Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sandy update

Sandy took three walks with me today. First to the corner and back, then down the block and back and tonight around several blocks through the neighborhood! I am so encouraged. I had no expectation of such a quick recovery. Who knows? Maybe she'll be hiking mountains yet. What a good girl she is.

Friday, December 21, 2007

My Dog Sandy

Yesterday, my dog Sandy had a stroke. This is a picture I took of her tonight.

Some of my blog-buds speak often of their dogs and I always enjoy hearing about them. I haven't said much about mine, but it certainly is not for lack of love. Sandy came into my life almost exactly 10 years ago. I had just discovered I was pregnant. My then-husband and I figured this meant we'd be less foot-loose and fancy-free, so we could settle down and get a dog. Both of us grew up with dogs and loved them, but also loved to travel and were not sure we were ready to be conscientious dog-owners up until then.

On January 2, 1998 we went to a wonderful animal shelter and began observing the dogs. Those of you who have adopted from shelters know how it is to walk by cage after cage of hopeful looking dogs, all barking and jumping and begging you to pick them! We took a few dogs out of the cages and into the "meeting room" for brief times of play. Sandy seemed especially eager to please and happy to see us. The staff let us take her out on the front lawn and run free with her for a bit. She made no effort to go anywhere other than where we were. She had already decided she was our dog, I think. She was. She went home with us that day.

Sandy had been a stray, with an unknown history. The vet where we took her to be spayed thought she appeared about 2 years old. She was well house-trained, knew the command to sit and loved people. The shelter just called her a "shepherd mix" which is what it said of about half of the dogs. (Those shepherds really get around). Over the years, taking her to dog parks and walking around, we discovered that she appeared to have traits closer to an Australian shepherd than a German one and probably had some kind of collie -- maybe border -- mixed in. She definitely had some herding instincts and absolutely no retriever in her. She happily followed the retrievers around in parks for the company, but seemed baffled by their need to have somebody throw something. She also doesn't swim. She'll wade, but the look of distaste on her face whenever she accidently steps in water a bit too deep is priceless.

Sandy is an exceptionally gentle dog. She doesn't jump up on people or play rough, but she loves to run around and chase people or other creatures. She has endured years of childish pushing and pulling without ever once snapping at my son. She loves hiking and other dogs. And she loves to sing along when the music is loud or we're all dancing or singing or giggling in the house. She has a nice howl when she chooses to share it.

Sandy has lived with us in four homes in three states. She was in foster care with my ex-mother-in-law for 10 months when we were living at an outdoor education center in the back-woods of northwest NJ and couldn't have our pets with us. She gained about 10 pounds that year! We got her back down to her usual 50 pounds with plenty of good walks once we got her back. I got custody of Sandy in the split because I have the fenced yard and the bigger home and because she has been more my dog all along. But the ex happily walks her on the days I work too long and keeps her when I travel. My mom has loved having a granddog as well as a grandson nearby and also happily dog-sits as needed.

Today Sandy has had two small walks around the yard. She looks like a very lethargic drunk when she's walking now. Normally, her food, water and crate are in our basement. Today I brought up the food and water and a blanket on which she lay very quietly for most of the day. I went down to work in my office for a while (also in the basement) and carried her down to be near me. I came up to get something and to my surprise, she followed me up the stairs. Going down is another story and so I've kept the door closed to the downstairs. (This means that my cat will now have to learn to use the cat door in the door to the basement, which he has refused to acknowledge exists for 1 1/2 years.)

Sandy has eaten and seems to have no problem swallowing. She can manage to take care of her business when taken outside. She just barked for the first time as someone approached the door, so I take that as a good sign. She doesn't appear to be suffering in any way, other than looking a bit sad when lying on her blanket. It must be so confusing for a dog to have this happen. To be out on a wonderful walk one evening and then wake up the next morning, twisted and shaking and unable to stand.

I'm pretty sure that Sandy will never join me on another mountain hike. Hopefully she'll regain enough strength and balance to be able to take a slow walk around the block and visit all her doggy friends. I am both sad and relieved today. Sad that she is not the dog she was two days ago and relieved that it looks like she will be OK.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

December Diary, cont.

I'm asking for prayers ... again! My son has been very, very sad this week. I need to hire a new office manager over the holidays because the volunteer who was going to cover January-February got a new job (found out late Tuesday). I need to take my parents to see my dying uncle who just went into hospice. I've got a lousy cold.

