Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ground Rules

Now that I’m a third of the way through this crazy 90 in 90 I’ve created for myself, I thought I might try to explain exactly what this blog is and what it isn’t, if for no other reason than to clarify in my own mind what I expect from myself. This is important as there have been MANY of the past 30 days when, not only did I have nothing to say, I had absolutely no desire to say anything. I was chatting with a friend the other day and she tried to give me suggestions for things I might want to write about and I kept shooting her down. It wasn’t that her suggestions were bad. They just weren’t what I wanted for this blog. So what DO I want? Or not want, as the case may be?

1. First and foremost, I absolutely refuse to write about writing. (I am completely aware that that is exactly what I’m doing at the moment. In the immortal words of Peter Falk from The Princess Bride: “Yes, you’re very smart. Now shut up.”) It just seems to me that an awful lot of writers write about writing when they can’t think of anything else to write about. Which is fine for dislodging a writer’s block, maybe, but if you’re writing for a general audience who on the whole tend to be readers rather than writers, then writing about writing seems sort of… well… masturbatory. I mean, really, Marley & Me was a fantastic film about relationships, but I could’ve done with a lot more of the dog and the wife and the kids and a lot less of John Grogan’s angst about not being a “real journalist.”

2. I will not rant. Okay, maybe that first ground rule was a bit of a rant. I was sort of trying to be polite about it. Well, except the part where I used the word “masturbatory.” Clearly, language in this blog is rather ‘anything goes.’ But I don’t want to come from a place where all I do is bitch about how much things suck. Dennis Leary has made a lifetime career of it and he’s a lot better at it than I ever would be. (Now that I think about it, he’s sort of this generation’s George Carlin, isn’t he?) Believe me, it’s not that I don’t have opinions or that I’m looking to avoid conflict. Not so. Living the 12-step life doesn’t mean turning into a door mat. What it means is rigorously examining my motives for wanting to spout off my opinion. Bitching NEVER solves problems. Not. Ever. Action solves problems. I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe in—I think it would irresponsible not to. But this blog isn’t about how Rebekah Moir thinks the universe should be run. I spent 33 years trying to run the universe myself and it didn’t get me anywhere. Now I let God be God and do what I can do to make a real difference in the world.

3. I do not want to preach. Yes, I mentioned God in Rule #2. Get over it! (Was that ranting?) ANYWAY, I’m not out to tell anyone else how to live. As soon as I start doing that, I completely negate the very principles of love and tolerance I try to live by. Notice I said “try.” Still human. Still imperfect. In particular, I want to avoid being overly cutesy and ‘inspirational’ in the way that, say ‘Footprints’ is inspirational. I find so much of what is classified “Christian” writing to be treacly or saccharine. I don’t know, that’s pretty judgmental of me. I might write about what I believe or what I have learned or what I struggle with still but I want everyone to know I don’t have the answers—that there aren’t neat, simple answers to some of life’s difficult questions. I just hope to connect with people where they are. To know that they relate. I suppose that’s a kind of inspiration. I’d love to be inspirational in that sense. But that’s not up to me. I just have to be who I am and if someone else gets something out of it, there you go.

4. Otherwise, anything goes. If I may, one last time, break Rule #1, I will tell you that I have named the first stage of writing “Barf On Paper.” And since this is a daily blog by a mother of two and with no professional editor, you’re all pretty much just getting the unrefined barf. Typos, dangling participles, split infinitives, and even sentences that end in prepositions—Good Heavens!

Thanks for hangin’ out here at Joy in the Longing and putting up with all my idiosyncrasies. You’re a bunch of good eggs.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Stain in the Snow

A Journal Entry from February 9, 2004

WARNING: This is a LONG one. It's an abridged account of an ACTUAL day at work when I was a volunteer manager at a small non-profit social service agency. All names (except mine) have been changed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent. Read this when you think you’ve had a bad day. J

My first clue that Friday was going to be a bad day was the untimely demise of my coffee. I had just purchased said beverage from the local McDonald’s and had not even cracked the plastic “to go” lid to add cream. When I found my access to the kitchen door of Helping Hearts blocked by a 2-foot snow drift and a badly parked Helping Hearts Express bus, I resorted to the Food Shelf door, knowing full well it was difficult to get open.

Mistake number one: I set the coffee on top of the large Tupperware pie-taker full of cookies balanced on my left hand and inserted the key with my right. A little jiggling of the key and old-fashioned elbow grease got the deadbolt to give, but in the middle of struggling with the lock in the door handle, I lost control of the styrofoam cup. Just as the door pushed open, the hapless beverage dashed to the ground, the cap split open and the steaming coffee transformed instantly into a brown stain in the snow.

I felt like crying.

But I pushed into the building with resolve. It wouldn’t take that long to make coffee and with any luck I’d be at my desk, happily swamped by 8:10.

And then the sound of the coffee grinder was momentarily drowned out by the door buzzer. Someone was dropping off a donation. I was immediately irritated: Does NO ONE read our sign? “Donations Accepted During Business Hours Except By Appointment.” Idiotically, I popped my head out the kitchen door. “Can I help you?” I asked a dark-haired man by a pick-up truck.

“I’m here to drop off a donation.”

I bit my tongue before I could blurt, “Well, no duh,” and calmly said “Actually, we don’t open until 8:30.” Mistake number two. I forgot until that moment that I’d dealt with this yahoo twice before, both times insisting on dropping off food from an area church at odd hours and without prior notice.

“You know,” he said, “I would think you would be happy to get a food donation from my church. Isn’t this a food shelf? Isn’t that what you do? I’m sorry you find it an inconvenience that someone wants to give you something. I’ve always dropped off at this time and there’s always been someone here to take my donation cheerfully. I’m a volunteer,” he ranted on. “I’m doing this on my own time. I’ll even weigh it myself. All you have to do is open the garage door.”

If looks could kill, he would have been a brown stain in the snow next to my departed coffee.

“I’ll be right down,” I said icily, incensed at his condescension.

“Praise Jesus,” he responded sarcastically with upraised arms. I shut the door.

Nathan had just walked into the kitchen and was happily munching on one of the cookies I’d brought when I asked him to help me take in this a!$(*%@’s donation.

Nate and the a!$(*%@ did the unloading while I wrote down the weights, refusing to even make eye contact with this jerk. I added the numbers and handed him his half of the slip with a frosty “Thank you.”

There was a pause. I braced for impact. Nate had gone so I had no safety equipment.

“I’m really concerned about this eight/eight-thirty thing,” he began. He then proceeded to repeat much of his earlier speech with special emphasis on the fact that (A) he was a volunteer and did this on his own time, (B) he had always dropped off at this time and there was always someone there who gladly took the donation (and who was I, anyway, so he could make sure to complain about the right person) and (C) he didn’t see how this was such an inconvenience for me.

Never did he give any thought to inconveniencing himself by waiting until 8:30. Office hours didn’t matter to him. Apparently, in his world people who work for non-profits sleep on the premises and do nothing more than sit around waiting for donations out of the kindness of strangers.

I’d had it.

“You know,” I said tersely, “I don’t think we can continue this conversation. Obviously there’s a fair amount of ill will between us and we’re not going to resolve anything now.”

“Well,” he said for the nine-hundredth time, “If this drop-off time isn’t convenient I need to know that so I can decide whether I can continue to be the person who drops this off. I’ll need to talk to Shelly.” (his church’s volunteer manager.)

“Yes, I’ll be talking with Shelly, too.”

He left. I walked upstairs to my office and cried. I still hadn’t gotten any coffee.

It was now 8:35 and the phone was ringing off the hook. Where was Tonya?

And then I saw my message light flashing. With a sinking feeling, I listened to my voicemail. The soothing “You have one new message” was the harbinger of doom. It was our receptionist, Tonya. Her son was sick and she had to stay home with him.

I left a message for Ronda, our back-up volunteer receptionist and, not having even opened my planner, I went downstairs to work the front desk.

As I—*RING* “Good Morning, Helping Hearts, may I help you?”—tried to take stock of the schedule and —*RING* “Good Morning, Helping Hearts, may I help you?”—figure out the client load for the day —*RING* “Good Morning, Helping Hearts, may I help you?”—Nate asked if I had a volunteer coming in since there were fifty Helping Hearts Express calls to make. “I’ll get started on them,” I said—*RING* “Good Morning, Helping Hearts, may I help you?” It was the case work intern.

“Rebekah, it’s Sarah. I am having the worst week of my life.”

“Join the club. What’s up?”

“You know how my car wouldn’t start on Tuesday? Well now I’m waiting for a tow truck to haul it out of the pile of snow it’s been plowed into. I’m going to be about 45 minutes late.”

“OK,” I said, beginning to wonder if there wasn’t some curse on Helping Hearts and all who dwelt within. “See you when you get here.”

