Friday, December 25, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dr. Elizabeth C. Lowry, 1909 - 2009

Dr. Elizabeth Lowry, my husband's mother, my mother-in-law, Granma to a small horde and and GreatGranma to more, died this morning at the age 0f 100. We celebrated her 100th birthday this summer with flowers and cakes, lots of friends and relations, and joy and love in abundance. The flowers and children's heads hide the cakes and the 100 candles, but they all got blown out by Granma and a lot of minor assistants, some of whom are still at work in this picture..

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Late-Mid-Advent Message from Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks

Advent is perking along and in fact is almost ready to yield to Christmas. And during this Advent, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks (England) has provided the most meaningful words for Advent I have read (obviously not his intention but as I interpret the essays within an Advent framework).

Today, in the Times of London, Lord Sacks has this essay: "Thank God for the courage to live with uncertainty." Last week he provided the BBC Thought for the Day on Friday, December 11: "Will we choose to be remembered for peace?"

This Sunday acolytes will be lighting all four candles on the Advent wreath: What a privilege to be the ones lighting these candles in this cold and dark time of year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On-line Advent Mornings

I love my Advent mornings. I have found five on-line Advent calendars this year:

First - I check the Hubble space telescope Advent calendar for a reminder that there is awe and great beauty to be had in things I really don't know anything about.

Second: The Church of England calendar - going green with the Church of England. In general, nifty little meditations at the end.

Then to the Bach BBC calendar - an oldie, but really nifty.

Onward to the Episcopal Diocese of Washington for their day-by-day creche figures. Last year I was in Washington during Advent and got a chance to see their creche display.

Finally, Tate the Cat, back after a year's absence. I love the slow unfolding of the story and and the understated pop-ups when the button is hit.

From the sublime to the practical to the amusing to the cultural to the subtle, with my dozing doggie sharing the couch and while it is still dark outside, chilly inside, and and my coffee is hot (well, by the end, it is coldish but still palatable).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mayor Higgins Hot Chocolate Walk/Run

Yesterday was the 6th annual Mayor Higgins Hot Chocolate Walk/Run to benefit Safe Passage, a local organization that provides aid for women and children who experience domestic violence. Over 4,000 women, men, children and dogs in buggies, shorts, colorful running attire, assorted hats, and costumes turned out for a wonderful festive occasion. The walkers walked 2 miles at quite a clip, while the runners ran 5 K (3.1 miles) in quite variable styles. Some runners speeded right along; later, as we were walking home, we passed the tag end of the running brigade trying hard to finish, even if it by that time they had lapsed into a leisurely saunter. We passed one running parent and buggy who had pulled over in the last half mile for a diaper change. One young runner I know ran the course in 30.1 minutes; I'd say it took us walkers about 40 minutes to complete our route.

Every one was smiling and enjoying the day and the lark of standing around, walking, and running with 4000+ others in the brisk cold. I never witnessed a single snap, snarl, or whine from adults, children, or dogs. Dover enjoyed himself immensely. He did what he does best - offer himself for petting, and many people did. They dropped by to pet him face to face, and he even greeted some gathering runners by breaching the plastic fencing used to keep the walkers in their place before the start time for the strollers. His is a hard job.

So, this morning, on rising, 3,500 residents of Northampton and neighboring towns padded into their kitchens, made coffee, tea, or cocoa, poured milk, juice or water into their newly acquired Hillary Price (Rhymes with Orange) penguin and polar bear mugs which were given to the first 3,500 people to register for the walk/run. Due to a glitch in my registration process, I registered twice, so Dover got to wear the second number (#1205) but donated his mug to another walker/runner who had registered too late. It is hard not to have thumbs.

Afterwards, Dover went
to his friends' house
to play,

and then he went
home to sleep.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Still Life with Rose and Womble*

The neighborhood florist up by the park carries this message on their sign - "If your name is . . . Blank . . . you have won a free rose." I have been watching the sign for ages - and last Thursday it came up Nancy! I couldn't believe it. I was tempted to drive by to savor having my name come up; for over a year I had been watching other names - Donna, John, Carl, Ann, Susan - linger on the sign for their week. But I am impatient, so - in I went, laughing, and claimed my free rose. And bought a daisy and 2 pink lilies to go with it. So the question is: Is there such a thing as a free rose?

