Monday, December 19, 2011

Hot Chocolate Walk/Run

Baby Dover sleeps through the
graduation speeches, 2008.
Dover, who will be 4 in February, has been in one parade (the 250th anniversary of the town) and one graduation faculty procession, two Pride marches, and three Hot Chocolate Walks. He has attended Memorial Day and July 4th parades every year because he has friends in high places, the flute and clarinet sections of the local high school band, and loves them all because, of course there are many hands at these events that like to reach out, scratch his ears and admire his enthusiasm and beauty. He also enjoys the after-parade events, like lunch and tennis and hanging out with friends.
Come on! Throw that tennis ball!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Advent Garden

This Advent our church has designed an Advent Garden in our newly restored, redrained, resodded, and replanted Garth. Walkers enter the spiral one by one, carrying candles that are fixed into apples for holders, 
and stroll at a leisurely pace to the center. They light their candles from the Advent Candle,
turn and walk out,
placing the candles in chosen locations among the pine boughs. This ritual appeals to all ages and brings all five senses into play. The last time we laid out the garden, many years ago now,  a storm came up in the night and blew the boughs around before covering them with a layer of crusty snow; no one walked the Advent Garden that year. This year, however, Advent I was balmy, with a gentle wind that only threatened the flames, but the candles managed to burn on, creating a beautifully quiet, peaceful and holy space. What better way to bring ourselves into Advent and the Garth back into use after four years of rebuilding and reconstruction.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Great New England Halloween Snow Storm (Apparently Known as "Alfred")

Our street
The storm begins!
Gone! No power, no phone, no email, no connections, no cell phone service, no cell phone batteries (low to begin with, gone from trying to connect), no gasoline (pumps run electrically), no streetlights, no radio, no C batteries (who would have guessed), no news, no church, no Sunday paper.

Flickers: Primitive light – candles, flashlights, one market open (it has a generator and very long lines), two hardware stores open with inside darkness and flashlight service (one sold out, the other doing a brisk business in C batteries)

Blessings: Water!! Gas stove and matches for morning coffee and evening supper, gas fireplace in the living room for heat, used candles from church and friends for light, running water and hot water for refreshment, friends with restored power for company and charging computers.

Good star viewing, friendliness on the street, clear and sunny days, daytimes above freezing, nighttimes below freezing and snow to pack around previously electrically refrigerated food, daily news about streets, stores and gas stations where the light has returned. Mail and newspaper delivery (except for the Sunday paper, which has apparently disappeared for good.) and a big friendly dog for happiness, laughter and games.

And a puzzlement: The local radio station (beaming in on a radio powered by recently purchased C batteries found due to gasoline recently acquired at a newly opened gas station) reports local storm news and then blithely sends its listeners (100% without power) to the internet for more information on what's open, what’s happening, and what’s important to know about power restoration.

Conclusion: Just a few hours short of 4 days - we have light! And internet. And now the telephone as well. We are not the last in the town to be back on the grid, and certainly not the last in New England. But 4 days was a long time!
Our street again.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Morning Glories, Dover, and Tennis Balls

I planted morning glories last May when all danger of frost was past, just as instructed by those in the gardening know. I watched them struggle in June, and in mid-July they began to grow at a breathtaking pace as the sun and the rains came to encourage them towards rampant maturity. I went on vacation in August and came back expecting to be greeted by seas of heavenly blue flowers. What I saw was a massive tangle of green vines with hardly a bud in sight. I moaned about their lack of satisfaction and gave them up.

In late September, while I wasn't looking, one flower actually came into bloom, and then, a day later, another followed suit. More buds lengthened and showed promise, and a few mornings later, one day away from October, they burst forth in garlands of the blue flowers I love so much. A morning glory flower greeting the sun as it makes its morning ascent has got to be one of the most beautiful sights in the world.

Here is another beautiful morning glory sight: once the flower is spent, drooping and curled after a hard day's work, you can pick the flowers, boil some water, and mix the two together. The blue color dissolves in the water, and like many other colors in flowers and fruits, changes color when an acid or base is added to the blue solution. Add a drop of colorless vinegar - and the blue dye turns pink; a little baking soda, and it turns green. If I add a drop of vinegar to the green solution - it turns back to blue; a little more and - it's pink. These colors are clear and beautiful, and are, in fact, due to the same compound that is in the blue flower, but which takes a slightly different form depending on whether it is in the vicinity of an acid or a base.

