Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I was going to try to do a photo post today, but I don't have the time.

Life is complicated, and that is all there is to it.

Most of my thoughts are unfinished and unresolved.

"Things are unraveling fast now..." I think that's a line from Aladdin.

If I could only get my house cleaned.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


You know it's a rough morning when your bare foot lands in a pile of slimy dog vomit before the sun has risen. Just saying.

I got up at 6:15, as per usual, although it was harder than usual because Shawn and I watched It's a Wonderful Life last night, and it was longer than we'd realized. We also realized that neither of us had ever seen it before, except for the brief segment when George Bailey meets up with his guardian angel on the snowy bridge. Verbiage aside, the net result was that I sank into my pillows at 12:05 last night, and when the alarm went off at 6:15, I was tired.

But I got up, the way I almost always do (unless I am sick or similarly indisposed), and I made Jonathan's oatmeal. And his coffee. And his lunch. And I washed the dishes that had been made late last night when people snacked again after I had already washed the supper dishes. I emptied the dishwasher. I started hard boiled eggs so they would be finished and warm for Shannon and David when they got up for their breakfast at about 7:25.

Now, I own black slippers, gray slippers, red slippers and even a pair of tan leather slippers. However, I have not been able to find any of them lately (seriously, I often wonder whether ADD is catching and I have caught it), the upshot being that my feet were bare. And cold.

So I decided to take my cold, bare feet back to bed where I could place them against the warm flesh of my snoozing husband and thaw them out. But as I approached the bed, on the very last step before I vaulted myself into the velvety warmth under the covers, my bare left foot slid into a pile of dog puke.

"Aauugghh!" I hollered, instinctively. Had I been able to think, I would have tried to muffle it, but it just came out. Shannon and David were getting up then anyway, but it jolted Shawn from slumber.

When we remodeled our bathrooms, we replaced a miniature tub and shower combination unit in our bathroom with a largish stone and tile shower. I realized about a week ago that I will no longer be able to sit on the edge of the tub and wash my feet before bed in the summer when I have been going barefoot. It was a sad realization. Today I was also sad, as I hopped on my right foot down the hall to the kids' bathroom, which has a tub. I muttered (loudly) under my breath, "So that's what Piper was doing last night when I thought he was dying."

Shawn called out, "You always think he's dying." He's right of course; I do. But stepping in the vomit reminded me that I had heard a most alarming sequence of sounds in the night, sounds like gasping, upchucking, wheezing, stumbling and falling. I had thought Piper was probably dying, but I was too tired, and too chicken, to check it out.

I washed my foot. Shawn was kind. He went to the basement and got the Bissell "Little Green Machine" so we could sort of shampoo the carpet. I had some stuff in an aerosol spray can that is for disinfecting pet accidents which I also sprayed on the spot. It is very fumey. The can boasts some ridiculous claims written by an advertising agency, things like, "Instant Erase... now with new odor stop technology." As I lay, lightheaded, in my bed after the ordeal was over, I thought it should probably say, "Kills germs and odors while causing cancer and blindness." But I digress.

I lay in my bed trying to (1) recover, and (2) warm up my feet. Shawn lay next to me and said what I had been thinking since the middle of the night, "I don't hear Piper breathing." That's what he said.

After the violent and awful sounds I'd heard in the night, there had been an uncanny silence. Frankly, when I stepped in the dog vomit, I was mildly relieved that it was good old fashioned dog vomit like I'd seen many times before. I'd been (subconsciously) afraid of running into blood, guts and little doggy corpses. I told Shawn, "No, I haven't heard him breathe since I thought I heard him die in the night."

Piper is getting old. He is crotchety and sometimes snappy, He gets afraid because he can't see much anymore. He is scared of going up and down stairs, and he needs a lot of help (or a lot of very firm encouragement) when he goes out to relieve himself, because he hates navigating on and off the deck. I try to be patient with the poor, tiny creature. "He is very old. He doesn't feel good. He is going to die soon," I tell the family. Piper backs me up by lying prone in the middle of the floor and wheezing alarmingly. At night, the whistle in his chest serenades me through the dark hours whenever I come conscious.

