Monday, June 30, 2008

just kidding about that giving up thing: a Fourth of July special bonus jackpot of exciting book reviews, new music loves and fabulous blog links

Before you read another word go here and listen to the streaming audio. I'll come back to it later in the post. Just wanted to set the mood!

I kid about quitting everything to devote all my time to playing Word Challenge on Facebook. Really I have been catching up on a lot of reading lately. During the insane moving days of April and May I kind of fell behind on the pile. I'm happy to be back to a (sort of) normal routine which includes as much reading as I can fit into my little brain. (I really write these quaint little summaries for my own benefit. Also, I love the thought that perhaps, just perhaps, my thoughts will influence your thoughts into a possible book conversation or two)

And, what the heck, I'll list the titles in order of enjoyment -- from great big yawn all the way up to I think I've died and gone to heaven!

great big yawn (or, put another way, not compelling enough to keep me awake at night which is usually when I find time to read)

Anthony De Mello

I did my due diligence and read my 63 pages (100 - my age = number of pages to read before deciding to continue in any given book). Just couldn't keep going -- it's not my kind of reading.
If you like compact, punchy sentences that are written in what I call "motivational conference speaker" style, you'll like this book. Since Brennan Manning had referenced this author several times, I thought I might like it. Nope.
Don't get me wrong. There's truisms packed into every page of this little book. Example:"Want to wake up? You want happiness? You want freedom? Here it is: Drop your false ideas."
So, there you have it.

worth a few laughs

Garrison Keillor
I love Garrison Keillor. I really do.
I faithfully listen to two of his podcasts - A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer's Almanac. I love his dry wit and his warm delivery of everyday for the everyman (especially the sort that live in the northern midwest). But, possibly most of all, I love his voice. If you haven't heard it you'll need to listen for yourself. Unique and loveable with a touch of rascally arrogance.
It's my guess that while I could hear Keillor's voice as I read his words in this quintessential tale in Lake Wobegon (the town Keillor claims as his "hometown out on the edge of the prairie" on every recording), I really would have rather heard Keillor tell me the story than read it for myself. I'm guessing this is the case because after reading this book I find myself downloading his podcasts more faithfully and refraining from purchasing any more of his books. (unfortunately for Mr. Keillor this adds nothing to his royalties)

Even so, only Garrison Keillor could write a paragraph like this one in the last chapter:  "She was exhilerated. Most memorial services she'd ever attended were quiet sodden affairs and Mother's was nothing but gangbusters. Pastor Ingqvist was hauling these foreign men out of the water slopping and dripping and muttering things in their singsong guttural tongue and Duane waded to shore pulling his speedboat behind him saying that he wished people would watch where they were going and the Swanson twins climbed out of the giant duck decoys and explained that Debbie paid them $25 apiece to do it and what were they supposed to do with these ducks now? And the man in the white sailor suit towed his basket and burner up on the rocks and said that whoever had planned this wedding had done a pretty lousy job of it and he regretted ever having agreeing to be in it. "

Also, this last little freebie from pages 108 and 109:
"Lloyd's religion was meekness. He could outmeek anyone."
"Blessed are the meek for they shall stay out of trouble. "

stepping out of my comfort zone

Jeffrey Overstreet

It's safe to say this is the first novel of the 'fantasy' category that I've ever attempted. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience. I figured that someone who loves the entire LOTR trilogy should be able to enjoy 333 pages by this first-time novelist Overstreet whom David Taylor refers to as a "blogging machine" He certainly has won my loyalty at his site, The Looking Closer Journal, and now perhaps with his fiction writing, too.
Perhaps I was more motivated by loyalty than interest in fantasy writing, but the risk paid off. And, perhaps, I will read Auralia's sequel, Cyndere's Midnight, being released this fall out of loyalty, too. But, perhaps, I am also drawn by the call to beauty and mystery woven in the narrative of this story. It is appropriately subtle, but it got under my skin.

In sentences like this: "What does it mean then? That thing you've made." The imposter crumpled his patch, which suddenly seemes so flimsy and plain. "What is it for?"
Auralia squinted into the colors and shrugged. "Can't say what it means. It's not a riddle. Its's not somethin' you solve. It's more like a window. Look through it for awhile."

