Opening the New Year with Compassion

If you want the world to be happy: practice compassion. If you want to be happy: practice compassion.
~ Dalai Lama

I particularly love this time of year, the silent yet stirring segue of the final week of 2015 into the fresh new pages of 2016. As I pondered what I would say here today to open this new year, I found the answer when I prepared to do my morning mindful meditation. Its theme, which resonates deeply in my wishful heart, was: May all beings be well and happy.

This metta-meditation, a very old Buddha technique to cultivate compassion, with regular practice can recondition our minds and open our hearts to both ourselves and others. Metta-meditation tells us we must not decide who deserves our compassion and who does not, but rather that compassion is something all beings deserve, even those responsible for horrendous crimes against humanity.

The guided meditation method to wish happiness and wellness for all beings is to first sit comfortably and, if helpful, close your eyes. First, see yourself in your mind, and mindfully say:

• May I be well and happy. Repeat.
• May I have no fears or sorrows. Repeat.
• May I be healthy and free from illness. Repeat.
• May I live calmly and peacefully. Repeat.

Then repeat the same affirmations for all others in this list, adjusting it to apply to you; for example you may not have a child but someone else you’d like to include. These are examples:

• Parents
May my parents be well and happy. Repeat.
May my parents have no fears or sorrows. Repeat.
May I be healthy and free from illness. Repeat.
May I live calmly and peacefully. Repeat.

Then repeat the meditation for each person on your list:

• Spouse or partner
• Child
• Teachers and mentor
• Friend
• A neutral person with whom you share the simple bond of being a fellow human being
• A person you dislike, keeping in mind the truth that “he or she is just like you—with pains and frustrations, desires and hopes.”
• All humans in the world
• All living beings everywhere, from single cell organisms to the highest form of intelligence

Professor Muesse (see below) states that “medical studies have been conducted and support the claim that prayer has a tangible, empirical effect on the health of those prayed for.” And “whether or not you believe in the effects of this practice… consider the fact that relieving a little of the hostility of just one person—yourself—will make that world a little better for everyone.”

I have found over time this practice has brought a noticeable and welcomed softening to my heart.

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Source: The Great Courses Series – Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation by Professor Mark W. Muesse, PhD, Rhodes College – Lecture #17

 

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Leaving the Farm, Part II – Hilary, 21 Years Later

As I drove up the mountain to have my car serviced early this morning, I noticed some yellow walnut leaves lightly fluttering to the ground. They reminded me that in a few months there will be, instead of dying leaves, large snowflakes gently falling in a hushed early winter snowfall.

I’d been thinking about my cat, Hilary, and her more than two decades of life thus far. At my vet’s office, she’s known as the poster child for wellness chec2010-06-03 22.08.20k-ups. Why, you might wonder? Well, four years ago I took her in, expecting the usual good checkup, and learned she had breast cancer. Stunned, I didn’t even know cats got breast cancer. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she also needed surgery for stones in her urinary tract. I asked the vet my questions: what was her prognosis with and without surgery? With surgery, if the cancer didn’t re-occur in six months, chances were it wouldn’t. Without surgery, her life could last a few months more. What was her general condition aside from her current problems? Her blood work showed she appeared otherwise in good general health for a seventeen year old cat. What was the cost? Both surgeries could be done the same day and would amount to roughly $1,000.00.

I asked for some time to consider. Alone, then, with Hilary, I looked into her eyes as she watched me, almost appearing to understand we were going to have a serious talk. A tabby, she has black lines near her eyes that also give her the appearance of a perpetual frown.

“Okay, little girl, we have a choice: surgery or not,” I said in a low voice, still not knowing the decision.

“Remember when Mom’s cat got so sick and the vet did more than a thousand dollars of testing to determine what was wrong, and then Buster died two days later?”

Hilary, feet tucked under her on the gray Formica exam table, watched me, seeming to get the drift of the conversation, if her eye expression was any indicator. I stared at her quietly then, weighing our options: aged cat, costly surgery, would it give her added life or would it put her through discomfort and she might die soon after?

Was I imagining it, or was Hilary staring at me with obvious trust in her eyes? The options silently swirled around in my head until finally the vet’s words stood at the front of the line of the other choices: she’s otherwise in good general health.

I had my answer and it felt exactly right. “Okay, Hilary. Here’s what we’re going to do.”
She listened attentively, her lime-green eyes fastened on mine. “Let’s do the surgery. What I hope you can do is survive the six months cancer-free, okay? Let’s hope that will happen because we’ll do the breast cancer surgery just this once.”

So that’s what we did. She came through the surgery beautifully, passed the six-month cancer-free marker, and we got to share two more healthy years. When I took her in for a check-up last year, she’d been noticeably losing weight and I braced myself. Her new diagnosis was renal failure, quite common in older cats, I learned. “How much time does she have?” I asked the vet.

“It’s hard to tell,” she said. “She’s lost a lot of weight, but she appears to be doing okay otherwise.” She prescribed some maintenance medications which have brought us to today. Hilary’s a little over five pounds now, tips and totters a lot when she walks, yet still seems comfortable as she maintains her usual patterns. She sticks to her routine of waiting by the door each morning for me to let her out on the front deck where she spends her Virginia retirement in warmth, she begins pacing when around 6pm when it’s time for her wet food, and, otherwise, is a bit snippy with my other cat, my son’s cat when she visits there, and my daughter’s dogs who really want to be her friend.