I buzzed Dierdre, the financial case worker, and welcomed her into my misery. “Sarah’s going to be late. Can you do the food shelf appointments?” I’m not sure there was an actual “yes” but I took the groan as an affirmative and said, “Thank you, your first client is here.”

*RING* “Good Morning, Helping Hearts, may I help you?”—you get the idea.

I slogged through the Helping Hearts Express calls at an infuriatingly slow pace: one call out for every three calls in. And, hey!, why was it so cold in here? I discovered that the heat wasn’t on. “Ahh, easy fix,” thought I, and switched it to “high.” Back to the desk to continue the battle of the phones.

I was in the middle of my third “I need to come in today” discussion when Evelyn Smith, the Clothing Coordinator, planted herself in front of me with eyes like saucers. I cocked my head quizzically and finished scheduling the new client.

“Hi, Ev,” I said. “What’s up?”

“We have a major problem in the Clothes Closet.”

“What is it?” I mean, really, I thought, what could possibly be that bad in the Clothes Closet?

“I think you just need to come see this.”

We rounded the corner into the shop. I suppose I should have been prepared for what greeted me, considering the morning that had begun with suicidal coffee. But I was horrified by the sight.

Two big metal brackets dangled from the plaster under a shelf, having been ripped from their positions by an irresistible force. Beneath, a pile of sagging suitcoats and dresses lolled, stunned, in a heap, out of which protruded the hanging pole bent at a horribly unnatural angle.

“I was standing next to it when it fell,” said Evelyn.

“Well… that’s a problem isn’t it?” I said sagely.

Evelyn said she’d find a rack for the coats and, meanwhile, we’d just need to re-attach the brackets and find a new pole.

I went back to the front—*RING*—desk. “Good Morning, Helping Hearts, may I help you?”

Oh, blessed joy! It was Ronda! And she was willing to come in and work the front desk!! We ended our conversation with a cheerful “See you in about half an hour!”

The Executive Director, Tracy, came around the corner. “Why isn’t the heat working,” she asked.

“It’s not?” I replied stupidly. “I just thought mine was off so I turned it up.”

“Nope,” she said with her hand over the register. “It’s blowing cold air. I’d better page Wayne,” which, in fact, she went off to do.

A few moments later, one of the food shelf volunteers came up to the front desk and said, “You’re not gonna believe this. Someone peed in the snow right outside the food shelf door!!”

“It’s coffee,” I growled at her. “Trust me.”

Sarah made it in at last, a blur of dark hair and big eyes flying in the door, through the reception area to her office and then back out to get the next client. Somewhere in between, she’d hung her coat and bag, but there couldn’t possibly have been enough time for even that, as quickly as she was moving.

Wayne appeared, stuck his hand over the heater and said, “Nope. No heat.” Such brilliance from the landlord. He vanished to investigate the cause of the cold snap.

A gray-bearded man then came up to the desk with a concerned look. “Am I going to be seen?” he asked gently. “I’ve been here for an hour.”

My jaw hit the floor. I’d forgotten all about this nice gentleman who was coming to the food shelf for the first time. I hadn’t given him any of the new client paperwork or informed a case worker of his arrival. Two other clients with later appointments and a walk-in had already been seen!

I apologized profusely, feeling at a loss for words to excuse myself. Surely this poor soul had greater concerns than wasted coffee, snotty donors, missing staff, broken clothes racks, malfunctioning heat and incessantly ringing phones! And he was so gracious about having been passed over due to my incompetence. I wanted to hug him for his kindness even as I wanted to crawl under the front desk, mortified. “Sarah will be with you in just a few minutes,” I reassured him.

At that moment, in walked Evelyn once again. She was completely out of breath. “We have another problem,” she panted. “Sorry,” she said, and took another breath. “I went back to the sorting room and I smelled something hot and, well, kind of damp.” A few more rapid breaths. “And I looked and there was steam rising from behind all those bags. I’m out of breath because I climbed over the bags and looked at the heater and there was water spitting out of the heater and all over the floor.”

She had to be kidding.

“TRACY!” I shrieked. “We need Wayne back here!!!” Tracy flew around the corner and, upon quick appraisal of the situation, paged Wayne once again.

“I’m going to start pulling bags away from the heater so he can get back there,” said Lois, now composed.

“Good idea,” I replied and went back to answering the damn phones every fifteen seconds.

“Good Morning, Helping Hearts, may I help you?”

“Rebekah, it’s Ronda,” said the voice on the other end. There was something odd about her tone. Something in the pit of my stomach screamed, “Please, God! NOOOOOO!”

“What’s wrong?” my mouth asked.

“Well… I don’t think I can come in.”

“What happened?” I began to be concerned.

“Ummm. I can’t seem to find my car keys. I’ve torn the entire house apart. I had just gotten home from an appointment with my daughter when I called you the last time. I think I locked them in my car and, just by chance, my older daughter has the spare at school.”

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!? I wondered.

“Ronda,” I said, finally laughing, “for your own safety, don’t come anywhere near Helping Hearts today.” I proceeded to give her the entire litany of events thus far. “There is some kind of curse on this place,” I said. “It’s truly best for you to just stay home.” We hung up.

Evelyn reappeared. “Has Wayne called yet?” “No.” Evelyn disappeared.

Tracy reappeared. “Where is Wayne?” “I have no idea.” Tracy disappeared.

A barrage of phone calls followed during which time I was vaguely aware of Tracy breezing by saying she’d found Wayne in the basement looking for a leak which is what he thought caused the heat to fail. And—hey!—Evelyn found a leak upstairs! We’ve got to get these two together!

In the end, we learned that the piles of clothing in the sorting room had been too close to the heater and had cut off heat circulation which had caused the furnace pipe to freeze and burst. It would be later in the day before someone could come out to fix it.

By the grace of God, I made it to one o’clock I locked the front door and pushed the “night” button on the phone. I dragged my sorry butt up to my office to get a least a couple things done before heading home. The day was done. The curse was over. I had persevered and overcome!

2:45pm: “Is anyone still here?” called Dierdre from the landing as I was putting on my coat. I bit my tongue and was grateful to hear both Nate and Tracy respond. “There’s a lady who’s here to drop off a food donation and she got her car stuck in the snow.”

Guiltily, I let Nate, Wayne and one of the drivers handle shoving the car free and taking in the donation while I wandered, dazed, to my own car. As I drove away, I thought, “let the donors inconvenience someone else.” I had a date with a glass of wine that, hopefully, wouldn’t wind up a stain in the snow.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Man's Best Friend (A Dolby Story)

I recently read a quote that went something like: “They say dog is man’s best friend. I don’t know. How many of your best friends have you had neutered?”

It’s safe to say that, while Dolby did eventually become Dan’s best friend, they weren’t that close yet when we had that taken care of. In the cat, I mean. We were surprised the vet said we could have Dolby neutered as early as six months of age. I realize they do it even sooner, now, but at the time, I still had it in my head that we had to wait until he was a year old. Nope. Six months.

Dutifully, as responsible pet owners, we took our still-fluffy kitten off to the vet in his cat carrier and, with great nervousness, left him there. I felt so sad for him, knowing he’d be all alone in his little box in a totally strange environment, without his favorite things. Without me!

When we picked him up the following morning, I was anxious to see him and grateful when the vet said everything had gone "just fine." The vet gave us very specific instructions about keeping Dolby in his carrier and not allowing him to eat for a certain period of time. He let us know that our precious baby was still groggy from the surgery and would likely be sore for a day or two. I just wanted to get Dolby home, the poor kitty.

Back at the apartment, we set the carrier in our bedroom. Dolby seemed agitated all of a sudden, clawing at the door and meowing pitifully. I weighed in my mind the instructions from the vet. “I can’t let you out, Sweetheart,” I probably said. But as he continued to cry, my heart near broke. Clearly, he wanted out of the carrier and into his familiar surroundings. I appealed to Dan for guidance but he was as clueless as I, and just as distraught at Dolby’s apparent distress.

“Well, should we let him out?”

“I don’t know. The vet said not to.”

“Maybe if we just stay right by him?”

At length we decided to open the carrier and see what happened. With a burst of joyful energy at his freedom, Dolby walked out the door as if he’d never had surgery at all. A second later, his hind quarters remembered that they were completely anesthetized and the back half of him collapsed in a doughy heap. Dolby seemed perplexed by this. He kept looking over his shoulder to see what the problem was, but could find no reasonable explanation. At length he managed to get his feet back under him, but any attempt at forward motion resulted in another rear flat.

I am a little ashamed to say that Dan and I started laughing at the poor guy. It wasn’t that we weren’t sympathetic to the fact that he’d just had major surgery. It was more his stubborn determination to resume life as usual and his complete bewilderment at his body’s lack of cooperation.

Haltingly (with us giggling most of the way) he made it to the side of our bed which, though it was a futon and quite low to the ground, was still an impossible leap for someone unable to feel his legs. He, of course, attempted it anyway which, sadly, made us laugh all the more.

