Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter Pastoral 2014

It's 11:52 PM on Monday, January 27, 2014 and here we are in the bleak mid-winter.  I'm learning to celebrate the new winter rituals, especially in the wee hours of the night.

Usually in Rhode Island we'd see winter evening temperatures plummet into the teens and consider ourselves up to the challenge.  Tonight we're entertaining the same, but the wind proves more formidable driving us down to a "real feel" of -7 degrees (a veritable heat wave in other parts of the country).

Our rituals are heartier now.  Two coats for me, two coats for Dickens.  Gloves for me, paw wax for him. An over-sized hood for me, he tucks his ears under his coat collar (if he doesn't wear the coat with a hood).  Short walks just to get the job done, but the cold wind still stings my cheeks.

Once we're in for the night, I check on my feral foster cat, Amelia Luna Diva.  She has two crates, a soft bed (that she hates) and a spot on an old jacket next to the baseboard heat (that she loves).  I give her two treats (that she loves), fresh water, and inspect the litter box.  She's good to go.

Next I check the man of the house (OK, the pup of the house).  He's given a handful of kibble to keep the acid reflux in check until morning.  I top off his water dish.  He spins around to land on his fleece blanket on the recliner.  In 10 seconds he's out like a light.

After the house quiets, I climb into my pajamas and prepare for bed.  I shuffle off to the kitchen to make some lemon balm tea loaded with honey.  While I'm there, I set the faucet to drip and paddle off to the bathroom to do the same to that faucet.  I settle in my recliner with my knitting or my book .

It is as quiet as it can be.  I hear dog and cat breathing accompanied by the steady -drip-drip-drip from the faucets.  Dickens wears an expression of inner contentment as does Amelia as she snuggles next to the baseboard.  The wind still howls outside, but this indoor winter tableau warms me from the inside out.

Good night!


Monday, January 27, 2014

Springing Ahead

Today's forecast serves as a bit of reprieve.  A chance to come up for air before the next polar vortex descends.  Time to take a few deep warm breaths before the cold lashes result in sharp inhalations. Mother Nature's respiration forces me to regulate my own.

My soul longs for the tender breezes of spring.  A time that sweeps away the ugliness of dirty snow and replaces the land with verdant life.  Of thawed earth, birdsong, and air as crisp and clean as a babbling brook.  Felled branches from harsh storms are cut & re-purposed to serve as garden borders and blankets of leaves are turned under to reveal tiny shoots.

However, while I dream of that time, the stark reality remains that we're a ways off from experiencing this awakening. Tomorrow it's back to layers, heavy boots, & mittens to protect my core from the sharp northwest winds.  Winter bites. Literally and figuratively.

Staring out the kitchen window my coffee keeps me company.  I placed the seed order last week and I'm praying the mail doesn't deliver a box full of frozen seed.  The list of things to do calls to me. Scanning the list I ask myself if there's something I can do to advance the season while keeping my awareness in the present moment.  Something that speaks of preparation, anticipation and the hint of good things must be on this list somewhere?.

And there it is...test last year's seeds.  Paper towels and carefully marked Zip Lock bags appear on the kitchen counter.  I moisten the paper towels with warm water then gently place five seeds down, swaddling them in the toweling, and placing them in their plastic incubators.  The bags rely on the warmth of the top of the refrigerator.  If they sprout, they'll find their home in the make-shift hydroponic outfit I'm trying.

This is the time where hope kicks in as I peek inside the bags each day to re-hydrate the paper towels. As I open each bag silent prayers rise that the tiny roots appear from the hard seed coating.  There is no promise in this exercise.  No guarantee of success.  Yet, to me viable seeds represent the hope stored within us all.  Hope is an energy.  It has the power to create strong stock given the right conditions. This simple act mirrors my life now in so many ways, but as I struggle through the hard, cold shell of winter living on nothing but the energy within me, with the right conditions, I just might grow roots.

