--as if being out of the office three times a week was an option! And, when there's no way to make it happen, you wait, and the pain goes away...mostly...for a while.
Gravity, a growing child, and a big, clumsy dog are not kind to degenerating disks, and the last few weeks are proof of it. Till recently, my sole survival tactic has been weekend visits to my HMO's urgent care clinic for a couple shots of pain relief and anti-inflammatories. This time around my usual survival tactic just isn't good enough. And I can't stand the pain in my back, hips, legs, buttocks. It keeps me awake all night, and I get really...cranky...yeah, let's call it "cranky."
This time around the MRI shows three bulging disks with nerve compression. My doctor (actually, my doctor's husband, who practices with her) said I have three choices: an orthopedic surgeon, a neurosurgeon, or the pain management clinic.
And all the sudden, I'm thinking physical therapy sounds do-able.
First visit was yesterday, and I'm a new woman. OK, so not new exactly, but I can move. The pain is localized in my back and almost completely gone from my other pieces. I slept last night. I'm smiling. I'm wearing heels.
The magic cure? Bend backwards from the waist 74 times a day. Do a couple dozen pushups a day using only my arms and leaving my lower body on the floor. I swear that's it. The physical therapist says come back once a week for four to six weeks. That's it.
Turns out, I don't even need a referral from the doctor to see the physical therapist. I just have to be smart enough to go.
Only three more weeks till my nephew leaves for Afghanistan. I'm not committed or diligent to read a scholarly tome on Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran. But I care enough and am curious enough to want to know more. If you're the same, let me introduce you a method I've devised for lightweights like me and you. I call it the Weenie Way method of world cultures. The whole secret to the Weenie Way is memoirs, and I've been reading a lot of them lately.
For Afghanistan, read "Kabul Beauty School," by Deborah Rodriguez. There's also "The Bookseller of Kabul," by Asne Seierstad.
For Iran, try "Reading Lolita in Tehran," by Asar Nasifi.
For Pakistan, "Three Cups of Tea," by Greg Mortensen.
Another book I'm looking forward to reading is "Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women," by Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks.
Has anybody read anything readable about Iraq? I don't want to read a soldier's story kind of thing, and that seems to be about all there is. First hand information from the American perspective is plentiful; I'm looking for something about the life of Iraqis before and during this war.