And this-
"Her mouth moved, searching to name that creature, that force of water, wind, or fire the presence so clearly resembled. But after a timeless moment, she knew -- it reminded her of everything. Or maybe, as she looked at the forest and the sky, everything reminded her of the Keeper. All things in the landscape seemed to yearn, leaning toward the creature the way flowers lean toward the sun. Through the Keeper, all things seemed to draw color and vigor. And for the Keeper, waves splashed, trees swayed, stones protected knowledge, and wind waited for orders. In its scales, she saw millions of colors, and she felt deeply ashamed for how few of them she recognized.

"You don't come from here," she whispered. And then, half-surprised at herself, "I don't think I do either."

If you enjoy fantasy writing I don't think you'll be disappointed -- there are mystical creatures and languages and worlds aplenty. (at least that's what I think fantasy readers are hoping for)I'm just content to be drawn in by the truth and beauty I found in between the lines.

so refreshing!

Michael Perry

My friend and co-worker Margaret handed this to me one day and recommended it as a fun read. Nothing too heavy. That sounded really good since I tend to lean toward the heavy side in my reading choices. But, for some reason, I didn't have very high expectations for this title. Perhaps it was the subtitle reference to volunteer firefighting. Or perhaps it was the cow crossing sign pictured on the cover. (I seem to be using the word perhaps an awful lot in this post!) Neither of these things rate very high on my list of things I'd like to spend more time thinking about.

What a fun surprise though to meet this author Michael Perry. I enjoyed his writing "voice" -- poignant without taking himself too seriously. Intellectualism dressed in overalls and hanging out with small-town, Dew-Drop-Inn folk.

The book is a series of stories cast on the backdrop Perry's role as a volunteer fireman and aspiring author in the tiny town of New Auburn, WI (ummm....population: 485...duh). Once I got reading I found the combination of small-town yokels (i.e., the one-eyed firefighter named The Beagle) and weighty matters such as love and death and yearning for something more to make perfect narrative companions. When Brian is done reading, I'll give the book back to Margaret. You all might want to get on the waiting list!

One of my favorite paragraphs: (while we in the Triple Cities far exceed 485 people, this paragraph somehow seemed strangely familiar...)"When you come from rural stock, there is this tendency to overplay the rube. To swipe your toe in the dirt and reckon, well, shoot-fire, I don't know nbothin' 'bout birthin' no babies. Or shake your head in wonderment at the fripperies of city life. It's a knee-jerk thing. I catch myself doing it all the time. It's also a cop-out. Goodness knows, the worlds of politics, art, and intellect provide targets so obese you can nail 'em in the ass with aspersions cast from clear back here in the Chippewa Valley, but any behavior that excuses us from acknowledging the complexity of human experience resides one slim remove from smug disdain. ... Part of the blame lies with intellectuals who are unable or unwilling to convey their ideas in terms that will play down to the cafe. But anyone who sits in that cafe and dismisses complexity by reveling in their own simplicity is no less pretentious. Civilization depends on complication. As a dyed-in-the-slop farm boy, I find I have an almost atavistic urge to poor-mouth anything more theoretical than a bag of feed. I have come to realize this is not always attractive.It's tempting to wear backwardness like a chrome-plated crown of thorns....[after this realization] I fixed my internal hick with a severe glare and dispatched a memo reminding him that smelt is essentially deep-fried bait, and he should cut it out with the disingenuous yokelism...."

a familiar joy

Brennan Manning

I think I've said plenty about my admiration for Mr. Manning and his writing. I'll just add a (small!) sample of the amazing words he wrote in this book.

"As we come to grips with our own selfishness and stupidity, we make friends with the imposter and accept that we are impoverished and broken and realize that, if we were not, we would be God. The art of gentleness toward ourselves leads to being gentle with others -- and is a natural prerequisite for our presence to God in prayer."

"The ordinary self is the extraordinary self -- the inconspicuous nobody who shivers in the cold of winter and sweats in the heat of summer, who wakes up unreconciled to the new day, who sits before a stack of pancakes, weaves through traffic, bangs around in the basement, shops in the supermarket, pulls weeds and rakes up the leaves, makes love and snowballs, flies kites and listens to the sound of rain on the roof. "

"While the imposter draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life."

