Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Five: ...And That's Why It's Good to Be Me

On the RevGalBlogPals blog today, Kathrynzj writes:

This Friday Five will post while I'm at the beach which for me is more than a vacation destination, it is a trip home. I have found it quite easy to wax nostalgic about the places I used to live (well, except for one) and have begun to wonder what it is I like about the place I'm living now? For instance I sure do love the beach, but this picture was taken about 30 minutes away from my house - not too shabby!

And so I ask you to please name five things you like about where you are living now... and as your bonus - 1 thing you don't like.

Excellent -- we were just talking about this very thing during one of our evening countryside excursions. And it fits nicely into this Sunday's lessons too, which  made me think about wanting what we have instead of having what we want.

Five things I like about where I'm living now:

1. Proximity to the countryside. We are literally five minutes away from some of the prettiest countryside in rural Michigan -- roads lined with tree tunnels dripping in wild grapevines, Amish farms and farmstands, winding brooks. It is a blessing to, most evenings during the light months, say, "Hey -- let's go for a ride."

2. Our yard. I love our spacious yard and the trees that circle it, providing a buffer between neighboring properties. Fellow Traveler and I both appreciate a certain amount of breathing room around our house, and we have it.  We also appreciate neighbors who are close enough to provide very basic community -- our backyard neighbor, for instance, an ex-big-city-cop, keeps an eye on our home if we're gone, and as regular readers here know we more or less shared a dog with our neighbors to the west -- but distant enough both physically and socially to not be up in all our business, and vice versa.

2. Our patio. We have a patio with a gazebo providing (give or take various layers of outerwear, of course) three seasons of enjoyment. It's a great place to drink one's morning coffee or work on some portable household chore. And we are slowly replanting around it, so next year it will be even nicer.

3. Stonework. Our house, which dates back to the 70's, features some pretty cut stonework with real, not prefab, stones. That reminds me of the fieldstone farmhouse of my childhood.

4. Proximity to basic necessities. Even though there are definite drawbacks to living on a busy county highway on the outskirts of a town, it's also nice to know that if we need a grocery item or a pizza or gasoline it's all about three blocks down. So even though we feel "out in the country" we also feel connected to civilization. Sort of.

5. Interior decorating. Our interior is still a work in progress -- our family activities this past year put a temporary halt to our plans to paint and to embark on a re-do of our bedroom -- but I love the melding of our two households, and the eclectic look of our rooms -- antiques and Michigan-themed artwork and funky collectibles.

One thing I do not like: We haven't had the time or energy to tackle renovating our main bathroom, which was originally decorated in a style I can only call WTF. Imagine a robin's-egg blue toilet; a cornflower blue tub-and-shower unit; a sink in the same shade but marbled; a kind of French provincial white vanity, all surrounded by tiles with a 70's-contemporary stylized flower print. When the robin's-egg toilet broke about a year ago and needed to be replaced, I cried -- with joy. I'm much more excited by repainting and decorating our bedroom; but I will not be sad when our bathroom also gets its eventual makeover.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Five: Decisions, Decisions

This week's Friday Five is all about one of my least favorite things in the world -- making decisions. But at least the originator of this quiz was kind enough to narrow them down to pairs:

1. Cake or Pie  No contest here -- PIE. What's not to like about pie? You've got your rich, delicious crust; you've got any number of yummy, gooey fillings. Whereas cake is just...well...cake.

2) Train or Airplane  In our part of the world we have no commuter trains. The closest we have are scenic-tour "color trains" that go up and down the state a few times during the autumn months. So if the goal is actually getting somewhere, I've got to go with the airplane. If, however, I lived somewhere with comfortable, affordable passenger rail service, I might choose the train just for the adventure of it, and the windowside sightseeing.

3) Mac or PC  I've only had limited exposure to Mac use. My impression, after spending a couple of hours on a Mac once, was, "Hmmm...this is nice. When can I go back to my old computer?" Sorry, Mac fans.

4) Univocal or Equivocal  I prefer the wiggle room of equivocal. Univocal is too Brave New World.

5) Peter or Paul  Neither; try Mary (any of the major Marys of Scripture). Both Peter and Paul remind me of the sort of ranty, unpleasant sidewalk preachers I used to walk a half-mile around my university campus to stay away from.  The Apostle John's okay too; I wouldn't walk a half-mile around John.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Our Green Scene

After devoting yesterday to marinating in my sadness, I resolved to start getting on with the business of everyday life this morning.
And several of those tasks involved tending our various gardening projects around the yard.