And so, as golden leaves gently spiral to the ground, I do the one thing I can: I treasure each day, aware that the bitter-cold day will come when she and I will have to say good-bye.

Posted in Animal friends, Gifts, Gratitude, Health, Mother Nature | 7 Comments

Addie’s Journal – Chapter 4

Dear Reader,

The horrific events in neighboring Charlottesville a week ago profoundly impacted my recent writing. Today I pick up the thread where we left off awhile ago: Adelaide’s arrival at her new home.

Mary Jo

***

Staff at the Humane Society felt Adelaide had most likely lived in a beagle kennel, in the manner many hunters house their numerous hunting dogs. My daughter felt she’d also probably never lived in a home.

So now we were home on our first day where I leashed and guided Addie from the car around the house and toward the back deck, where she dropped to the ground near the deck steps and would not move. I gently coaxed to no avail, then reached down and slipped my arms beneath her belly and carried her up into the house. She lay limp in my arms as I talked softly while taking her on a quiet little tour of the kitchen and living room, which was the space I planned for her to live in initially. When we finished, I placed Addie on the rug by the open door of her crate and watched her hurry inside and hunker down in a far corner. She stared up into my eyes with the saddest hound dog expression I’d ever seen.

I went to the kitchen to fill a water bowl for her and another with grain-free kibble. I sat with her as I placed them inside her crate and watched as she sniffed briefly at the food and ignored the water. After offering pieces of kibble for awhile, which she turned from, I told her I was going to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. She changed her position so she could keep her eyes on me. Again I spoke calming words to her as I reached into a cabinet for honey to spoon into my tea. As I pushed the cabinet door closed after replacing the honey, it made a small clunk sound. Addie jumped, looking fearfully around for the source of the sound.  Crikey, I have to be really careful for awhile I thought, considering the vacuum cleaner and food processor sounds. I knew I wouldn’t be using them in her presence any time soon and will confess to a little smile that crossed my face as I realized Addie, at the moment was, quite possibly, my best excuse ever for getting behind in vacuuming.

Holding my steaming, fragrant tea cup, I sat on the floor by the crate and talked to Addie, as she stared at me with wary eyes that spoke chapters about her previous experiences. Following several minutes of gentle words and strokes beneath her chin, her eyes closed. When I soundlessly rose to return to the kitchen, her eyes popped wide open and followed every step I took, something she would do all day, every day for weeks, I’d soon learn.

“Everything’s okay now, sweet little girl. You are home. You are safe and, best of all, no one’s ever going to hurt you again.” She stared, not understanding my words, as far as I could tell.

My son, Chip, appeared at my back door, tapping gently. He’d come to mow the lawn. When he came inside, he talked gently to Addie, who cowered in the crate and stared fearfully at him. Chip stepped back after his greeting and I became distracted as we talked and moved into the kitchen. Thus, I didn’t notice my cat Button walk near Addie, whom I’d not yet either introduced or prepared for our new housemate. Her crate door open, Button hissed at her and swiped his paw at Addie’s face. My heart sank as I watched a scene I’d never intended to happen. Quickly I scooped up Button and removed him from the room, talking with and reassuring him that this was his home, and now Addie’s as well. He cried softly a few times as I talked and stroked his beautiful, soft black and white fur. Several minutes later, he’d calmed and quieted and I carried Button toward Addie’s crate again, telling him about his new sister. Addie barked at him and I found myself smiling at this first sound I’d heard from her. Good girl, I thought, it’s okay to give Button a healthy boundary! I petted and reassured them both and told them they were the absolute best kids.

A few hours later, I wanted to take Addie outside hopefully for a call of nature. When I approached her with a leash, she wouldn’t stand up or leave her crate. I eventually lifted her out, fastened the leash, carried her outside, and placed her in the back yard where she suddenly became very engaged in excitedly sniffing the ground as we walked through the glen. I was thrilled to see her tail way a little. Nature made no call after half an hour though and so we walked back to the house, where, as she’d done earlier, she dropped to the ground by the deck steps and refused to move forward despite my gentle urgings of, “This way, Addie.” She either didn’t want to step up to the deck, or go inside, or most likely both. I picked her up and carried her into the house to her crate, where she seemed relieved to settle back in.

Throughout the remainder of the day, she and Button saw each other several times from a distance and made no further negative advances toward each other. Also throughout the day, Addie displayed no calls to nature and I would later learn this was not unusual for animals who had been starving.

By the end of Addie’s and my first day together, I had to agree with those who felt she’d never lived in a house. This little girl was terrified by every sound in the house where my cat, Button, and I resided in solitude and in what I would have described as near complete silence. Yet the low hum of the refrigerator, a sneeze, a softly whirring fan, the burbling dishwasher, the soothing ring of my cell phone, a spoon accidentally dropped in the sink–all stopped Addie in her tracks and widened her eyes in terror.

When I turned on the six o’clock news hour on television, she cringed and pushed against the back of her crate, desperate to flee. I turned the volume to zero but her fear didn’t subside as she watched the figures moving on the screen. I didn’t watch news for a few days. When I tried softly playing classical music, she ran to the farthest corner of the kitchen, hunkered down, and shuddered.

I was concerned for her when bedtime arrived. Addie had not used our several walks outside to relieve herself in any way. Nor had she eaten any food. She’d lapped a small amount of water, though.