Finally I took pity on our sweet kitten and lifted him onto our bed, thinking he wanted to rest among the stuffed animals in his familiar place. But, no, this was not his objective. From the bed, he determinedly dragged his backside to the heat register at the head of the bed and tried, with little success, to maneuver his sore nether regions right onto the warm metal.

I’d had enough. Lovingly, I lifted him from the bed and stroked him reassuringly behind his ears. I wrapped him in his towel and gently placed him back into the safety of his cat carrier and closed the door. This time he didn’t protest a bit and drifted off into a healing sleep. Thank goodness.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Generation S

Complete the following sentences:

“That’s no moon…”

“Well, my little friend, it looks like you got something jammed in here real good…”

“The ability to destroy a planet…”

“It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye…”

Chances are, if you could complete these phrases, you continued right on reciting dialogue until the end of the scene.

While those of us born between 1961 and 1981 are generally known by the term “Generation X” I would like to propose the official adoption of a title for a subset of this group born roughly between 1966 and 1974. That would be “Generation S.” “S” for Star Wars, of course. Specifically, this group would contain individuals born during this span of years who have at least one male sibling born between 1966 and 1969.

I was only 5 when the original Star Wars hit theaters on May 25th, 1977. If I hadn’t had a 10-year-old brother, I don’t know that it would have had as much of an impact on my life. As it was, after Dan saw the film with some friends, the whole family went and my sister (8), I (5), and my little brother (not quite 4) were forever changed by what we experienced.

This was before video rental, DVD players or Cable TV. We didn’t get to watch the movie over and over again ad nauseum. We saw it once. Once. And had to re-enact it thereafter in order to re-experience it. We did have an LP of the story which we played incessantly. This aided in our rote memorization of the entire dialogue which, then, aided us in our re-enactments. We also had the sound track album which instilled in us an appreciation for the emotional power of orchestral music (I cried every time I heard the swelling violins at the moment of Ben Kenobi’s death) We lived and breathed Star Wars. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have more childhood memories associated with Star Wars than any other single cultural entity.

My husband, Dan, is the same age as my brother…Dan. (This is a coincidence). It’s no surprise that our daily relationship dialogue includes the following references:
--When one of us has had a rough day and the other one asks, “Is there anything I can do?” the response is always: “Not unless you can alter time, speed up the harvest or teleport me off this rock.”
--When one us gets a little whiny and self-pitying, the other will chime in: “But I was going in to Tashi Station to pick up some power converters!” This really ticks off the victim, of course.
--When we’re having a difficult time getting one or the other of our kids to cooperate, we exchange looks over their head and one of us intones: “No reward is worth this.”
--When the kids are escalating into a sibling blow out, one of us might yell, “No blasters! No blasters!”
--As we’re driving through the streets of our neighborhood, presently piled high on either side with sheer walls of snow, I’ll murmur “Stay on target… Stay on target…”

Scarcely a day goes by, actually, when a choice piece of Star Wars dialogue doesn’t crop up in some fashion or other.

You can spot a Generation S-er pretty easily. Just this afternoon as I was driving home from South Minneapolis, I was passed by a car with the license plate: DRTHVDR. I’m guessing the driver was a male, approximately 40 years old. When my husband’s ancient Hyundai Excel was on it’s last legs (for, like, three years) I proposed we apply for the license plate: MLNMFCN (“Hear me, Baby? Hold together.”) Regrettably, we never got around to it. Ask a Generation S-er who his ultimate childhood fantasy woman was and he’ll universally admit that it was Princess Leia in her metal bikini get-up from Return of the Jedi. I even have a friend who’s firstborn son is named Anakin. Okay, that might be a bit over the top.

Now, while I cop to the fact that I am an über-nerd, I have to say that many, many Generation S-ers seem like the most normal human beings on the planet. Star Wars has so ingrained itself into my generation’s cultural DNA that even the most unassuming of my peers can correctly respond to the phrase “…sometimes I amaze even myself” by saying “That doesn’t sound too hard,” (and does so almost compulsively). Star Wars references appear in every form of artistic and commercial media. Then again, the sources of these materials (Generation S-ers for sure) might not be the most stunning examples of normalcy if they’re working in the entertainment industry.

But you can just as easily spot a non-Generation S-er. My mom, for instance, always thought Luke was cuter than Han. Not an S. A friend of mine once completely failed to react when I said snidely, “Don’t everyone thank me at once.” While she is my age, she lacks the necessary older sibling. In another instance, I have a friend whose older brothers were too old to become completely lost in the Star Wars phenomenon and, as a result, she’s only a borderline S-er. Her husband, I believe, is thoroughly Generation S and this disconnect between them has led to some misunderstandings and hard feelings in the past!

Come to think of it, we don’t just need our own Generational moniker, we probably need an entirely new designation on the Autism spectrum…

Help me Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Co-Parenting

Dan and I are a wonderful team. We really are. For the past three or four days, we’ve had the same thought at the same time on multiple occasions. Dan suggested that our C:/ drives must be full, so we’re accessing the shared drive like he does at work. I found that more than adequately descriptive ☺

But it’s not just the brain sharing that makes us a good team. We compliment each other’s strong points and, for the most part, communicate and work together well.

It must be pointed out, however, as I sit here listening to my dear husband trying to direct the bedtime routine in the next room, that we generally serve quite different functions. The bedtime routine? Not his function. I take for granted sometimes that I’m the one who set up the routines and, 90% of the time, I’m the one who makes them happen. When he’s kind enough to step in for me, so that I might, say, write a blog entry, I realize the complexity of the system.

Maybe my kids are more high-maintenance than others. I don’t really know. But I do know that they each take a different multi-vitamin (he doesn’t like the gummy ones, she doesn’t like the crunchy ones), one likes her milk warm, the other cold, both now take their evening inositol (a natural supplement) in apple sauce, but that just changed for Gavin today. One has to have his coromega (omega 3 fatty acids in a yogurt-like form) in a spoon while the other sucks hers right out of the packet. Then there’s the matter of snacks: One generally has a bed time snack, the other does not—she’s not a big eater and her warm milk is usually enough for her (and for me, who wants to make sure she gets enough protein on a daily basis). Makes perfect sense to me.

The key, as a co-parent, is not to give in to the temptation to roll my eyes and sigh and think, “Does he live under a rock?!? How can he not KNOW this stuff???” and then run in there to fix everything.

—Oh, how funny! Dan just warmed Gavin’s milk (it’s supposed to be cold) and Gavin said, “Papa, I asked for it cold.” “Oh,” responded Dan. “I forgot.” Gavin replied, “This really is an ADHD family.” Hah! (Watch for my upcoming blog: “Adventures in ADHD.”)—.

As I was saying, the important thing is that I am grateful for his willingness to pitch in when needed. Much as I tease him, he really is a team player and it’s obvious every day that he loves his children and his wife. Can anyone ask for more than that?

But, really. Gavin’s milk is always cold…!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Adjustment Issues (A Dolby story)

Bringing a kitten into your home is no small task. When Dolby came to live with us he was maybe five weeks old and there was a great deal we had to do as new, responsible pet owners. As I have previously described, the second night we had him, we discovered a small gap between the mop guard and the bottom of the kitchen cabinets so we had to shove towels into the gap along the entire length of the cabinets until he was too big to squeeze through again.

We had neatly solved that problem but the fact remained that, while adorable, Dolby was flea-ridden, full of parasites and had no clue how to use a litter box. This last issue we didn’t realize right away, which resulted in a few presents found under various pieces of furniture. In fact, when we moved out of the apartment the following spring, we found a fossilized poop in one of Dan’s shoes at the back of the closet. Guess Dan didn’t wear those shoes much. He certainly didn’t after the fact.

But first things first—the fleas. ICK. My skin crawls just thinking about it. We did the most logical thing: we gave him a bath. Poor, poor kitten. He spent the entire ordeal with his arms clenched around my hand, claws fully extended, eyes wide and yowling that surprisingly loud, deep yowl of his. It didn’t help his dignity much that we took pictures, of course. And when all was said and done, he still had fleas. Maybe a few less. Maybe not.

It was a trip to the veterinarian for his first check-up and vaccinations that led to a solution to the fleas and the parasites. For the former, a kind of mousse for his fur that would kill the fleas and their offspring but, when licked off during self-grooming, would be rendered completely inert and harmless. Technology. Cool. And it made his fur all fashionably spiky.

For the worms, it was a liquid medicine which, they assured us, would result in the regurgitation of any intestinal parasites he might be harboring. I secretly hoped he didn’t have any, for everyone’s sake. Poor, poor kitten. Not long after administering the drops, I found the pathetic fluffball heaving into the litter box. So miserable was he that, after evicting the unwelcome residents of his gut, he gave me a pathetic mew and face-planted into the litter.