Now Dover is waiting his turn. He even has a therapy dog photo ID to prove he is who I would say he is, but there are probably too few Dovers in our town to rate a chance for a free rose at the local florist.

* Wombles are cheery little creatures who live under Wimbledon Common. They come up during nighttime to do their bit to tidy up the world.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Remember the Dogs at the Door

Unfortunately, these drawings are pretty dim when uploaded. Click on them - they will enlarge and you can see them better.

Dover Does Halloween

Dover is wondering:

When will this be over?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Amherst Parade [September 27]

Amherst, MA was settled by migrants from Hadley, MA, a neighboring town situated in the fertile Lake Hitchcock glacial bed on the eastern shore of the Connecticut River. Hadley is celebrating its 350th anniversary this year, while Amherst celebrates 250.

Both towns celebrated with great parades. Grace Church had an extremely joyful and exuberant crowd of about 30 in the Amherst parade. The day was dreary, drizzly, chilly and gray, but the hard rain stopped for the duration of our stroll.

Our bagpiper led our crew; he was followed by two Grace Church banners, a unicyclist, Saint Nicholas, babies, kids, young people, middle people, older people, a therapy dog (Dover, of course), several more banners, people in hard hats, people in cowboy hats, people with no hats, and a small dancing girl in pink. Happiness was rampant.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dover Recovers

Recovery! [September 14]

Dover has received a clean bill of health ten days after surgery to clear an abscess in his throat, deep down near where all the vital bits are. His classy purple sutures are gone and he is back tearing up the yard in pursuit of tennis balls, whacked from one end of the yard to the other with, what else, a tennis racquet. He is free again to play in the water, strike terror in the hearts of the local squirrels, receive and give gentle love to friends and children, and leap in the air to snag well-thrown tennis balls.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dog psych 101 - not that different from people!

The New York Times has reported that tennis players are a mite superstitious about the tennis balls they use and go through a ritual of choosing just the right ball (fluff matters) from several before serving. A friend asked whether Dover is as choosy as tennis players. Dover and his friends are indeed very devoted to tennis balls, but each has his or her own particular style in making these important decisions.

When Cisco (center, above) starts a game, she goes around the yard and sniffs each ball until she finds the one she likes. Then she uses only that ball for the duration - she won't accept or chase others. Dover considers it great sport to steal Cisco's ball - he will go out of his way to beat her to the fetch. Once in possession, he will parade and prance around the yard, taunting her, giving her meaningful looks, lying down with his chin on it or protectively placing it between his feet. Cisco fixes an unwavering stare on Dover, the ball, and Dover again, making very meaningful eye contact.

At some point, Dover will raise his head to take in the scenery, Cisco will move, whereupon Dover darts his head back over the ball. Eventually we can trick him and toss another ball, which he will chase happily, whereupon Cisco snatches her preferred ball - until the next time Dover beats her to it.

Dottie (above, right) will take any ball that comes her way; she hoards them - she is indiscriminent.

Dover is fickle. He will initially sniff balls out and chose one, but he easily falls to the allure of another.

He continues, however, to keep an eye out for Cisco's choice. Sometimes Cisco brushes her chosen ball by Dover's face as if to say: Hah Hah I have it and you don't. Dover, who is very fast, just lays low and waits his chance.

The two of them know exactly what they are doing.

Dover is temporarily on the disabled list, having had neck surgery to clean out a deep abscess of unknown origin. At first diagnosis the large lump was thought to be a possible lymphoma, but luckily, when the biopsy was done, what the vets found was gory abscess stuff. So DeeDog has to observe and only gets to look pitifully at the tennis balls, which for some reason are not on the fly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Friendship of Children and Dogs

During a hot seaside week in August, Dover got dressed up and attended a 100th birthday party, swam in the surf, canoed on calm days, played hide-and-seek with the kids, learned to pluck two tennis balls at once from the sea, and when the day was done, enjoyed the friendship of children.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mists in the Field

When I mention that I am recently retired, people have one of three stock responses:

  1. Oh lucky you!
  2. Don’t worry - you will be busier than ever.
  3. What are you going to do with all your time?

My responses are, in order:

  1. Hmmmm.
  2. What’s so great about that?
  3. I don’t have the foggiest.

If the person has not fled, I might add (again, in order):