“The lives of those fully engaged in the human struggle will be riddled with bullet holes. Whatever happened in the life of Jesus is in some way going to happen to us. Wounds are necessary. The soul has to be wounded as well as the body. To think that the natural and proper state is to be without wounds is an illusion. Those who wear bulletproof vests protecting themselves from failure, shipwreck, and heartbreak will never know what love is. The unwounded life bears no resemblance to the Rabbi.”

this book has changed my life

Church History In Plain Languge
Bruce L. Shelley

No kidding.
Look for more specifics coming soon in a post titled, "How I Made the Decision to Not Hate the Church".

It's not a glamorous read and it will take commitment to complet all 544 pages. But true to it's word, it's written in plain language. Easy to understand. If you go to church, and especially if you happen to be one of those people that enjoys reading lots of books about the church culture, it's my opinion you should put all those books down and plow through this one first.
In this case, I think context is everything.

i thought i'd died and gone to heaven! (sigh)

Have you ever eaten a meal that tasted just about perfect? Like all the seasoning and flavor perfectly balanced in the perfect temperature at the perfect time in the perfect surroundings to create the perfect meal? Then have you tried to describe that meal to someone else and found yourself frustrated in the communication of that experience? I find myself in that dilemma with this novel. Everything about the taking in experience of this story felt perfect, but I am frustrated in knowing how to communicate that to you, my friends.

I could try telling you the background of the ingredients: Leif Enger has written two novels, Peace Like A River and now So Brave, Young and Handsome. I first heard about this author at a Willow Arts Conference in 2004. I bought the book then and read it that summer. It was a perfect experience and a new one for me in that I had not read nearly enough modern novels and certainly very few written in this almost western genre that Enger writes. Not necessarily western as in good cowboys and bad outlaws, but western in the sense of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and leisurely campfire storytelling .

I could try to telling you about the ambiance: My friend and co-worker Michelle popped into my office last week. I don't mean that as a euphemism, either. She literally burst through the office door her library copy of So Brave... like a bouquet of flowers or a piping how sheet pizza. "Have you seen this??" Squeals from me who was not aware that Enger's long awaited second novel was now at the public library. "Let me just read you a couple of sentences!" (this request is so endearing from someone who wishes that every conversation I ever had with anyone would include favorite sentences and paragraphs from favorite books.) I had my library put me on a waiting list immediately and when the book finally came in it was from Michelle's library. I have a feeling I got the same copy she was waving around in my office a couple of weeks ago. Somehow that made the reading of it that much more enjoyable.

I could tell try telling you about some of the flavors:
  • character descriptions are some of Enger's sweetest elements - like these descriptions of his son, Redstart, and the new family friend, Glendon "Glendon began taking supper with us once or twice a week. He kept an orderly greenplot and never arrived minus chard or kale or chives in wet burlap. At first he was a quiet and somewhat formal visitor, yet the whole house lightened with him there. I admired his plain language and courtesy and the way he found everything interesting but himself. Redstart of course was polite as a pry bar." (now picture me waving the book in Michelle's office saying "polite as a pry bar! don't you just LOVE that?!?")
  • and since rivers are basically another character in this story, how about this for spot-on sweetness : "You are no failure, on a river. The water moves regardless -- for all it cares, you might be a minnow or a tadpole, a turtle on a beavered log. You might be nothing at all."
  • and this sweet-but-tangy description of his wife, Susannah: "You should know this about my wife: colors are as strong spirits to her. Yellow makes her insouciant, reckless, caustic. The brighter tints of orange render her nearly dangerous. If it's quiet, confiding talk you're after, by all means wait until her palette is stocked with cooler, more seafaring shades."
  • Enger gracfully and subtlely weaves descriptions of grace and redemption throughout his story (and, thankfully, he is never, ever preachy!) Take a bite of this juicy conversation between the story's main character, Monte Becket, and his newfround vagabond friend, Glendon Hale: "He said, 'You'd best know I am unreliable, that I am a poor friend.''A poor friend is better than none,' I replied. It is strange to realize you have no friends outside your own family - in fact I hadn't realized it until that moment.'I have not always obeyed the law,' Glendon stated.'Nor I my conscience.'He considered me. 'I have seen the inside of more than one jail cell. It is nothing I am proud of nor would mention except you have a fine family. Also, I take a drink of whiskey now and again.'I said, 'I am fraud and imposter and for at least two years have lied regularly to many people, including my wife. Very soon now I will be found out and lose what small reputation I have managed to acquire.' "
  • As for Enger's tasty descriptions of taste, draw a long, cool sip of this: " 'Sit and rest,' he said. He opened the icbox and got down on one knee and selected a clay pitcher of water and two ripened limes. Slowly and at some cost he stood and retrieved three crystal glasses from an open shelf; he wiped them with flour sacking, sliced the ends off the limes and with startling vigor in his purple hands squeezed the limes over the pitcher until their juice slid into the cold water. The clay sweated and ticked. Claudio wiped his hands on the sacking and filled the glasses and set them before us."
Oh, there's SO MUCH MORE! It's too difficult to put into this feeble format the spicy and sweet and salty and saucy words and phrases that abound in Enger's perfect tale. I can only set the table and hand out the menus, you'll have to pull up a seat and taste for yourself. (but please let me know when you do; I want to hear all about it!)

