Gone to the Dogs

On October 21, third son and I picked up our new family member: an 8-week old Dalmatian we call Jasper.

My sister said, “I don’t know what you’re thinking – it’s another mammal to take care of.”

I have trained puppies before, most notably, a Dalmatian when I was young and impetuous. Now, I’m not so young but still pretty impetuous it turns out.

There are those who say having a puppy is like having a baby: not true.

Still and all, Jasper’s presence and the care he requires is instructive:

  1. The pre-dawn starlight holds a special kind of magic, a sort of contemplative radiance that helps a person consider her life in a different way. I had gotten in the habit of rarely seeing the sunrise – not so any more, and it’s a good thing to do from time to time.
  2. Mitigating the play between a puppy and a five year old cat is not unlike managing any number of modern relationships: the play can become hurtful, and then an adult has to step in. It’s okay to take a break if needed – just remember to always snuggle at the end of the day.
  3. Puppies do not come housetrained.
  4. Walking in the cold fall rain is not romantic. Maybe summer rain will be different.
  5. A part of my heart had been dormant, and the first time Jasper fell asleep in my lap that part awakened. It’s a good feeling.
  6. Addendum to #1: pre-dawn snowstorms also have a certain kind of magic; I’ll let you decide what kind.
  7. If you have misophobia, a dog is not for you.
  8. Dalmatians are open-minded about their diets; they eat everything: leaves, mud, kleenex, snow, pencils. We have to keep rescuing Jasper from his appetites, but I really should consider trying some new things – maybe not mud, though.
  9. Sleeping is best when one can snore slightly and not feel badly about it. IMG_3220
  10. Looking at the world from the point of view of someone who has never seen things before is good for the soul and attitude. Jasper burrowed in the snow; he delights in apples; the sound of geese flying overhead confuses him (he never thinks to look up).

Regardless of housetraining mishaps and early morning barking, this impetuous decision called Jasper reminds me to keep trying new things – to keep seeing with new eyes.

Memento vivere.

Join me.


You Should Go Home Again

“But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him . . . [the son] was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

These are words from one of Jesus’ best known – in the religious and secular worlds – parables. The Parable of the Prodigal Son also called the The Parable of Two Sons. But, did you know it can also be referred to as The Parable of the Running Father or The Parable of the Lovesick Father?

While I am not a particularly religious person now (there was a time, but that’s a story for another day), I have been thinking a lot about this story. You know it: the younger son demands his inheritance, runs off, squanders his money and health on wild living, ends up destitute, goes back to his father thinking to become a servant, but his father welcomes him lavishly and joyfully.

For decades, I thought of that story only in terms of the sons: the dissolute behavior of the younger and righteous indignation of the elder. The elder son stays at home and works faithfully; he is disgusted that his father celebrates the ingrate’s return. I always fancied myself the loyal one.

Now, this story paints itself with broader strokes for me. I feel the father’s pain at being asked for inheritance; I feel the loneliness and confusion that the father felt while his son was out of communication: off partying and doing his thing. I can touch the younger son’s painful moment of truth when he realized he’d messed up. I totally get the older son’s anger. But even servants who kill the fatted calf and whose merry-making is heard from far off have a more interesting role. When family comes back home or friends gather, I feel such togetherness more deeply. To quote a TV show, “The air is sweeter when we are all together.”

During the upcoming holiday weeks, we may be faced with a prodigal son or daughter. Has a family member wounded you? Given you the cold shoulder? Spread malicious gossip? Maybe we are those sons and daughters. Did we snap and say things that we shouldn’t have? Perhaps we meant what we said, but we are sad about how it all went down. Perhaps we responded to a friend in a way that we now regret, and we’d really like to catch a movie or have a drink and a chat with that person. What can be done?

No matter who you are in this parable consider this: ’tis the season. Not the Christmas season – it is the season to turn things for the better, no matter who you identify with in this parable. Are you a prodigal son?  A lovesick father? An enraged older brother? Folks, so many hard dividing lines are being drawn around this country, indeed, in the world that perhaps if we can look at the story from all the points of view, then, we can soften our hearts and open our minds; then, we might find a peace and a love that we did not know were possible.