At least there's a seed of hope.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Horses At Work: Not a Walk in the Park?

This week I learned of a brewing controversy in New York City regarding the Central Park carriage horses.  Author Jon Katz told us the story on our creative group "Open Group for Bedlam Farm" upon his return from the Big Apple. We're having respectful discussions pro and con, but I keep thinking we're missing the broader picture.

On one side, animal rights organizations and others have spoken out for the ban, claiming abuse and misuse of the animals.  On the other side, points made based on observation and discussion of the carriage ride industry and the wellness of the animals are all positive.  Still others have made equally weighted statements concerning other issues and problems within New York City that have a direct impact on the human condition.  All good and valid point and counterpoint, but I keep feeling there's more to the story based on the background research I've performed.

First of all let me make the following statements so you understand my point of view:
  1. Yes, I've been to New York City.  Yes, I've taken a carriage ride or two (or many).  All the horses appeared to be in good condition.  Getting on a carriage pulled by a scrawny horse ain't my idea of fun. I've also taken carriage rides on a trip to Rome.  In fact, the horses proved to be the better way to get around Rome safely and efficiently.  Roman cab drivers scare me to death!
  2. Yes, I've owned horses.  I've owned and worked as a stable manager where we took in horses from rescue organizations.  Horses that were in deplorable condition, so I know the face of abuse.  It ain't pretty.  In fact, it's pretty heart-wrenching, but care and love brought these creatures back to health.
  3. I also went to school with police officers who were accepted into our Mounted Patrol Unit when it first formed.  They'd tell me about the mounted law enforcement training program. They'd relay the terror of controlling a 1200+ lbs animal under them during a tear gas exercise.  Of reining in an animal as shots were being fired overhead.  The horses came from rescue and donations.  Some clearly too flighty for this type of work.  A few broken ankles and wrists made that clear.
  4. Very briefly, I had joined a rescue group and then unjoined.  They ran on so much emotion and humanization of the animals that they couldn't see the animals from the humans and then stories began to surface of how they'd turn animals away, but if you slipped them $50. all of sudden there was room at the inn (or shelter, in this case.)  My common sense antennae told me something was amiss. (by the way the stories were all first person accounts.)
So I did some digging into media reports to find the real story or at least to get a sense of where the arguments were going.  Each article reported on the abuse angle, the 19 million dollars that carriage ride industry contributed to the city coffers, stories about large campaign contributions made by animal rights groups to elect the new mayor as well as alleged lucrative real estate deals should the carriage industry become history.  Now celebrities are coming out for both sides.  Cue the lights. Roll camera.  Action!

Now here's where I have a problem with this mess (please stay with me on this).  First of all, how all of a sudden did these groups come up with the scratch to make these campaign contributions?  I'm the type whose heart bleeds every time she sees a public service announcements featuring sad, maimed and disfigured animals who've suffered abuse only to read that my sacrifice to donate went to a campaign contribution and not the welfare of the animal?  Hello!  Does something seem "off" there?  This practice forces me to research these organizations to determine exactly how much of my scarce dollars goes directly to animal care.  I do not intend to contribute to an organization in order for them to get their crony elected.  Lobbying, maybe OK, campaign contribution?  Not OK.  It feels dishonest to contributors.  IMHO!

Secondly, every article spoke to the dangers to the Central Park horses due to New York City traffic conditions around the park.  Yes, a horse did pass at the hands of an abuser last month, which is awful, but the other 299 seem fine.  Their solution to protect the animals?  Put more cars on the road in the form of electric antique cars.  Yessiree Bob, that'll fix it.  Does this make sense to anyone?  It certainly doesn't make sense to me, "fixing" a problem by compounding a problem.  I don't get it.

And finally, and what I consider a major hypocrisy, lies in the continuation of the NYPD Mounted Unit.  I don't know about you but the thought of a horse and rider standing in the middle of Times Square traffic doesn't leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy.  Where's the outcry?  Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I feel that this unit is vital and necessary to NYC law enforcement.  Horse and rider are trained to precision standards.  The same argument can be raised concerning their future, but none comes forward, which tells me that there must be another reason in back of the carriage horse issue. 