and, P.S., if you want to know the portion that Michelle read to Margaret and me in our office, it's on page 184. "The thing is, Milk Toast, I am reasonably handy" Don't you just love that sentence?!?"

while you're clicking away at Amazon, click here too:

GrantDeb Photography: This newly launched photography business is so much fun to check out for the beautiful and sassy and sweet pics posted on a regular basis. I doubt a commute to Hampton Road, VA would be affordable to actually do business with these two (who happen to be my cousin and his wife, Grand and Deb Perry), but the digital visits are worth the trip!

Have you heard about author/speaker Donald Miller's bike trip across the country for Blood:Water Mission? His site for the Ride:Well tour is full of pics and road-trip quips. He inspired me in his books Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What and now he inspires me by putting feet to his words (literally!)

And, just a fun find from Jeffrey Overstreet's blogroll, The Pile I'm Standing In. This blogger is full of vulnerable, witty, and creative commentaries on her journey as a woman, mom and daughter of God. It also marks yet one more west coaster on my own blogroll. I wonder what that's all about? While you're there click on her mix tape link...some good stuff there, too.

and, speaking of mix tapes...
I'm out of space and energy to add anymore to this ridiculously long post. (besides the fact that I've wasted so much time I could have been playing Word Challenge!) So just take my word for it, OK? Coldplay's new album Viva La Vida is amazing. Buy it. Listen to it. Absorb it. I waited this long to admit I'm a fan so don't leave me hanging.

While you're at it, get your browser off Facebook and leave me some comments, too. Thanks!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

i give up....

...on life
...on writing
....on cleaning and cooking and laundry
....probably on parenting and wifing
....and, oh by the way, I'll have to quit my job, too.

I've decided to become a full-time
facebook game player.

(much more instant gratification)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I've been singing Happy Birthday to you, Briiiiannnnn in different ways - some clever, some romantic, some last-minute (like this one) for 24 years now.

The first year I was invited to one of your birthday parties was because I was the girlfriend of one of your buddies.

So, this year, while our four children (who are almost all older now than the ages you and I were when we first started hanging out together) are waiting for you to come home from your so-exciting Natural Gas meeting, I thought I would spend a little time remembering previous birthday celebrations.

The first written birthday card you saved from me says underneath the pre-printed greetings,"I hope that this year is one of the greatest in your life and that as you grow the Lord will bless you in many ways.
You are very special to me, Brian, and no matter what happens between us, we will remember all our good times together and even if our friendship seems dim at times, it will never fade.
Love forever,
The melodrama of our rocky pubescent relationship (did we want to "go out" or "just be friends"?) must have motivated the extremely long run-on sentence and sappy simile.