It’s worth a try.

Join me.



Relationships…A Short Treatise

The holidays are upon us…or, at least creeping up, and it seems natural to want to have that special someone to share them with. Those yearly invitations are showing up already, and we must RSVP for ourselves and our guest.  I always RSVP with a grin, “I’m coming, and maybe, if the planets align, I will bring someone.”  I go alone or with my dear friends. I do think that people would fall over in a fit if I ever showed up with a “someone.”

It is just such festive notifications that put me in mind of something I wrote several years ago during a conference. I actually saw these people, but I invented their relationship and conversation.


Tears.  Mutterings and awkward hand holding.  He is clearly breaking up with her.  She is the kind of girl boys break up with.  Especially when the boys in question are 20 and shallow and lack forethought.  Her hair is not brown neither blonde nor red – an indeterminate color and her eyes are pale and washed with the pain of never yet being the dumper – always the dumpee.  It is not a fun place to be for her.  In fairness, he is not comfortable, either.  Trying to stroke her hand and bring comfort to a place he just made ultimately uncomfortable.  Did she give her virginity to him?  He to her?  Has he realized that she is too self-centered or too controlling or too interested in marriage?  Maybe she realized those same things about him long ago and chose to overlook them in favor of being with someone rather than being alone.  She looks away, wipes her eyes, willing the tears to flow or to stop.  He looks at the ground, shifts restlessly, and glances at his phone, checking the time or the text message that he would really like to get but hasn’t yet.

We have all been there.  We have begged someone whom we knew not to be the right person to stay with us.  Why?  Because being with someone – even a sub-par someone is better than being alone.  In this culture of couples – it is hard to have the resolve to be alone.  Alone.  Not lonely.  Just alone.  There’s a difference.  I was dumped at 20 – at 17, too.  And, again at 23.  I’m sure there are other times – we all can mark a few of them.  We shed the tears or we created the tears.  Or a little of both.  We have been uncomfortably waiting for the text that never comes.  We have gone home to our dog, our childhood blanket, or a pint of Rocky Road.  We have drunk one too many shots of whiskey and almost called.  Or we did call.  Or we texted.  And it wasn’t good.


I know, I know that little story wasn’t exactly heart-warming. And, yes, sure, fairytales happen. They populate my newsfeed in the form of 25 year anniversaries or my friends who unironically call each other “beloved” or the engagement announcements of my former students.

We do live in a culture of twos. Pairs. Couples. And if we are not one of two, we are expected to be searching for our other half. If we are singular and not on a couple of dating websites, something is amiss.

A few months ago I got a call from one of those sweepstakes things you fill out at the annual home and garden show.  The kind where you get a 4 night-5 day stay somewhere fabulous as long as you agree to hear the sales pitch and fill out some questionnaires.  They are good deals, if you have no money to invest or the willpower to say “No, thanks.”  After a few preliminary questions, the gentleman with a lisp on the other end of the line asked me who I might bring with me on such an excursion.  I said, “Hmm. Maybe my son.”  He then proceeded to ask me if I were married, if I lived with someone, or if I had a partner.  No. No. No.  He said this offer was only for those in relationships. He promised to call back with a different promotion for singles.  I don’t expect to hear from him.

In a culture that smacks of marriage-worship, it can be hard to be alone, especially at the Christmas party  – especially on vacation – especially in a restaurant – especially, especially, especially…  And, when you’re young and you haven’t yet had your first job, bought your first house, or had your first child, and you’re ever so slightly afraid of really living by yourself, it’s even harder to be singular.  I sympathize with the girl from my story – even if she knew he was all wrong for her.  And I sympathize with that boy – even if he had a new girl lined up.

It is not easy to be alone, but my hope is that everyone can embrace the peace that is found in solitude in order to find the meaning in their relationships.

heartsIn the end, we might all  remember that life is about multiple relationships – friends, family, lovers, neighbors, pets, colleagues. Perhaps, just perhaps, we want to take a few moments to enjoy all of the loves of our lives?