As for the potty-training issues, it didn’t take us long to figure out he wasn’t using the box. But it took us longer to figure out where he was going. In fact, I think I remember Dan and I not being sure if he was going at all. We never saw him go. We never saw any evidence of his having gone. But the litter box was obviously untouched. It may have been a day or so later when we caught him in the act under the corner shelf. An all-out search revealed he had a couple spots where he’d been doing his business when we weren’t looking.

After that, we watched him like a hawk and it wasn’t long before we noticed him slinking under the corner shelf and starting to squat. Instantly, I snatched him up and dropped him into the litter box.

He hopped out.

I put him back in.

He hopped back out.

This went on for a few minutes during which time I was utterly bewildered as to how to communicate with this animal that he was supposed to poop in the sand! I thought cats just knew that! But it appeared this kitten lacked whatever instinct told other cats to dig, then poop, then bury it.

I put him back in. Then quickly, I took my finger and dug a little hole in the sand.

Dolby paused. Then he hopped back out.

I put him back in. I dug another hole.

I swear to you it was almost like that infant animal had human intelligence. After only the second demonstration he dug a little hole, did his business, and buried it. There was much rejoicing and cuddling and cooing and giving of treats. To my knowledge, he always used the litter box after that. Then again, there was that gift in Dan’s shoe…

Friday, December 25, 2009

Inertia

Remember those checklists I wrote about a couple days ago? Well I’ve checked everything off. Christmas photo, card ordering, signing, addressing, stamping, mailing, Christmas shopping, wrapping, shipping, Christmas Program writing, scheduling, rehearsing, performing, Christmas decorating, tree-trimming, card-hanging, candle lighting, Egg-dish making, cinnamon roll baking, church-going, driving-in-snowing, gift opening, sorting, logging, putting away, room tidying, dishwasher-running…

It wasn’t even stressful, really. I started early, scaled back, worked smart, paced myself and really, truly, thoroughly enjoyed Advent and Christmas again this year.

So I’m standing in my kitchen (in my new slippers) just sort of staring at my son as he plays with his new legos. And I have absolutely no idea what to do. Seriously, I hope I’m not drooling.

Because it’s all DONE. Checked off. Completed. Finito. I have—GASP!—free time.

I could do… I could do anything I want! But I’m drawing a blank. What a strange feeling.

Time to start my to-do list for tomorrow.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Last-Minute Poem

‘Tis the night before Christmas and all through the house,
There’s nary a sound but the click of my mouse.

How I wish that were true, but the dog and the cat
Are off in the living room having a spat.

My husband has gone in to break up the fight.
Ahh, at last I can relish a real silent night.

The stockings are hung on the rail down the stair.
They’d hang on the mantle, but it’s too cold down there.

The children crashed out in a heap on the floor.
I just pray they don’t wake up at quarter to four.

We’ve left old St. Nick gingerbread and a beer.
His notes say our treats are his favorite each year.

The Christmas eve service was joyful and bright,
With wonderful music and warm candle light.

A message of hope, simple, yes, but profound,
That Christ is our light, and in Him life abounds.

Then north through the snowstorm (at reasonable speed)
For Mom’s Swedish meatballs (though she’s not a Swede).

Back home, just to crash is my one Christmas wish,
But I have to prep cinnamon rolls and egg dish.

And then there’s the matter of my daily blog.
I’d have been done by now if it weren’t for the dog.

He knocked Santa’s gingerbread man to the floor,
Then tried to steal leftover meatballs and more.

I snapped at my husband to take him away.
I must get this finished—I’m almost out of day!

Outside the snow still continues to fall
And I’m glad that tomorrow we’ve no plans at all

So I’ll crawl into bed, now, and turn off the light.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Life as a Cat

I don’t necessarily believe in reincarnation, but I have to be honest and say that I don’t necessarily disbelieve it, either. I try to avoid, as a general rule, making presumptions about what God can or can’t or will or won’t do.

My high school social studies teacher, Mrs. Fiore, once said that she wanted to come back as an otter. I can respect that. They’re frisky and feisty, much as she was, and seem to spend all of their waking hours having fun. Not a bad gig if you can get it. Me? I’m going to come back as a cat.

Like my feline buddy, Jack-Jack, I’m perky to the point of complete obnoxiousness beginning at about 5:50 a.m., just as the first swallows of coffee jump start my brain. It’s not all the caffeine’s doing. Early morning is just one of my ‘active periods’ and once I’m vertical, I’m ready to run. I probably get more done between 5:45 and 10:00a.m. than some people do in an 8-hour work day.

The first unfortunate victim of all this perkiness is my husband who, clearly, is less cat-like. I’ve actually come to relish the daily opportunities to pounce on him with a stream of information and a dozen questions about scheduling and family issues as he stumbles out of the bathroom. He’s funny when he’s disoriented. I think that little edge of cruelty to my playfulness is exquisitely cat-like, don’t you?

Eiledon is the next to be subject to my morning energy. She’s a lot like her dad. I love that.

Gavin wakes up more like me—it takes him only a few minutes to engage and then he’s good to go. So, while I don’t get as much evil enjoyment out of waking him up, he’s also a lot lower maintenance in the two hours he’s hanging out before the bus comes, so I can actually get a fair amount of work done.

Then, about half an hour after lunch, my brain begins systematically shutting down my body. I start to lose focus and make stupid mistakes. I can’t motivate myself to begin a new project and it’s a struggle to wrap up the project I was doing. Jack-Jack is already curled up and enjoying his pre-nap bath, and it’s all I can do to push through the last of my imperative tasks before grabbing a fleece throw and a pillow and joining him in a patch of sunlight.

Two or even three hours later, if I’m lucky, I enter my second 'active period.' Just in time to greet my children, who are now exhausted from school. I cheerfully bounce around doing necessary house work as it presents itself while mercilessly prodding the kids to complete their afternoon tasks. They love it!

When Dan gets home I’m on a more even keel, having flitted hither and yon for three or four hours, never empty-handed, never sitting (unless its at the computer to do yet other tasks), and hopefully the kids are pretty well done with homework, instrument practice and the like, because my time is starting to run short. I’m still kittenishly perky in the evening hours but by about 8pm I’m aware that it’s time to start winding down.

The kids are generally in bed around 9pm and I spend another hour or so tying up loose ends, planning for the next day, and completing any remaining requirements of my 12-step program. Finally, my light goes out and—look! Here’s Jack-Jack, ready to curl up with me. So, really, I probably don’t need to come back as a cat. I already am one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Check Please!

I am an INTJ.

I have just neatly segmented my readers into those familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and those not.

When I was classified an INTJ in my early twenties, I carefully planned the remainder of my life in accordance with the dictates of this personality type—no, I’m totally BS-ing. I took the short form on a whim because my husband’s employer paid for it. Honest to Pete, I’m not even sure I remember what half the letters mean. “I” makes sense. I am, in fact, an introvert. A borderline introvert. My dramatic tendencies frequently push me into a position of performance, which is sometimes mistaken for extroversion. And, to be fair, there are times I do draw energy from groups of people, generally those working together on a creative production of some kind: choir, theater, etc. But by and large, my introversion means that gatherings of large groups of people suck the life right out of me. I need time absolutely alone, regularly, to restore my mental energy.

The only other letter in my type I remember clearly is the “J.” It stands for Judging. I don’t know what that means. All I know is that the part of my personality that is classified as a “J” makes lists.

I love lists. I remember watching my dad make lists all the time when I was growing up and thinking, “Dude. Chill. Why so formal?” But as I grew to adulthood and took on more and more responsibilities, and then even a few more, and a few more yet, I began to realize that if I didn’t write things down, I just sort of didn’t do them. Which wasn’t appreciated by the people I told I would do them. Moreover, I found that if I didn’t write things down, I spent most of my time in a fog of general overwhelm, frantically rushing to complete whatever task I was currently doing while thinking of the next task I had to do and all the while certain that there was something else I was forgetting (and I was usually right).

Did I mention my daughter was recently diagnosed with ADHD? Hereditary? You think?

Lists ROCK. They’re magical. As soon as the information is transferred from my brain to a piece of paper via the wand of ink, it disappears. It lives on the paper and leaves my brain free to focus on the task at hand. And then, when I finish my current task and consult my list: Voila! It reappears! Even better, when I finish a task and use the ink wand to put a check-mark in the box beside it, the information disappears again, and I’m free to go on to the next one.

I make a list every single day. Sometimes multiple lists. My “to do” list may say, “grocery shopping” and then, there’s a secondary list of items I need to purchase, without which I would undoubtedly return home with three packages of hot dogs and no buns. Bagels without cream cheese. Coffee without filters (the horror!!!) When an unexpected task crops up that requires immediate attention, I still go back when I’m done and write it on my list just so I can check it off. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.

My question is: am I a “J” because I make lists? Or do I make lists because I’m a “J?” My answer: Who cares?

Tuesday Blog Entry: CHECK!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just One of Those Days (in a good way)

I don’t know what it says about me that I can glean profound wisdom from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. Draw your own conclusions. But in that loving homage to John Hughes, a minor character makes the statement, “In the end, the universe unfolds as it should.”