What does Dover see when he looks at the fence covered with blue flowers? Dogs do see color, but probably more palely than humans do, and they are also apparently red/green colorblind, like 4% of the male population of humans. So he sees the flowers as pale blue, possibly against a yellowish/gray backdrop of what we call greenery, but what he really sees is the tennis ball on the sidewalk, which is clearly much more desirable than all 37 tennis balls on his side of the fence.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Dog Retreat (click on images to make them larger)

Dover and his friends Cisco and Dottie 
attended a 24-hour retreat at the sea shore. 

It wasn't exactly silent, but they say it was a 
perfect time for restoring their couch-weary souls.

While there, they got lots of exercise, 

meditated in the chapel, 

saw interesting sights,

and contemplated the eternal truths that 
the sea sings for those who pause to listen. 

The Mother Abbess read uplifting stories
 to them while they ate their nutritious meals, 

and on the morning of their departure, the kitchen staff 
(overseen by the Abbess, of course) prepared a 
special breakfast treat of poached egg on kibble.

 On the bus ride home, they all three slept the sleep of the well exercised.

All told, a perfectly satisfying time by the sea.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Three meals

When people gather for food and community, all the senses are called into play but the experience surpasses the sum of what each sense brings to the meal or event. Laughter presides as does the enjoyment each person finds in each of the others present. 

Dover and I recently had two such experiences: One happened while we were on vacation by the sea, a week before Irene caused residents to evacuate and houses to go dark for over a week. On this night, however, the meal came together from what each person loved to do  - prepare, even invent, salads, hang out at the grill, make pies, slice potatoes for French fries, and even to provide a few surprises. Joy in babies and dogs was rampant.

Supper by the sea - August 20

Who: Seventeen cooks, entertainers, and eaters, ages a little shy of 1 to 73, and of course two dogs.

The menu: 

Food to wait around with: Cheese and crackers, sliced carrots.

The entrés: Sautéed steak strips, hot dogs and hamburger and cheese (Swiss and cheddar) burghers (left over from a New Haven neighborhood picnic), ketchup and 2 kinds of mustard.

The veggies: Grilled onion salad, grilled asparagus, grilled onions, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, sautéed baby Bella mushrooms, melting Tuscan kale, green salad, kitchen made French fries (Yukon Gold).

The desserts: Blueberry pie (local blueberries), chocolate pie (peau de creme, Graham cracker crust and whipped cream), chocolate and chocolate chip ice cream, home made chocolate sauce.

The wet stuff: Wine (white and red), beer, milk, chocolate milk, water.

Leftovers: None.

A Labor Day Picnic/Birthday Party, September 5.

Rain or shine, a group of friends and relations have been gathering in a yard or on a back porch for standard picnic fare and quiet-to-raucous conversation on Labor Day. This event has probably been happening for 30 or 40 years; children grow and move away (and maybe even back with children of their own), new friends are made and join up, others move out or, sadly, die, but there is a core group who have been present every year since the first person said "Hey! Let's have a Labor Day picnic!" those many years ago. It actually started with a birthday, but Labor Day provided the free day for the adults, a day to note the end of summer, as many of us were teachers or students, all of whom greeted the changing seasons with mixed expectations.

So we just did it again. Who had the better time? The kids? The others who finally had time to sit and talk with each other? Or Dover, the first dog we have had who was socially acceptable enough to bring to food events. Do not be fooled by this picture - it was a set-up, and the cake and its 30 roses and buds - everyone can have a rose and kids can have two! - was always safe, in spite of the doubters in the crowd.

A silent meal:    Many years ago I had an occasion to stay overnight at a convent, which meant taking a meal with the nuns - in silence - as that was their rule. When a bell rang, everyone dug in - the only sound was the scraping and clanging of utensils on the soup dishes and plates, an angry, unsettling noise. We ate the unappetizing food in haste, the whole idea seemed to be to enjoy food and human presence as little as possible.The dominant memory I have of that evening meal was the anger - anger that the nuns had to eat at all, perhaps anger that there was a guest in their midst. Their enjoyment of food and each other's company was markedly lacking. What a grace-less experience!

So the question:  Which meal better reflects the sacred nature of our lives in the world? Who would have thought that the so-called secular meals would win out over the convent meal? I prefer the community gatherings, where each individual's contribution and presence signify the holiness of our lives together. Taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight; companionship, laughter and pleasure in the other's company. That's it!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dog Days of Summer, Part II

The Dog Days of summer occur somewhere from early July through August when the weather is apt to be hot, still, dry and miserable. Some cultures marked the Dog Days with a shorter span of dates, but the lectionaries of sixteenth century Anglican sources refer to the longer, two month period. This is the time when the Dog Star (Sirius - the brightest star in the constellation of the Greater Dog) rises and sets with the sun, which makes it seem as if it is swallowed up by the sun and disappears from the night sky for a period of several weeks. Sirius is the brightest star that can be seen at night, and is actually two stars, Sirius A and Sirius B. 

