Collecting the Pieces

 

 

” I feel like at certain moments in my life, I lost little pieces of myself; one here, one there, over and over through the years…and I never got those pieces back.  I want them back but I don’t know how to get them.  I keep thinking that if I could go back to all the places where I lost a piece, maybe I could collect them all again and put myself back together.”  The moment I said these words was a turning point.

I made this statement to my husband about a year ago, during what proved to be one of the most difficult times in my life.  Since then, I have collected many of those missing pieces; the ones lost forever I covered with new pieces, little heart and anchor shaped patches to bring me love and grounding.

I don’t really know why I stopped writing for such a long time.  I know when I stopped, and that it had something to do with serious problems that I couldn’t solve.  For years I just lost the heart to be creative, to sit down and pour it out on paper.  I lost me for a while, drifted through life in the emptiness created by all my missing pieces.  I read a quote recently about how grief is a silent scream that echoes in your mind.  At my lowest point, the scream was a never-ending howl of anguish that haunted me in the waking hours and devoured all my energy,  leaving me an angry, exhausted, empty shell.

Then one day, the pieces returned.  I cannot say exactly how this happened, but I remember where I was and I remember having a feeling of finally being a whole person again.  Did that mean everything in my life was perfect?  Oh, hell no!  In fact, life got harder, and it hasn’t let up.  But I had changed.  I was full again, and stronger, more capable to handle the tough times.  I felt repaired; some spots are still vulnerable, some have been patched over so much that they are no longer recognizable.  A year ago when I looked in the mirror, I was so grief stricken that I did not recognize “myself”.  Now I look in the mirror and I no longer recognize that grief stricken woman.  I know she was me, but she doesn’t have to be me anymore.  I’ve moved forward.  I’ve aged.  My face is different, maybe more strained from a hard life, but my eyes are happy.

The featured photos in this post are of my very favorite sculpture in all the world.  This beautiful work, by artist Wayne Porter, is located at the Wayne Porter Sculpture Park near Montrose, South Dakota.  The first time I encountered this woman, I was a small child and she was not yet painted, yet even without a fresh coat of paint, she was mesmerizing.  Her condition touched me profoundly on a subconscious level.  When I looked closely at her, I could see that she was missing tiles, little pieces of herself, and she was quietly sweeping them back up to collect in her bucket.

Even as a child I understood that when life takes from us, it is our responsibility to work on recovering what is lost, or in failing to do so, to repair our wounds and keep moving forward.  I’d lie to be there when she finishes sweeping up her missing pieces, puts herself back together, and stands up tall to face the sunrise. 

Ballerina

 

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One Year Chip

An alternate title: today I called a total stranger a bitch.

For several months now, I have been trying to motivate myself to come back to my blog and write something, anything.  My last post described how alcoholism had torn my family apart after decades of substance abuse, denial and enabling behavior.  When my family disintegrated, it kind of killed me inside.  I lost the desire to write, and instead spent my time seeking security and continuity in my life. My efforts to be a happier, healthier, just plain better person have not always led to success, which brings me to this morning, and this blog post.

This morning.

I managed to stand, not merely step, but stand, totally oblivious, for entire minutes in a puddle of gasoline while fueling my car.  My shoes reeked when I arrived at the veterinary clinic to have my dog checked for a post operative infection.  I was distressed by his frantic attempts to scratch his oozing sutures, and when the veterinary technician reached out his left hand to take the leash, I misunderstood his intent and grasped his left hand with my right in an incredibly awkward handshake, which just set a really weird tone for the rest of the appointment.

After leaving the clinic, I noticed a missed call from an unfamiliar number, and there was a voice message.  Returning the call was certainly not my first mistake today, but it proved to be my worst!  I ended up locking horns with a perverse collections agent who clearly takes pleasure in antagonizing innocent citizens. She wanted me to give her information so she could contact my father. Of course, she refused to divulge any herself, but I had researched the number prior to calling back, and once I had identified that she was from a collections agency, it wasn’t a huge leap to figure out why she was calling.   Her understated Gestapo tactics indicated that she meant to intimidate me, but I have dealt with villainous types before.

We were more or less at a stalemate when she stepped waaaaay over the line by making weirdly menacing comments about other members of my family.  Doesn’t matter the situation, don’t use my family as leverage to intimidate me. I informed her that she was a bitch and hung up, then plotted my revenge while driving home.  I considered calling her back incessantly and hanging up for the rest of the day, or playing the ever lovely skull searing fax tone full volume every time she answered her phone…Not my finest hour.  I’ve never actually called anyone a bitch or plotted revenge.  But she did make vague threats, and she named names…

The upsets of this morning continued to linger after I returned home, removed my reeking shoes, and gave the dog a sedative.  The incidents at the gas station and clinic were just comical, but the phone call in particular shook me more than I had anticipated.  It was just another reminder that things are so not cool with my family.  I am getting into fights with creepy collections agents on behalf of my family, so no…things are not cool.  A flood of embarrassment and humiliation had washed over me during that phone call.  My family drama suddenly brought to the attention of a total stranger, my measly explanations about being more or less estranged from my parents, and the interrogation slicing open a wound that I thought had been adequately soothed with months of affirmations, quiet reflection, and pretending that my life is super awesome.  I vented my outrage into a Word document.  How dare some smug anonymous witch make me scrutinize my feelings when I had better things to do!

After considering whether or not the unfortunate incident was worth pursuing, I decided that although this individual was totally being a bitch, she was just doing her job, and a miserable job at that.  I can’t really hold a grudge. Intimidating people over the phone is, aside from obviously being a source of enjoyment for her, likely a useful tactic when dealing with people who actually have information but are hesitant to be forthcoming. I decided that this was not a battle worth fighting today (after all, there is also a rat caught in my egress window and at some point I will have to fight that battle), then put the document into the trash, walked away from the computer, poured myself a fresh cup of coffee, and threw a load of laundry in the washing machine.  For some reason I thought about the One Year Chip in my antique dish cupboard.  Even though I started this day horribly, thinking about the chip sitting there reminded me that there is time to make the day better.

The beginning of this summer.

I hadn’t seen my father in over a year.  My last good memory of him was two years ago, when we spent a whole day in the Black Hills.  It remains one of my favorite memories.  We packed sandwiches and cans of Coke, took the four wheeler out to the mineral claims, and updated boundary signs.  I took a thousand pictures and inhaled as much of the pine scented air as possible before my journey back to Missouri.  If I was forced to forget all memories of my father except one, this memory I would keep.  Everything since has been tinged with grief.  So when I saw him again, a few months ago, I was actually quite numb.  I had put my emotions on ice for so long, and there was a distance. It was nice to see him, and it would have been nice to catch up, but the connection was lost.  It was like trying to continue a phone conversation over heavy static.