“Are you okay,” I asked with deep concern as I looked into her beautiful brown eyes, preparing to turn out the lights. She looked at me sadly.

“Addie, it’s going to be okay,” I promised, hoping my words spoke the truth I passionately wished for her. “I’ll see you in the morning,” I said, turned out the lights, and pushed a dimmer switch to give low illumination to the living room, where she was.

“Good night, Addie,” I called from my bedroom.

She barked.

“I love you, Addie,” I said.

She didn’t bark again for the rest of the niight.

 

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Addie’s Journal – Chapter 3

“Hi,” Flower said happily to Polly and me. “I’m so glad to see you both. Adelaide’s room is back here.” Polly and I followed her through the shelter into a small hallway with lines of rooms on both sides. Large dogs barked noisily and jumped against their doors as we passed by.  At the fourth door on the left, we stopped and looked through the large window. My eyes fastened on the small black, white, and brown beagle lying on an elevated square cot covered with fleece. She looked at me with fearful brown eyes when I slowly entered the room by myself.

“Hi, Adelaide,” I said softly as I gradually sat down on the small stool by her bed. “I’m so glad to meet you. What a sweet girl you are,” I said, reaching out my folded hand toward her nose. She sniffed slightly for several seconds as I kept talking softly in a voice that sought to give her reassurance that all was well. I slowly moved my hand under her chin and tenderly stroked her soft fur, pleased that she allowed me to do this.

Polly remained outside the door with Flower, and watched us for several minutes, then silently entered the room. Addie looked over at her as Polly also talked in a soft, tender voice and extended her hand. As my daughter and I conveyed caring and kindness toward the little canine whose angry red wounds on her back and rear legs were so visible, Adelaide lay still. I looked around at the walls that encircled Adelaide, walls that had been lovingly painted with scenes portraying a room inside a home. Each of the walls was painted a soft green and each contained a mural. The wall behind me held a 4-shelf bookcase filled with books. The top bookcase shelf supported pretty, colorful flowers arranged in a red vase. The mural behind Adelaide held a yellow loveseat with plump, inviting orange and green pillows. An end table stood next to the couch with a wood-based lamp topped with a green lampshade. A third wall held a table with cheerfully colored knick knacks.

Flower quietly opened the door and stepped in. “Want to take Adelaide for a walk?”

“Absolutely,” I said, beaming. Flower fastened a leash to Adelaide’s collar and opened the door. Immediately a cacophony of loud barking started and Addie dropped to the floor, refusing to walk. Flower picked her up like a two-year-old child and carried her to the side door and outside where all was quiet. She put Adelaide on the ground and stroked her as she handed the leash to me.

A few years ago, the University of Virginia women’s softball team created a dog walking trail in a wooded area behind the facility. Polly, Adelaide, and I walked up to the trail and entered into the silent beauty of natural paths; strong trees; grassy areas; and wildflowers; and watched as Adelaide transformed before our delighted eyes. First her little tail started to wag, then she put her nose to the ground and sniffed as she walked ahead following wherever her nose led. When she headed off the trail, I gently tugged her leash or bent down to lift her back on trail, where she happily resumed her scented search in the outdoor world.

“I think she’d be just fine living with you,” Polly told me.

“So do I,” I replied, then said words from the depths of my heart. “I want to adopt her.”

Polly smiled and nodded. After we’d walked the entire trail, we returned to the facility. When we hiked close enough that Adelaide heard loud barking again, I lifted her into my arms, cherishing the feeling of embracing her. Adelaide offered no resistance as I carried her inside and I hoped that meant she felt some measure of trust in me to protect her. We returned to her room and sat close by as she lay back on her bed. Flower and her therapy friend, Jodie, returned and we talked more about the little canine who was the center of all our attention. I told Flower my wish to adopt Adelaide.

“She’s scheduled to be spayed four days from now and will be ready for you to take home by the weekend, if you decide you want to take her,” Fonda had told me in an email earlier that day. In the room, we all talked quietly a bit more, as we took turns gently stroking Adelaide, who moved her eyes still warily from one to the other of us as we spoke. Flower and Jodie left to see other dogs, opening the door to renewed loud barking. I kept stroking Adelaide to reassure the fear her small body silently emanated.

Suddenly Polly said, “Mom, can you take her home today? Do you have what you need for her? She’s terrified here. She would do so much better at your house, where it’s quiet.”

A few seconds later, after a quick mental inventory of what I needed to have for Adelaide at the house, I said, “Yes, I can. I’d like to borrow your small crate though.  She’d feel lost in my big one.”

“We can stop on the way home and pick it up at my house,” Polly said. I nodded, then went to tell Flower our plan. Within ten minutes, Polly was driving us home as I sat in the back seat holding a trembling Adelaide, softly telling her, as I used to talk with foster children when I’d been a social worker, exactly what was happening. “Everything’s going to be fine, Adelaide, I promise you,” I said. She might have trembled a little less but her breathing remained rapid for the entire ride despite my efforts to calm her.

After Polly pulled into my driveway and turned off the engine, I remained in the car with Adelaide as my daughter carried the small crate into the house and quickly assembled it. She returned to the car, where I was talking to Adelaide. “You are home, Adelaide. This is your home and we’ll soon explore the glen, the woods, the stream, and the huge dog pen where we can run and play together.” I lifted her from the car, placed her on the grass, and said, “This way, Adelaide,” as I led her around the house to the back sliding glass door. She sniffed her way forward and my heart melted as I watched her tail wag just a little bit.