So Shawn and I lay in the soft warmth of our bed while I tried to absorb some of that warmth into my freezing limbs and appendages, and we listened to the sound of silence arising from under the bed.

"That's really eerie, " Shawn said. "Do you want me to check on him?" Now, if you understand how much Shawn dislikes this dog (based on unfortunate occurrences from the past), you will understand how very eerie it all was.

"No, " I said, "Don't check. I can't take it just yet. I need to rest a bit, and get warm and figure out how to deal with what comes next." Bad news keeps.

So we lay there as the silence continued, and I thought about how we would get the body out from under the bed, and would we take it to the vet in a plastic bag? Or in the little dog bed where he sleeps under there? I wondered about reporting it to the county licensing people, and I wished we could just bury him in the backyard with a cement marker. That is illegal in NY; you have to get your pet cremated (at considerable expense). I wondered if we could get around it since he died quietly at home, and just report him as "missing" to the county. That's how sinful I am, although I pretty much decided that we wouldn't try that, we would be legal and law abiding, and I would shower and call the nice ladies at the vet's office and they would tell me what to do next.

And then we heard a little canine cough, a snuffle, and a scratching at the interior of the dog bed. Piper emerged, rumpled and droopy, but alive. We got at least one more day out of him.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Social cues

There is a sickly sweet way that women have of talking to each other when they strongly dislike each other but, for instance, pass each other in the grocery store and a greeting is unavoidable. This is exceedingly odd to me, but I find that I even do it myself. You smile hard with your smile muscles, gritting your teeth gently, and look a little past the other person. "Hi-ee," you say with a long saccharine drawl. This is to prevent further conversation from developing.

She sings, "Hi-ee," back at you and follows with an obligatory, "How are you?" whilst pushing her cart quickly past.

"Great," you gush, "and you?" as the distance increases and you have your backs to one another. Neither of you turns to look back.

"Fantastic," she lies eloquently, "it's great to see you." And then the separation is complete, each of you is now well behind the other, the dance has been danced. You head off towards the organic peanut butter, she peruses brand name breakfast cereal, and you both hope not to meet again soon.

At least I understand this now. About ten years ago, I didn't. I was out in the front yard with Jonathan, who was little then and playing on his scooter. A couple of neighborhood ladies came by, on a walk. I think one of them had a son in a stroller, about a four-year-old, I'd guess. Jonathan was about six. They smiled and waved and asked if Jonathan and I would like to go along with them on their walk.

Thrilled at the prospect of company and exercise, I accepted the invitation and we stepped out into the road to join them.

Then began the exchanged looks (these looks were not exchanged with me, in case you were wondering), the fast pace, the backs turned toward me and the conversation in low tones about things I knew nothing of (nor was there any offer of filling me in). I loped along behind them, calling to Jonathan to ride his scooter safely and to keep up, feeling as though I was back in junior high and the popular girls were leaving me out. I began to feel angry; why would they invite me to go on a walk with them if they didn't want me to go on a walk with them? First I was angry at them, and then I was angry at myself for being dumb, for not understanding the social cues, for not knowing that when they said, "Why don't you come for a walk with us?" they did not mean that I should really go for a walk with them, any more than people care about the answer to, "How are you?"

I was humiliated. When I finally got home, I ducked into the house and hid my burning face, reliving my shame for days and trying not to cry. One of these women has since moved out of the neighborhood, and I have not exchanged a single word with the other one since that day.

I did not understand then, but I do now. And that is why, in the grocery store, when I pass a woman of that ilk, I am prepared to smile my sweetest smile and get the heck out of there.

It is pretty sad that life is like this, but at least it helps you recognize and value your true friends.