We came back to see Dad because it was necessary that we retrieve furniture and personal items from the school where my parents had lived.  Time was of the essence because the building was rapidly falling into disrepair and Dad had been ordered to sell to liquidate assets and pay debts.  There was also some danger of the family heirlooms being damaged or looted. I was extremely anxious about the whole retrieval process, at the same time wanting to save anything with family history attached, but also feeling dread at the prospect.  I hadn’t been in the building in nearly two years, and seeing the decay was shocking.  I wandered around in disbelief, staring at crumbling walls, water stains eating through the wood floors, and garbage rotting in corners.  The building smelled like a dying creature and many of the items we brought back emitted the same fetid odor.  I threw away old papers and fabrics that simply would not air out, unable to hold onto anything that smelled like the school, not after seeing it in such disgrace.

Not everything rescued from the building was damaged, however.  Most of the furniture and family heirlooms were successfully recovered, save for a few things that we could not find; these probably made their way to a pawn shop or some crackhead’s trash can fire.  I felt bitter that some things were missing, grateful that most items were not, and guilty for being so attached to things in the first place.  The heirlooms would never be a replacement for the relationships that I wanted from my parents, but if relationships were impossible, the heirlooms would at least buoy me to my own history and identity.

One particular item was especially important, and I agonized over whether it would still be in the school when we arrived.  It was a very old dish cupboard that had belonged to my great grandmother and then my grandmother.  As a child I included the dish cupboard in many of my daily adventures while visiting my grandparents.  My grandmother kept it in a huge family room built over the garage.  I spent hours in that room, parading my horse figurines and Barbies across the carpet, staging exciting chases across the land forms which I made from old furniture.  Tables made wonderful mesas, and chairs were perfect for hair raising cliff top rescues.  The dish cupboard sometimes became involved, because I could open one of the bottom cabinet doors to let my ponies “hide” in the cave-like interior.  When tired of playing, I simply gazed through the glass of the top doors at the little collections of tea sets and souvenir plates that Grandma brought home from her many road trips and exciting vacations.

When the dish cupboard made its way to my parents’ school, I still enjoyed looking in through the glass at the arrangement of special dishes, though over the years it held fewer items until by the time Mom was ready to leave, the cupboard was nearly bare.  It had been neglected for so long that when we moved it into our home in Colorado, I discovered that the wood had shrunk considerably and pulled away from its once perfect seams, and great cracks had begun to travel along its length.  I saturated it with oil to protect it from the extreme dryness of the Colorado air, one coat, then another, and finally a third for luck.

After the outside was oiled to my satisfaction, I began to clean and oil the interior.  That is when I found the One Year Chip from Alcoholics Anonymous.  It had been my father’s, something he must have earned and carried around at one time.  It must have been dropped into the cupboard, perhaps as an afterthought.  Or maybe it was deliberately placed there.  It’s hard to say.  It had adhered to the back of the cupboard where a sticky stain kept it from shifting during the journey down several flights of stairs, onto a U-Haul truck, across a handful of states, and then into my home.  Holding it in my hand, I read both sides.  The message seemed to be meant just for me, for that moment.  I considered the infinite varieties of circumstances that would have brought this coin into my possession and determined that it should be a reminder to me when life was giving me a rough turn.

“God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Today.

I was mean to a total stranger on the phone.  Granted, she was asking for trouble and pushing my buttons on purpose.  But I don’t like the way the whole situation developed, as though the scene were everything, and I was merely playing a minor part in an undesirable melodrama. I knew when I dialed the number that there was only one way the scene could end, and I played my part, on cue as always, falling into the role of the ever reliable character, buffering my parents from the realities that they had created. The morning’s incident left me feeling disgust at being duped once again into playing a character I no longer want to be.  It’s time to start living by the Serenity Prayer on the One Year Chip.  I must sort out the things which cannot be changed from the things that I can change, and focus my energy on what is actually my responsibility.

At one time my father earned his One Year Chip from Alcoholics Anonymous.  He must have spent an entire year attending meetings, gaining perspective and motivation from peers like himself, and refraining from using a dangerous substance.  Perhaps that year was glorious, or perhaps it was a living nightmare.  I will never know.  What I do know, when I look at the chip, is that for me it represents my goal to learn which battles are mine to fight.  Someday I will look back on this morning as a stronger, healthier person. Perhaps the next year will be glorious for me, or perhaps it will be a living nightmare. But I will never know until I break from the prepossession that I am obligated to live out someone else’s drama.  It is time to be the author of my own story.

 

~G

A Letter to my Children About Alcoholism

My darlings,

You probably will remember this Christmas as a time of joy over your new kitten as well as confusion over a missing family member.  Someone very special to us was not here this year because of a sickness.  I am sad to say that over the years the sickness had hurt us all, and we were together this Christmas to pick up the pieces as best we could.  Mindless of the adult tension, you played games and built a snowman. Your questions about the circumstances went unanswered, and someday when you are older, we owe you an explanation.  Christmas should be a magical time for children, a celebration of miracles when wonder and joy abound.  Children are too innocent to understand that in the adult world, there is no such guarantee for happiness.  You don’t realize it now, but you were robbed of the Christmas that you deserved, and I will make it up to you.

I know that for you, sleeping camp-out style in a cold, filthy building was an adventure.  I used to think that way too.  The meager Christmas tree that we erected in a dirty corner of a dusty room at the last minute probably looked better to you than it did to me. The broken ornaments found in an old drawer probably glistened a bit more in your eyes, bright with new dreams.  The food probably tasted better and the arguments probably sounded less vicious because you were counting down the minutes until Santa came down the chimney.

You went about life as always, preoccupied with watching all the Christmas cartoons, drawing pictures, and teasing each other.  You fixed a plate for Santa with no help from the adults, who were too busy anyway, shouting over each other and sloshing glasses of wine on the stained floor. I envied your oblivion, and yet I could not help but wonder how much you had already deduced.  After all, you are the smartest children I know.  How could you not notice that many things were strange this Christmas?