Then there is the hand-typed (yes, on a real electric typewriter) birthday present. I think I was more excited about the invitation than you were. Several clues leading to the grand announcement that for your 18th birthday I was going to take you on the Tioga Train for dinner. I closed the "invitation" with this very coy remark, "This is one night you will not want to miss, however if these plans are incovenient for you, terms may be negotiable (possibly, not pleasantly)"So, really not a whole lot has changed in the 20 years since that birthday greeting. We've had to negotiate plans for this year, too. And I'm home moping because of that stupid Natural Gas meeting. I've always been willing to be flexible, but have never promised to be pleasant about it.

I love you, Big Guy.
Happy Birthday!

(pictures taken by a friend after our engagement)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Keep It Clean

So lately we've been pretty busy with the serious work of ministry at Union Center Christian Church.
See for yourself here...

...and here....
(video #1 produced by Tyler Hust and Rob Plyter and starring Andrew Murphy as Soap Man and Tyler Woodcook as Captain Cloth and Derek Griffis as kid running out of porta-john)
(video #2 produced by Ian Jones with Tim Hawco and starring pretty much everyone at Union Center with guest appearance by my husband Brian who, by the way, looks pretty great in a hard hat and tool belt!)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

a story of a dog: the sequel

Around 9:00 as Brian made his way through his checklist of shutting up the unfamiliar house for the night the call came out, "Anyone seen the dog?"

"Anyone seen Duchess?" he repeated the question in a more insistent tone. From all over the house came the response "No! I haven't seen her." "No, she's not in here." "Anyone tried the basement?" Now running footsteps joined the hollering. Feet running up stairs, closet doors creaking open and slamming shut. "She's not in here!" "She's not in the basement!"

"How about the back yard?!?" Brian's tone changed to full, father-in-command. His tone told us that if one of us let her in the back yard and forgot to bring her in, we'd better right the wrong and quickly.

I ran up to our gargantuan bedroom with the gargantuan closets, flinging open doors and fighting off a sick feeling in my stomach. "She's not here. How could she not be here?"
By now the rest of the family was outside in the front of the house calling up and down the street, "DUCHESS! DUCHESS! Come here, Duchess!"

In Conklin, Duchess had two hiding spots she would run to if she was in the mood to stress us out -- behind the shed in the backyard (sniffing for rabbits), and across the street to visit Hannah, the crazy Setter. She was not in our backyard here in Endicott. Not tonight. Not under the shed or behind the garage or in the mess of bushes between the garage and the shed.

One of the kids had grabbed the box of doggie treats out of the kitchen cupboard. This method was usually sure-fire. Shake the box. Watch the dog come running. Not tonight.

Our next door neighbor came off his front porch and started talking to Brian in broken English. I managed to listen to him and simultaneously make a mental note that his Eastern European accent probably explained why he had seemed to dodge all of our attempts at neighborly conversation. Brian followed the hand gestures -- more than the exact words of the man -- toward the group of apartments half a block away. My heart flipped with relief when we heard a familiar bark, but as I came closer to the house, still in my barefeet, relief was disappointed at a small, white, yappy dog running toward the fence. This was not Duchess.

These kind people left their lighted backyard party tent set up between rental houses to walk to the fence and ask what our dog looked like. "Black and white? Spots? Yes, we saw her. A kid from a couple of streets over was carrying her that direction." They pointed over the fence toward their guess at where this kid lived.

Oh, this was not good news. The way they said "that kid", like he was infamous in this neighborhood, tricked us into all sorts of scary mental images. Our dog seemed to have been stolen. She is so gentle, she'd probably let anyone pick her up and take her anywhere. And that is when another voice started in my head, "See. You shouldn't have moved here. Just like you worried. It's not safe. You've only been here a couple of days and already your dog has been stolen by some delinquent."

At this point, Brian split us up into two distressed search parties. He would go toward that good-for-nothing dog napper's house (at least our best guess at the street he lived on); the boys would go east; the girls and I would go west. We got the box of treats.

This story will give away the prejudices I have, but when I rounded the corner of our block and saw a whole family sitting out on their porch yelling toward a teenaged guy who happened to be coming our direction, I considered leaving Duchess for dead. I had the girls with me so I acted like this was a normal state of affairs, something we'd seen every day in the past ten years.

I approached the overflowing porch and called out, "We are looking for our dog. She's spotted black and white. Have you seen her?" The calm tone of my voice surprised me. The obvious matriarch of the family leaned over the railing, "Does she have a black spot over one eye -- like that dog Wishbone?"