That "something" might have to do with money.  Could it be that the rescue organizations might be duped?  Or could they garner something in return for forcing the matter?  Can the electric car replacements generate more dollars?  

I don't have answers to these and other questions.  The purpose of this post doesn't focus on animal behavior, but human behavior.  I got a feeling there's a rotten apple in the Big Apple somewhere and clearly the magnitude of the issue can't be compared to how humans neglect humans in need.  And, folks that's not a walk in the park.   

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reality. High Tide or Rip Tide?

Over the past week I've found  myself reflecting on a situation that began innocently enough, but now each time it presents itself, I want to run for the hills.

It began by making a casual acquaintance with someone via the non-profit group I support. Nothing out of the ordinary.  Back then this relationship would have been labeled a "friendship," but rather one-sided at that. Having relayed her history, the thought never entered my mind that things might be a tad "off".

Fast forward to the present where the phone calls have escalated, the drama builds (on her side, not mine) and more and more the realization that she's not just calling me to vent, but to suck me in to a situation she, and she alone, created creeps into my consciousness.  Despite the fact that she's a card-carrying professional who's achieved those letters "PhD" after her last name who makes a living helping other folks with their problems, my concern grows with each phone ring.

I guess another term for this behavior might be "energy sucker".  Trust me after one call concludes, I want to reach for a cup of tea and knit until I calm down, but then that's my problem.  This person hops from drama to drama.  It's endless.  At times, it feels as though she's feeding on her situation whilst I provide an audience. Whether learned or innate, I do care and worry about folks.  I always wish them the best the world has to offer, but they've got to want it as well.

It dawned on me that true friendship doesn't create a vacuum...doesn't leave me gasping for air...doesn't have me looking for the nearest exit...dragging me out into an ocean of upset.  My friends and, please God, I raise each other up during the low times and ride the wave during the pleasant periods.  When I shared my concern with a friend, he said, "You've got to protect yourself from this person's behavior.  Don't answer the phone.  Just don't be available."

So, with gratitude for a lesson learned, this person shall no longer be a part of my reality.  It's been a hard decision to make due to the fact that I'm one of those hyper-sensitive, see both sides of the argument kind of gals.  It hurts to see someone behave this way, but this life-swimmer doesn't want to get taken out by a rip current.  

The course of the past few days have taught me a valuable lesson, perhaps my "just older" brain failed to wrap itself around this notion in my early years or my caregiving duties distracted me from the obvious, but here it is: our reality is flexible.  We allow folks into that space called "life" to learn lessons in gratitude for those we have and adjust our reality to show those the door who just don't get it. The funny thing being, I don't believe this person has a clue...an iota...a shred of understanding that her behavior has created her reality.

So, I wish this person well, but she can't crash in my reality.  Lesson learned.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mother Nature's Acid Reflux

[Mother Nature, aka "MN" visits her celestial general practitioner.]

Doctor:  Mother Nature, what's going on?

MN:  It's back, Doctor.  My acid reflux has returned.

Doctor:  Hmm, so that explains the havoc we've seen on earth.

MN:  I can't help myself.  Now, things seem a little out of control.  It all started with the fires in Australia  (see here).  I tried to put them out with some torrential rain, but my aim's been off and I wound up flooding Scotland (see here).

As the re flux grew, I figured I'd try to take a dose of some cold weather (here), but I forgot to close the Arctic's gate which led to extreme cold and some pretty strong words from the Canadians.  Folks in Minnesota aren't too happy either.

Doctor:  I see.

MN:  That's only the tip of the iceberg.  I thought my stomach had settled.  Actually, I felt better. Until...

Doctor:  Until...

