Sunday, September 30, 2007

One Lucky Pup

Absolutely, there are no photos to go with this entry. Nothing in the world could make me want to provide other people with the images in my head.

Saturday morning after Staff Meeting, Bernie and I thought it might be a good idea to take the dogs for a walk in the brisk autumn air. The dogs thought so too, so we set off across a local house construction site -- not active, not when this county leads the nation in foreclosures and the real estate market is deader than Count Dracula -- so that the dogs could run off leash and take a nice crap in the weeds of Lot # 15. All was well, but then ...

There is a huge pile of compressed dirt that has made for a lovely lookout for over a year on the far western side of the proposed housing development. It's a great place for flatlanders to walk up and see the surrounding countryside. Bernie decided to walk to the top, and of course, the dogs followed him. I mumbled something about "You guys really make me nervous" because the trio of males was skirting the part of the pile of dirt where dirt has been mechanically scooped out, forming a cliff of clay.

As I began walking away from the path to the top up the side of the hill, Howie scooted back down the little trail to be with me. Of course. But then the other "Of course" is that Sebastian, deep in the throes of off-leash chasing Howie, instead of taking the path, tried to come down the hill.

He slid about two feet, could not stop his downward progression to the edge of the dirt cliff, and decided that he could do best by jumping -- straight out into the air, about 12 feet above the ground. I screamed as I saw him drop, his drunken-fruit-bat ears flaring in the wind of his fall.

As he fell, I saw compound fractures, a broken back, multiple legs broken, a frantic seriously injured dog having to be transported in a blanket stretcher to the nearest emergency vet a half an hour away.

Then he stood up. Fell. Stood up again. Staggered toward me, limping. I made him lie down, and sent Bernie and Howie to get the car so that we could transport him. His right front foot, his lip, chin and one forearm were scraped to brushburns. He's a good dog; he lay still under my hand, just twisting his head so that he could watch Bernie and How out of sight. I prayed to St. Francis to intercede for the stupid pup.

A few minutes later, Bernie pulled his car across the construction site with Alex, whose appearance the pup could not resist. He jumped up, and although a bit wobbly, climbed into the car with her.

Having seen him fall, his condition seems nothing short of miraculous to me. I'm going to have nightmares about this incident for the rest of my life, but he is fine. Nothing is broken, and he's been inviting beatings from Howie all weekend.

Dumb ass dog.

You can't imagine how glad I am that he's all right.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Five Strengths in My Writing

Wendy Robards suggested the mental exercise "Five Reasons I'm a Strong Writer."

I don't usually bother with memes, but it got me thinking about why I think I can write. Once I got to thinking, I started comparing writing to visual arts -- I haven't had a lot of problems writing 50k words every November since 2001, but art work? It's like pulling teeth and I usually get so stressed out about it that I have to take a shower after coming up with some lame cover image.

So what makes the writing side stronger?

Number one, I get a tremendous kick out of telling lies. This is why I prefer fiction to non-fiction. Understand, I will NOT lie to someone about my actions or in court or stuff like that, but to entertain myself, I can and will fabricate facts, dates, experiences, you name it. (Ask Bernie.)

Two: Boldness. When I am typing, I am strong. I leap into the blank page like a maniac with a machine gun, blowing holes in the emptiness with no fear or compunction. Shotguns, machine guns, arrows, rocks -- when I think of writing I think of projectile weapons.

Those first two rather go together, because I'm a stage-junkie. I did not venture into Theater Arts when I was in college because given a stage and an audience, everything else fades -- food, drink, rest -- screw it, the energy that flows from an audience is the greatest high in the world and I can't get enough of it. Not good. However, in print, I can be an action hero to my heart's content, presenting whatever facade I like, and imagine an audience as large as I like.

Three and Four are practical: Vocabulary, and Grammar-and-Punctuation. I've got a wide range of words, and know how to put them together. Lots of writers have great ideas but shoot themselves in the feet every time they try to put those ideas on paper because they don't have those basics. Both as a teacher and as an editor I have found horrific the mistakes I see when people try to express themselves.

Five would be my idealism. I believe in goodness, in surmounting terrible odds, in love, in self-sacrifice. I believe that the thoughts of our hearts are worthwhile, and should be scattered on the ocean of humanity like a fountain of rose petals brightening an endless flotilla of boats. I hope that at least some of my writing has given people joy, or at the very least, a chuckle. "If I can make someone in the world laugh, or lift their heart," I told someone when I was 17, "then I won't have had a wasted life."