While you were gleefully playing with your new kitten, our entire family imploded.  I want you to know that it was a long time in the making, and it had nothing to do with you.  Actually, that is not true.  For me and Daddy, it had everything to do with you.  I don’t imagine that my childhood was like yours.  I grew up very quickly, learned to hide problems and make excuses for my loved ones, and tried to be the glue that held everything together.  The role I played is not the role that I want any of you to play.  Because it’s not how Daddy and I want to treat you, it’s not right, and it’s not good for you.  I want you to have a stable and healthy upbringing, but I have noticed that I am passing on to you some very bad habits that I learned as  a child.  You deserve better than what I had, and only I can make changes in my own life to improve the conditions in yours.

Someday I hope that you understand the decisions that were made, the lines that were drawn, and the boundaries that were established.  I hope that you are not damaged because of what I experienced, and I hope that I have the strength to change myself before it is too late for you to have the family, the memories, and the life that you want and deserve.  Your daddy and I had to make a very important decision this Christmas, and we both pray that our family will be much healthier by next Christmas.  It is January 1st, New Year’s Day.  My heart aches to speak to people whose ears have been closed, but I remain hopeful that it is not too late for us.  It is time for me to break a long and dangerous cycle, and to give you the best gift that I possibly can.

Your life is what you make of it, but without the proper tools, you cannot thrive.  You don’t know it now, but this year for Christmas Daddy and I gave you the gift of a better chance at life because we finally put you first.  We lifted the curse of a million bottles and cans, and we released you from the grips of a family disease.  The road ahead won’t be easy for any of us because we have been affected deeply by a sickness that hurts entire families, but we are working together to make our family better.  Daddy and I owe that to you all.  You will have a better life than your parents, because of the decisions your parents are making for you now.  This is my promise to you, my darlings.  I love you all unconditionally,

~Momma

What I Learned

It’s been a while since my last post.  I’m a little embarrassed, possibly slightly horrified, but mostly I’m unrepentant over neglecting my blog.  This year has been so jam packed full that it is a miracle I have a few minutes today to sit down and type!  And what better topic to reflect upon than things I learned this year, among all the chaos and clamor?

The year is nearly over, and in one week I will be celebrating a wedding anniversary.  This year, more than others in the past, I am especially grateful for my husband.  You see, this year we struggled a bit more than we had before, and there were days when I wasn’t sure we’d make it.  I guess after ten very good years, we were bound to hit a small bump.  We fought a lot, I cried — a lot–  and gave my husband the silent treatment, he hid in the garage to avoid my icy glares.  Had we become terrible at communicating and getting along?  Were we just too lazy to try hard enough?  Were we burned out?  Were we incompatible? I worried about the dreadful possibilities and What Ifs.

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Aren’t we adorable?

Then some things happened.   We started to walk in each other’s shoes, to see the world from each other’s point of view.  Now, with our anniversary just seven short days away, I am feeling as though my worries and doubts have been swept away by a giant cosmic broom.  Okay, that was a bit sappy, but after surviving the year and every obstacle that presented itself, I am looking with joyful anticipation into the future.  Both my husband and I have grown this year, trough trial and error (lots of error), tough decision making, sheer stubbornness, and a refusal to give up on ourselves or each other.  It wasn’t always easy, but we grew together and moved forward as a couple.

When we tied the knot, I was unsure that I could be a good spouse.  The demands, real and perceived, seemed too intimidating, and I spent many years feeling like a perpetual failure.  I am very lucky that my husband never gave up on me, because there were days when I wanted to give up on myself.  Many people use the term “better half” in jest, but in our case, I truly believe that he is mine.  He is the one who completes me, complements me, and tempers me.  And if you ask him, he will tell you that I am his better half for the same reason.  It took a few years to get to this point, but thank God for the situations that brought us here!

So, to tie things up neatly, on to what I have learned.  A marriage, or any long-term romantic relationship for that matter, is not a complete thing upon inception.  It’s more like an empty vessel which must be filled to be of any use.  The couple must contribute constantly to the relationship, creating an abundance of memories, warmth, forgiveness, trust, encouragement, and of course, love.  A full vessel will help the couple remain resilient through the tough times.  A vessel that isn’t constantly being refilled will produce nothing for the relationship.  My biggest mistake over the years has been neglecting to contribute as much to my marriage as my husband deserves.

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My better half at Bear Butte, May 2015

I’m really lucky that he is about the most patient person I know, because despite my flaws, he is still here.  And yes, I give myself some credit for sticking with him despite his flaws.  😉  This year we both learned how valuable our individual contributions are to our marriage.  A good friend of mine who once gave me invaluable marriage advice would call this ‘growing together’.  What better way to grow together than to tell our significant other “I choose you every day” during the difficult times.  So, I am delighted to wrap up my eleventh year of marriage with a new found wisdom and a deeper appreciation of what I have (everything).

 

~G

You Have One Year…

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If you had one year to accomplish your goals, what would you do?

We recently moved to Missouri, and we are only here for about a year (long story).  The plan was that I’d get a part time job, something to help with car payments, or for extra spending money on the weekends.  As soon as the last box of odds and ends was unpacked, I started applying for jobs in the area.  I was feeling motivated and ready to be an employee. Days, then weeks went by with zero responses.  I’d applied for nearly a dozen jobs, and eventually heard back from two, letting me know that “we regret to inform you that at this time we do not have a position available“.  The only people interested in “hiring” me were the scam artists trolling SitterCity, which was incidentally my last resort for respectable work.  It didn’t take long to start feeling demoralized.

I expressed these frustrations to my husband.  It’s not as though I’m uneducated and inexperienced, I lamented.   I have the potential to be good at many different jobs, and doesn’t frickin’ life experience count as something?  I wondered if my husband expected me to “be successful” by earning of money.  Would he suspect that I was just sitting around the house drinking vodka, watching Netflix and writing (which I admittedly do quite religiously) and be disappointed in his unsuccessful wife who couldn’t even land a job as a cashier?

Everything happens for a reason. We are only here for one year.” my husband told me. “Time is already passing.  What do you want to do while we are here?  Decide what you want to do and then do it.  I will support your decision.”

I’d already considered what I really want to accomplish during the next year.  It didn’t really make sense to spend several months searching for a job, only to begin my exit strategy immediately after securing said job.  And, to be honest, I don’t feel as enthusiastic about working part time as I do about writing full time.  I have been looking for the opportunity to focus on my writing.  Funny how life works.  Here we are in a quiet neighborhood.  My kids go to school and give me a long day to write and think.  We have only about nine months left here, and none of my accomplishments have been work-related.  I am happy all the same.