And my dog had a stroke this morning.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Too good not to share.

Thanks to Mags.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December diary

*Holiday party at my retreat ministry last night. A board member had prepared a ritual of jumping over brooms for the boss and myself. She jumped toward the door. I jumped toward the office. It was a nice event and good to ritualize the big threshold each of us is crossing as she moves into a part-time consultant role and I move into the director's seat.

*Today, however, she was in a predictably foul mood. This is not an easy process for her -- letting go of the reins of the organization she created. And she is not entirely letting go. I am stepping in with my eyes wide open. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. Que sera, sera.

*The boy and I made an advent wreath together and have been enjoying lighting the candles and eating by candlelight each night that he's here. We have a deck of Advent discussion cards that we read from, which has been fun.

*I'm interviewing folks for the office manager position which will begin when the boss moves out and I get her office. Nice people. But I need someone with better computer skills than I've seen so far. Anyone out there want to move to Asheville for a low-paying, part-time job in a beautiful, funky little city? You'll have a great boss!

*My Christmas tree is up -- little organic one from a neighbor (have I mentioned that I love my neighborhood?) -- and it is mighty cute if I do say so myself. Also, white-light snowflakes on the porch.

*School situation with the boy's teacher has not really improved, so we're making the best of it by compensating at home. However, I made a new friend recently, who used to teach and is married to a teacher and they both were entirely appalled by my son's teacher's methods and the principal's defense of them, so I did feel somewhat justified. No need to go into details here, but basically she's all about punishing children for not reaching perfection on certain benchmarks. Not satisfactory passing grades. Perfection. Long-term punishment. We're talking months. There is not one person to whom I've explained the situation, except for the principal, who is not completely appalled. The neighbors/new friends/teachers really want us to take the issue to the district office, as they find her practices "bordering on abusive," but ex and I don't really have the energy or stomach to follow through on it.

*In spite of everything -- move, divorce, shitty teacher, sensory integration issues -- the boy is doing very well. He seems like a happy kid. A parent I don't know stopped me on the sidewalk the other day to tell me what a good boy he was. Out of the blue. It made me so happy to hear that from a stranger. He is a good boy.

*Ex and I continue to get along exceptionally well. And on those days when it makes me wonder whether we should make another effort at getting back together, we'll have just enough snippiness to remind me of certain character flaws that I really don't want to deal with again. I take them as little signs from God. Really, I do.

*Have tried out a couple of other churches recently. Yes, I've become the All-American church shopper. Met a lovely Episcopal priest this past week and she and I are having coffee next week.

*Life is good. In spite of crazy boss and mean teacher and loneliness and other things I could complain about, the truth is, life is good. I am healthy, my son is healthy, my parents are near-by and supportive, my separation is going smoothly, I am employed in a flexible and meaningful job, I live in a great neighborhood and I'm making some lovely friends.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

LJ the Elf

Click here for a special holiday message.

(Thanks, Jan.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

High horse update

Caught some of "Living on Earth" tonight on the ride home from grandma's where my sick boy spent the day instead of being at school. Presidential debate on climate change. All candidates, both parties, invited. Three showed up: Dennis, Hillary and pretty-boy Johnny. Tonight they featured the comments of the latter. And ya know what? He inspired me! I mean, I actually got teary-eyed listening to the guy. He was really good. I may have to re-consider my position on him.

See? I can change my mind.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Difficult Dialogues, part 1

Several events in the past week have me thinking about how we talk about Important Issues. There was an unpleasant conversation with my son's teacher and principal. There was a controversial play and follow-up comments both on the blog and in real life.

And there was a thread of comments on another blog where I was accused of "intellectual dishonesty." Granted, I had been on my high horse, but as it is a horse to which I have dedicated some of my professional time and much of my a-vocational energy to over the past ten years, it is a horse to which I am particularly committed. The topic was climate change and the commenter was defending the "nay-sayers" in part by suggesting that those of us who are astounded that nay-sayers still exist don't really know what we're talking about. I have no doubt that I have read, thought and worked on this issue considerably more than said commenter, but pointing this out would have been both rude and unhelpful. So I let it go and the blog-owner came in with her own delicately stated and thoughtful response, as she is wont to do.