I guess I still feel the same way.

Now, why doesn't that work with visual arts for me?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Autumn Harvest

In Pennsylvania, the first autumn color is appearing. The dogwoods are already turning red, and along with the sugar maples' color dotting the mountainsides, are heralding the sure change of seasons.

Last Monday, the 17th of September, I got an email from Jan's nursing home, asking me if I would make a voice recording of me reading that the nurses could play for Jan, as she had been becoming very agitated the last several nights.

They thought it might reassure her, and calm her. I agreed to try, and picked out a book to read; Bernie felt sure that we had to have all the necessary programs already on my big computer to make a CD. All I needed was the time to read, read, read -- which I thought might be difficult considering how rocky my voice sounded after that blasted cold and lung infection, but I was willing to give it a go, and read Jan "The Egyptian," by Mika Waltari.

Good old story-telling tale, that one, and I smiled, thinking of how to inflect the voice of Sinuhe's slave as he expostulates, "Your talk is as the buzz of flies in my ear." I wondered if Jan would chuckle at that phrase.

But when I awoke the next morning, an email from the Area Agency on Aging said simply, "Call us. Urgent."

It was time for the news I least wanted to hear, that I knew was coming, that I had prepared my heart for, but that broke my heart anyway. During the night, my sister Jan had died.

They told me it happened like this: she became agitated in the night, as she had for those "few" nights; but this time, she reached around and yanked the feeding tube from her side. (Remember, since early July she has refused food or drink.) They took her to the local hospital and re-inserted the tube, and checked on her every couple minutes to make sure she was all right, given her heart problems and her breathing problems. She was doing all right, she was doing all right, and then voila! Twenty minutes after the last check, she suffered her fourth heart attack, and this time, was gone, gone, gone.

Wow, who else pulled that stunt? What ever happened to the man who, recognizing he had terminal cancer, stopped eating and drinking, had a feeding tube put down his throat, kept pulling it out, and finally, struggling to stop the ministrations, had a heart attack and died? Oh, him? Jan's and my father? Why, how coincidental, didn't his death happen exactly nine years and 3 days before?

I call myself crazy with grief; I view my thoughts and mutter that I'm letting my imagination mingle with mere coincidences, but frankly, I think Dad was coaching Jan, there in spirit, whispering instructions to her. I'd cuss him out, but I'd then see him pointing a finger of one of his strong but graceful hands at me, saying with all his intensity, "And if you were me, you wouldn't have??"

Well, of course I would have, you old smartass. I've wished Jan could be well and free of her disability since I was old enough to wish anything beyond my own stomach.

One day this past summer, as I was sitting with Jan, she was holding a whispered conversation with an imagined someone. I can't remember what it was that I heard her say -- something about leaving, or getting things in order, or something that bespoke of an ending. "Jan," I asked her, "are you talking to Dad? Is he here talking to you?"

No, I didn't ask it as a way of drawing Jan out. I tried to make it sound matter-of-fact, but I don't doubt that I sounded annoyed. I wanted Jan to have a chance to make friends, have a couple more years of life that comprised more than a chair and a toilet. Jan didn't answer; she clammed up for the rest of the afternoon. Well, she always did like Dad best.

I told the air (the nurse being out of the room for a change) "Dad, knock it off."

Well, I don't think he did, and

now Jan is gone.

Well, gone from me.

My dear, dear sister.

Along with the color that heralds autumn, this is the time of year that the dogwood bears fruit, elongated red berries that will feed birds well into the first snow of winter.

With the change of seasons, the relationship that finally was allowed to blossom between my sister and me has been harvested, a fruit of love and attachment that will have to be my sustenance for the rest of my life when I think of her.

She was beautiful, and I loved her more than I was ever allowed to tell her until this past summer. I have no doubt that she is still beautiful, and now I can tell her how much I love her every day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Ugh, Hound Puppies," said Howie.

I got Sebastian to lie down, promising him a belly rub. Howie was less than thrilled with the prospect of proximity to the 11-month-old pup.

Only me saying, "Stop, Howard, stay," kept him in the picture. He hates photographs, and really hates posing with the kid.