What would you do if given a full year for anything you want?  If you had the time and resources to pursue any interest, goal, relationship, or challenge, would you do it, or would you squander the opportunity?  Take a moment and consider your options.  What about that new hobby you’ve been mulling over; or perhaps you want to revisit a skill from your younger days? Will you find a new friend to accompany you on adventures, or rekindle an old romance?  Will you make time for an exotic trip, or will you turn your home into a lush stay-cation spot?  What about learning a new language or picking up an ethnic cookbook?  Think of all the possibilities. The clock is ticking.

~G

 

P.S. Besides focusing on writing for the next year, I’ve decided to try to learn German and Italian using the free online program known as Duolingo.  This is either a great idea or completely insane (I will be updating you on it, down’t worry).

 

 

Something to Think/Write About

2015-09-10 09.27.32Last night when it was time to read stories before bed, my daughter found a book long hidden in our collection.  I had gone downstairs to tuck her in and when I saw it at the top of her stack, I said “Oh, you found ‘The Librarian of Basra’.  Did you like it?”

She answered, “I loved it!  I am feeling so many emotions from this book right now!”  Wow.  I had never seen her respond to a book like this before. She asked many questions about it, so I promised to find out as much as possible for her about the librarian of Basra.

I hadn’t looked at this book in a long time.  It was discovered in the most unexpected of places, a scratch and dent store in Independence, Missouri.  I was cruising the book section, not really looking for anything at all, and then I found this book.  I stood in the store and read it, not quite believing the great fortune I’d stumbled upon.  Reading the story made me feel connected once again to people I had known and lost — friends on the other side of the world who I never would have met had it not been for a war.  People who did nothing to deserve the wrath that had been raining down on them.

The story is written and illustrated by American author Jeanette Winter, known for creating vibrant true tales about real life heroes in a way that is palatable for younger audiences. This story is about Alia Muhammad Baqer, the chief librarian in Basra, forced to give up her building and livelihood when the governor decides to use it as his new headquarters. Baqer’s courage and tenacity saves around 30,000 rare and valuable books from destruction when the library burns to the ground during the early days of the Iraq war.  Although she cannot save every book, Baqer’s efforts prevent the entire collection from being lost and she becomes a local hero.  At great risk of her own safety, Baqer chooses to rescue knowledge, because as a librarian, she knows how intrinsic books are to the survival of her culture.

American cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, also depicts Baqer’s story in a graphic black and white comic book format, also child-friendly.  In the Amazon.com reviews section of Stamaty’s book, a reviewer by the name of Judy K Polhemus had this to say:  “As a girl, Alia had read about the Mongol invasion of Iraq and the burning of the Baghdad Library. She equates the burning of a library and its books with the destruction of the culture of her country. Burn a library and you burn a collective recorded memory.  Alia singlehandedly assumes the responsibility… She stuffs her purse and loads her arms under her shawl and walks out, loads her car, returns for another load.  City and military officials who now occupy the library, daring the enemy to bomb their library, pay her no heed.  She fills her car.

Night after night she comes home with a car full of books.  Her husband, bless him, unloads them into a closet, then guest room, then into other rooms.  (I’m a librarian and understand her distress and need to save the books!).  Then neighbors and friends, and those who hear about the effort, and then many other people help rescue the books.  The only books intentionally ignored are those about Saddam Hussein.”

Further research cemented my respect for Baqer, her courage, her passion for books, her legitimate concern that the destruction of the library would mean severe damage to civilization itself.  In Pam McAllister’s blog post Lawbreaking Librarians: A Legacy of Courage, Alia is the featured heroine who rescues a critical piece of her culture in the face of “the war against books”.  Not too difficult to imagine Baqer’s source of courage.  She is a book lover after all, and to her, books are the most important tools for building society.  Knowledge is power.

On women’s history site A Mighty Girl, Winter was asked in an interview how she made her stories, often about heroes in nearly impossible circumstances, accessible to young readers, and whether these stories are even historically valid to these readers.  Winter asserts that her works, especially ‘The Librarian of Basra’ depict stories in an “even-handed” manner, through strong, colorful graphics and easy to understand language, allowing young people to find meaning that they can comprehend.  Winter also states that despite the academic argument that children care little for history, it is possible to cultivate love of learning through “good, accurate story-telling”.

Illustration of Alia Baqer dreaming of peace and a new library, from Jeanette Winter's 'The Librarian of Basra'.

Illustration of Alia Baqer dreaming of peace and a new library, from Jeanette Winter’s ‘The Librarian of Basra’.

This morning I was well equipped with several sources to back up the story of the Librarian of Basra and give my daughter the information she wanted.  I know that she is a book lover like myself, and she also cares deeply for others, so she would find what my discoveries quite valuable.  We had a nice talk before school.  I showed her a photograph I found of Alia Baqer in 2013, on the tenth anniversary of her mission to save the books.  She is now an old woman, sitting at a desk, working with a large hard cover book.  She looks like she is happy and at peace.  This photograph made my daughter very happy.  It made me happy and sad.  It’s difficult to explain how books and stories can create common bonds from across the globe, but I hope that somehow, Alia Baqer can know that her story inspired a little girl in the United States to be a courageous person.

My daughter asked me about my experience in Iraq.  I showed her my collection of photographs — friends and places once visited and long since left behind.  I told her some of the stories of heroes I met there.  I told her why people were scared of Saddam Hussein, and why the bombs were falling on Basra when the librarian was trying to save all the books.  I explained to her why it is important to save knowledge and tell stories.  She gave me a hug and said “I love you Mom” when she left for school.  I looked at all my books and smiled.

~G

 

I wrote this post because I was so touched by my daughter’s interest in the story of Alia Baqer.  I have noticed that, as Ms. Winter asserts, children really are fascinated by history.  Effective tools, such as children’s books like ‘The Librarian of Basra’ and Mr. Stamaty’s true life comics, can help us teach important history lessons to younger generations.  More importantly, we as parents and educators also need to have conversations with children and answer their questions so that our history as people is not swept under the heavy, musty rugs of time.  

 

Links for more information about the librarian of Basra:

Iraqi Librarian Saved 30,000 Books During Invasion

Photo of the Librarian of Basra

Lawbreaking Librarians: A Legacy of Courage

Too Soon or Censorship?

Harcourt Books Interview with Jeanette Winter

 

One Year After Mirena

I’ve noticed this summer that when I log onto my WordPress site, previous posts about my experience with the Mirena IUD receive more traffic than most of my other posts.  Actually, to be honest, there doesn’t seem to be any other interest in my other topics, but people are concerned about the Mirena, and some readers have reached out to me.  It occurred to me that I haven’t written a follow-up describing how my health has changed in the year since having my Mirena removed.  I’ve put it off long enough, and now it’s time to share.