Join me.


Someone Old…Someone New

I have no idea how old I am. No, really, earlier this year I had to stop and calculate. (My sister would tell you that this took an inordinate amount of time – she wouldn’t be wrong.) Neither am I good at estimating people’s age – and it has nothing to do with Botox or plastic surgery.

So, what are my feelings on ageism? In short: these feelings are the same as I have about any other “ism” – not cool. Any discrimination based on personal attributes – not cool.

At the same time, I have attempted to embrace every age that I have been – provided, of course, that I can figure it out. I suppose – not unlike other people – some days I feel 17 and other days I am solidly in my 70s.

In Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, Morrie tells Mitch that a person can be any age they have been up to and including their current one. I agree with that. In fact, my youngest son will tell me when he is “being seven” or  “wants to be three” on a given day. I’m cool with that.

I think we would all do well to take Morrie’s advice. Be your age – or any age that you know. And, anyway, Doctor Who has it right.

Join me.


No Joy in Book Reviews

Urval av de böcker som har vunnit Nordiska rådets litteraturpris under de 50 år som priset funnits

I do not read nor write book reviews on Goodreads or other social mediaish book websites. I don’t know the people writing them, their tastes in books, their education..so, yeah, I don’t trust them when it comes to an important part of my life: reading. Even reading the New York Times book review or Paul’s corner at the Prairie Lights website, gives me pause.

(That’s actually a really funny thing for me to write because at one time I engaged in online dating, and I totally and naively trusted everything everyone wrote on there. Ha! Live and learn.)

Today’s writing challenge asks me to mention a book I love and a book I don’t like. I’m not sure how much my preferences should inform yours. In fact, as with all things (most especially dating sites!) take this with a tablespoon of salt.

I really enjoyed Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. The spirals of characters and intrigue kept me reading. I am trying to enjoy All the Light We Cannot See. It’s slow going because I have to construct the worlds; in educator speak, my background knowledge is lacking. I enjoy reading Aimless Love by Billy Collins over and over. Currently, Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning has my attention: what an unusual collection!

Two despised books that I dislike are hated for the same reason: flat main characters. Both Philip Carey and Huckleberry Finn wend their ways through odysseys only to end up the same unchanged bastards at the end of their stories. A few years ago I read Of Human Bondage because I felt I should – English teacher and all. Ugh! I’ll never get those two summer time weeks back. I taught The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the capstone to this novel reading was a classroom debate on whether or not Huck matured as a character.

I really cannot think of others books that I have disliked; however, if asked what my all time favorite book is, I do have an answer. Olive Kitteridge. The realness of the characters, and their struggles and emotions really speak to me when I read this novel. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of it any more.

As with other enjoyed volumes – Dear American Airlines, This is Where I Leave You, The Penelopiad, and Dear Committee Members – I leant my copy to someone who kept it.

Book reviews are really a vehicle for employing reviewers, reflecting on what we read and what we love to read can show us who we were and who we are becoming.

So, what are you reading?

Join me.


“You should want the same tattoo in the same place for at least a year,” was the advice of a friend when I expressed my interest this indulgence. She has a great deal of beautiful work, and I trusted her opinion.

I had decided what I wanted and where I wanted it about three years prior; I was waiting for the right time. That time came when: middle son graduated high school; I had just returned from travelling abroad; I quit a job; I had a new job; I was packing to move 1500 miles. Sure. Let’s get a tattoo.

Middle son and I headed downtown to the recommended location, and he went first. No pain he asserted…until his design went around to the inner part of his leg. Then pain. While he underwent the needle, his friend and I thumbed through the piercing catalog. We got to the back pages and … ZOW! People get interesting places pierced.