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Addie’s first afternoon at homeIMG_20170709_183056203

Not a good shot above, but shows her trauma in her eyes

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Addie’s Journal – Chapter 2

Flower, the adoption counselor, had emailed the evening before Polly and I visited the shelter, a note that well-prepared me for the visit. I’ll bring some boiled chicken for you to give her and I’ll have a little stool in her room for you to sit on. Then I’ll leave you along with her so you can ‘speak to each other,’ Flower wrote.

One of Flower’s dog therapy friends, Jodie—very good with shy and/or physically damaged dogs—had joined her at the shelter and they’d spent a lot of time with Adelaide. Addie is such a precious little dog that is trying to be brave in all of the noise and chaos of the shelter—but it isn’t easy for her to relax just yet (totally understandable). Lord only knows the trouble she’s seen. It is likely that she would have been dead by now had Animal Control not discovered her.

The first thing Jodie and I did was sit in her room with her. Unlike dogs who are terrified of people, Addie shyly welcomed us and did not tremble or cower when we walked in. I took my offering of boiled chicken breast in with me and Addie just laid on her bed enjoying Jodie’s caresses while I sat down next to her bed. I held out a small gift of chicken. She sniffed it, perked up a little, and began eating it very gently. (Her empty breakfast bowl was nearby—she had already enjoyed breakfast.) Jodie loved on her while I hand fed her, but I didn’t feed her too much. She is very skinny but her belly was round and full of food by then. After I put the chicken away I loved on her too. She really enjoys gentle physical affection and doesn’t seem afraid of people at all—but she is concerned about noise and fast, unexpected movements. 

Adelaide’s wounds are clean and seem to be healing nicely. Her ears looked clean inside—the vet may have cleaned them. Her teeth look pretty good too—they are not old teeth. The poor thing is missing hair in many places—especially where the ticks had their way with her. It seems to Jodie, and Fonda, and me that she might have been attacked by an animal. Some of her wounds are punctures.    

 Jodie leashed her up to take her on a walk but when Jodie tried to walk her down the noisy hallway, Adelaide balked. She walked, but she didn’t want to. Once out in the fenced area, with dogs barking all around and a backfiring truck barreling down Route 29, Addie melted onto the ground and wouldn’t move. She couldn’t be coaxed either. Jodie finally picked her up and carried her to the hiking trail behind the shelter, and put her down again. Addie was more than happy to walk then and she was very good and gentle on leash. She freely walked the entire trail, sniffing around like all healthy, happy dogs do, but she shut down again when they neared the parking lot of the shelter. Jodie had to carry her back into the shelter.

   It isn’t Addie’s fault that she is afraid to move around freely in the shelter environment. She’s been through so much and life has taught her that she needs to be careful. She doesn’t seem to be afraid of people at all though. She loves to have her face and chin stroked, and what hair she does have is very soft.                                                   

   Adelaide needs a quiet home in a quiet setting; we are pretty sure about that. If you decide to adopt her, Ed and I will loan you a crate so you can set it up as her own “safe haven.” Dogs often like little spots where they can go to feel safe if they become overwhelmed at times. And you will be able to secure the crate door closed when you, at first, have to leave her home alone before you get to know her real well. We will loan you a crate for as long as you feel you need one.

There is no pressure for you to adopt Adelaide, but I do think she would be very easy for you to manage on leash and it appears that she probably won’t be all that interested in your cat.

See you tomorrow and I am looking forward to it!                                                                  

So did I….

***

The next morning Polly drove the 40 minute trip to the shelter.

“You know,” I said, “Grandmother Davis’ mother was named Adelaide. There’s a part in my memoir where I write about a memory of being together with Mom, her mom, and her mom’s mom, four generations of women, in my grandmother’s kitchen. They were bathing me in the huge kitchen sink, preparing me for my first day of school. It’s the only time I recall being with them all together, those quiet, gentle women. Hearing Adelaide’s name yesterday reminded me of that time with my great grandmother Adelaide.”

“And your mother lived on Adelaide Park,” Polly said.

“Yes. Now I wonder if Grandpa Davis had anything to do with naming that small lane.” Grampa had built Mom’s cozy cottage, as well as several homes that stand to this day on Long Island’s eastern south shore. Grampa had also cared well for his mother-in-law, Adelaide Cartright, widowed as a young mother with two small daughters and left impoverished. She responded to her crisis with strength and courage, boarding her girls with family members as she because employed as a housekeeper.

“It’s very possible Grampa suggested the name Adelaide Park for the road but the problem is there’s no one alive now that I can ask.”

I smiled sadly as Polly turned left into the shelter parking lot. “Don’t let that happen to you, okay? Ask me your questions now while I’m still here,” I reminded her.                                                                                                                                                                   She nodded decisively. Then I pondered how these little pieces of serendipity floating in the gentle breeze that were giving me a warm feeling about Adelaide before I even met her. The universe will show us all where the right place for this little girl will be, I thought as I stepped out of the car. I trusted that feeling with my entire being.