This sculpture reminds me of the struggle I've overcome. Sometimes we just have pick up the pieces.

This sculpture reminds me of the struggle I’ve overcome. Sometimes we just have to pick up the pieces.

Last March I had my IUD removed after using it the full five years prescribed. By that time, I had all the symptoms of what is referred to as the ‘Mirena Crash’: persistent fatigue, bloating, abdominal cramps, headaches, confusion, irritability, limb numbness, back pain, and more, all to the extreme.  At that time, I didn’t know anything about Mirena’s side effects, but suspected it was the culprit.  When I reached out to my doctor at the VA, I did not receive the kind of help that I expected or believed that I deserved.  Instead of being supported by the medical community, I was left to my own devices, and I became very scared and angry.  I had to figure out how to heal on my own, and it has taken me the at least a year to heal not only physically but mentally as well.  The trauma caused by getting “sick” from the Mirena left me feeling isolated, crazy, untrustworthy, and unable to trust medical professionals.

My emotions, however justified, were part of the myriad of symptoms from my reaction to the IUD.  Even after the device’s removal, toxins from the Mirena continued to circulate through my system, and my hormones could be best described as defunct.  I was a mess!  I felt as though I had been poisoned, and in a sense, I had. It was extremely difficult to drudge through the day pretending to be a “normal” person while my body purged the bad hormones and toxic build up.  I felt like I was on a bad drug trip for months, yet I was in for a much longer ride.

It has now been about eighteen months since my Mirena was removed, since I was very ill, and I am so happy to say that I am not the same person.  I am in extraordinary physical shape (comparatively), I feel confident about how I look, I have boundless energy, and I don’t suffer from as many aches and pains.  I love to wake up in the morning and be active all day, because I know I will not become exhausted like before.  I don’t feel emotionally sabotaged and my hormones are finally in balance for the first time since I started using the Mirena.  Best of all, I never have to go back to IUDs, because better options are at my disposal.

But you are probably wondering what exactly I did to take care of myself and conquer the nightmare that left me so miserable, right?  First, remember that there is no magical equation to follow in order to become well after the Mirena Crash.  Your personal definition of well is not going to be identical to mine, and your biology, cultural and familial background, lifestyle, preferences, and external influences are not the same as mine either.  So you must determine which plan is best on your road to recovery.

This is how I did it.

I. First I made a commitment — to myself.  I committed to follow a strict diet and exercise plan to get my health back on track.  I carefully considered how to reach my goals.  This commitment was important because it was an investment in myself.

2.  I took up an exercise routine (kickboxing) that helped me develop confidence as well as muscle tone.  My routine became a catalyst in ridding my body of toxins and excess body fat, both of which had accumulated while I was using the Mirena.  Bonus:  I made new friends at the kickboxing studio!

3.  I tweaked my diet as needed.  For example, when I realized I was not eating enough protein to support my newly active lifestyle, I changed the diet to reflect my needs.  This was critical in healing because the body has to be able to flush out toxins and regenerate new, healthy cells!

*I used the Standard Process products recommended by Dr. J (see the link to his site below) but only as long as I felt that I needed them.  I used an extremely healthy diet to clean out my system because I believe that food is medicine, not the other way around.

4. I made time for myself every day to pursue a hobby, something just for me, and I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt.   Sometimes I just took ten minutes to read a magazine and drink tea; other days I painted or caught up with a friend over coffee.  Very beneficial to my soul!

5. I talked to my friends and family about my struggle and listened to the wisdom that they had to share.  Their love and support helped me feel strong enough to move past my anger and frustration over the situation.

6. I let go.  I acknowledged that there was really no one to blame in this situation — not me, not any of the doctors, and no one else.  But I especially stopped blaming myself in hindsight.  It’s a waste of energy.

I like to think that the last year and a half is a chapter in my life that I can close, and now it is time to look forward, move forward, and anticipate what lies in the future.  I sometimes think that my Mirena robbed me of five years of good living, but that is not true.  It was a minor setback, and if anything, I learned to take better care of myself, to be more kind, and to forgive the faults that we all cannot help but possess.

Best of luck to those fighting their battles.

~G

 

 

The link to Dr. J’s site, where you can find his take on the Mirena Crash:

http://www.drjnutrition.com/

 

The Good Summer

My son enjoying a quick climb on the Badlands this summer.

My son enjoying a quick climb on the Badlands this summer.

I almost titled this ‘The Good Enough Summer’, but changed my mind before typing one word.  When you hear good enough, regardless of the context, doesn’t your mind bend slightly to thoughts of something mediocre, like whatever turned out to be ‘good enough’ was still not quite satisfactory, and the party reaching said state did so under protest?  When my husband and I were discussing this year’s summer plans, our conversation ended with the blanket statement: “Well, it’s just going to have to be good enough.”  Everything was going to have to be good enough, each family member would have to pull their weight, and expectations would be lowered to get through the summer.   I didn’t know if it would work, but I wanted to be optimistic.

I wanted summer to be good because we were under stress.  We sold our house in Kansas and bought another home in Missouri.  The mortgage application process became a prolonged nightmare, but in the beginning we were oblivious to what lay ahead.  Our focus was on the six weeks of summer during which we would technically be homeless.  Although this was not a problem since we had family and friends to visit during our vacation time — very convenient for gypsies who like to travel — no amount of obsessive planning can totally prepare a person for the creeping feeling of general terror when facing the truth of simply being unable to go HOME.

We had to be ultra conservative to get through summer without going into debt.  I counted my daughters’ shoes and made a pile of nearly two dozen pairs between them.  After playing in mud puddles, running up and down dirt roads, cruising zoos and water parks, the pile would diminish to one or two usable pairs by the end of summer.  I expected most of their clothing to become outgrown or worn out, too.  My plan was that the kids would wear things out as we traveled so I could squirrel money away for back to school shopping in August.  I wanted them to learn that consumerism is not a hobby, that money does not appear on a whim, that we should use what we own, like old tennis shoes, reuse what we can, like ripped blue jeans, and replace things when the time comes.  This summer would be a perfect time for such lessons.

Our new puppy Teddy enjoying the beach on Lake Kampeska this summer.

Our new puppy Teddy enjoying the beach on Lake Kampeska this summer.