One of our landscaping goals for this year has been to change up the area around our deck -- to pull out the old, straggly spirea shrubs and fill those spaces with perennials. This turned out to be much harder than I first thought; spirea have an extensive, insidious root system, and I wound up  undergoing an unexpected regimen of strength training through several hours of chopping and twisting and yanking. (I'm not sure what benefit, if any, was gained from the concomitant cursing.) I left one tidied shrub on either side of the deck -- a case of turning a necessity into a virtue, because I simply couldn't dislodge one of them -- which actually turned out to make some design sense, because the shrubs form a logical boundary between the sunny and shady ends of the deck.

Now that that's been done, and a layer of new topsoil put down around the deck, the challenge has been to fill in the blanks. Fellow Traveler, who enjoys flowers and who actually came up with the idea of a perennial border but who is frankly not that interested in the particulars, gave me carte blanche in the selection and purchase of plants. I in turn have been restraining my horticultural exuberance and obtaining plants in a measured, prudent way, taking some time each week to visit the local fruit markets' rather neglected hodge-podges of small, cheap perennial starters or, if I'm feeling in need of inspiration, making a trip into the country to the nearest perennial nursery. This place is on an old farmstead, the business right in the backyard of the owners; despite this, it carries a staggering number of potted perennials displayed in thematic groupings all around the old farm outbuildings, and an entire field of hybrid daylilies that looks like a Monet painting when they're in full bloom.

I don't really have a picture in my head of what this is going to look like when it's all planted. With a few calculated exceptions, my plant purchases have been fairly random; the space around our deck encompasses all manner of light exposures, and requires both tall and short plants to fill, so there's lots of room for improvisation.

Today I planted some mixed sedums in the rocky bare space left by the demise of an absolutely ugly old potentilla that the previous owners used, not very successfully, to screen the area around the air conditioning unit. Sedums are great bee flowers, so if we follow through with that goal next year our little friends will have some needed nectar in the autumn. On the opposite side of the deck, in an equally troublesome, unattractive bare patch, are some lavender plants, a tricolor sage and a novelty pink, with soft gray needle-like leaves and odd, raggedy-fringed flowers in various shades of their namesake color -- all plants that can take heat and poor soil and that generally look pretty whether or not they're in bloom.

And then of course there's the vegetable garden. Thank heavens I raised the beds this spring. We've had so much rain this year that after each storm the walkways around the beds have been turned into canals, with ankle-high water; the garden would have been underwater several times this year if it had remained level with the lawn. But we were so busy in April and May, and the weather was so uncooperative at times, that things got planted about a week and a half later than I would have liked, and now our vegetables are a little behind the local curve. But they seem to be doing well; the lettuce is flourishing despite our naturally acidic soil, the seed-raised tomatoes are healthy and blooming, snap beans and cucurbits are loaded with blossoms, and the first planting of corn -- a new experiment this year -- is starting to sprout tassels. Today I planted a row of snap beans for a late crop -- admittedly pushing the envelope, but these are two-year-old seeds I wanted to use up, and by my calculation they can still yield -- and pulled a bucketful of crabgrass out of various beds. There is still much about gardening I need to learn -- I'm still trying to understand the trick of getting my radishes to make bulbous roots, and my maiden attempt at using black plastic mulch for the hot-weather veggies, while practically effective so far, looks like hell. And as I look at the modest rows of herbs, I can't help but think that I consistently underestimate how much we use these in the kitchen.

Gardening is good, cheap therapy, I've found.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Memento Mori

Mortality has been on my mind a lot lately.

Not just because of Gertie. This has been going on for awhile now.

Maybe it's a function of middle age, when our bodies start letting us down in various ways (sometimes literally) -- I mean, when my doctor looked me in the eye and told me that she needed to lower my blood pressure because "I don't want you to die of a stroke," that got my attention. As did Fellow Traveler's recent confirmation that the ongoing, intense pain in her jaw that radiates into her ear and down her neck and often keeps her up at night is the result of rheumatoid arthritis eating away all the cartilage between the bone; that this problem isn't fixable by a bite guard; that there may be some serious surgery in her future.

And I'm sure part of it is also due to the sheer number of people we know, face to face and on the Internet, who are fighting life-threatening illnesses. One of FT's high school friends, whom we saw at her recent reunion, had a stroke about a week ago. Right now we personally know a half-dozen people diagnosed with particularly scary cancers, who are undergoing chemo and radiation.