  1. I loved what I did. I will miss it. I already do. Where else can I talk organic chemistry to people? Where else will I find a willing audience to hear about the toxicity of fireflies or color changes in squid?
  2. I want to find a few things I can love as much as I did before retirement. In religious terms, this means I need to be still for a while and listen for what I am called to do during this next bit of my life. What is my vocation for the next decade? I am not interested in just “stuff” to do, busyness that fills up my dance card and keeps me running rampant and missing appointments, although that type of stuff will play a part of my next decade or two or three, just as it has been part of my last many decades. I am waiting to discover the passion that will have room for me, will give my life meaning, and provide a new community engaged in a common purpose.
  3. It seems that some people want the recent retiree to have it all figured out, to be champing at the bit to get to do that which she never had a chance to do before retirement. My husband was indeed one of those people. He happily tossed his old chemistry books and disappeared into the basement to build a railroad, emerging periodically to join others passionately involved in the same pursuit.

I look back on lost loves, lost community, and lost engagement in the common good. And I don’t have the new love, the new community, or the new engagement in the common good in my sights yet. I do have faith that one day I will look in my lap and say: “Aha! There it is!” and skip off to jump in or join up.

I am not there yet.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dogs at play

I just heard that a colleague added some favorite pictures to her Facebook page. One of them is of the two of us in full academic togs, pausing on the way to an event, smiling, having a good time, but thinking the event would be more fun if our dogs were along to enjoy the speeches.

So not to be outdone, here is one of my favorite pictures: Dogs at play.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Horace Boyer

Professor Horace Boyer has died a week shy of his 74th birthday. He was an elegant, joyous presence who dramatically shaped Episcopal church music through his singing, playing, conducting, composing and scholarship. He has composed anthems for our childrens' choir as well as the senior choir, our rector and various church events, and his arrangements and compilation of Gospel music in Lift Every Voice and Sing, an Episcopal hymnal, enrich our liturgy beyond measure. He was a generous, gracious man who shared himself and his music with all comers.

Photo by Nancy Lowry, Grace Church, Amherst MA

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Liturgical Arts Camp

I spent the week starting July 13 at full throttle at the Liturgical Arts Camp at Grace Church. I have developed this camp over the past ten years, thinking it would be fun to work with kids on art projects that have been part of church practice for centuries. This year they drew inside and outside the church, worked with clay (gargoyles or angels, their pick), sang, did some calligraphy, and made stained glass mozaics. We prepared a handbell piece and an anthem for the Sunday service, and wrote the Prayers of the People. The Altar Guild showed all their wares and each kid gets to grind some incense and swing the thurible. The rector had them plan and act out the 23rd Psalm for the Sunday sermon.

We climbed the bell tower, passing many solitary spiders along the way and admiring the beautiful tower clockworks a parishioner and his daughter restored a few years ago on the way to see the five foot tall bell up at the top.

Oh, and we drink gallons of juice, hundreds of grapes and goldfish, and played a few running games outside to let off steam.

The week is energetic and joyous. I am struck by how, one moment, a seven year could say how he couldn't draw anything "good," and the next moment, bring me a gorgeous outline drawing of the church - in orange marker with no erasings!

Here are just a few of their phrases that went into the Prayers of the People this time around:

We pray that people in different countries will learn to get along, and that all will be able to live a happy life.

We are thankful for colors.

We wish all people could have a cat or a dog, and we pray for people who don’t.

We thank you for making us who we are.

Dover goes for the third one.

So now, the week after, it is back to life as usual, so to speak. Dover and I strolled almost three miles this morning, and he has spent a good deal of his time searching me out at me with those haunting, inviting eyes. Nifty.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Circus Smirkus

Speaking of the happiness quotient of the world - last night we went to see our granddaughter in Circus Smirkus ( The full house was delighted with the music, choreography, and especially, the young performers, all 18 and under. What a wild, energetic and enthusiastic evening. I was exhausted by the end of the show. Happiness was rampant.

These photos from two summers ago and this past Christmas show our grandkids with circus thoughts on their minds.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dover and the Happiness Quotient of the World

Today Dover and I went to the Amherst Common Market, where we strolled among the cabbages, radishes and flowers, not to mention kids, other people, and assorted dogs. We had a fine stroll, and Dover spent a most of his time meeting and greeting - every five or six steps, to be exact - people who stopped and asked to pet him.