And all prejudices melted. This woman had seen our dog! And, apparantly, watched the same PBS children's television program as we had about 15 years ago. We had a common bond. "Yes. That's her. Did she run by your house?"

By now the entire family was leaning over the porch railing hollering at us. "We saw her run that way. Toward the parking lot." Now we were getting somewhere. "Thank you so much!" I gave my best neighborly smile and wave -- not wanting to appear rude, even though I just wanted to get out of there and begin searching the parking lot they mentioned.

The girls and I ran toward the parking lot on the corner of our street. I didn't know who used this lot, but it was bordered with overgrown bushes, weeds and trees. Of course Duchess would be here! She must be sniffing out some squirrel or city rodent. We shook the box of treats bravely toward the bushes. We hollered her name even more. By now the boys had rejoined us and together the five of us ran figure-eights around the lot yelling for our lost doggie. Hope dimmed pretty quickly. If she had been here she was gone now.

Thinking that she might have been trying to get to our backyard through this lot, we headed the half block back toward our house. Maybe she had chased squirrels through the vacant parking lot and the neighbor's yard and was hunkered down behind the shed in our yard. We didn't know what else to think so we searched that spot again, all the while yelling out her name. I hoped our new neighbors weren't too annoyed with all our hollering.

Brian came back to the garage and hopped onto our son's 10-speed. He thought he could cover more territory on wheels. I noticed his expression as he pulled out of the driveway. It was grim. I wondered if he realized what he looked like, a grown man with a grim expression riding around on his son's bicycle. (I should remind you that even though Duchess belongs to our family, she is without question Brian's dog. They are bonded. I didn't want to think about how Brian would feel if we lost her.)

At this point, the kids and I decided to hang around the house. We split up into the front and back yards for better visibility. The girls and I sat on our front steps. It was pretty much dark now. We prayed together. "God, we believe you know right where Duchess is. We want you to know that we trust you. Please keep her safe. Please direct her back toward the house. Help someone who is kind to find her and know what to do with her." And then I added, "God, this doesn't seem like a coincidence. You know we've just moved here, and we're a little bit nervous in our new neighborhood. You know Duchess has already helped us to meet our neighbors. If the Enemy has anything to do with this, we want to say that he has no authority here, because of You, Jesus."

By now, my youngest daughter was full-out sobbing. I thought making some phone calls to friends and family might comfort her. She began dialing. "Grandma, we've lost Duchess. We're looking everywhere and we can't find her. Would you pray for her, please?" And Grandma prayed right then with her. "Coleen, we've lost Duchess. We're looking everywhere and we can't find her. Would you pray for her, please?" And Coleen prayed right then and there with her. (and told her she'd come the next day and walk door to door with Natalie to see if any kind neighbors had taken in a stray, speckled dog for the night) "Uncle Wes, we've lost Duchess. We're looking for her everywhere and we can't find her. Would you pray for her, please?" Uncle Wes offers to bring over his big flashlight and help search.

Aunt JoAnn has already arrived from Apalachin to help. She used to live on this street and lose her cat. She knows all the best places to search. Uncle Ryan is on his way from Newark Valley. He was the last one to leave our Memorial Day barbecue and had just arrived home when we called. He got in his car and came right back.

One of my children came out to the front steps. Without turning around I hear the porch door swing shut and this child (who shall remain nameless) hurrying toward me on the cement sidewalk, "Mom I need to tell you something. I lied to you about {offense to remain nameless} and I am so sorry." Tears came next.

"Oh, honey. Thank you for telling me that. But why do you want to tell me that right now?" I already suspected the reason. And I wanted to squash it like a dirty bug.
"I thought maybe Duchess was lost because I lied to you."

With the confession out in the clear, I looked my child straight in the eyes. "You know God is not like that, right? That is not his character."

More tears. "Yes, but I just wanted to make sure." Big hug. I hated that my child was feeling this pain, but if we were able to reclaim a confession and clean conscience and our dog out of this deal, even better.