As we waited, piercer’s notebook put safely on the shelf, a woman in some altered state of mind entered the shop and declared she wanted a tattoo. (She already had several.) The artist available began to chat with her. She shared with the entire studio, “I don’t know what or where. I just want a fucking tattoo today.” After further conversation, she choose a cartoonish panda sitting near a flower for her ankle. When she was given a wait time of ninety minutes, she said she’d be back.

Curiouser and curiouser, Alice would have said.

Son finished up, and declared that it hadn’t hurt that much even though he gripped his friends hand meaningfully toward the end of the procedure. My turn, and I was confident that, having survived three C-sections and emergency gall bladder surgery while chaperoning a school trip, this was not going to hurt that much.

The artist showed me his rendering of the design and words I wanted; we made a couple of adjustments, and we began.

If anyone tells you that tattoos do not hurt, do not believe them. They hurt. For me, it was a progressive pain. At first, it was um…owwww pain, but by the time he was contouring the feathers at the end, it was shitifuckdamntits pain.

tattoo (2)I have a wrist tattoo that reads “alis volat propriis” – she flies with her own wings. After the ups and downs and in-betweens of 48 years, I know that I have done nothing totally alone. But, I also know that if I had done nothing, I would have withered up and died.

I will close with my own advice about tattooing: you do want to be sure of what you’re getting and where, ankle panda tattoos notwithstanding, this is an important decision; be prepared for pain; and, don’t look at the last, oh, ten pages of the piercer’s portfolio while you wait.

Join me.

Someone who Fascinates Me

When my youngest son asks, “Did you hear what Kim did?” I know he’s talking about the K-family, but I don’t care. Because I don’t know them.He also likes to share the updated looks of his favorite drag queens, and he pours over the grocery checkout rags. He is a celebrity follower. I am not. And, aside from a totally justifiable pre-teen crush on the brothers Shaun and David Cassidy, I have never been a celebrity gossip girl.

So, who fascinates me? The guy sitting at the end of the bar who ordered to-go food that has been steaming its styrofoam container for nearly twenty minutes, and despite this fact, he keeps ordering beer after shot after beer. What is waiting for him at home? Or not waiting?

The woman who walks the Target parking lot in Cedar Rapids with her toddler in the summer time. She begs for anything you want to give her. If you say no to one thing, she’ll ask for another. Or even, “What can you spare?” I’d like to know her story.

Those two semi-Australian guys at Outback Steakhouse a couple years ago who were watching NASCAR, drinking lots of beers, and swearing really loudly. What was their story?

I once briefly knew a trucker who cared for his aging father, but who posed as a total asshole. I wonder if he really was an asshole or that was a shell he invented to protect himself from further loss.

Two months ago I attended a wedding of a high school friend. At the wedding, there was a guy who seemed to be in charge of something, but was attired in a grungy t-shirt and even grungier jeans. I’d like to have a beer with him.

And, how about that one girl who was always – and, I mean always – in the sauna at the Fieldhouse in college. What was her deal? Did she never go to classes? Was her schedule so unchanging that no matter when I happened to actually workout and then sauna, she was there? Was she following me? In love with me? How delusional am I?

And, speaking of me (all bloggers are narcissistic to some degree), I am fascinated by myself. This interest has been created by the “Time Hop” app and the Facebook memories option. I see what I posted two, five, eight years ago, and I wonder at that person. What in the heck was I thinking? Who was I?

There are interesting people all around. We all know them. We all are them. Let’s get to know some.

Join me.

The Middle of Nowhere

When I first moved to Augusta, Georgia, I remember telling people that I had no idea why anyone would live there voluntarily. Fifteen years later, there are friendships, places, and memories that will forever tie me to Augusta.

As an adult I have lived a number of different places, and while I have to admit I have not been enamoured of all of them, but I have learned or experienced something new everywhere. Illinois pointed out that I like to have the basics of life nearby to my dwelling. Trekking across a frozen tundra to buy beer is not my idea of fun. Riga showed me that public transportation is great – and, a huge hassle with little kids. Urbandale put me across the street from a school and a park and with a Dairy Queen within biking distance: it was a good life. The Eastern Iowa Corridor has solidified that I like a bit of literary life available.