And then there's random, accidental death, like Gertie's. It could have been any of us, in one of our vehicles, making the wrong decision at any second.

Cheery thoughts, I know. But it's been an uncheery day, mostly dark and rainy, and I spent most of it on the sofa, staring out the window.

I'd like to say that I have full confidence in Dame Julian's assertion that, in the end, "All will be well and all manner of thing will be well." But when death ceases to become an abstraction and feels more like a target on my own back and that of my loved's hard to hang on to a sense that there is any meaning or purpose or redemptive outcome in it. And, I'm sorry to say, the skeptical, deconstructionist Zeitgeist of the last two centuries has so eviscerated the Christian message of resurrection that it's ceased to become believeable for many people -- because there's little sincerity in its proclamation; more of what my pastor calls "anxiety management"; a comforting fairy story, a little nursery tune to whistle in the darkness of the vicissitudes of life.

And let's not even talk about the loss of an animal companion. Outside the circle of people who love and have been loved by animal companions, it's not taken seriously -- not by the Church, not by health professionals, not by employers, not even by family and friends who don't understand. I know a patronizing pat on the head when I feel it.

Fellow Traveler and I have, since Gertie's death, received many personal and heartfelt condolences by individuals. But as far as any practical help from "faith stuff" -- got nothin'.  And as far as thoughts of what lies beyond our own mortality -- I don't hear a lot of there there in the Church these days. Not only don't we have the courage of our convictions these days, we don't even seem to have convictions, no matter how many times we recite the Creed or celebrate what we call "the foretaste of the feast to come."

I really do not want to be this gloomy, or to depress other people. But this is what I'm feeling, straight up. Hiding it behind a wan smile and fuzzy platitudes would be lying. 

Gertie: Gone

It happened in a blink of an eye.

We were in the Jeep, Gertie and I, driving home from a trip running errands. We had found ourselves behind an Amish cart at a corner, and I patiently waited there for the driver to pull onto the highway and gain some momentum so we weren't tailgating him. Gertie, who loved to bark at horses, was on full alert in the back seat.

"Gert -- now, behave yourself," I cautioned her as I pulled onto the pavement and began to pass the cart driver, who'd gone off onto the shoulder to give me room.

What happened next was -- well, I don't know. I heard barking, and clinking, and then when I looked back to shush Gertie, there was no dog in the back seat. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw a dark shape limping into a bush in someone's lawn maybe 50 feet away, and the Amish driver stopped on the shoulder, staring in alarm.

Gertie had never, in her years with us, expressed any interest in jumping out of the window. But apparently this is what she did.

I stopped the Jeep, ran back toward the yard and scooped up Gertie in my arms; she was quiet -- too quiet -- and panting.

"I am so sorry," I said to the Amish man.

"Don't be sorry," he said. "It was my horse she didn't like. I hope she'll be okay. It looks like she might have broken her leg."

We were only about  mile or so from home. I don't remember driving there, but I did. Fellow Traveler was in the garage, cleaning. She smiled when she saw me -- until she saw the look on my face.

"We need to go to the vet's right now," I burst out. "Something's happened to Gertie. She jumped out of the car."

Up to this point I'd been running on adrenalin, my mind a blank, but at that point I broke down.

Not Gertie. Not our baby. Not "our" dog.

FT quickly examined Gertie, who winced and whined a little, but mostly just lay there on the back seat. She'd begun to bleed.

"Here's what I want you to do," FT said. "I want you to go inside and get a damp towel. Then I want you to find the veterinary hospital phone number." I numbly nodded.

FT came in while I was still wringing out the towel. "I don't want you to go with me," she said. "There's probably going to be a lot of pain during the examination. You've seen and done enough right now."

I sat in the living room and listened to the Jeep speed down the driveway and to the next town over, where the closest veterinary clinic is. Across from me Mollie the cat slept, blissfully unaware of the drama playing out in our home. I started to sob.

A very short time later, I got a phone call. "We are at the vet's," FT murmured softly. "We're going to have to put Gertie to sleep. There's too much internal injury for her to get better." This veterinarian's office euthanizes all its animals at the end of the business day, so FT had the veterinarian call our local animal shelter, where we'd taken Katie and Cassie when they were dying, where the staff had been so kind and gentle; and they told FT to bring Gertie right over.