MN:  Yes, it gets worse.  You see, I got a little rattled (see here).  I think it may be gall stones or the Canary Islands, I can't figure it out.  I felt as though my blood boiled and I suffered a bout of nausea right around Nicaragua  (and here).

Doctor:  So, what did you take for that?

MN:  Well, with all the upset, it's been a constant battle.  Cold, extreme cold, ice to no avail.  I'm losing my touch.  No more serene winter tableau, no more shots of sandy South American beaches with gentle waves.  I'm telling ya, I don't know what's gotten into me.  (She coughs).  What else am I supposed to do?  I can't control myself which leads to some pretty extreme measures.

Doctor:  Such as...

MN:  Well, if I were you I'd avoid the east coast of the United States today.

Doctor:  Why is that?

MN:  I'm sending them a Blizzard.  Hopefully, that'll make me feel better.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Eve of Leaving Behind

It's New Year's Eve and I can't believe how long it's been since I've shared a thought or few on this blog.

Truth be told I've been doing personal writing in order to sort through my feelings concerning the events of 2013.  I haven't re-read the diary, but the emotions described on those pages are raw and, at times, scary.   However, the pages have been therapeutic.  They've been a vehicle to self-discovery. They revealed a wounded heart that's been ignored for far too long.  It's time to begin to heal from the inside out, rather than ignoring those parts that are still bleeding.

In order to do so, I had to cull through the emotions with a critical eye in order to stitch together a better life in the New Year.  Here are the things I've leaving behind in 2013:
  • Over-whelming self-doubt:  Let's be honest here.  I'll always carry a bit in my back pocket, but there's enough in this house to sink a battleship or the Queen Mary. 
  • Hyper-self criticism:  Truly, the weeds in the garden of growth.  It'll take me over if I don't do a thorough weeding.  
  • Fear:  If I have faith, then there's no room for fear.  My life up to this point, especially the past five years, have been a testament to faith.  
There are seeds and seedlings I'm taking with me into 2014.  Whether they grow or not is anyone's guess, but here we go:
  • Determination:  No matter what these eyes are going to be trained on achieving those goals toward a better life.
  • Self-acceptance:  OK, so I'm not going to leap tall buildings in a single bound as Superman/Superwoman.  That's OK.  My luck when I reached the summit they'd be a huge chunk of Kryptonite smashing me to the ground.  There are better writers, but at the end of the day, that's what I love.  There are better knitters, but that's what I love.  Ditto gardeners.  It's what's important to me.  I truly believe I'm a throw-back to another place and time, but whose crafts apply to this crazy modern world.
  • Learning:  Push the boundaries outward learning more about those things I love and try other things to see if I love them as well.
  • Loving:  Love does make the world go around.  Loving adds fuel to the fire of achievement, production and purpose.  One thing I know about my purpose on earth (still haven't figured out the rest) is that I am here to love.
In closing, it's important to carry my heartfelt gratitude from year to year:
  • My parents:  Wherever you are, know I gave it my best shot.  It has been my honor to know, love, and care for you until the end.  You passed in a house of love that you busted your humps to hold onto to every single shingle.
  • My husband:  A dozen years ago you left this world, but I love you and miss you more than you know.
  • My friends:  Oh, how do I thank these people who walked through the fire with me?  Those folks who put their own problems aside to listen, to act, to love unconditionally?  I'll never be able to express my appreciation, except to say "thank you".  Will they ever feel the depth of gratitude behind those words?  I hope so.
  • Dickens:  Just last year I felt as if I'd complicated my life (and not in a good way) by bringing home a puppy, even for all the right reasons.  Despite all the problems, you've taught me so much.  You've turned into a real life saver and helped me to listen to my life.  Treats for you tonight, my friend.  
  • Amelia Luna Diva:  My 10 month old, jet black feral cat who arrived this past Halloween.  In two months we've made some progress.  You are facing your fears and I'm facing mine.  We are indeed strangers in a strange land.  Together we just might learn to trust each other and ourselves.  The definition of rehabilitation, I guess.
And to you all, I wish you a Happy New Year!  I hope that you achieve all you dream and your passions guide you throughout the year.  