Last week seriously blew. I mean, total crud puppies. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that by Wednesday evening, after screaming at my daughter in the car and making my son cry, I went into my closet, closed the door and sobbed for half an hour.

Today, the universe made itself right. Of course I’m oversimplifying—it’s a literary device.

I left the house this morning with a list of errands and a half tank of gas. From the moment I stopped in to Bruegger’s to fill up my bottomless mug of hot coffee (half cinnamon cream swirl, half decaf) the day just seemed to unfold in front of me like a red carpet. When I reached the school to drop off Gavin, the busses had already left and there was no traffic jam. I turned left out of the school parking lot (usually a test of anyone’s patience) with no trouble. Traffic was light, the roads were good, and I made it easily to my first stop, PRISM. I was in and out in no time and hopped back into my car.

I considered stopping at Home Depot in St. Louis Park for one of the errands on my list, but then thought, “I’ll just keep going north. I’m bound to run into another Home Depot on my route.” So it was 100 northbound to 694 and over to Silverwood Park in New Brighton to pick up some ceramic tiles my Girl Scout Troop had painted a few weeks back at an arts festival. Probably the only snag to my whole day was looking through them and realizing one was missing. But I had wisely stayed in the parking lot to check through them and was able to run right back in. They didn’t find it right away, but would call me when it turned up.

Back to 694, now westbound, with a final desired destination of my brother’s house in Uptown. No real direct routes from that point, so I figured I’d “use the force” as my husband is fond of saying. I had seen a Menards off Central Avenue, but really wanted to go to a Home Depot. On a whim, I skipped the Central Avenue exit and took University. There was a Home Depot. And a Holiday gas station. And a Cub Foods. Three of my errands within 1 block.

When I walked into Home Depot, there was a greeter who asked if needed help finding anything. I held up a plastic bag containing a destroyed piece of the inside of my toilet tank. “Plumbing,” I said. “Aisle 10, halfway down,” she said. I was holding my needed replacement in about a minute and a half. AND double A batteries were on ridiculous sale and we happened to be out of those. Through the self check-out and back in my car in moments. Then to Holiday, to pay at the pump and fill my tank--gas was ten cents cheaper here than closer to home. Then over to Cub for a couple items. On the way in I watched a lady mail a letter and went, “Oh yeah, I have that Christmas card for Deb to put in the mail,” which I did. Then inside, I saw that they had a ridiculously good sale on clementines which, just yesterday at church, my daughter was raving about and saying, “Why don’t you ever buy these?" Into the cart. And I needed shredded cheese and, look!, it’s on sale for, like, a nickel! (okay, $1.50 a bag. Still fabulous!) and they had a perfect cat toy for Perry for Christmas, and the right kind of hair-bands for Jack-Jack (there will be an upcoming blog about the cat who plays fetch) and it all came to less than 20 bucks!

I still had plenty of time before I had to meet Pete for lunch so I continued my southward meander hoping to run into a Target. No dice, but I got a lovely tour of Northeast and as I crossed the river into downtown and saw the clouds hanging low enough to partially obscure the tops of skyscrapers, I suddenly missed Dan. He LOVES downtown Minneapolis and this was a stunning view. I had a surge of happy memories of all the time we spent traipsing around the skyways when we were first dating.

I reached uptown about 20 minutes before I had to pick up Pete so I swung into the Wedge Co-op to see if they had the Inositol I needed. They didn’t, but who doesn’t love just walking in to the Wedge! After a few deep inhalations of the wholesome air, I wandered back to my car and called Pete. He was ready early so I swung by his place and we were off to Green Mill for lunch.

Mmmm. Greek Salad. Despite my love of olives, I hadn’t eaten them in the five years I’ve been on my food plan so I had to make a call to find out how many I needed to count as a fat. I got someone on the first try who knew off the top of her head. Suh-weet.

Had a lovely lunch with Pete and then dropped him off. Needed to head homeward, now, and, again, no direct routes, really. I slid down Lyndale to Lake Street and shot west. Ah! I’d stop at the Knollwood Target for my last errand! Right on my way.

Target was a zoo, but I seemed to have no trouble navigating. I thought, “I should just check to see if boys pajamas are on sale.” Gavin’s are all completely trashed save one set. At first it seemed like no dice—the girls pajamas were on sale, but not the boys. Hmm. But around one rack I spied a cardboard display rack of pajama sets on clearance and I found two sets of perfectly serviceable boys cotton pajamas for—I am not making this up—$1.25 each. I picked up a pair for Eiledon, too. Then it was off to the toy section.

I just needed to find Eiledon a stuffed animal. It was the very last item on the Christmas list (the pjs were just a bonus!) The stuffed animal aisle was fairly well ransacked. I wanted to find her a wolf—that’s her new favorite animal. They had a wolf Webkinz, but we hadn’t gotten Gavin a Webkinz and then there would be this whole “Well I don’t like what I got because SHE got a Webkinz” and so on and so forth…

Finally catching on to the ridiculous smooth sailing of my day to that point, I thought, “I’ll just go over to the special holiday section. I’m sure the right thing for Eiledon will just present itself.” I spied the stuffed wolf’s head over the top of another cardboard display. It turned out to be a husky, according to the tag, but it was extremely wolf like. And there were 2 left. So I and my wolf and my three pairs of $1.25 pajamas checked out and headed home.

I arrived twenty minutes before Eiledon got off the bus. Just enough time to stash the goodies, unpack the groceries, walk the dog and heave a sigh of contentment. Seriously.

I only hope this was the universe righting itself for last week and not a down payment on some future fiasco. I just won’t think about it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What Your Nails Say About You

Today was the Sunday School Christmas program. After moving heavy wooden platforms, various piano benches, coffee tables and other makeshift scenery, stapling fabric and tulle over some of them, taping actors’ and microphones’ marks on the stone floor, fighting with limited sound equipment, moving the grand piano, ringing bells, waving my arms all over the place and then, afterwards, breaking it all down again, my finger nails are trashed. Trashed!!

I don’t generally care too much about my nails. I get a manicure maybe once a year if I’m lucky, and the polish is gone within hours. But the nails themselves are actually quite wonderful: thick and strong and white on top. Even though I don’t bother with them, they generally look pretty good. Every so often I have to cut them because they get so long they start to get in my way. I feel kind of guilty when I’m with a friend of mine who spends money to have acrylics done every month because her nails are so brittle and unhealthy. Maybe it’s my diet? Don’t know. Don’t really care.

But this afternoon, when one of mine split between nail layers, another snapped off at a dangerous angle and several more were sloppily smoothed out by my teeth on the fly, I suddenly remembered a story about my Nana, my mom’s mom.

I have no frame of reference. No idea when it was, where we were, how the conversation had arisen. I just have this crisp memory of Nana telling me about when she was a school girl in England. Part of their school curriculum was nail care. She said that the kids all had to scrub their hands and push back their cuticles and she got a prize for having the best ‘half moons.’ She seemed as if she was still proud of that, seventy-odd years later. It was endearing.

Then I had another nail-related memory. About my childhood friend Mindy. I admired a lot about Mindy: she was funny, spunky, petite, beautiful, musically and artistically talented. We weren’t terribly close as we grew through high school—I was rarely socially comfortable with anyone. Mostly I remember her in chorus and band, and singing with her while she played Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” on the auditorium piano. But her nails were exceptional. Different every week. Every day, probably. Brightly colored, patterned and designed, often in conjunction with the season. All her own work. Completely original. I can’t even tell you if they were long or short or healthy or not. They were just cool.

I don’t really have any profound conclusion to draw or point to make here. I just thought it was interesting how these memories popped up at the same time. I skipped out onto the web to see if I could find any wisdom about finger nails, but generally found informational pieces about how and why to manicure or how and why not to bite your nails. I also found a preponderance of articles promising to reveal “what your nails say about you.”

Nana’s nails said she was diligent, hard-working and fastidious (check). Mindy’s nails said she was bright, fun and unique (check.) At the moment, my nails say I just need a good, long nap. And probably a manicure.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mosquito Island

(A Journal Entry from July 25th, 2009--hastily typed up at nearly 10pm as I'm still sticking to my 90 in 90! Apologies in advance for its terribly unedited condition--I'm beat!)

Daybreak was damp and with a 60% chance of showers predicted it looked like another one of those days where you just feel like you’re wrapped in a soggy dishrag. According to my mom, the radio forecasters had said it would clear up later, but I wasn’t so sure.

It was Dan’s last day at the cabin and we hadn’t yet made the trip out to Mosquito Island. By lunchtime, though, the weather was still holding so we decided to go for it and if it rained on us, let it rain.

I grabbed water shoes for everyone, having learned my lesson last year: it was rocky around the island and too hard for bare feet. I checked the map, loaded everyone into the car and off we went.

