Monthly Archives: August 2019

Miss Demeanor

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Rosa Parks has been in my home longer than either of my other two dogs. Persistent ear infections have left her partially deaf; fatty tumors under both front legs limit her ability to run. She is blind in one eye. Rosa Parks takes it all in stride. She is confidant of her place in this family, and in my heart. And, for what she lacks in any other department, she makes up for it with attitude.

As a dog owner, it’s easy to become accustomed to blind adoration. Dogs are good at that. Rosa Parks, not so much. While the other two dogs gaze at me adoringly, she’s the one to raise a skeptical eyebrow, or offer only a cynical expression. She loves me, but she holds no misconceptions about me. She may honor me my sharing my seat, or sitting in my lap, but she won’t beg for it. She accepts a treat with a snap of her jaws that says, “about time!”

Likewise, Rosa Parks makes no excuses and feels no shame for her own behavior. Though it only takes a solemn, “This is not good, Darla,” to cause my big dog to hang her head in remorse, Rosa Parks feels no such compunction. In fact, if I’m reading her expressions correctly, she’s got a snappy response for every misdeed.

  • When she has used the laundry room floor as a bathroom: “Well, you were asleep. You don’t expect me to hold it, do ya?”
  • When she snarls and snaps at the veterinarian: “Hey, he was asking for it.”
  • When she digs her teeth into my hand: “You should’ve stayed out of the way; I was aiming for the vet.”
  • When she refuses to come when called: “I never heard a thing.”
  • When she hears the refrigerator door open from three rooms away: “Were you getting something for me? I’m starving!”

When others look at Rosa Parks, they may see a dog that shows some wear. She’s carrying a few extra pounds. She walks a little crookedly, and she has that cloudy eye. In this household, none of that matters a bit. Those of us that live with her can easily tell from her demeanor that Rosa Parks is royalty!

With Abandon

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My big dog, Darla, loves her toys. Rosa Parks and Blackie Chan are uninterested in playthings. That’s fortunate, because Darla is happy to claim their toys as well. Every day, when she greets me at the door, she has a toy with her. When she thinks I’m mad at her, she brings me a toy. And, though she loves a walk or a ride in the car, she won’t set out without something in her mouth.

That gets to be a problem. because Darla abandons her toys. She leaves them on the roadside when distracted by a sound or a smell. She drops them in the car when the fresh air diverts her attention. She abandons them all over the yard.

Once, I came home to find garbage strewn all over the laundry room. I’d forgotten to put the trash can up onto the washing machine, out of Darla’s reach, before I left. She took advantage of the chance to go through the waste for anything edible or otherwise worthwhile. As I crawled around on the floor gathering up chewed bits of paper, I told her, “Not good, Darla, not good!” Even in the worst situations, I cannot bring myself to say, “bad dog.”

To make amends, Darla brought me a stuffed animal. When that didn’t do the trick, she brought me another. Having depleted her toy basket before I was finished grumbling my displeasure (and while I was still on the floor, cleaning up), she brought me a sofa cushion. That did it! I laughed, and stopped what I was doing in order to give her a hug.

If the toys are not where she can find them, Darla will try to take one of my soft slippers on our walk. She’s terribly disappointed when I won’t let her get away with it. But, though she’s very good about finding toys and other things to bring outside, she never brings them back in.

Before I mow the lawn, especially if the grass is long enough to hide a stuffed bunny, I have to pace the yard, to retrieve what is hidden there. In order to keep her toy basket stocked, I check the car regularly for things dropped in there. I know several things have been left along the road, and I watch for them, but rarely ever find them if I don’t see them fall. A wander around the yard will always produce a good assortment, though.

Darla is a good girl, but where her toys are concerned, she lives her life with abandon!

Mr. Adventure

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Mr. Adventure. That’s the nickname I have given to Blackie Chan, the eight-year-old chihuahua that came to join my household last May. I’ve called him other names: “my boy,” “my best boy” and “good, good boy,” and they suited him for a quite a while.

I’ve said more than once that he is the best-behaved dog in my household. For a long time, that was true. He stayed close to me when we walked. If I lost sight of him, I only had to call his name, and he’d leap up and run to me. In the yard, he limited his wandering to an area close to me, or close to the door to go back in.

Then, something changed. I can pinpoint the day. I had walked, with my three dogs, down to the end of Cotter’s Trail. The dogs spread out to explore the clearing. They wanted to see what might be under the up-side down boat, suspended between sawhorses. They each wanted to smell the fire pit, to decide what might have been cooked there. The perimeter of every small structure had to be checked out, too.