Uncle Ryan pulled up to the parking meter in front of our house. He rolled down the window, "Where do you want me to look?" Andrew hopped into the front seat and they began to pull away. A thought, like a brand new idea, popped into my head and I spoke it out to Ryan just as quickly, "Why don't you start at the police station? It's at the end of the street. Maybe someone has told them about Duchess." It seemed like a long shot.

Aunt JoAnn was back at the house with us now. She comforted the girls with hugs and stories of finding her cat days after he had run away. How people had been kind and obviously fed the cat until she could find him again.

We saw the headlights of our van coming back toward the house. Brian had ditched the bike when darkness came and was trolling the neighborhood in our minivan. As it got closer we saw an arm hanging out the window holding up a little black and white spotted dog. "Look what we found!"

Triumph. The lost had been found.

Ryan pulled into the driveway behind our van. He had gone straight to the police station and asked the officer standing outside the door if they had seen a little black and white dog. The officer opened the garage door and asked, "Is this who you are looking for?"

Inside the house, Duchess was feasting on treats and compliments with a few admonitions thrown in between. Stories were flying just like the finale of any other type of ordeal. The police had seen a little dog sniffing around their building and took her into their storage garage for the night. Brian had ridden his bike two dozen blocks and talked to about as many people. At the Endicott Inn on Washington Avenue (and how shall I describe this establishment to my non-area readers? The word skeevy comes to mind.) a few had asked about a finder's reward. Brian answered from his 10-speed, "Just a reward of helping a neighbor." One of the girls in the group reprimanded "Shut up! We're not going to take money. If we find her we'll bring her to you. Where do you live?" And two dozen more people learned the Murphy family's new address at 106 Jefferson Avenue.

Two dozen more people in our new neighborhood that Duchess introduced to us. Well, that and the entire second shift of the Endicott police department. A good combination, I'm thinking.

Blurry photo of us sitting in the living room and telling stories after finding Duchess.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

a story of a dog

Brian holds Duchess at the Memorial day ceremony on our street.

There is another female in my husband's life.

He treats her like a queen. She competes for -- and often wins -- his attention away from me and our children.

The weird thing is that the kids and I love her, too.

She is Duchess the Jack Russell Terrier. In the two short years since we got her from a friend who found his life too busy for this needy lady, she has wagged and sniffed her way into the center of our family circle.

When floodwaters turned our backyard into an unintended island, she had only been with us for two weeks. When we closed her into our dry house, our hearts were heavier than the suitcases we were pulling up the street toward the highschool. When the state trooper met us at the stop sign we asked, "Please can't we take our dog with us? She's very small." (it's funny how we never even thought about Sonny the Gerbil. She was even smaller.)

So that is how it came to be that we carried Duchess across the football field, hunched between her and the whirring Chinook. She survived the evacuation with us and seemed to pretty much take all the commotion in stride.

With that crisis under our belt, we didn't think too much about the effect our move would have on this docile anomaly of a Jack Russell.

Granted the move included living on air mattresses for almost three weeks. She just jumped up onto them and rolled over for her belly rub. When we stayed overnight with friends between the final cleaning of our home and the closing for our new home, she was treated better by Nicki our hostess than we ever even came close to treating her. Whole pieces of bacon and fried chicken made it into the doggie bowl.

But when we finally made the move into the house on Jefferson Avenue our gentle little doggie seemed to display some new, nervous behaviors. Nothing too drastic, mind you. She just seemed out of sorts. Like us, she spent her time intent on finding a comfortable place to curl up. In the midst of the two dozen people moving us in, I found her trying to dig down into a pile of blankets and sheets, and then again in a pile of towels and pillows. She just couldn't get settled.

When we let her out into our new backyard she was too busy sniffing the air, ears perked and tail taught, to settle down enough to do her business.

We were all adjusting to this new life. We were city people now. Well, almost city. As city as you can get around these parts. It seemed to suit the kids fine. It definately suited Brian and me just fine.

But Duchess? That was still to be determined.

I thought we were making progress when, on the second day of our new lives, we took her for a walk. Once we hit the sidewalk, she seemed to relax on her red leash and to carry herself as she always did on our suburban neighborhood walks. I mean, here we have wide sidewalks, parking meters and so many more delicious smells. Back in Conklin, you walk one block you see it all. Rows of ranch houses with well-manicured lawns and minivans in the driveways. Here, you walk one block you have a Greek diner -- way more interesting to those delicate doggie nostrils.