It was the same feeling I’d experienced with joy several weeks ago when Flower had facilitated a beautiful re-homing transition for Beau, who had grown too strong for me. His new exceptional human, Liz, sends me photos of Beau and invites me to remain part of Beau’s life. I hiked with them one day and clearly saw how happy and settled and peaceful he was. Liz has been such a gift not only for Beau but also for me.

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Liz and Beau

***
And there in the lobby was Flower, who greeted us warmly.

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Adelaide’s Journal – Chapter 1

She was first known as Puncture Dog. Found in a ditch by Animal Control in Nelson County, VA, the tiny tri-colored stray was dehydrated, emaciated, covered in ticks, and infested with parasites.  Taken directly to the Lovingston Veterinarian Hospital,  she was hooked up to fluids and three people picked ticks off her for 20 minutes.  They cleaned the maggots from the wounds on her back and on both back legs, gave her antibiotics, dewormer, and a flea/tick treatment.  Tests for Lyme and Ehrlichia were positive.  No one knew for certain what happened to her; maybe she’d been attacked by a bear or coyote.

Varied paperwork showed her age estimates at 2, 3, or 4 years of age. Whatever year she was actually born, it appears that Puncture Dog may never have any known history prior to June 26, 2017 at 1:15pm. Intake history also reveals that on her BCS (Body Condition Score), a range of 1-5, with 5 being good health, Puncture Dog was scored as 1. She was much closer to death than life.

After three days of hospitalization, Dr. Ligon discharged Puncture Dog to Animal Control, who was required to keep her for a week from the day she was discovered to give her owner time to find her. But no one came forward for the sweet little stray, so Animal Control released her to the Nelson County Humane Society, a giant treasure of a small no-kill shelter, also known as Almost Home and The Little Shelter that Can. There, Puncture Dog was tenderly and lovingly greeted and cared for by deeply devoted staff. Fonda Bell also re-named Puncture Dog; she became Adelaide.

Two days after Adelaide entered Almost Home, I woke to find an email from Flower Vankan, who, with her husband Ed, are adoption counselors at Almost Home. Several weeks earlier, Flower had helped me re-home my cherished Beau, a long-legged, three-year-old Beagle-Whippet that I’d adopted the previous year. Beau had become too strong for me to handle when he saw deer, abundant on my quiet wooded country acreage. The day he jumped his fence because a deer was on the other side, I knew I could no longer keep him safe from the risk of being hit by a car or truck if he were chasing a deer. I called Almost Home and connected with Flower, who arranged Beau’s transition to his new owner Liz. In a moment I will never forget, the moment Liz and Beau met at the Crozet dog park, he ran to greet her and the oxygen filled with love at first sight. Theirs is a relationship that I feel reverential about. I have been writing that story in Beau’s Journal.

***

Flower’s email, said:

Good morning Mary Jo.  I hope you are doing well.  I know Beau is thriving! 

 I heard through the grapevine that you might be interested in getting a smaller, more manageable, less energetic dog someday.  You might not be ready yet, but when you are I’d love to help you.  That being the case, I want to tell you about this very sweet little dog our shelter took custody of 2 days ago.  She is a little bit shy but EVERYONE just loves her.  Please read about her below.  I will be at the shelter today and tomorrow from 11:00 am until 2:30 pm and I would love to introduce her to you IF you’d like to meet her.  Of course, there will be NO obligation on your part to adopt her…but I think a calm, loving home like yours (where she would never be hurt again) would be perfect for her.  AND…she might be your little cup of tea too.  

Thinking of you with love in my heart.  (You sure turned Beau into a wonderful doggie!)  Flower

Along with some of the information in the opening paragraph, Flower wrote: Adelaide is so skinny that her little head is bony.  She is missing some hair due to tick infestation and poor nutrition.  Her hair is sure to grow back and be very soft, once good nutrition kicks in.  She stayed at Lovingston Vet for three nights, receiving their TLC the entire time and by the time she left, she was wagging her tail and eating hungrily. 

Adelaide is tiny (about 14 pounds) but of course needs to gain a few pounds.  After she gains some weight and strength, she will be spayed (probably a week from now).  Even though her body isn’t feeling its best right now, her little spirit is beginning to feel happy.  And oh how we love being part of her happiness and healing process.

Once she is spayed, she will need to be kept calm for a week while she heals from it.  Anyone who has ever had a “little” Beagle knows how special they are.  They make wonderful house pets! 

***

I forwarded Flower’s email to my daughter, Polly: Want to visit Adelaide with me today or tomorrow?  Then I wrote to Flower and Fonda with an important question: Is Adelaide okay with cats? I have 7 year old Button, whom I found abandoned at age five days, who sees himself as an only child. He’s not nice to other cats, which is why I adopted Beau after my 21-year-old cat, Hilary, died. Beau and Button did just fine together. .

If Adelaide is okay with a cat, definitely, I will be down to meet her. 

***

Flower tested Adelaide with the shelter’s cats and reported she had no reaction to them, even when two of them reached out a paw to touch her.

Polly and I planned to visit Adelaide the following morning.

 

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Leaving Las Vegas

I’m flying home to Virginia at an altitude of 10,000 feet and climbing. As my eyes drink in the sight of the gorgeous desert mountain below, I feel I want never to forget what I am seeing. I silently whisper, Good bye, Las Vegas. I don’t think I’ll ever be back, now that Norma is gone. I let profound sadness briefly embrace me as I think of her life, of her love of the outdoor world, rich knowledge of geology, and much more. And then I accept, with regret as always, that there’s a time to say hello and a time to say good-bye.