When I turned to go home, I called each of the dogs, and started down the trail. Sometimes it takes them a few moments to realize I’m leaving, and that they should follow. On that day, Blackie Chan didn’t come. I walked back, looked him right in the eye, and told him to come. Stubbornly, he didn’t. I, also hard-headed, continued down the trail. When he didn’t catch up, I stopped to call him, so often that I made myself hoarse.

By the time I got home, I’d imagined a hundred awful fates for poor Blackie Chan, and chastised myself for walking away without him. I put the other dogs inside, and took the car to go back to get him. Halfway down the trail, there was Blackie Chan, on his way home. I was heartened by the fact that he was at a dead run, with a worried expression on his little face. I gathered him up and greeted him warmly, certain that he’d learned his lesson.

Instead, it seems like that was the beginning of a life of high adventure for little Blackie Chan. Walking down the Fox Lake Road, he abandons me to walk down the neighbors driveway. He seems deaf to my calls. In fact, he seems anxious to explore every single driveway, path or trail that diverges from the road. Sometimes he realizes what he’s done and catches up; sometimes I have to go back to get him. Two weeks ago, while I was outside mowing the lawn, Blackie Chan left the yard all by himself, and went over to see the neighbors!

Last week, while I was sitting at the computer, Blackie Chan jumped up onto one of the dining room chairs. A few minutes later, he stood up on the chair to peer over the tabletop. “No,” I told him, “you get down from there.” The next day, when I got home from work, I could see that the little dog had been on the table top. A small vase was tipped onto its side; the tablecloth was rumpled; the folder for bills that had been on the table was now on the floor, its contents spilled.

“This is not okay,” I said aloud. Getting up there was bad enough, but how had he gotten down? He could be hurt, jumping from that distance! The next morning, I pulled all the chairs away from the table, and moved them into the living room. That evening when I got home,once again Blackie Chan was on the table! He was whining, and dancing from one foot to another, wanting down, wanting to run, as usual, to the door to greet me, yet afraid to make the leap.

I ran to retrieve him, and lifted him to the floor. How had he gotten up there? That tabletop is thirty inches straight up from the floor. The nearest chair was four feet away. He must be part cat, I thought. And, what if he had jumped? I was horrified at the possibilities. I put the chairs back around the table. Until I think of a better solution, at least he’ll have a safer way to get up and back down.

So, that’s where we are: my “good, good boy” has become a teen-aged, danger-loving rebel, and my job has become keeping my precious Mr. Adventure safe!

This Blog

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I’ve been writing this blog since October of 2011. Two deaths in August of that year caused me to think differently about my own life. Beyond the sadness, the grief, and the horrible sense of loss, there was selfish fear of death, and – worse – of life un-lived, to contend with.

My sister, Sheila, was four years younger than me. The loss of a sibling is always a somber reminder of our own mortality; when the sibling is younger, the message comes with an extra jolt. My mother was barely twenty years older than me. She probably took much better care of herself than I have. If I were going to live as long as she did, that meant I had about seven thousand days left.

What to do with seven thousand days? What had I done with the more than twenty-one thousand days I’d already spent? There were a few memorable events, sure, and some wonderful memories, but not enough. How many sunsets did I fail to see? How many times did I let distractions deprive me of precious moments with my children, now grown? Or with other loved ones, now gone? How many hours did I waste when I could have been paying attention? I had to admit that much of that time had skittered by without my notice. That had to change!

First, I bought a camera. I’d gone from the beloved and much-used Instamatic camera that I received for my 15th birthday, to a cheap Polaroid, to a used 35mm camera that I never quite mastered. When photography went digital, I was far behind. The one I purchased was just a simple “point and shoot” model. Nothing fancy, but something to record the seasons as they sped past. It is a means of collecting, and saving for future reference, some moments in time.

Next, I started writing this blog. I had no particular theme in mind. My main purpose was to write regularly as a means of being more aware of my life. Not only the big, memorable things, but also the mundane, everyday happenings. And not only current events, but my recollections of people, places and events.

Since I started this practice almost eight years ago, I have published more than a thousand essays. Sometimes I worry that I have nothing new to say, that I’ve already told all the stories I have to tell. But then, life continues on, and, boom, there is something else to write about. I worry that my essays have quit being entertaining, but then I remind myself that my purpose was not to entertain.

The purpose of writing this blog was to make me more aware; I think it does what I hoped it would do. When I pin a scene down through the lens of a camera, I become more tuned in to each aspect of the view. When I know I’ll be sitting down to write, I pay closer attention to the events of each day. For that reason, I continue to write. And for what I gain, it is worth it.