It is important to use these kinds of lessons for good in your life. My take-away is this: be kind to people. Go out of your way to make people feel comfortable when they are on your turf, and you have the power to set the tone. Be inclusive. Of course, there will be times when you are simply in a hurry in the grocery store, and you would not have time even to stop and chat with your best friend. But a cheerful, honest, friendly, "Hey! Great to see you! Gotta run!" is pretty easy to distinguish from the catty, hair-raising, sickly-sweet fake politeness of virtual enemies.

And what about forgiveness? Have I not forgiven that woman, the one with whom I have not exchanged a word in nearly ten years? I do not wish her any harm. I do not want to get back at her. I want to protect myself from being hurt again, and I do not want to offend her by my presence or my conversation (since she was obviously offended by them that day so many years ago). I think I have forgiven her, because if she approached me, I would be willing (even happy) to speak with her. I have not needed to go out of my way to avoid speaking to her; she has pretty much taken care of that herself... she's probably afraid that if she offers a simple pleasantry, I might jump into an all-out conversation. Little does she know how much she taught me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

1000 words

I have a picture in my head, but I probably can't paint it in 1000 words.

We went to Wheaton earlier this week. David is considering transferring. He'd like to have the college experience--minus the drugs, alcohol and sex--before the opportunity passes him by. Wheaton has a very nice Christian campus and a really decent jazz program, considering. And their academics are excellent. It is a good fit, all but the money. There is always money to be considered. In heaven, there will be no money and no worries about the lack of it.

But I digress (money will do that to you).

Shawn and David and I went to Wheaton together, and it was not a bad trip, all in all. I felt very small, accompanied by these two tall, broad-shouldered, clean-cut men in their leather jackets and blue jeans. It was like being with army guys or something.

(To end a sentence with "or something" is a Minnesota-ism, but I only figured that out about two years ago.)

On the drive home, DJ drove the second to last leg. We had stopped to see Lulu, who shone like starlight on her PA campus, looking stylish in a small-waisted black jacket she found on clearance at Kohl's for $15 the last time she was home. She sat by David in the Mexican restaurant where we went to have supper together, and they put their blond heads together, his nearly shaven and hers with straightened hair streaming down, and they laughed hard, looking as much like twins as they always have.

And afterwards, heading north to Erie, David drove as the sun set on our left, and I lay down in the back seat because I was shot. My head rested on a couple of pillows flung over a cooler full of the remnants of healthy food we had packed to take along. My view was of the v shaped triangle formed by the backs of the leather car seats sloping down towards where they met each other at the armrest. Along each slope ran the dark leather clad arms of each of my men, David's on the left and Shawn's on the right, their shoulders protruding powerfully beyond the backs of the seats. Above each seat rose the top of a neat, regulation-looking head which occasionally they would tip toward one another as they discussed things like jazz musicians and college basketball players. And in the center of the v was the car's control panel, now lit because the daylight was fading, lots of buttons and symbols, mostly there to control the climate in the car and the radio. Centered above this was the bright GPS, and then a space, and then the rear view mirror up high, midway between those two clean, confident heads. The background, the windshield, was a softly glowing blue, brighter than the silhouettes on each side of it, but dimmer than the GPS and the control panel lights.

The freeway bumped and the car swerved a little now and then; I suppose he was avoiding the worst pot holes. It has been a hard winter. I closed my eyes and opened them on and off, feeling like I was in a science fiction movie. The car could have been a plane or a rocket, and my men could have been special ops pilots or even astronauts.