I think of the Glioblastoma Support Group Norma had joined two years earlier. I’d felt so privileged to go with her. There was Todd, who’d founded the group after his own diagnosis, Norma, Betty, and several others with whom I’d become deeply connected. They became each other’s lifelines: sharing their experiences, what treatment had helped, what hadn’t, and what experimental treatment they were trying out for the brain cancer for which there presently remains no cure. They are all gone now, two years later, despite their valiant efforts and courage. Every one of them, gone. I think of each dear face, each story, each supporting family member by their sides and I am so thankful I knew them all. Good bye, dear ones.

I’ve just spent the past week with Norma’s sister, Linda, at Norma’s desert home in Las Vegas’ outskirts, where the amazing lights of the Vegas strip were in view yet far enough away to not impede the rich solitude of her home, overlooked by beautiful Lonesome Mountain. There she had created a unique landscape on her property that reflected her love of the natural world and the unusual plants and rocks it offered as gifts.IMG_20170501_164841098

The night I arrived, I stepped outside alone into the dark night onto the pool patio. The desert breeze blew sturdily and I found myself centered in a rush of wind that caused Norma’s huge lavender plants and grasses and flowers to bend, to reach out and touch me. Surround me. Reminding me that while she traveled the world, home was here. As I stood, open to anything else the night would bring, these words silently arrive: I am still here… This place will always be part of me… Remember me….

I think back to two years when I stayed with Norma for several weeks after her initial surgery. Chemo. Radiation. Her glioblastoma support group. Losing her hair. Falling down. Working to regain the use of her right arm again and strengthen her legs. Loss of appetite. Losing weight. Struggling to create food that appealed to her compromised body. Our shared time was often intense, yet we had some moments of deep, rich conversation.

One night shortly after I’d arrived, I asked, “Norma, what’s on your bucket list that I can help you do while I’m here?”

She didn’t hesitate. “I want to finish my book.” She paused, looked into the distance, then said, as she swung her arm in an arc to encompass the world inside her home, “I’ll be at peace with letting go of this life.” My first thought was that I couldn’t accept her feeling of being okay about letting go, until I took time later to think deeply about Norma’s present life. This woman who had climbed and studied mountain ranges all over the world could now not leave home without a wheelchair. There was no cure for glioblastoma. If she elected repeated surgeries, her risk was very high that her brain and cognitive skills would become impaired. In fact, I came to see IMG_20170501_165016803that glioblastoma would steal her life twice: first, by removing her completely from the life she’d loved so passionately, and later it would take the life breath from her body.

“Sure, let’s get started with the book,” I said. “What can I do?”

Following each morning’s ablutions, we sat at the dining room table at the computer and worked until lunch. After lunch we resumed until she took an hour nap. I saw how her energy increased by having set this goal. I also mourned how difficult it was for her to find, gather, and organize the material she needed on her Mac. Already she had sustained brain impairment. Later, when the cancer stepped out of remission and began to creep around her brain again—the best brain in the family, in my opinion—her oncologist pressed for a second surgery. Norma debated at length and then declined surgery so as not to risk further cognitive harm. Her primary reason for living was her book.

We worked as much as we could, with painfully slowness, each day until I returned home, not wanting to be utterly depleted and feeling I’d lost my life as I became her caretaker, yet it was my truth. We talked by phone then, not often enough, but doing our best. Sometimes she was sharp and talked as she always had, with wit and intelligence, while other times I could not understand her.

Our most memorable conversation for me was one when I asked a question I’d been wondering about. “Norma, do you remember what you told me about wanting to complete your book, and then you’d be at peace with dying?”

“No,” she replied, a puzzled tone in her voice. Perhaps confusion or unhappiness because she could not remember or something else I couldn’t identify.

The conversation passed into memory. Until I talked with her sister, Linda, a few days after Norma died. After I expressed my condolences, I said, “Linda, I have to ask. Did Norma get the book finished?”

“The final draft arrived the day before she died, but she was in a coma then so she didn’t get to see it. But, yes, it’s done.”

I will never forget Linda’s words. Each time I think of them, I’m profoundly reminded of how powerful are our intentions. Powerful enough for a woman with a horrific brain cancer to achieve her heart’s desire.

IMG_20170501_172855244 (2)Norma wished her ashes to be spread in four of her favorite locations: among her favorite plants, trees, and places at her home, moments I shared as Linda caringly performed as I tenderly witnessed; high on a Nevada mountain, which her local hiking friends will do; on another mountain on a different continent, which other hiking friends will carry out; and on the small dairy farm in Cherry Valley, NY, where she and Linda grew up, which Linda will do. I’d like to go with her, if I can.

So, the sandy desert mountains are behind me now, probably forever. In my heart, though, I know Norma is at peace and I am, as well.

Posted in Aging, Family, Glioblastoma, Grace, Health, Mother Nature, Mystery | 5 Comments

A Mindful Meditation of our Women’s Life-Writing Circle

We gather in our quiet, secluded space at the recently constructed, variegated-beige stone Crozet Library, bringing the life-story we have written in preparation at home. We greet each other warmly as each woman arrives, and ask how things have been since we last gathered. “We missed you last time,” or “How is your arthritis/pneumonia/or other recent ailment healing?” or “Here’s the book I promised to bring you last time,” are some recent observations I’ve heard. When we have caught up with everyone’s well-being, we transition to preparation to share our stories, written from thematic prompts given at our previous gathering two weeks earlier.