Dover of course celebrates every last Dog Day of the Summer. He rises early to gaze on the sunrise, waiting for the Dog Star to reappear. These days of waiting are filled with



weight training, 


aesthetic appreciation,

until, finally, total exhaustion sets in.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Overnight [Written to friends about 2004; rediscovered in a miscellaneous file, 2011.]

Greetings! I am in the midst of an overnight from Hell. Sam and Janet have gone to a concert (Bare Naked Ladies) and I agreed to taking the kids even though Tom is down with his mother. They all trooped in about 5:30, and they are TV obsessed –  there was a Lizzie Maguire marathon on and Lizzie Maguire seems to be a preteen magnet. We finally unhooked and went out to Friendly’s, where the sweet young waitress neglected to bring the drinks with a cherry, even though requested, and the chocolate milk was “thin,” my tea was tepid and Susannah spilled her putrid-colored blue drink all over the table. We used a whole package of napkins as well as my scarf to mop it up; the waitress never appeared to help, then, or to take away the huge wad of soggy napkins we accumulated. The food took ages to come, and of course it was cold, and the ones who asked for no pickles got pickles (and the equally abhorred pickle juice) and the one who asked for a pickle didn’t get a pickle. Then two of them disappeared into the bathroom, and after five minutes, one emerged, only to return for another five minute sojourn until I went and banged on the door and told them to get out.

Meanwhile, Fiona and I ordered the desserts. We ordered for the two who were in the bathroom and Fiona, having had all the time in the world as we waited and waited for the waitress to appear, fell into an inability to decide what extras she wanted on her ice cream, and so, having finally captured the waitress, there we sat while Fiona carefully pondered the menu in lengthy, studied silence. I commanded her to decide, but eleven year olds don’t respond to commands. When the desserts finally came the one that ordered vanilla ice cream got chocolate, and the one that ordered extra gummy bears got one gummy bear. Then Fiona slugged Susannah on the way to the car, and when we got home the evil dog climbed up on the kitchen table to eat the rest of Bridget’s French fries which we brought home in the top of the putrid-colored green drink Fiona chose.

On to baths (a big treat) and more TV. I get to grouse, and bed-time will loom soon. The evil dog is squeaking his toy, and the good dog has sacked out with his penguin. We have two baths to go, however, and I hope the tub tints and bubble bath hold out. Bridget is in there now, taking a bath in the dark, seeming to think that that is how princess’s bathe. I just found that the evil dog has abandoned his squeaker toy in favor of the remains of the thin chocolate milk. Susannah’s cloths are sticky from the putrid-colored blue drink and Bridget didn’t bring any extra clothes so I have a wash running. Time to plug out Bridget and start with Susannah in the tub. It is going to get really late because I didn’t leave enough transition time. I forgot that baths are followed by showers to get the bubbles off.

Jonah the Good (1996 - 2008) 
Mungo the ultra sweet but . . .  (2003 - 2008)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dog Days of Summer: Part I

Dover and I set out on our morning walk the weekend of July 4th and found a table at the end of our street with about 100 cups of water arranged in rows. There were four young adults managing the table, talking in early morning, subdued voices. Just past the table, where the street joins the state highway, a big sign and an arrow to the right said "RACE." I called back to the water table and asked what time the race would be going by. "In about 2 minutes" they replied. So Dover and I reversed course and headed home to watch the race go by our house. "We love your dog!" one of the water people called out. "Thanks!"! I shouted back.

Half way down the block, the leader came puffing along, and shortly after him came two more, then two more, then a neighbor ran by and waved. Closer to home, one of the women called out to Dover "What a Sweetheart!", and shortly afterwards, as I stood and Dover sat on the side walk, people waved, we waved back; one man did a thumbs up and called "Goldens roll!"

Two men passed, maybe a minute apart, and I was sure neither of them would make it to the corner; they sounded and looked as if they were in pain and even, perhaps,  close to a heart attack or immanent collapse. A young boy ran by, and then a young girl with a long braid down her back. A father pushed a carriage in front of him, then another, and another and then a mother with a carriage, then a whole family, mother and father loping along pushing a carriage apiece with three kids enjoying the bumpy ride on our patched and still open pot-holey street. The spacing between the runners lengthened, and Dover and I went into the yard, Dover in pursuit of tennis balls, I in pursuit of a few weeds.