Love.  Dream.  Act.   

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dickens and the Church

The last two weeks have been painful.  There.  I said it.  Profoundly painful.  It's bad enough that the anniversary of my father's death stared me down, but to have my mother pass a year to the day of his funeral service slayed me.  I remind myself of thoughts of last year.  My heart knew that these two were joined at the heart.  I hoped that Mom would be with me a few more years, but heaven had other plans.

When Mom took the final turn, the Hospice nurse and I agreed that the time had come for her to be given the Last Rites.  Mom remained true to her Roman Catholic tradition while I had converted to the Episcopal Church.  So, I called her parish priest and the Parish Secretary told me to hold on he'd arrive shortly.  So, I did what I normally do - I paced.

After what seemed an eternity I heard someone turn the front door handle.  Yes!  Dickens barked.  I ran to the front door only to find the priest running down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.  (By then I had crated Dickens and rested in the knowledge the priest would not be licked into a frenzy.)  I opened the door and called out to the priest, "Father, you're going the wrong way!"  He turned around, I noticed his ashen face.  "Father, what's wrong?"

Mom really like this guy because of his height, smile, and youth.  He remarked during a hospital visit to Mom that he noticed me walking a "cute little dog".  Now I knew this man-of-the-cloth knew Dickens.  It's not like times of old when a priest made sure he visited the sick at least once a month.  Now, the parish had a "call us if you need us" policy, which I have to admit rubs me the wrong way.  I remember thinking that perhaps a phone call every now and again would have helped.

As I stood with the door open, the priest turned and said, "I'm allergic to dogs."  I responded that my dog had hair, not fur, the dog had been regularly bathed, and that he sat in a crate.  The priest stood with his hand resting on his car totally unmoved.  He then responded, "I have an aversion to dogs."  "You have a what?" I asked him to repeat what he had just said because a)  I couldn't believe what I had just heard; b) I could not wrap my head around the fact that my dying mother might be denied the sacrament because of an 18 lb. Cairn terrier.   I don't deny that some folks are afraid of dogs, but I had just told him about the crating thing.

The scenario reminded me of another deja vu moment last fall.  A nun used to do a walking meditation through our neighborhood each Sunday.  She always smiled and wore the most cherubic expression.  One day as Dickens and I came out the front door, Dickens began to bark in his frenetic, bouncy way.  The nun glanced over at my straining-at-the-leash pup-dog, adjusted her veil, raised her skirts (revealing well-worn Nike's) and took off like a Saturn 5 rocket, arms pumping by her side.  Dickens and I looked at each other with perplexed expressions.

"Wait!"  I yelled.  I closed the door, picked up the crate containing the offending animal, and shoved Dickens crate and all into the bathroom, slamming the bathroom door shut.  I returned to the front door.  "Father, now there are two doors protecting you from my dog:  the crate door and the bathroom door.  Please, come in."

As he entered the house, I leaned forward and said, "Father, fibbing to me about your allergies? Seriously?  Fibbing ain't the way to begin this home visit."  I forced myself to put my feelings aside.
In the end, my mother received the spiritual comfort she deserved, the priest received the emotional comfort he required, and, as for me, I strained my back hefting that damn crate containing Dickens.

That night I noticed a tightness not only in my back, but in my heart.  My days had been jam-packed with fear concerning Mom's care, but I did it anyway.  Why couldn't others admit their fear and move through it.  Did the sister really believe I'd serve her to Dickens for lunch?  Did the priest honestly think he'd have to be gnawed before performing the Last Rites?  I guess fear penetrates even those who are so called and profess a deeper faith.  I wish faith reminded us of who we are as strongly as fear does.  Fear grips us tightly, yet this human needs to embrace faith as Job did by never letting go; of tightening my hold with white-knuckled force to the power of faith.