I feel a change within myself then—a melting away of all the information that flows like a river through my mind nearly all day, every day—sort of like turning off a news broadcast that leaves blessed silence in its place. A woman volunteers to read her story to begin our shared two hour gathering. I take a deep breath and exhale any stray interior distraction that might be lingering and prepare to fully listen to her words. She speaks her first sentence and everything else evaporates except her voice and what I hear in the words of this story of her life. She reads through it all and when finished we spontaneously affirm whatever the story has stirred within us. “I’ve been in that place, too,” or “What a powerful story you’ve written,” or “My favorite part of the story was when you said, ‘this’ or ‘that.’”

I listen closely to my heart’s response to the story and then share those thoughts with the writer, as does each of our seven members. When I look around the circle at each woman, I see we are as diverse as apples on a tree. After we’ve read and heard and discussed all our stories, we plan our topic for the next gathering. When we leave this place, we go home to different communities, different churches, and varied lifestyles; we have different ethnic backgrounds and hold dissimilar political ideals; we live alone or with family members or with pets. Although we seem at first to be so different, each time we share stories from our lives—and share laughter, sadness or tears, or other emotions–comfort or celebration–we form a richer bond. We discover we are not so different, after all.

Recently, we each shared “The Story I Don’t Want to Write.” When we met two weeks afterward, we agreed that was the moment in time when we opened a clearer, deeper bond with each other. We had known from previous gatherings that when we shared difficult stories, we were in a space filled with trust, respect, and confidentiality.

I pondered our time together that afternoon while driving home, those stories that had been heard and responded to with such honor, support, and compassion. Some women had also shared their own connecting threads with a particular story. And I wondered—avid, life-long mystery reader that I am—what was that silent, deeper layer that circled between us? After all, women have been sharing their stories for centuries.

When the answer came to my heart, I knew it was absolutely right.

Our time together was not only nurturing, it was sacred.

 

Posted in Community, Grace, Gratitude, Mystery, Womens' Writing Circles | 4 Comments

April the second

I wake slowly into this Sunday morning and lay still, thinking of earlier years on April the second.

This is the day my former in-laws married nearly a century ago. I think of all the ways their union interfaced with my life when I met and married their son four decades ago.

The sweet cat snuggled at my hip shifts position and I’m reminded that this is the day I have designated as his birthday, when, in 2009, I discovered him abandoned in my backyard, his eyes not yet open.

I think of my son, Keith, who left this world on this day in 1973. Time has softened that loss over the decades and it pleases me that I can smile today and see his happy, impish face on a summer afternoon beneath sunshine in the park. I fill with deep gratitude for the time we shared together.IMG_20170401_160313866

I think of yesterday, outside with my camera, delighting in the beauty of the multitude of bright purple violets sprinkled all over these acres. One flower alone  possesses such beauty that it is all I need for deep thankfulness to wash through my limbs, yet I’ve been given a multitude.

I rise, filled with some of the rich history of this day. The cat nuzzles me lovingly as I put food in his dish and the dog rises from the couch, stretches, and yawns with a little squeak. I wish these sweet souls a good morning and click on the dog’s leash. We slide the door open and step out into a bright sunny day, where a singular bird fills my psyche with her rich beautiful song as does the magenta glow of the red bud tree unfolding into a new season yet again. I greet this morning filled with the rich history of other days from my April the second book, and wonder what this April the second will bring. My heart is open.

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Posted in Bovina Stories, Family, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Living Mindfully, Mother Nature, Mystery, Peacefulness, Simplicity | 6 Comments

Simple, Delicious Hard Red Wheat Berry Bread

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If you love homemade bread, in particular a dense and chewy, richly-flavored, whole-grain loaf, here’s a recipe I’ve been using lately that’s amazingly easy to make and, oh, so delicious to eat.

Almost No-Work Whole Grain Bread

3 cups whole wheat flour (or, as recipe calls for, use 2 cups whole wheat flour plus a combination of 1 cup other whole grain flours like buckwheat, rye, or cornmeal)                1/2 teaspoon instant yeast                                                                                                                      2 teaspoons salt                                                                                                                                         2 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil                                                                                                        1 cup cooked hard red wheat berries (or, as recipe calls for, up to 1 cup chopped nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or proofed whole grains)

1. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 ½ cups water and stir until blended; the dough should be wet and sticky but not liquid; add more water if it seems dry. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for at least 12 and up to 24 hours. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.

2. Add some of the oil to grease the loaf pan and/or line pan with parchment paper. If you are adding nuts or anything else, fold them into the dough now with your hands or a rubber spatula. Transfer the dough to the loaf pan, using a rubber spatula gently to settle it in evenly. Brush the top with the remaining oil and sprinkle with cornmeal if you like. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, an hour or two, depending on your kitchen’s warmth. When it’s almost ready, heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Bake the bread until deep golden and hollow-sounding when tapped, about 45 minutes. (An instant read thermometer should register 200 degrees F when inserted into the center of the loaf.) Immediately turn out of the pan onto a rack and let cool before slicing.