Dover has his technique worked out: When I am crouched down pulling weeds, he drops a tennis ball by my hand or weed weapon and waits expectantly. If I don't play his game, he edges closer, noses the ball nearer, and wiggles until I snatch it up and toss it briskly over my shoulder. The game is on, and and we repeat this process until I go in - Dover never never ever tires of games that involve tennis balls.

Further in to July, which is almost over now, I have been to Minnesota and back to visit family, been to a birthday party around a campfire, sweltered through 100 degree heat (at home as well as in Minnesota), washed the dog, enjoyed another Amtrak trip, thoroughly enjoyed an end-of-circus-camp show, and took Dover and his friends swimming in a local water hole. Other stuff happened to, such as a group visit to rate the lobster rolls at the local roadside lobster roll shack.

And earlier this month, a good friend died on the day after his 88th birthday, an elderly gent who through his imperturbable enjoyment of life showed us all that growing old calmly and gracefully is a worthwhile pastime and that there is beauty to be enjoyed wherever one might be. He loved art, Scrabble, bridge, learning, music, church, family and friends, food and wine, expressing opinions, and, above all, his cat Skipper. He made his corner of the nursing home where he spent the last few weeks of his life into a hospitable and welcoming spot; he kept his 88 years of life visually present so that as his physical body failed, he continued to be in the presence of family past and current, friends from long ago and those he more recently acquired.

Jack wrote his own  obituary, which ended with this sentence:
In lieu of flowers and memorial donations, I would prefer my friends to set aside a quiet moment and reflect on the joy your friendship has given me. And then -  go on your way enjoying life and enriching the lives of others.   Alleluia, Alleluia!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The doggie in the window

This past Saturday Dover and I set off for a rehab/nursing home we visit regularly. We don't usually go on weekends, but because of the incessant rain we hadn't been for a while (who wants to pet a wet dog?). However, when the sun broke through the gray, I put his railroad train neckerchief on his collar, attached his photo ID tag, and we hopped into the car to head south. Dover gets very eager when I deck him out in his finery and can hardly wait to get on with the visit. We arrived, got on the elevator and pushed the button to the second floor; we shared the ride with a staff person who told us about how she had recently lost her own dog - aged 20!  

The elevator door opens into a moderate sized common area. Usually only a few people are sitting here watching TV, but this day we stepped into a crowd of about 30 people gathered to enjoy two women (and a guitar) who were singing catchy and familiar songs. No sooner had we taken a step out of the elevator than - without skipping a beat - these women launched into "How much is that Doggie in the window." It was a big hit. Dover sat down and watched the action; he sensed the festive atmosphere and was quite fascinated by the guitar as he had never seen one before. All hands reached out to pet him. Petting techniques vary from person to person: Some apply the whole head, two handed deep massage - roughing up his head, his ears and his chin; some pet him and stare off remembering past dogs; some knuckle him because their hands don't open; some dart a hand out and give him a singe pat; some stare and give an imperceptible shake of the head indicating they don't want to pet him; and some just never stop stroking him from head to stern and it is difficult to figure out how to move on. There are four questions I am asked over and over. How old is she? Is she a boy or a girl? What kind of dog is Dover? How much does he weigh? 

The show ended and we made our way down the hall. We stopped by one room to visit a person who likes Dover. She opened her eyes, but she was tired and just watched me - never moving. I mentioned that I wasn't sure when to come - I didn't want to come too early because of lunch, or too late because of supper. After a pause she looked at me and said "You caught me napping!" She still never moved, but there was a little glint of laughter in the corner of her eyes. I had Dover do a little trick for her and said we'd be back.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another great iPad spelling correction

This is a briefy: I was emailing a friend about my availability to set up a meeting, and wrote (unbeknownst to me) that I might be away for a week in lulu.
Dover figures it out!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ticks and tea

Our reading group went out to lunch to mark the end of the year and to celebrate the friend whose house we gather in. Our meetings are spent in conversation, drinking tea or coffee, eating chocolate and the various vehicles it comes on, and enjoying the view from her window - garden flowers, birds, the occasional wild creature looking for culinary delights, her herd of woodchucks, and vistas of snow and leaves in transition, depending on the season. Our specialies are not sticking to the topic and enjoying each other's company. In addition to a free lunch, one of our members presented our host with a solar waving queen, an object that has to be seen to be appreciated.