I have to constantly keep my children sane, happy, fed, entertained, and alive!  Are my treasured art investments actually in storage or on the Black Market? Did I remember to pack my jewelry?  There are 500 pairs of shoes in this car and it smells like there are 500 pairs of shoes in this car.  I have to schlep 1,200 pounds of the Most. Important. Things. Everyone. Owns. around for the next month. WHY do my kinds think they each need five stuffed animals, 18 books they won’t read, and 600 loose Crayons, which are presently melting all over my car?  These thoughts filled my head as we hit the road.  Two adults, three children, and one yellow Labrador puppy growing at a rate of 2.5 pounds per week crammed into my SUV to drive thousands of miles and live like nomads for the next several weeks.

My daughters looking at the geese at a botanical garden in Missouri.

My daughters looking at the geese at a botanical garden in Missouri.

Packing light was a goal, not necessarily a realistic concept.   Anticipating our temporary homelessness and wanting to be practical, two week’s worth of clothing for each person, all the shampoo that we currently owned, and a couple bars of soap. By the time we reached South Dakota, we had to ship an enormous foot locker and a large cardboard U-Haul box back to Missouri.  We were already overloaded before our trip had officially begun!  We had decided to travel in one car, which began having ‘technical difficulties’ in New Mexico.  So much for the money for my back to school shopping spree.  I kept telling my husband that we could get rid of an extra set of bedding we used at the Carlsbad KOA cabin, but ever the Boy Scout, he wanted to hold onto it in case we needed it later on.  That turned out to be a fantastic idea, since several strange things happened requiring ingenuity as well as sheets, blankets, and so many garbage bags.

Regardless of our agreement that this summer would have to be good enough (in other words, we would all have to tough it out), I spent much of the time worrying. I missed my friends and had no outlet to work through my emotions about being uprooted.  Everything that could go wrong seemed to.  The underwriters harassed us nonstop for proof to further prove our proof of various documentation (and I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it is exactly what they requested).  My car was in the shop during our entire visit to Texas, and it started to malfunction from new problems during our trip from Texas back to Missouri. Our dog almost drowned, our oldest child turned into a moody teenager, and we were always at the mercy of the family members who took us in.  Every day was a new mini drama.

A quiet moment of reflection at the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum.

A quiet moment of reflection at the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum.

All I wanted was something better for my family, because we deserved a really great summer.  Hell, I deserved a really great summer!  My husband and I argued a lot and fought a little.  There were days when I wanted to run away from my family and establish a life as a fabulous hermit/diva somewhere in Europe.  I stress ate, when I actually remembered to eat.  When we limped the broken SUV into our new town in Missouri, we were met with empty promises from the bank, so we ended up in a horrid little motel. Our room had a mysterious, overpowering odor later identified as the mold and mildew that spawns after extensive water damage.

We arrived at our house for the walk-through feeling dirty and dejected, smelling of mildew, sleep deprived and slightly malnourished (having eaten nothing but ham on white bread for what seemed like years).  The seller, who happened to be a realtor with nothing to lose, took pity on us because we had essentially become the delightfully comical Griswold family from the National Lampoons Vacation movies, and she agreed to a temporary rental until the underwriters were finally satisfied with their scrutiny of just about every aspect of our lives.

Food for thought at my favorite sculpture park in South Dakota.

Food for thought at my favorite sculpture park in South Dakota.

Everything worked out in the end, but more work and a lot of introspection was required to get to this point.  ISummer is winding down, and as I go through photos of the family, I realize that maybe we actually did have a good summer.  Maybe our expectations were exceeded, and we didn’t have a merely mediocre time.  Sure, on some days there was crying, swearing, and fighting, and sometimes we were quite miserable, even pathetically so.  Looking back, at more happy memories than sad, I have realized that I am an ignorant woman. It took me the entire summer to figure out that when it comes to family relationships, there is no such thing as ‘good enough’.  There is just love, and try, and care, and time.

~G

Lasts and Firsts

During our last trip to the park this week.

Ross during our last trip to the park.

It has been two weeks since our family lost Ross The Dog to kidney failure.  We were a bit naive to how painful the grieving process would actually be when the time came to say goodbye, and many of the realizations took us by surprise.  After spending seven good years with Ross, it wasn’t just the last moments that broke our hearts, it was all the firsts.

The first time I had to come home to an empty house, I stood in the garage, terrified to open the door leading inside.  I knew who wouldn’t be on the other side, and so I stood for nearly ten minutes, sobbing and willing myself to have the courage to open the door.  When I did, it felt as though a knife had been expertly and cruelly pushed directly into my heart.  This was the first of many firsts without Ross.  The next day, my husband would encounter this same heartbreak, equally painful, as he realized Ross would never again be there at the door to greet him when he came home from work.

On our first  morning without a thumping tail and slobbery kisses to emphasize the alarm, no walk to the back door for a morning constitutional, no dog food and water bowl routine, we didn’t want to even get out of bed.  Without a dog to summon the morning, what was the point?  I found the house much too lonely after Van went to work and the girls went to school, and would wait to hear the tinkling of Ross’s dog tag on the tile floor.  I caught myself looking for him, thinking that a pair of blue jeans thrown on the floor was him just lying down for a nap, then crying when I realized that my brain was playing mean tricks on me.  I kept walking to the back door, opening it, and standing there stupidly, waiting for a dog who would never come in or go out.

Ross as a puppy.

Ross as a puppy.

My husband calls Ross his conscience, says that he must have been mine too; a creature who reflected back to us our very thoughts, hopes, potential, goodness, and joy in simple pleasures.  He could just look at us and communicate exactly what we needed to be told in the moment.  We didn’t realize how much of a routine we had developed around Ross; he may have trained us better than we trained him!  Van’s first time mowing the yard after Ross passed was very emotional for Van because Ross loved to roll in the fresh mowed grass.  We had to constantly remind each other that the firsts would be the hardest to overcome, and we leaned on one another more than usual.  About two days after Ross died, I felt a presence in our bedroom after we had laid down for the night.  The room was dark and quiet, and there was a heaviness near the foot of the bed.  It seemed to lean against my legs and warm me with a sensation of peace.  I had never given any thought to the idea of a loved one’s energy dispersing from a place after death, but for the first time since Ross passed, I experienced his energy around me, and it was a great comfort.

Teddy, being adorable during a nap.

Teddy, being adorable during a nap.

Van couldn’t wait long before we got a new puppy.  I wasn’t sure that it was wise to just get another dog immediately after Ross, but Van made a wonderful choice in Teddy.  Theodore Baker, named after Theodore Roosevelt and a bottle of Baker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, came to us from South Dakota, and stole our hearts.  The first time I saw him peering through our front window quizzically, asking to be let into his new home, I knew he was the right dog for us, and it wasn’t too early.  He isn’t intended to replace Ross, but to bring joy to our lives and be the new companion that we need.  As Van said about Ross, “He was the right dog that we needed at the time, and he did more for us than we can ever repay.”  Teddy is the right dog to start a new chapter in our life as a family, and he is in just the right place to continue the legacy begun by Ross the Dog.  We are looking forward to all the firsts with Teddy.