However, the picture is good in that you can clearly see how much bigger Sebastian is than Howie these days, and the cute little puppy of last year undoubtedly has a bit more growth coming, and weight, as well.

Had I but had the camera in hand this morning I could have harvested shots of an energetic and extensive beating that How administered to Seb; the striped fiend would pin Sebastian to the carpet, gnaw on his head, his neck, his shiny black legs, then turn away, sneezing -- and when the pup would scramble to his feet, afix the back of Howie's head with his border collie daddy's stare, How would spin, leap, and crash chest to chest with Sebastian and knock him down again.

Sebastian loves it. As soon as Howie turns his back, Sebastian starts stalking him, staring, unblinking. If Howie doesn't move, Sebastian will rush him, and poke him on the cheek, then turn tail and run like mad. This was one of the reasons I didn't get any photos of the beating this morning: Sebastian ran away around the back of the dining room table, and Howie followed him, nipping Seb's buns twice around, both of them running as fast as they could.

I laughed until I was coughing too hard to stand up straight.

In spite of the "Oh, I loathe this puppy" posturing, when we go out for walks, Howie has begun to wait for Sebastian to catch up to him when they are off leash for a run. If we keep the pup on leash so that Howie can have some private sniff-and-mark time, Howie now just stops and stands, looking back at Sebastian, as if to say, "Well, what are you waiting for?"

Today's only update is that we began stacking this year's firewood. It's almost all small, light stuff, and we got halfway through the pile before the sun came around and the flies found me. That's a good morning's work. I'll start a third rank of wood on Monday, and then we'll be good for heat until next fall ... unless we have a freak winter. Total cash cost? $200.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Ahhhhh, Sleep!

White was on my mind this morning when I woke, took a breath, and felt no pain, and didn't knock myself out coughing.

White, like this mock orange blossom, white, like puffy clouds in a dark blue sky in summer, white, like cool bleached cotton that reflects the heat.

I pulled a favorite summer outfit from the closet, a long white cotton shirt and light tannish gold linen trousers to wear to church, feeling as though I'd had a reprieve from prison.

Yesterday, I needed no medication all day long. Of course I took the prescription stuff the doctor ordered, but not OTC antihistimines or cough suppressants or pain-killers. At midday, I swallowed a nutritional supplement that has quercetin, bromelain, and vitamin C -- something we used to suggest at the health food store for respiratory congestion, but that was all. At bedtime, I took some Advil Cold and Sinus, a dextromethorphan cough suppressant, and some doxylamine succinate (Unisom) ... and then read until I fell asleep. I woke twice to cough during the night, but the rest of the dark hours, I slept, and dreamed and dreamed and dreamed. When I would wake, I'd smile at having been able to sleep and doze off again.

This morning, I felt GOOD. Not a hundred percent, mind you, but GOOD.

Being able to sleep is vastly underrated until you find that you can't. Then you long for it as though it was food, or love, or money when you can't even afford a pair of JackInTheBox tacos. Now combine that with not being able to breathe normally, and you have a very sad existence. Thus, this morning, with both sleep and breathing, was like a national holiday and vacation plans and a bouquet of roses all in one.

In addition, I've been in touch by email with my mother's pastor, and it turns out that before he became a priest, he worked in long-term nursing care with a specialization in gerontology. He understands Alzheimer's victims, and he can minister to my mother even in her dementia -- he won't be hiding from her, hoping he's not called to help out. Indeed, he plans on picking her up and taking her to visit my sister -- he's not forgetting about her, either. And at the end of his email, he asked if there was anything he or the parish could do for me.

The nice dreams I had last night, the feeling of returning health this morning, and such incredible kindness -- there's nothing more I need here. God is good, and as this morning's first reading told, His ways are hidden, and inscrutable, but always make sense in the end. If all the grief of this summer was meant to lead up to my sister's spiritual needs being tended to, and my mother's spiritual needs being made known, and my realization again that living is about joy in existence -- why, then, the grief was nothing at all in comparison with the reward.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Yeah, Who Gives a Honk


That's the sound my throat produces when I try to talk. The one-day fever and a couple coughs my grand-daughter experienced and passed on have translated as four days of fever and a cough that has turned me inside out.