Morning Pages

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I try to start each day with “Morning Pages,” as suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: three pages of stream of consciousness longhand writing, each morning upon awakening. I’ve done it for years, with varying degrees of success.

There have been long stretches of time where I kept up with my morning writing, no matter what else got in the way. At other times, months would go by without a single entry. For one year, I spent most of the three pages writing nothing but inspirational affirmations. That filled the paper, but became very tedious.

Often, I used the pages to write out my complaints and grievances. I told myself that it was a way to get rid of all that negativity first thing in the morning, so that I could go forward with a clear head. Sometimes it did work like that; sometimes it only served to remind me of everything I was disgruntled about. That’s not the best way to start the day!

I’ve become pretty loose with the “three pages” rule. In “complaint-writing mode,” I could easily fill three pages or more. When trying to be more positive, it’s more difficult. Some days, I barely managed a paragraph.

Lately, I’ve been incorporating a method recommended by Rachel Hollis, the popular author of Girl, Stop Apologizing. First, I write down five things I am grateful for. Next, I write ten things I want for myself, as if I already have them. Finally, I write about the one goal I intend to focus on for this day. If I’m short on time, this can all be accomplished in a few short sentences. Other days, it’s fun to flesh out ideas and go into more detail. Then, three pages is a snap.

It’s working out! Gratitude is a good way to start any morning. Writing out ten things I want helps me to focus on what’s important. Day after day, the same goals and ideas show up. For instance:

  • “I am financially secure. I always pay my bills on time. I don’t have to worry about money. I can help my family when they need it.”
  • “I am well-organized. I can always find what I need. I have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place.”
  • “I am an artist. I work every day in my studio. I keep several projects going at any one time, and always have fresh ideas and new inspiration.”
  • “I am a good friend, and I have good friends.”

…and on and on through ten goals, in this way. I wish everything I wrote was true and accurate now, but even when it’s not, it helps me to see where I need to do better. If being a good friend is what I want, well, by god, I should work harder at keeping in touch with my friends. It obviously bothers me when I can’t find things; that’s a cue through the whole day to be more mindful about organization.

Then, lastly, I write down what I want to focus on today. As I tend to be a scatter-brained, easily distracted person, this helps, too. When I glance in to the studio and my attention is pulled toward something there, I can remind myself, “today, your main goal is getting the lawn mowed.” Conversely, when my focus is the studio, it becomes easier to turn a blind eye to the laundry, or other distractions.

Begin with thankfulness, clarify what’s important, end with a plan. That’s how I start my mornings.

Back on Track

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It’s been a long time since I have posted a blog. I rarely let more than a week go by, even in the busiest of times, without putting my random ideas and observations out for all the world to see. I’ve managed to post blogs while travelling or on vacation, when working long hours, or when distracted by a dozen other things. Yet here I’ve been, right at home, not writing for almost two weeks!

Granted, it has been a busy couple of weeks. That’s the nature of summer on Beaver Island. I’m working lots of hours, plus busy with the garden. I’ve had lots of events to attend, and lots of visitors to the island. Short on inspiration and long on distractions, I just let this writing go.

It’s not the only thing! With family here for the last week, I’ve been putting off and setting aside everything possible, in order to spend time with them. I see them so seldom, usually only three or four times in a whole year, that every moment is precious. So, I shaved off hours at work wherever I could, rushed the dogs through their walks, and let Email and laundry pile up. I don’t regret a minute of it!

Still, now that I’ve said the final, sad goodbye to that last-to-depart family member, it’s time to get back on track. Last evening, I did two loads of laundry. I finished mowing the front yard. I took the dogs for a car ride down to the landing at Fox Lake so they could go for a swim. Then we went for a long, leisurely walk.

I picked peas and beans, then cooked myself a simple meal that I ate while reading a book. As I’ve been having meals with my family, either at their lodging places or in restaurants, it was the first meal I’ve eaten at home in a week. It was lonely in comparison, but perfectly enjoyable anyway.

Today, I’m continuing my plan of getting back on track. I started my day with some journal writing (my morning pages), and a cup of green tea. A big glass of water, next, to take my medicine and vitamin supplements. Over my first cup of coffee, I went through my Email. Next, the news. Then, a long walk with the dogs.

I’m compiling a grocery list, and intend to get to the grocery store before the day is out. I plan to mow the back yard and give the flower beds some attention. I’m going to pick beans and tomatoes. Before any of that, though, and before any more time goes by, I decided to write this. Finally, after two weeks, back on track!