As we parked in front of the last house on Needle Point, Dan discovered that I had packed him two left shoes, one Pete’s (size 13) and the other a more reasonable size. He seemed crabby about it and I tried repeatedly to trade my matching shoes for his but he wouldn’t have it. He’d been stressed and crabby the past three days already, dreading the piles of work stacking up on his desk back at the office. I was impatient with his crabbiness—it was ruining my fun! I gave up trying to give him my shoes. It was a waste of energy.

Cheerfully, I struck out past the “No Hunting” and “No Vehicles” signs and into the undeveloped woods beyond. Eiledon took the lead, armed with a strong stick to clear any cobwebs across the path. Gavin wanted me to go second. I think he was nervous about getting lost. Dan brought up the rear, slogging along in his mismatched swim shoes.

The path was well-used most of the way to the point. The trees were fairly mature and the woods were dark, preventing much undergrowth. There was surprisingly little poison ivy, the main ground plant being a single-leafed variety reminiscent of a hosta or lily leaf.

As we went, the woods grew lighter, the trees more sparse, and we could see through to the open air over the water on both sides of us. The well-worn path ended abruptly in a clearing just the right size for a camp site. Continuing on to the point meant picking out a much narrower, more ill-defined path through thickets of immature trees and ground cover. In the maybe 10 yards of this, Gavin asked more than once “Are you sure we’re going the right way?” I refrained from pointing out that one way or another we’d hit water in practically any direction. Instead, I reassured my worrier and we kept bravely on.

At the end of the path was the end of the growth, the end of the land—just the end. We were standing on Needle Point, aptly named as a single person could stand at the point and see nearly 360 degrees of water.

Straight ahead, maybe 5 to 10 yards off the point, Mosquito Island rose out of Mullett Lake. To be clear, there are no official maps of the lake which actually give the island a name. If it appears at all, it’s just a tiny blip. It’s main significance is that it is the only island in Mullett Lake and that it, along with the end of Needle Point, were purchased by local government and set aside as a public conservancy. My family had named it Mosquito Island because it was so small. But to my knowledge, no one has pursued any channels to give it an official name.

This was what we had driven and hiked and practically bush-whacked to see. Mosquito Island. Legend has it there’s a treasure buried there. Well, okay, my Dad has it that he and Les Heitger once buried some deer bones on the island and marked it with a pile of stones. But close enough. My childhood memories of the island were of swamps and cattails, areas of dry ground possibly suitable for camping, the sand bar somewhere off the southwest side of the island, and the one time we went there and found dozens upon dozens of tiny frogs. My kids had visited with me the previous summer and they were abuzz with excitement standing on that narrow point.

Equipped with water shoes this time, we stepped off the point into the shallow, rocky water. At most, the water between point and island is maybe six inches deep. A few large rocks jut out of the water as if trying to entice a mermaid to sun herself for a while. Dan and the kids paused on these to pose for a picture against the island backdrop, and then, in moments, we were there.

Eiledon found the entrance to a barely discernable path and led the way through cattail swamp to slightly firmer ground. We had not had the courage to do this the previous summer, having chosen instead to walk the circumference of the island in the water. This was new and, therefore, terribly exciting. It was much as I remembered it, which is to say, not much at all. But there was a thrill to being the only human inhabitants of this tiny world unto itself. I kept looking down into the swamp, hoping in vain to find any sign of my favorite animal, but it must not have been the right season for teeming frogs.

Shortly, after spotting a patch of poison ivy, we decided to find our way back to the water and continue that way. We meaning Dan, Gavin and me. Eiledon was angry and refused to join us. We just told her she could continue on land and we would meet her at the far end of the island. It could hardly have been five more yards.

We heard her barking orders to her pretend crew as she went, picking her way through scrawny pines and scraggly undergrowth. At length she appeared through the trees and followed my voice to an abrupt drop of about a foot and a half into the lake. She slid down into the water and the four of us continued around, stopping now and then to look for crayfish, admire tiny snails with tiny black shells, and take pictures.

My mom was proven to have been correct about the weather. By now the sun was bright and hot and the lake fairly calm.

We rounded the sharp point of the island that mirrored the opposite shore and kept on by water. On the southwest side of the island, Eiledon spotted a perfect, flat skipping rock and asked Dan to skip it for her. He did one better: he taught her how to skip rocks herself. She caught on quickly and the next twenty minutes were spent pulling flat stones out of the water and handing them to Dan or Eiledon to skip. After tiring of this (and soaking the arms of his sweatshirt) Gavin switched to lobbing huge rocks into the lake and shouting “Spe-lunk!” thanks to his recent fixation with Calvin & Hobbes. I slipped off to take a few pictures of island wildflowers.

One more circuit, we decided, before heading back to the cabin. But shortly thereafter, Eiledon found the bottom of a beer bottle and was very excited. “Is it beach glass?” she near shouted. Sadly, it was too recent to be beach glass and while not terribly sharp, it lacked the clouded surface indicative of long polishing by sand and water. Disappointed, she finally agreed to bury it in the water under a pile of rocks: a new treasure for Island legend.

Tired now, and a bit sunburned (well, me anyway) we cut our final circuit short and headed back to the mainland.

Dan was smiling. “This,” he said, “was the highlight of my week.” I was so glad for him, mismatched shoes and all. He would have a memory to savour after he was back among the non-vacationing.

Who says there’s no real treasure on Mosquito Island?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bait and Switch

Not long after Dolby’s first eye-opening exposure to human food, we loaded him into his cat carrier for an eight-hour trip to visit Dan’s parents. It was Christmas time and we would be spending a part of our generous college-scheduled break in Dalton, Minnesota, a tiny, rural town not far from Fergus Falls. Dan’s father, Wes, was a pastor at the time and he and his wife, Mary, lived in the parsonage less than a block from the church.

We’d been married just over two years and in many respects, Dolby was our first born. Dan’s parents received him open arms and teased us about how we coddled him: a hot water bottle wrapped in a soft towel to keep him warm on the trip up, special treats, kitty toys, portable litter box. The car was so loaded with paraphernalia one might have thought we actually had a human child.

Dolby explored the parsonage with his usual enthusiasm, dropping to his belly and slinking around every corner, into every nook and cranny, under every piece of furniture. He was oblivious to the less-than-warm welcome he got from the resident feline, Caterina. I think it annoyed her even more that he seemed to care not one whit what she thought about his invasion of her territory. He was a kitten. He was busy being cute and curious. Brat.

He managed to get into a fair amount of trouble—attempting to climb the Christmas tree, disappearing into the small storage along the rear of the house under the roof. We were pretty careful to keep an eye on him, not knowing what he might get into in this new environment. Much of the time we kept him in our room with the door closed to protect him but often we left him to explore on his own, so long as we were in the house to keep an ear out for mischief.

One night of our stay, Mary made spaghetti for supper, with her famous meat sauce. As we sat in the dining room sipping our wine and enjoying the conversation, suddenly there was a crash in the kitchen. Dan, who was closest, jumped up. “Dolby!” he exclaimed, and dashed into the kitchen to see what the rascal had destroyed now.

He couldn’t have been gone more than two seconds when out of nowhere, a pair of pointy ears and a tiny black and white paw appeared over the edge of the table. In a flash, Dolby snatched a claw-full of pasta and meat, crammed it into his mouth, and took of like a shot.

Wes and Mary and I stared in disbelief, honestly too surprised to have even reacted. A moment later, Dan came back into the dining room shaking his head. He had been unable to determine what Dolby had knocked over in the kitchen. He stopped short on the threshold and looked at us.

“What?” he asked.

“You are not going to believe what just happened,” said Mary. She began recounting the fast-as-lightening theft right from Dan’s plate. By the end of her story, she was having a difficult time talking through her laughter.

Dan was incredulous, but one glance at the sauce on his chair proved the tale. He stared at me. “You don’t think he deliberately created a diversion so I’d get up and go to the kitchen so he could steal my spaghetti?”

“That’s exactly what he did, the little criminal,” I responded with a ridiculous grin.

With this, only the second in a long, long history of devilishly clever food thefts, Dolby was honing his burglary skills. He was smart as a whip and devious to boot. No food would be safe in our house. He actually even ate green beans once!

He’s damn lucky he was cute.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful

I’ve had clinical depression and anxiety probably my whole life, though it wasn’t diagnosed until I was 25. At an age where I knew everything and planned to live indefinitely, I was forced to confront some self-righteous judgments I had about mental illness and medication. Being reduced to the point of absolute non-function is a humbling experience. But had I not been so, having to first ask for, and then accept, outside help would have been impossible for me.

After confronting all my own prejudices about mental illness, I still wasn’t spared from hearing everyone else’s. And a lot of it was painful at the time. But how could I blame anyone for thinking just as I had thought? It was good for me to realize I didn’t get to be an exception to the rules.