So ... I'm thinking about conversations about the things that really matter to us. I mean REALLY matter and on which not everyone agrees. For example, I do not know how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Honestly, I don't. I care deeply about the secure existence of Israel. And I believe strongly that buildling a wall, demolishing homes and farms and cutting off economic security for Palestinians is wrong. To me, holding these three truths together makes sense. I can care about Israel and not know how to solve the problems and know something wrong when I see it. Tonight, our church had an advent wreath-making time. Another woman present had also seen the Rachel Corrie play.

She: I find it hard to be impartial on this topic.
Me: Why would you want to be?
She: Well, there were Jewish people there who seemed very angry.
Me: Well, there are people who get very angry when I protest the Iraq war, but that doesn't mean that I need to change my convictions and become impartial about the war. I think the demolitions are wrong.
She: Some people would say suicide bombing is wrong.
Me: (thinking: some people? duh!)
Me (speaking): Yes, suicide bombing is wrong. But the connection is illogical. If only the houses of suicide bombers were being demolished, then perhaps that argument would have some validity, but demolishing hundreds of homes of people who are only connected by association is still wrong. It doesn't address the real problems that exist in the region; it merely makes them worse by literally walling them off.

There was more to the conversation, but you get the drift. Now, let me give some personal history. I have a severe case of WASPishness. I am a blond, blue-eyed, Protestant, well-educated mid-westerner, who could have joined the DAR had I wanted to. (I didn't). Both sides of the family can be traced back to colonial times, with relatives from England, France, Germany, Holland and probably more -- but all northern, western European and all here long enough to be thoroughly mixed together. I grew up in a small community with two industries: making fire-bricks from the local clay pits and hog farming. I do not exaggerate when I say that I had never met a Jewish person until I arrived at college. Given the diversity with which I have lived for the last 20+ years, this now shocks me, but it is nonetheless true.

So you might imagine how thrillingly exotic it was for me when I joined a college boyfriend at his home near DC for Passover. His large, extended family was there and I don't think his mother was particularly pleased that my waspy little ass had joined them. But the rest of the family were delightful. I learned much in my two days there. For example, they didn't just sip from the wine cup four times during the Haggadah. They drank four glasses of wine! A gorgeous, red-haired cousin stood up during the answering of one of the questions to give an impassioned, feminist mid-rash on the women who saved Moses' butt so that he could go on to get all the glory. I loved her!

Early on, his liberal New York relatives were discussing Israeli politics in the kitchen when his Orthodox sister and her family arrived, fresh from Israel and the kibbutz where they lived. Right away the liberals started in on the kibbutz dwellers, daring them to defend some recent action of the Israeli government. "Oh, shit," my friend whispered to me, "Let's get out of here before this place explodes." And he ushered me away, but not before I got a whiff of the diversity around that family table.

In the years since, I've continued to listen for that diversity. I'm glad that PJ piped in that she finds it anti-semitic to claim all Jews walk in lock-step or are too sensitive to withstand criticism. That's the kind of thing I can't really say from my cultural position, but it makes sense to me. It does seem to me that to give in to censorship in fact feeds the conspiracy theories of the all-powerful Jewish lobby controlling America.

When I stayed on the West Bank, I befriended a couple of the Arabic staff at the place I stayed. I would stay up late with them, drinking and listening to them quote Kahlil Gibran at length. They LOVE that guy. We talked about our families and poetry and education and religion and sometimes politics. I was shocked when, one night, one of them matter-of-factly stated something about how Jews run everything in America. I quickly jumped in and told them that this was only propaganda they had been fed and tried to give them as many real-life examples of how it wasn't true as popped into my head. They looked at me like I was stupid. They really couldn't believe that I was so blind, so naive, so ignorant of the workings of my own country. After a few minutes more of protest I realized I was making no head-way and shut up. It was a moment of realization of how deeply our fears can shape our beliefs.

We all have blind-spots. I have ideas where some of mine may be lurking, but they are blind-spots precisely because I can't see them. We all have the responsibility to wake up as much as we are able and to live with an awareness and maturity that allows for our short-comings, while still holding firmly to our convictions. We have a responsibility to listen carefully and respond compassionately when we disagree. But one of the things that saddens me the most about our country today (and, oh, there are so, so many things) is the willful blindness born of a strange mix of comfort and anxiety. We simply don't want to see the truth of our actions on the world. We don't want to believe there is a connection between our lifestyles and extreme suffering in other parts of the world or our foreign policy and the continued growth of terrorism.

How do we have these conversations? How do we speak difficult truths? Or more to the point, how do we learn to hear them? To be continued ...