DJ played a recording of some really old jazz that he said I would like from off his iPod. And I didn't mind it. I couldn't sleep, but it didn't bother me otherwise. I listened to the voice of some radio announcer from the 1940's making corny statements about each upcoming song, and my brain tried to follow the notes of a dusty sounding saxophone blowing out long, intricate solos, and the light faded and we passed trucks, speeding on towards New York and home, and for awhile, for a period of time, for a few hours, nothing was changing and everything was fine.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


When I was growing up in Minnesota, I did not understand the picture books that depicted the month of March as a green, windy month with lots of kites in the air. I guess I assumed it was symbolism or something. February was red hearts, and March was kites. Whatever. In Minnesota we had snow into June, on the north side of the house. I remember how one spring I was "saving" a patch of long-lasting snow in the shade under the evergreen bush by the bricks on the north, and one day in June my dad came by with a shovel, chopped up my snow and spread it out.

"Hey!" I said, "I was saving that. Now it's going to melt."

"Good," said my dad. At the time I was consternated, but now I completely identify with him.

We had a blizzard here on the first Sunday in March. By the providence of God, Shannon had elected to leave Dartmouth a day early (she was visiting their graduate school, and I went along for the drive because, you know, I just can't get enough of driving and riding in the car on the New York State thruway). Anyway, we drove home on Saturday in weather that was only slightly rainy, and on Sunday I sat in my house drinking hot tea with cream, looking out the window and thanking God that we were safely home and did not have to be out on the road in that weather.

Actually, we did venture out to go to church, and Shawn very nearly rear-ended a snowplow on our way home (you'd think the road would be in good shape directly behind a snowplow, but no, the plow had its blade up, and it was saving its salt for after the next turn). I prayed out loud. Shawn steered onto the shoulder. The car slowed to a halt just inches from the snowplow blade, which was sticking out into the shoulder in front of us.

That is the second time in my life that I prayed out loud to God for safety during an out-of-control road situation involving snow and ice. The other time was a number of years ago. We were driving to Minnesota, for Thanksgiving I think (but it might have been Christmas). It was snowing hard. We were on the long stretch of I90 that runs along lake Erie between Buffalo and the PA border. Snow fell heavily, and the road was getting iffy. Traffic was light, but there were a few cars around us. Shawn drove with a tense grip on the wheel, his jaw thrust forward. He always drives, because I am not much of a driver. Sometimes I spell him if the weather is perfect and the traffic conditions are light. Sometimes.

But he was driving, holding the road, and he said, "It's getting kind of slippery." Just then a car about one hundred yards in front of us (OK that is a totally baseless estimate, but maybe you get the idea) skidded out of control. The car to the left of it swerved to avoid it.

Our kids said, "Wow! Look at that car spinning around!"

Shawn said, "Oh no," and probably tried to figure out how he would maneuver around a pile-up after it happened.

I watched in horror as cars ahead of us splayed from their lanes while the car-out-of-control turned a figure-eight. Unconsciously, I put my right hand in the air, palm towards the windshield and shouted, "Dear Lord God, please help that man get his car under control!" As the words fell from my mouth, the car finished its figure-eight facing forward and swooped off the road on the right hand side, clipping a mile-marker which slowed it down. It was resting calmly beyond the shoulder by the time we passed, and the other cars resumed their positions in their lanes. There was not a single accident.

My kids were stunned by the power of God. One of them said, "Wow, Mom." But mostly they were speechless. Shawn started breathing again. We all had a very strong feeling that we had just witnessed a miracle.

God is good. He may not have gifted me with great driving skills, but He taught me how to pray and He answers me when I do (not always the way I am hoping, but that day He poured clear grace and mercy all over a bunch of us).

Ahem. I was talking about March. It is pouring rain tonight, and the wind is howling. Here in New York, March is a little more like the picture books. Anyhow, it's windy. Very windy. Speaking of which, I probably ought to bring in the wreath on my front door. It isn't trimmed in red, so I thought I could get by with leaving it up indefinitely, but here in New York if you don't take your wreath down by March, it's liable to blow away. Wind puts you in mind of kites, but our March wind would probably shred a kite into dental floss.

Some year I'd like to experience the seasons in Roanoke. I think Roanoke sounds just about perfect.