I also have an eating disorder: one not readily recognized by the medical community or the general public as any more than a moral issue, a lack of discipline. I am a compulsive over-eater. Food-obsessed and weight-obsessed, I dealt with all of life’s perfectly natural frustrations with ice cream and pizza. I could not stay on a diet for more than a short time, and my weight continued to rise even beyond the point where I started to worry about my heart function. I was fortunate to be introduced to a 12-step program which, through a great deal of hard work, discipline and spiritual butt-kicking arrested the progress of my disease, brought me back to a normal weight and gifted me with the tools for how to live without sugar and volume eating.

After confronting all my own prejudices about food and weight issues, I still wasn’t spared from hearing everyone else’s. And a lot of it can still be painful. But how can I blame anyone for thinking just as I had thought? It has been good for me to realize that I am one among many, that all my perceived intellect, talent and good will doesn’t give me a ‘get out of jail free’ card when it comes to life’s difficult realities.

My son is classified “Emotional Behavioral Disorder” by the school district. In January, we will begin testing for Aspergers. It was in my family long before it had a name. But it’s still a pretty recent addition to medical knowledge and general understanding. I have a little boy who is as sweet and loving as a puppy, smart and curious as an engineer, funnier than most professional comedians, and more in tune with people’s emotions than any therapist I’ve ever had. Yet this overly cautious child who hates to get dirty does unexplainably impulsive things. Walking on a partially frozen pond. Horsing around in front of a school bus. Playing crazily too close to the lake when he’s terrified of water. And when he’s upset—usually when he perceives that you are upset at him--he takes off running. Or destroys something he loves. Or acts like a lunatic. So crippled by the shame he can’t stand to be in his own skin. He’s been known, when confronted, to shout “I am SUCH an idiot!!!” It always breaks my heart.

This is not a child without limits. He functions normally in the safety of his own home. Does his homework, eats his vegetables, practices his piano, takes his consequences for misbehavior and serves his time. But stir in a few extra bodies and it’s almost like he’s possessed by a demon. That’s honestly how it’s felt to me at times. Yet I have been graced with the most exceptional team of school district professionals you could ask for, an amazing clinic willing to work with us on testing, and the love and support of family and friends who know and love this little boy and want what’s best for him.

Of course, after confronting all my own prejudices about children’s behavioral issues, I still am not spared from hearing everyone else’s. And it is acutely painful. But how can I blame anyone for thinking just as I sometimes think: that I did this. That he’s difficult because I can’t parent. It is good for me to realize that I’m not a perfect parent, but that I don’t have to do it alone.

Sometimes I just have to slog through the ‘real world’ and know that it’s okay. That even if the weather outside is frightful, it’s what’s inside that matters. Because I am graced with a spiritual connection to God and a loving family, I can accept that I’m just not the one running the world—which is good, because I’d make a terrible mess out of it. I can ask for the strength to take the next right step, no matter how hard it is, no matter how much I don’t want to. I can strive to be of maximum love and service to those around me and, if my motives are clean, I can know that my best is good enough. And as long as God loves me so, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Birth of an Obsession (A Dolby Story)

It was Thanksgiving Day, 1995. We didn’t travel that year, owing in part to the recent feline addition to our family. But in my newlywed zeal, I was not going to miss a single detail of a fabulous Thanksgiving feast. Mom’s Dutch apple pie, mashed potatoes, squash, homemade stuffing, gravy and, of course, an enormous turkey. Maybe there was a green vegetable in there. Maybe not.


For hours the mingling scents of savory and sweet foods grew and flowed through our apartment. I put out the table ware—it was just the two of us (three?) so I didn’t bother with the formal china, set out trivets to hold all the hot dishes, opened the wine and started the coffee.

Dolby was taut with anticipation. At a mere eleven weeks old, he had, of course, never experienced anything like this and he was understandably curious. He was never far from my feet as I bustled back and forth from kitchen to dining room.

At last, we sat down to eat. I do not remember at what exact point in the meal I invited Dolby into my lap and offered him a taste, but the timing is not important. What matters is that in that moment, Dolby experienced turkey for the first time. And he would never be the same.

We passed the meal in companionable cheer and after pie and coffee started dismantling the spread that had taken all morning to assemble. Dan helped gather serving dishes and trivets, china and silverware and we scooted back and forth to the kitchen to cover various bowls with foil and return the left-overs to the refrigerator.

On one of our return trips to the dining room, we noted the obvious disappearance of a rather large object from the table: an entire turkey leg. Its location was revealed in short order by a small but unmistakable deep-throated growl. We looked down in disbelief to see Dolby, back arched, eyes sparking, jaw locked around a piece of meat nearly twice his size.

Dan and I exchanged glances. What should we do? Well, obviously, we needed to get the turkey leg away from the cat. Dan dutifully bent to pick up the piece of meat and we were both stunned when Dolby puffed out menacingly and let out a threatening yowl, part growl, part hiss, all muffled by the enormous object in his mouth.

We started laughing. Hysterically, I’m afraid. Which didn’t help Dolby’s self-esteem much, but he really didn’t care. A second attempt at the turkey leg resulted in a similar garbled-mouthful-growl-hiss-puff performance which, of course, sent us into paroxysms of mirth. Dolby was steadily backing up, dragging the leg along the floor toward his regular hideout under the corner shelf. I didn’t have the heart to point out there was no way both the cat AND the leg would fit underneath.

On the third attempt, Dolby’s claws went flying, tiny and needle-sharp, and Dan took pause.

“I’m not taking that away from him!” he yelled when he’d recovered a bit from laughing.

“Well he can’t have it,” I breathlessly insisted.

“What am I supposed to do?!?” wheezed Dan.

Then it came to him. He disappeared into the kitchen for a moment and returned wearing two oven mitts. I couldn’t help it. I completely lost it again.

Thus, with mighty oven mitts to protect his hands from being shredded by ten tiny daggers, Dan bravely pried the stolen turkey leg from the unyielding jaws of a ½-pound kitten. His wife was of no help whatsoever.

And from that day forward, turkey was never to be left unattended in the Moir household. Well… maybe a few times.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Foot In Mouth

Eiledon begged for a dog for months on end. She was completely obsessed and relentless. I was clear I didn’t want a dog and more clear that she had no chance of getting one if she kept pestering me about it. With the help of her counselor, we convinced her to stop perseverating on the concept and, finally, she left off.

Within a few weeks of this welcome silence, I had a change of heart. Eiledon was keeping up her end of the bargain beautifully. And Dan had always wanted a dog. It wouldn’t hurt to just look into it.

Of course, Eiledon caught me browsing on line about dog breeds, rescue organizations and breeders. She immediately resumed her campaign to add a canine to the family. I warned her that going on and on about the dog would, once again, guarantee that we wouldn’t get one. She seemed to understand, but now that the possibility was actually out there, it was hard for her to keep her excitement in check. She asked almost daily when we’d be getting a dog.

“Eiledon,” I said, “I’ve put in an application to the Midwest Animal Rescue Society (MARS). They’ll review the information and let us know when there’s a dog available who would be a good fit for our family.”

“When?”

“When there’s a dog available.”

“When?”

“Honey,” I said, “you just need to relax and take it as it comes. If we’re meant to have a dog, the right dog will come along at the right time for our family.”

Now, between my Lutheran upbringing and 12-step lifestyle, I do believe that God works through coincidences and serendipities to provide life opportunities. But I’m not quite sure I believed my own simplistic statement. Lots of times in life things that seem like God’s divine intervention turn out to be my own ego-driven will trying to fit things to my own comfort. Bottom line: I’m not God and can’t predict what will happen in the future.

So I figured my neat little platitude put an end to the subject and I wouldn’t have to deal with getting a dog one way or the other.

And God laughed.

Months passed and we were at the cabin in Michigan. I was still thinking about getting a dog, but hopeful that it just might never come to pass. Eiledon’s pestering became more intermittent and I stopped waiting for MARS to get back to me about a good match for our family.

One morning, as I was sitting on the dock, my cell phone rang. It was Dan. His colleague at the Twins ticket office, LeAnn, was a huge dog advocate and often fostered rescued dogs and strays. At the bar after a game the previous night, LeAnn had been talking about a puppy her brother had found wandering stray out in the country. They’d put an ad in the paper and put up signs, but no one claimed him. LeAnn was concerned because she was starting to grow attached to him, but already had two other dogs and couldn’t keep him. Dan mentioned that we were thinking about getting a dog and LeAnn jumped all over it, singing the praises of this dog and expressing gratitude that he might go to Dan and his family.

I asked Dan about the dog. Male, smaller—“I can’t remember the breed” he said—not yappy, fairly house-trained, unnamed.

Sounded good. I had wanted a bigger dog and an older dog, but I was willing to be flexible, I thought.

The right dog at the right time for our family. I was the one who’d said it. And here he was.

As it turns out, the dog was a miniature pinscher—a toy breed, tiny, yappy, jumpy, in need of a lot of exercise (see this blog entry) and everything I didn’t want in a dog. My kids fell instantly in love with him, of course, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The right dog? The right time? Really? Could I say that with real acceptance?