~G

The Final Days of Ross The Dog

Ross having a good day and preparing for his final hunt.

Ross having a good day and preparing for his final hunt.

Today I woke up to the sound of a gentle rain,  and it reminded me of the lyrics to that old song, If Ever I Would Leave You.  I went out to the back deck, with “If ever I would leave you, how could it be in springtime?” running absently through my head. The pristine morning with softly falling rain and cheerful birdsong completed a long, sad week of saying goodbye to our beloved, fun loving spirit known as Ross The Dog.  Ross was special in many ways, but perhaps what differentiated him from other dogs is that when people got to know Ross, they would say, “I want a dog like that.  I want a Ross.”  On Thursday, while Ross was out hunting for one last pheasant, I bought a bottle of whiskey aged seven years, same as Ross, so that my husband and I could make a toast to our first family dog.  After Van returned with the pheasants and told the story of Ross’s glorious final hunt, we clinked glasses and choked back tears.  “To the best pet.”  I said.  “A good dog.”  Van added.  It wasn’t necessary to say anything more.  Ross was a dog that broke the mold on canine companions, a dog that set impossible pet standards.

Ross taking a nap with his person, Alexis, this spring.

Ross taking a nap with his person, Alexis, this spring.

I wasn’t on board when it came to getting a dog.  Basically Van wanted a puppy but I didn’t think it was a good idea at that time, so he picked out Ross, without my permission, and I had to hold the enemy in my lap during a very long drive home.  Ross peed all over me.  I was quite angry.  I never admitted this to anyone in seven years, but even as angry as I was about Van buying a dog — without my permission — that then peed on me –my heart totally melted while I held him during that long ride home.  Ross learned that Van was the Master, and I was Mommy.  Sometimes this caused problems when Mommy didn’t want Ross doing something, but the Master overruled.  Ross always knew that Mommy somehow trumped the Master (wink).  But possibly the greatest compliment Van has ever given me in reference to my dedication to Ross, was when he said recently, “If there is such thing as reincarnation, I would like to come back as one of Georgeann’s dogs.  It doesn’t matter which, because I know that if I am her dog, I will be cared for better than any other dog.”

Ross learned that there were little companions to play with and protect.  Our children became his new friends, and our youngest became his Person, his life long soul mate.  Alexis would sneak food to Ross during dinner, stick her fingers up his nose and in his mouth during inspections, and use him as a pillow or footstool.  He was very patient and gentle with her and her siblings.  Alexis was the only one who Ross listened to all the time.  Listening to me was optional, and he listened to Van most of the time, but he always listened to Alexis.  And she could get him to do anything.  I didn’t like to take Ross on walks because he pulled on the leash and acted belligerent.  With Alexis, he heeled perfectly and stayed on pace with her, and she never had to say a word.

Alexis proudly showing off her picture of Ross.

Alexis proudly showing off her picture of Ross.

During our last trip to the park this week.

During our last trip to the park this week.

We always knew our time with Ross would be limited.  I still vividly remember how sick he became one day many years ago.  We had only recently moved to South Dakota, Ross was just a few months old, but growing fast, and we had become very attached to him.  We rushed him to the veterinary clinic down the road from our house.  The news was depressing.  Ross was in kidney failure and the doctor didn’t believe that he would live to be one year old.  One kidney was tiny and deformed, and the other wasn’t detectable on an x-ray.  We decided that the best way to care for Ross was to treat him with as much love as we could, for however long he had left.  We started him on a special diet and gave him extra TLC every day.  And we never, ever took him for granted.  He celebrated his seventh birthday this January, a pretty long and successful life for a dog not meant to live more than twelve months!

Resting on the deck after returning from his visit to K State earlier this week.

Resting on the deck after returning from his visit to K State earlier this week.

Last week he became sick again, and I saw the same signs as the first time.  Van took him to the K State animal hospital in the Veterinary Sciences Department.  He was kept there for three days under the incredible care of the students and staff, but the prognosis was not optimistic.  His renal levels were fourteen times what should have killed a dog his size, the veterinarian was mystified, and the one explanation that Van and I could give for Ross living so long was that he was the dog that was meant to be with us at this point in our lives.  The student on his case told me that Ross was responding to the medications, and that he wanted to come home, but there was no guarantee how much longer he might live. “We may have only bought you two days, maybe two weeks, optimistically a few months, but it’s just difficult to know.” she said.  I felt in my heart the answer.

Ross playing in the snow, South Dakota.

Ross playing in the snow, South Dakota.

The night that we got Ross back from K State, I had a dream about him.  He was loping to me, all tail wags and happy panting.  He was wet and shiny like a bright penny under water.  He was young, maybe only three years old, with the best muscle tone I’d ever seen, and his eyes were clear with intent.  I didn’t know what he was trying to tell me.  The next two nights, I was up with him.  He was very restless and had to be let out often.  He was vomiting and couldn’t control his bowels, wouldn’t eat or even drink water.  It was gut wrenching to see him like this, but I was his Mommy, and I was there to clean him up and take care of him.  He seemed to be fighting sleep, as though he suspected that sleep might try to sneak in a more final condition without his approval.  Since I couldn’t sleep anyway, I looked up dream interpretations about wet dogs.  Nothing.  Then I came across a Web sight for Native American dreams and visions.  My bright, shiny, wet dog, according to this site, was a reflection of my own personality and my response with the world around me.  It would be a few days before I understood the significance of the dream.

Ross getting brushed out by his favorite girls.

Ross getting brushed out by his favorite girls.