"Now, I can drive home first," began FT.

"No -- no," I cried. "Don't make her suffer any more."

Another half hour passed; and then FT pulled into the driveway.

"I'm so sorry," I sobbed when a red-faced, weeping FT came through the door. "I'm sorry you had to do the hard thing."

She shook her head. "No; you had the hardest part of the day."

And that's how it's been around here. We cry; we hold one another; we reminisce; we try to distract ourselves; we move to opposite chairs and just sit quietly with our own grief.

This morning we began picking up after Gertie for the last time: collecting the dog biscuits scattered throughout the house, bagging up her battered assortment of toys, cleaning her pawprints off the French doors. We're also trying to somehow convey to Mollie the cat, who keeps sniffing and staring out the windows and looking at us quizzically, that her best pal is not coming back.

I know that people who aren't pet people don't get this; don't get how we, whose circle of friends includes people fighting terrible cancers and other mind-numbing calamities, can be so seemingly dispassionate about those things but so uncontrollably distraught over the loss of a dog. And frankly, if animals aren't your thing, I'm not even going to bother to explain.

But for those of you who love your own animal companions: I don't have to explain this to you, because you know the hurt. Add to that the fact that Gertie was our first dog together, and our only dog for most of her life, and the circumstances of our rescuing her, and the circumstances of our losing her...this is a really, really tough one.

This ain't my first rodeo when it comes to the death of an animal. Growing up on a farm, death is a  constant presence among the livestock. And I've lived through my share of dead dogs -- dogs who darted in front of cars in a final, fatal "ooh, shiny" moment; dogs in extremis whom my rifle-bearing great-uncle would take "out back" at the behest of my dad, never to be seen again; graying, cataract-and-arthritis-ridden dogs who simply gave up the ghost in their sleep after a long, full life.  Right now I can't read any treacly homages to pets crossing the Rainbow belief system gives me no comfort, frankly, damn it...I just brood and weep and try to stop the images of those horrific moments and the self-punishing "What ifs" from circling around and around my head.

Gertie was the Best Dog Ever. That's what we would tell her every day, and it's what I'm saying now. She didn't deserve the way she entered into this world, and she didn't deserve the way she exited it. But in the time in between she added so much joy and humor and affection and companionship to our lives. Maybe that doesn't count anywhere but in our hearts and memories. But it counts to me. Gertie left the world, and our lives, a far better place for her having lived in it.

Rest in peace, good friend.

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Forgetful Friday Five

Oh, wow...this Friday Five won't be pleasant...
a) What's the last thing you forgot?
Putting our environmentally friendly clothing shopping bags BACK IN OUR VEHICLES SO WE CAN ACTUALLY USE THEM.

e) How do you keep track of appointments?
I used to be able to do this in my head. I have now graduated to a write-on/wipe-off memo board on our refrigerator and, if I'm really more on top of things than usual, a memo to myself on my cell phone.

i) Do you keep a running grocery list?
We do, again on our special refrigerator board. Whether that list actually makes it into a store is another story.

o) When forced to improvise by circumstances, do you enjoy it or panic?
I used to panic; now I generally utter an un-church-ladylike word and punt.

u) What's a memory you hope you will never forget?
Interesting question. I've been doing a lot of reminiscing about my childhood lately, so I treasure some of the happier memories of those days. And the adventures of FT and me during our first year together, I never want to forget, particularly our fateful first meeting over Buffalo wings and iced tea.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Friday Five: Here's the Church...of My Dreams

Bonhoeffer may have looked askance at "wish dreams" of a perfect Church...but I don't think it hurts to periodically think about what sort of Church we would all like to be part of. And that's this week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five Challenge. I'll keep it short and sweet -- discuss if you wish:
I want to be part of a Church that...

1. pays as much attention to the spiritual formation of its people -- laypeople and clergy alike -- as it pays attention to doctrinal and social issues.

2. aims for depth as well as breadth, on a multiplicity of levels.

3. says what it means and means what it says.

4. inspires people outside the Church to say, "If I were a Christian, that's the kind of Christian I'd want to be"...and follow up on that.

5. has enough confidence in its beliefs, practices and mission to live into the future without fear -- without falling into desperate faddishness, without equivocating in order to avoid conflict, without drawing its wagons into a circle, without giving up.

6. has potlucks featuring food groups other than sausage, sauerkraut, whipped cream and Jello. (I know...blasphemy. I suppose now I have to turn in my membership card.)