It was at church the next week that I got my answer. I told the story of our adoption of this little Min Pin and quoted my words to Eiledon. The right dog at the right time for our family. It was my pastor who exclaimed, “Rebekah! That’s not how it works!”

Rather taken aback by his response, the answer came to me in a flash. “Well,” I said, “just because it doesn’t look quite the way I want it to look doesn’t mean God wasn’t involved.”

And there it was. Maybe it didn’t seem like this was the right dog for me. But, darn it, I’m having to learn patience and tolerance, I’m getting more exercise than I have in years, and I have to have the humility to accept that I’m not the one in charge: I can’t just flippantly rattle off assumptions about God’s will and then expect God to follow my plan.

To paraphrase an old cliché, “You get what you pray for.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wandering

Feeling under the weather. Three hours and ten minutes left of December 14th. A few ideas on my blog brainstorming page look promising, but I don't have the energy. Time to get the kids to bed. Poking around in old computer files for anything remotely blog-worthy. I don't have to impress anyone. It's about the discipline. Lots of unfinished ramblings, half of which would offend someone. Finally: Wandering. No idea when I wrote it. Not sure where I was going with it. But it spoke to me so maybe it'll speak to you. G'night!

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Wandering

Looking at maps always makes me want to travel. I peruse my tiny road atlas in my Franklin Planner when I have a few minutes free. Suddenly I want to drive up Minnesota highway 72 to Baudette where my mother-in-law grew up and then go on to Lake of the Woods just to see the water. I want to find the tiny, once-German-speaking town in Missouri where my grandpa Koenig was raised and all the little places in and around St. Louis my mom once lived.

But I want to experience more than just those places that have some significant association for me. What might I find in Stewartstown, New Hampshire? Is Forest City, North Carolina forested? Is there a woman sitting at a desk in Glenville, West Virgina, leafing through the colored pages of a book of maps and wondering what it would be like to get into her car and drive to Minneapolis?

For every dot on every map on every page in my book, there is a story. There are dozens of stories. They are as diverse and unique as each person in creation. At the same time, they are so similar to our own stories if we were to hear them, we would swear someone was talking about us. Someone living in Kayenta, Arizona has the same dreams I do. Another in Laurel, Deleware has the same fears. I am quite certain there is a woman in Midwest, Wyoming who loves nothing more than a good foot massage and a glass of chilled, white wine. And in Palmer, Alaska a young man shares my fascination with tornadoes and wishes he could just see one. Just once.

There is lonliness around every bend in the road. Someone’s wife has died of cancer, someone’s husband in an accident. A woman finds she cannot have children. A man realizes he never got around to building a family and he will live out his years without companionship. A young man buries himself in the haze of heroine to keep from facing a bleak reality. A child looks around her at the poverty in which she lives and sinks into despair. One could float gently down a river of tears from Blaine on the coast of Washington state to Flamingo in the dense Everglades.

Yet there are ports along the salty river, places where the water is pure and hope sprouts like soft spring grass. In Moab, Utah, a high school senior receives an acceptance letter and scholarship to a prestigious university. An aging widow in Cimarron, New Mexico who lost everything in a fire, is given a second chance by the people in her church and in her community. In Tappahannock, Maryland, a young professional tells her parents she is gay and they respond with unconditional love and support. A child in Clio, Alabama looks around her at the poverty in which she lives and vows to change her community.

In the state of Wisconsin, there are 426 public school districts. In every classroom, there are children, thousands of them, all poised on the starting line, waiting for the gun to go off. The track is neither straight nor smooth and the finish line constantly dodges and darts. But, oh, to run! I want to meet them all, stand along the way with refreshing water and filling wisdom, beg them to remember hope when they trip and fall headlong into the river of tears.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Seasonal Excessive Disorder

Things occur to me at odd times. I think I was turning right from Prairie Center Drive onto Technology Drive when this one hit. I thought: “Does anyone find it strange that at this time of the year, we give ourselves and everyone else complete permission to do everything to excess? We eat excessively, drink excessively, spend excessively, decorate, plan, schedule and visit excessively. And yet Jesus was born in a barn.”

The thought immediately following was, “Well, not necessarily. I’ve been pretty deliberate about scaling back over the past few years. I might have some advice to share.”

The next thought was, “And speaking of excess, how many articles, talks, sermons, conversations and editorials have you seen and heard about how Americans continue to go to excess and miss the point of the season? Care to jump on the bandwagon?”

I may have been all the way to the 494 entrance on Flying Cloud Drive at this point. I thought, “If, as a Christian, I believe Christmas is ultimately about undeserved grace, what right do I have to say anything to anyone about his choices, excessive or otherwise?”

I was merging when it occurred to me that “Deciding to do 90 blog entries in 90 days was a wee bit excessive, now wasn’t it? And it’s December. COINCIDENCE???”

While waiting for the car in front of me to figure out how to merge onto 169 southbound from 494, I continued musing on whether I had anything whatsoever pertinent to say about the holiday season. “Do I even have to blog about it? Wouldn’t it be refreshing NOT to say anything about the obvious?”

I crossed Anderson Lakes Parkway onto Hennepin Town Road. “Then again, it might give me something to write about. It’s not like I don’t have an opinion. On everything.”

Right on Linden, left on Dorset, into the garage, still carrying on this inner dialog about whether or not I should put in my two cents about excess, humility, grace and lefse. My final thought:

“I really need to get my car radio fixed.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

By Any Other Name (A Dolby Story)

When I had finally convinced my husband that
a) we COULD have a cat in our college-owned apartment
b) we SHOULD have a cat to enrich our lives and
c) we WOULD have a cat before the end of 1995
our friend, Linda, let us know about a brand new litter of kittens in the neighborhood.

I went with her to the house in downtown Grinnell, Iowa and there, in the back three-season porch, was a proud mama cat and five adorable furballs. Two were colored like gray tabbies with longer fur and three were black and white short-hairs. It was the latter I was after and I knew which one I wanted almost immediately. He had four perfect white socks, a straight, white stripe down the center of his nose, a little white ‘beauty mark’ above his mouth and a white collar under his chin. I also knew I wanted a male and I was delighted that this kitten, with whom I was immediately smitten, fit the bill.

I brought him home and introduced him to Dan. We didn’t name him right away. We had generated a list of possible names, all taken from literature or music, and we figured something would just ‘fit.’ At first Dan wanted to name him “Sinatra” since he came dressed in a natural tuxedo but I vetoed that immediately with a few choice judgments about misogynistic drunken ne’er-do-wells. I can’t remember any of the other names on the list except the one we finally chose.

Thomas Dolby is a British musician who is unfortunately best known for his eighties new-wave hit “She Blinded Me With Science.” As the wife of a music fanatic, I’ve learned to go much deeper into a musician’s catalog and what I most loved him for was an album called “Astronauts and Heretics.” Though it was released in 1992, it is still one of my favorite albums of all time.

The second evening of our new kitten’s residence in our apartment, Dan and I left him alone to go to dinner in the cafeteria. I was nervous about it—he was so tiny after all, and had just been taken from everything familiar. Still, we had to eat and off we went.

When we returned home, the kitten was no where to be found. At first, we casually poked around in every nook and cranny in the apartment—under the hutch, the bed, the desk, in the bathroom, in the back of the closet. No cat. I started to worry. Sure, he was tiny, but he shouldn’t be this hard to find. We continued to search, calling out “here, Kitty!” with increasing panic.

Then we heard him. It was the first time he’d made any sound and it was astonishing in volume and timbre. A rich, deep, clear meow that sounded like it was coming out of the walls.

We followed the sound. Or we tried to, but the more we went where we thought it was coming from, the more it seemed to come from everywhere at once. Presently, we narrowed it down to the kitchen—surely that was its source. But search as we might, he was not to be found in that small room.

Finally, I got down on my stomach on the kitchen floor and looked under the cabinets. What I found was that there was a 1½ -inch gap between the top of the mop-guard and the bottom of the kitchen cabinets. It was an impossibly small opening, but with my ear to it, it was clear that the kitten had squeezed through.

How on earth were we to get him out???

In the end, I opened the cabinet under the sink and pried up the bottom. There, covered in dust and shaking was a tiny black-and-white kitten with huge eyes.

I snatched him up and cradled him in my arms, brushing off the dust and cooing reassuringly. This was, of course, more for my benefit than his. If he got in there, he could easily have gotten back out. But as unfamiliar as he was with this new environment, he might not have wanted to.

Relieved, Dan and I processed what had happened. The experience of hearing his loud meowing coming from the very walls had been extraordinary. “It seemed to be coming from all over the place,” one of us said. “Just like Dolby Surround Sound Stereo,” said the other.

We paused.

Thomas Dolby. Dolby Surround Sound. Dolby.

We knew.

By the end of his second day with us, Dolby had chosen his own name, and it was to fit him perfectly all the days of his life.