I think that I had started to notice small changes in Ross over the past year.  He began to slow down, take longer naps, and refuse his food more often.  As time went on, there were more days when he seemed to feel ill, and his hair began to turn white around the muzzle.  He still looked amazingly healthy for a dog with non-functioning kidneys, and to look at him you wouldn’t know that he really wasn’t a dog in his prime.  In just a few short weeks, I began to notice that instead of greeting me at the door with an energetic bark and wagging tail, he first stopped barking and just stood at the door, tail wagging gleefully, then he laid at the top of the stairs, no bark, but with tail thumping.  After a while, he was too tired to even wag his tail, but he would lie at the top of the stairs and turn over for me to scratch his belly.  Days near the end, I had to go find him.  This was very difficult, because I knew it was his way of telling me that he was too tired and weak to keep a routine.  He could tell me that he didn’t feel well, but he saved all his energy for Van and the girls, springing to greet them at the door like a fresh puppy, and he spent up the last of it playing with them.   He let me lay down next to him on the carpet in the bedroom when he was exhausted.  There had been many days when he patiently let me bury my head in his soft fur and have a good cry.  Now it was his turn to push his head against me for some hugs and comforting.  He needed someone to be there and tell him that it was okay, and so even though it terrified me, I put my face next to his, rubbed his shoulders, and said, “It’s okay, Buddy.  I know, it will be time soon.  You’re a good boy.  You can go when you’re ready.”

Watching and waiting.

Watching and waiting.

For me, the Mommy of the family, well, I like to think that he did something special, not that I could ever repay the favor.  Ross and I didn’t have that Master/Loyal Companion bond since he was officially Van’s dog.  But Ross knew his job was to protect the family and be a friend.  He spent more time with me than anyone else.  When Van was deployed or on a training mission, Ross never shirked his duties as the guardian of the home.  And when everyone left the house for work and school, Ross followed me around, got in my way, stole my place on the couch, took naps with me, rode with me in the car, played with me in the yard.  Most importantly, he listened to every word I said.  I told him all my problems, all my dreams, all my secrets.  He probably knew me better than any person! I could look at him and get an idea of what he might be thinking, and when the time came, I knew that Ross needed me to have strength that he no longer possessed, to encourage the family to let go.  He might have gone on living for another week or longer out of sheer willpower, but what kind of a life would it have been?   I told my husband that Ross seemed happy but that he also seemed to be waiting for permission to depart.  Van just needed a little time to prepare a final pheasant hunt.  I found Ross sitting in the bedroom and hugged him.  “Just hang in there for a couple more days, okay?”.  He seemed to give a nod of agreement.

Our family taking Ross for his last walk around the neighborhood.

Our family taking Ross for his last walk around the neighborhood.

There was no way to really repay Ross for a lifetime of loyalty and friendship but I decided to give him the best last day possible.  The things that a dog likes are so simple in nature that they should be a lesson to us all: a ride in a car on a sunny day, rolling in the grass, a nap on an old bed, a crust of good bread, and being with our favorite people.  What better way to pass a last day?  He was too weak to jump easily into my car  so I had to boost him in, but he got to ride shotgun once more time as I made my way to a park near Milford Lake.  It was a chilly, windy morning, and the park was completely empty, so Ross had the place to himself.  I let him run as long as he wanted.  The view was quite pretty, although not as beautiful as South Dakota, where we had hoped that he could spend his final day.  I wondered if God granted dogs the ability to see in color in their final hours, and I hoped that Ross could see everything for how truly beautiful if was on that morning.  Tears started to stream down my face, but great sheets of wind quickly blew them away.  Ross paused from sniffing the grass to look at me quizzically, so I wiped my face and we walked through the park together, hot on the trail of a rabbit that was long gone.

Road DogHe tired quickly, so I helped him back into the car.  At home Ross seemed content just laying in the backyard.  I had been saving half a bundle of sage for a special occasion, so I lit it and let it smolder slowly, ceremonial incense from me to Ross.  I laid down on the grass beside him and smelled the sage and looked at the sky.  It was a gorgeous day.  I opened up the guest room and helped Ross onto the bed, his favorite place to nap, and he sprawled out in the afternoon sun.  I peeked in on him and chuckled to see how content he was dozing on his back with his legs flayed and sagging balls flopping out in the afternoon sun — just the way he liked to nap.  I’d bought frozen pizzas for supper because the one treat Ross was allowed on his special diet was pizza crust.  Van called to tell me that he had found a place for Ross to go on his last pheasant hunt, then he would take him back to K State.  He would go to sleep next to Van, with a freshly killed trophy pheasant to dream about as he began to doze.

Ross and his favorite toy, a stuffed sheep named Moss.

Ross and his favorite toy, a stuffed sheep named Moss.

After school we had to break the news to the girls.  I don’t want to ever have to go through that again, but after the initial shock, the girls agreed to take Ross for a walk around the block, brush him out, play with him in the yard, and feed him pizza crust.  He refused the pizza crusts, but did everything else, and more.  He even posed for some very touching pictures.  We explained to the girls that now was the time for them to tell him what they felt in their hearts and give him all their love so he would be ready for his journey.  As much as it hurt to say goodbye, our good memories of Ross are a reminder of the incredible relationship that we, as a family, had with him. When I think about Ross and the impact he had on our family and friends, I have to wonder if it’s possible for angels to appear in animal form.

A bonfire tribute for Ross.

A bonfire tribute for Ross.

Ross always hated it when Van built bonfires, probably because of his propensity to go overboard and inevitably blow up something.  Ross had a way of giving Van a disapproving look whenever Van was doing something stupid.  On Thursday afternoon, after showing me Ross’s beautiful pheasants, Van told me that on the drive back from the hunt, he was able to do one last stupid thing, just for Ross, and Ross gave him one last disapproving look, as if to say “I get it, dumbass!”  Last night, Van built a fire in my old chimenea that was meant to put all other bonfires to shame — and it did.  He blew up spray paint cans in it three times, which is how many times it took to completely destroy the chimenea.  The third explosion was so glorious that the blast scrambled the video I was taking on my phone (much to my dismay), scattered shards of pottery and burned out paint cans as far as twelve feet from the blast zone, and splattered yellow paint on the deck chairs.  Yellow paint for a yellow dog — very appropriate!

Fire and rain are re-energizing, recharging forces of nature necessary for healing and renewal.  This morning, waking to the sound of rain, my wet dog dream finally made sense.  Ross was not wet from a smelly pond or from bathwater, but from fresh pure rain, he smelled of sweetgrass, looked beautiful, and shone like new a penny.  He was healthy, happy, and strong.  Call me a batty sentimentalist, but I choose to believe in things that make me feel good.  Van’s bonfire was one last tribute to Ross from a bunch of silly, awkward, lost humans, and my dream was a message from Ross to wait for rain.  Then  tonight around dinner time, the sky opened up with the most beautiful and gentle rainstorm we had ever seen in Kansas, sending cool blankets of the rain billowing down to drench us.  We watched the girls play in it for hours, laughing and talking about Ross’s brilliant gift to us for taking care of him.  It was just his way of telling us that he saw it, and that he loves us even though we are all dumbasses.

~G

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