At least today I was able to eat without feeling like retching. I made a soup of green beans, potatoes, and ham, and that first cup of broth this morning was like heaven, tasty and soothing. The coughing thing was the worst so far today, abrading my throat and making me wrap my arms around my ribs to alleve the worst of the pain. At that, I felt better today than yesterday.

After my temperature began rising again yesterday, I woozily made my way to the doctor's office, where I was told that my lungs didn't sound good, here take a course of antibiotics and use this inhaler for a while. I myself would have waited out the weekend to see how I'd fare, but Bernie told me to go to the doc. He was right. I'd have been a lot worse off if I'd have waited until Monday.

They tell me I'll feel a whole lot better by Monday.

I hope so, cause I feel like shit.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My Mother, the Source of All Nuttiness

I call this a "self-portrait" of sorts.

Always off-balance these days, always being knocked off my feet.

Today the bank which oversees my mother's trust fund emailed me to tell me that they had finally found someone who was willing to extend to Tere homeowner's insurance. (Her long-term previous carrier dropped her for nonpayment last April -- no one at that point realized she wasn't paying her bills except her creditors) Well, as long as they could inspect and approve the woodburning "stove" she has. ( I can visualise the previous insurance company dancing around a fire burning up her policy, chanting, "We're free, we're free! Don't put no blame on me!/ No way, no way! We will not have to pay!")

The bank added that an inspection would not be necessary if I could assure them that the woodstove would be removed from the premises and all would be well.

IT'S NOT A DAMN WOODSTOVE!!!! The beast in question is a huge furnace that could swallow a Volkswagon Beetle! It can burn coal or wood, and it is so old that when it needed serviced three years ago, my mother could find no one -- NO ONE -- who knew how the damn thing worked. It is a museum piece. Mom ended up fixing it herself, God knows how.

How is your mother planning on heating her residence this coming year? the bank asked.

HTF would I know? My mother has Alzheimer's and refuses to admit it, is impaired and refuses to admit it, should not be living in that house alone and refuses to admit it. There are no men with butterfly nets to catch her and take her away to a safe living arrangement. Everyone looks at me and asks me what I am going to do, but I have only one question for them that no one can answer: "Who is going to chloroform her and trundle her off to the nursing home?'

Her court-appointed lawyer has already warned me off. He'd love the hours of payment for litigation, but still smilingly pointed out that Ma can still dress herself, keep herself clean, and -- when he visited -- her house is still tidy. Obviously he didn't ask to use her bathroom. Or eat anything from her kitchen. Geehhhh.

I'm going to send in the furnace inspectors, and see what happens from there. The neighbors are afraid of my mother setting fire to her dwelling, and thus endangering theirs, but they are totally unwilling to complain to authorities about her being a nuisance or a danger. What, the daughter who lives 3000 miles away is supposed to say she's a nuisance? Cut me a break. If they can put up with her vagaries, I guess I can, too.

No one in the previous eight years was interested in hearing me rant that she was incompetent to take care of my sister or herself. At this point my sister is safe, and still alive. If what testimony I've given to this point was invalid, I see no reason to set my hair on fire at this time.

*Falls down with a thump into the comfy chair to fight off the cold contracted from Lillian's first day at school.*

Monday, September 03, 2007

10K for Labor Day Blues

This year, I was hyped for the Piker challenge of writing 10,000 words over Labor Day weekend. This year, as every year we've done it, I failed miserably.

I don't even know why I try. Labor Day Weekend is loaded with End-of-Summer stuff. There was the balloon launch from the local park on Saturday (yes, I could have used that for word count but I hate writing non-fiction), and a very open Sunday.

Pictures were the big thing for Saturday, and a long ride to exercise Dink, and after that, I was just about worthless until the evening, when I decided I would slam-dunk some word count in writing down family history. Wrong move.

Remembering family history means remembering who you heard it from. Well, since I heard it all from my mother, it meant that my attention was focused on her voice. But just writing exorcises my nightmares, so I spent Saturday night in peace.

Sunday was a night's sleep destroyed by nightmares, as having started the piece on family history changed "writing" to "obligation" and to further wreck my sleep, the moon was hideously bright. When I did sleep, I jerked myself awake, and when dawn came, I was too afraid of nightmares to relax again. I even bit the tip of my tongue as I once jerked awake from a nightmare.

Sorry, you can't write on that kind of preliminary. At least I can't .

There was nothing purgative about it. It was just hellish.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome isn't at all fun.