After a few turns around the market and a stop at a Peace in the Middle East table, we went and had a midmorning coffee and snack with some friends at Amherst Coffee. We sat at a sidewalk table, where Dover settled down, content with the occasional dog biscuit bribe, never guessing what treasures lay on the table over his head. Traffic on the sidewalk was heavy, and as people passed by, they stopped to pet him, talk with him, talk with us about life in general or, more likely, dogs in general, which is pretty much the same as talking about life.

All shy people should have a dog. I might say that Dover is my assistant - drawing people in, starting conversations, returning compliments, and bringing out the best in all who make contact, even if it is just a glance and a smile as they hurry by.

The added bonus is that by just being there, Dover's presence on the sidewalk ups the happiness quotient of the world.

I can think of hardy any better job than that.

Photo: A passer-by shares her water with Dover at the July 4th parade.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Visiting dogs

I knew that visiting people in rehab and nursing homes would be an interesting and rewarding experience, but I wasn't prepared for the joy we all experience as we make our way around a hall or gathering

Dover, of course, loves the attention. He knows when I put a neckerchief on him that life will be getting interesting.

The people we visit are delighted, and will tell us about their dogs and remember days when the dog was always by their sides.

I am extremely moved by people's hands on Dover's head. Tentative hands, enthusiastic hands, playful hands, longing hands, quiet hands. One hand, two hands, a pat on the top, or a ruffle around the ears. Once a man in a wheel chair saw us as we were leaving after a visit and he came tearing down a side hallway - calling out at top voice: "Stop! I want to pet that dog!" Sometimes, when I ask, "Would you like to pet Dover?" a woman might look away, and then her hand will move tentatively towards him, as she reaches quietly and tremblingly to touch his soft fur.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dogs of 2008

Two of our dogs died in 2008. Mungo, the love of my life, aged only 5 years, died suddenly one February night, with no warning, from spleen cancer. Jonah the Paper Dog had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in 2007 and given a short life expectancy, but he outlived Mungo, dying in November, 2008, aged 12, and a year and a half after his diagnosis. He lived on Cheerios, cottage cheese, rice and egg white, a diet we discovered because when he was not able to eat even the very pricey special liver-diet food, he still snarfed up Cheerios from the floor with wild abandon. So we poured his dish full of Cheerios twice a day, and he graced us with more of his life than we had any right to expect.

Dover was born in February 2008, and we fetched him home in April, much to our delight and Jonah's disgust. Dover adored Jonah and was swift to move in and snuggle up, but Jonah considered Dover a cockroach in his life. He tolerated Dover's adoration and taught him how to bring in the morning newspaper, although he continued to be the main paper dog up until the last day of his life.

This blog will have a lot to say about Dover. I knew when I retired I wanted to visit nursing homes with Mungo, but Mungo, first of all, didn't live long enough, and second of all, would have been a dismal failure because one of his goals in life was to eat everything in sight within a nanosecond of spotting the goods - not good manners for a visiting dog.

So Dover now has his CGC (Canine Good Citizenship) and TDI (Therapy Dogs International) certificates, and we do visit nursing homes, currently two, three or four a month. I hope to add a few more soon.

Where I am starting from

I sauntered towards retirement, crossed the line at midnight June 30, 2008, and am now Professor emerita of chemistry. I was a faculty member at Hampshire College from the time it opened in the fall of 1970, and found it to be an extremely rewarding, exciting, and challenging place to be every day.

An essay by Richard Harries (retired Bishop of Oxford) on the BBC’s Religion and Ethics “Thought for theDay” discussed work. He llisted five goals that one might hope for in work - whether it be done for pay, love, or both.
  • work that is fulfilling and uses one’s gifts
  • work that one believes actually does some good for others
  • work that enables one to live reasonably (which begs a whole lot of questions)
  • work that gives one time to be a parent and friend, pursue some leisure activity and serve the wider community
  • work which is recognized and validated by society.
Hampshire College, specifically the School of Natural Science, has offered wonderfully satisfying work - I would even call it vocation - and it has fulfilled all of the criteria listed by Bishop Harries.

In a nutshell, I flunked retirement in the first six months. As a retired teacher, I discovered that I had lost an important intellectual, scientific and social community. My job as a retired faculty member is to find new communities and activities as well as renew old ones as appropriate, fulfilling and useful as my work at Hampshire.