I was asked where is a place that I would live, having never visited. My answer: Shropshire.

Shropshire turns up much maligned in British comedy. I don’t know why. Whitchurch looks lovely, as does Shrewsbury. (And, a couple of ex-husbands might suggest that town is, indeed, my hometown.) I like a slower place, which Shropshire seems to offer, but with plenty local things to do within a reasonable distance. It’s on the border with Wales – that sounds neat. And, I like a tourism website that boasts, “Funny thing about Shropshire, despite or maybe because of all its quirks and traits, its hospitality and welcome have always been top drawer.”

Furthermore, Shrewsbury boasts a seemingly outstanding folk festival. Who can resist a review of this past year’s festival that begins, “After an amazing 2015 festival that saw a new main stage marquee, new bars, new toilets and a new dance project, we’re beavering away to put together another fantastic four days for you in 2016.”  New toilets AND a new dance project this year – coupled with beavering away on next year’s festival already? I’m in.

Yes, I would live in Shropshire site unseen, music unheard, bars undrunk in, and new toilets unexperienced.

Join me?

Ten Interesting (??) Facts About Me

Amazing. That is how I would sum up the comments people make about me. (At least to my face – behind the back, well…you’d have to tell me.) An uncanny number of people – upon our initial meeting –  tell me that they feel like they know me or have met me before. A motley group of people from the past bring up things I have said years – even decades – ago, and they point out how funny, blunt, insightful, or annoying I was. (My sister likes to note how crude I was/am.)

Most Interesting ManI imagine everyone has such experiences, and I seem to get them a lot. A few months ago, after being grilled by one too many strangers about where we might have met, I frustratedly responded, “I’m not sure – do you watch a lot of porn?”

I’m not irritated, but I truly see myself as a pretty average person, and not a terribly memorable one at that. Evidently, there are those who disagree.

Nevertheless, today’s assignment of finding ten interesting facts is a true challenge.

  1. Just to clear the air: I have never been done porn.
  2. I can say exactly one sentence in Czech despite being fluent in Russian.
  3.  Riga, Latvia was home for six months.
  4. I can say one phrase in Latvian.
  5. Shopping is fun, but only with other people’s money for other people.
  6. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a spy.
  7. When I tell people number six, I always smile mysteriously.
  8. I have always wanted to do a triathlon.
  9. My Teddy Bear is older than me.
  10. Snakes do not bother me, but rodents revolt me. (Except guinea pigs).

So, there’s a list. Make of it and me what you will.

What are your interesting things? Everyone has them. Think about it.

Join me.

Falling Behind, Excuses, and True Love

A while back my eldest son reposted this article from The Onion. Like a lot of satire, it is served with a dose of truth.

A week ago I proclaimed my intention to engage in a 30-Day Writing Challenge that a friend had posted, in addition to starting the November poem a day challenge that Robert Lee Brewer offers on his Poetic Asides blog.

Back to real life: I have a full-time job; it was Halloween; my son has been sick the past week; we have a new puppy.

Still and all, I do want to pursue my interest in the written word. Our poetry group met last Tuesday; prose group meets tonight, and I am going to catch up – come hell or high water.

The next writing challenge prompt is “your first love and first kiss, if separate, discuss both.”

Well, first kiss is easy and does not warrant discussion: David Hathaway at Wednesday night church when I was in 5th grade. He had braces. Enough said.

My first love is definitely books. I have read them; I hoard them; I copy lines from them; I write in them. If I could go back in time, I would retake my major in college in something to do with books. Yes, yes, I realize that the creator of this challenge is expecting romantic kind of love here, but to be honest, I don’t know that I have been in the really true world-stopping, heart-rending kind of love that everyone claims to want. I’ll stick with books for my answer.

Maybe a refinement of the plebeian answer “books” is “written word.” Reading all kinds of material is like wading around in a magical pool. Writing in all the genres available is fascinating and daunting and wonderful all at once.

So, reading and writing are my first love.

Join me.