~ Recipe adapted from “Food Matters. A Guide to Conscious Eating,” Mark Bittman, p 156

Have a slice toasted with your morning eggs or make French toast; use for your favorite sandwich, grilled or non-grilled with lettuce and all the fixings; delicious as stuffing for poultry, also. And if you like this bread, you’ll find many other ways to use it! Enjoy!

Posted in Health, In the Kitchen, Living Mindfully, Nurturance, Simplicity | 2 Comments

About Tribes

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Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.
It’s time for that to end.
~ Sebastian Junger

The title was what drew me—a woman who didn’t find her tribe until well into her fifth decade—to Sebastian Junger’s recent book, a thoughtful, richly-researched blend of anthropology, history, and psychology. He dedicated Tribe. On Homecoming and Belonging to his brothers who returned from war, as do so many, with PTSD.

Junger was raised in a safe, affluent Connecticut community where life was predictable, where residents lived far from the highway behind high hedges, and where neighbors rarely knew each other. The few problems that arose were solved by police, fire department, or town maintenance crews. The sheer predictability of life in an American suburb left me hoping—somewhat irresponsibly—for a hurricane or a tornado or something that would require us to all band together to survive. Something that would make us feel like a tribe. What I wanted wasn’t destruction and mayhem but the opposite: solidarity.

Yet he lived during a time in a place where danger rarely happened and he wondered: how, in the human experience, do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?

Following his 1986 college graduation, Junger ached to be involved with something, anything that could cause people to band together in a common cause. He decided he’d place himself into a situation where he had little to no control and set out to hitchhike across the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Minnesota. His backpack held quality camping gear and a week’s worth of food on the morning Junger was walking in Gillette, Wyoming and noticed a man wearing worn, greasy clothing approaching him.

“Where are you headed?” the man asked.

“California,” Junger said.

“How much food do you got?” the wild haired man asked.”

Junger felt wary and pondered how to reply. The man clearly didn’t have much and, while Junger was willing to share what he had, he didn’t want to be robbed, which appeared quite likely.

Junger minimized his larder and said, “Just a little cheese.”

“You can’t get to California with just a little cheese,” the man said. Their conversation continued and, in time, the man revealed he lived in a conked-out car and walked three miles each morning to a coal mine seeking fill-in work. This particular day they didn’t need him and he was walking back home.

“So, I don’t need these,” he said and gave Junger the bologna sandwich, apple, and chips from his lunchbox, food most likely prepared in a church kitchen.
He added, ”I saw you from town and … wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Junger thanked him and watched the man for several seconds as he walked back toward Gillette.

I thought about that man the rest of my trip, Junger wrote. In fact, Junger thought about him all his life. The man had been generous, yes, but more than that, he’d taken responsibility for me. He’d spotted me from town and walked half a mile out a highway to make sure I was okay. Junger reflected that family has to take us in, as Frost penned, but tribe might be defined as the people you feel compelled to share the last of your food with. For reasons I’ll never know, the man in Gillette decided to treat me like a member of his tribe.

This concise 136 page book shows how rare and precious tribes are in our present society. In showing us how their absence has affected us, Junger explores the ironic truths that for many: war feels better than peace, hardship can be a blessing, and catastrophic events can be recalled more caringly than spectacular events, such as a wedding. Each part of this book completely fascinated me, particularly the exploration of early Native American culture so rich in tribal practices. I highly recommend Tribe.

***

Sebastian Junger is the New York Times bestselling author of War, The Perfect Storm, Fire, and A Death in Bellmont. Together with Tim Hetherington, he directed the documentary Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and was nominated for an Oscar in 2011. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He lives in New York City.

Posted in A Wonderful Book, Book Reviews, Community, Compassion, Courage, Family, Friendship, Grace, Mystery, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Little Punkins

Although I’ve been making quilt squares in my spare time during the past year, on the winter evenings when dark arrives early, my perennial urge to knit returns once again. This inner prompting reminds me of the Catskill Mountain days in late winter so many years ago when I’d step outside one morning to find the night’s cool air had warmed and turned humid and my bones felt an ancient wisdom: maple syrup season had returned; time to tap the abundant maple trees for the watery sap that, when boiled down, turned into pure, heavenly maple syrup.

And so it is has become with knitting. This year the nudge arrived after Christmas when, coincidentally I found a delightful little book in my library titled itty-bitty hats by Susan B. Anderson. I took the book to lunch with my writing friend, Rita, one day and showed her the precious hats. She had just welcomed her first grandchild, Jake, and I wanted to make him a hat. Rita chose the “little pumpkin” hat.

One of the little hats below is for Jake and the other for a child in West Virginia I’ll never know. I’ll send the second hat along with several others I’ll make before spring to an impoverished area in West Virginia through a church mission project started several years ago by my friend, Carol, when she learned of a great need for warm winter coats, hats, and mittens by the children. Although Carol passed away more than a year ago, her church continues her wonderful project, now named “Carol’s Coats.”

On these dark evenings as I knit, ordinary time transforms to sacred as I mindfully thread prayers and love into the hats and feel deep gratitude: for Rita’s new grandson, for Carol’s kind heart and devotion to the project that lives on after her, and for the little ones who will wear the hats in West Virginia. I pray each child will be warm and happy and safe in our world. img_20170121_130458744

 

Posted in Community, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Living Mindfully, Peacefulness, Poverty, Simplicity, Uncategorized | 3 Comments