Waiting for our eats to appear, a small commotion took shape on one side of the table. One of our members was paying very close attention to a moving creature on the table. She peered down to get a close look at it, and wondered aloud what it was. "A tick," pronounced one of our more authoritative members. We all craned to get a better look at it and freely offered our advice on how to handle the situation. The discoverer of this added member of our party tried to drown it with a little water added over its body but she sadly noted that it just swam its way out after its refreshing dip. There ensued a gory set of tales of tick encounters with the inevitable conclusion that these little eight legged tanks are close to indestructible. One of our members pleaded for us to change the topic, but it was clear that the tick had to be dealt with. Our honored guest got up, gathered up the tick in her napkin, and headed for the door.

Apparently, the eyes of the restaurant had been on us. "What was it?" whispered the inhabitant of one table - eying her newly arrived meal - as the intrepid one-person tick destruction squad came back inside. "Just a tick," was the reassuring reply. "What did you do with it?" we asked as she returned to the table. "I let it go" was the response. "You WHAT????" we cried in disbelief at her tender-hearted action.

Several years ago one of our local restaurants had been driven out of business because one of the take-out orders contained a rat part that had been mysteriously included in the order. Even though every investigative organization, from the health inspector upward, cleared the restaurant, the lurid reports in the newspaper could not be overcome in the mind of the public, and the eatery closed on the strength of those initial stories. I was glad that the customer inquired after the cause of our commotion, and we could unequivocally say that there was no cause for concern, the tick (who lives on ready for new adventures) was of outside origin. We proceded to enjoy our meal immensely - company and food - and we look forward to another year of tea, chocolate and friendship.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Amtrak hits a home run

I recently travelled to Washington DC and back on the train. It was a great trip on our national railroad and all went as expected; trains were on time, and as usual there was entertainment to be heard from neighboring fellow travelers. There was a guy going to the big city for a court date who was wondering what term he would be given; a woman who apparently worked the streets (oh - there was much more but this is a family oriented site!); sweet and happy kids; whiney whinging and obnoxious kids; first time anxious train riders; an assortment of dour and silent, huge in all directions, and companionable (also silent) seat mates; and a couple who bickered and snarled at each other across the aisle (they stalked forward as the guy was beginning to hit her and she was beginning to tell him he couldn't hit her).

In Union Station on the return trip, our train's station conductor let the business class, seniors and families into a separate waiting area about ten minutes ahead of boarding time and lined us up in our respective groups.

After a bit, he started walking down the line of business class travelers, inspecting each carefully. He stopped at one, and had a quiet conversation with him. I expected an immanent arrest. He pulled the sweet looking young man out of the line, and the young man said: "I'd be glad to do that." All eyes were riveted on the scene, as what else is there to do when waiting to be let through the chute to scramble for seats.The conductor took him over to an elderly woman leaning against the wall, waiting in a line of her own. The three murmured in a low voice. The young man took the woman's suitcase, held out his arm, which she took, and off they went together to the train in a companionable stroll and with beaming smiles. They were the first ones on, and the assembled others all but gave the slight, soft spoken conductor a round of applause. It was a sweet, sweet sight.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Great typos on the iPad and the happiness quotient of the world

Typing on the iPad is an adventure because it has an over-zealous spell checker whch makes creative substitutions when you aren't looking. Tom borrowed a friend's iPad to drop me a note from a village they recently visited, and reported that they had "killed" the village a lot. It took me only a few moments to figure out that one.

The other night, upon my return from a long, tiring and dispiriting diocesan meeting, I staggered into the house and decided to check my email before gathering up Dover, climbing the stairs, brushing my teeth, and falling into bed. It turns out I should have gone directly to bed, but I was lured by the prospect of a note from a friend or relation. Alas, I found only formal emails that demanded formal answers.  To the most pressing query I replied that I had been to a "diode exam event" and sent the message off into the clouds with nary a second's worth of proofreading."

Diode exam event? A bigger mystery than wondering what on earth a diode exam even might be is that the recipient of the email didn't ask me what I was talking about. What was she thinking about what I was thinking about? Maybe diode exam events are an every day happening in other people's lives.

Meanwhile, yesterday the local college held its twice annual "pet a dog and relieve your stress" event. Dover worked overtime for the cause of increasing the happiness quotient of the world.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dover's friends

Dover has lots of friends. Tennis balls seem to be one uniting factor, but sometimes it is just closeness or a good swim Dover likes to share. His first friend was Jonah, whom he adored, but that friendship was a bit one way.

There is the neighborhood schnauzer, and even thought their sizes reversed with time, they still travel in the same circles.

There are Easter guests and school pals,
and the neighborhood Corgi, who likes a good game of "Ha-ha I have your tennis ball and you don't."

Finally, there is the elite TBFC (Tennis Ball Fanatics Club); they play many games - which could go on all day, every day, 24/7. These are expert dogs that Dover can learn from!