So on that first walk, I thought we had it made. I even began to notice that Duchess was our ticket into the city. She was our icebreaker into conversation with the vast array of people who crossed our path. Back in Conklin, you walk one block you pass retired citizens with their well-groomed poodle and young moms with their deluxe strollers and chocolate labs. If you stop to chat, conversation takes a polite and predictable course. The weather, the price of gas and the comparitive size of the dogs pulling at their leashes toward each other.

On our first walk with Duchess we met a middle-aged woman with lovely, long hair and a once-pretty face.
"Does she bite?" She asked this as we waited together for the light to change. Our well-mannered ice breaker stood calmly as if waiting to be petted by this new neighbor. The woman's long, wavy hair fell over her shoulders as she knelt to pat the speckled, receptive head.
"Oh, you're a good girl." Pat. Pat.
"What kind is she?"
"Jack Russell."
"I have two dogs at home. One is mine and one is my son's. We take in strays - cats, birds, lizards." 
Her eyes do not move from the black and white softness of Dutchie's ears. I am busy drawing a mental picture of this woman's home filled with noisy, affectionate creatures and wonder if they help fill the space that is left vacant of a noisy, affectionate man.

It's a long light.

As I smile toward the woman I notice her gaze shift over my shoulder. She stood quickly and without checking the light waved toward us while stepping into the crosswalk. I looked back over my shoulder to see what motivated her to leave the curb so abruptly.


He was staggering toward Duchess. And mumbling.

If he asked anything regarding the safety of our dog, I could not tell. He just leaned over the yielding doggie head. She had not moved from her last position. Just the person patting her had changed.

Pat. Pat. "Nice doggie."

Drool dripped from his unfastened lips. Some landed on Dutchy's black nose. Some splattered onto the sidewalk.

Mumble. Mumble.

Back in Conklin no one mumbles. Conversation is always predictable. And articulate.

Holding the leash in one hand, I reach the other hand toward Brian and manage to grasp his three middle fingers. And squeeze.
Mumble. Mumble.
Pat. Pat.
I squeeze harder.

With some effort the man petting Duchess stood to full height. Next to me now. He was slurring on about something. He seemed to be bragging.

An inner, inaudible sense directed my attention toward his face. "Tam, look him in the eye. Notice him. I am here in this exchange." Had it been my child he was admiring I am not sure I would have obeyed that voice.

Blood-shot veins meandred across the yellowed, liquidy whites of his eyes. I squeezed Brian's fingers again. Smile. Nod. Look. Really look.

The light changed. Brian pulled me by my fingers. The leash tightened as Duchess followed his footsteps over the curb.

He followed us across the street. Stumbling and muttering. "...a $300 coat from Wilson' it to that waitress." We nodded and politely acknowledged him over our shoulders as he careened toward the convenience store on the opposite corner. We headed down Lincoln. I could see an elderly man manicuring his lawn about a half a block up. And a mom calling her sons toward an SUV. I exhaled some relief. Something familiar.

Back in Conklin, all the slurring and stumbling is kept on the backyard patios and at the corner bar and grill. It never meanders into the street. Never.

That year of the flood one of the well-manicured ranch houses neatly contained the murder-suicide of a retired couple. And we talked about it articulately in small huddles around our dogs and strollers. No one ever mumbled.

Turning from Lincoln back onto Jefferson, Duchess traipsed through the middle of a group of teenagers. They were speaking an Asian language. Chinese maybe? Perhaps Laosian? We smiled at them as we passed. They looked up from their clasped hands and cell phone conversations and smiled back.

We are not in Conklin any more.

While unleashing Duchess and leading her toward her water bowl, I joked with Brian that Duchess was our missional doggie. Maybe her Creator purposed her for this move, and for this strange turn of events in our family's life that led us from the world of deluxe strollers and basketball hoops and minivans to diners and drunks.

And it was this very thought that bothered me the next night when we lost Duchess. Bothered is not the right word. It was more like tormented.

We'd enjoyed a marvelous city kind of day, what with the Memorial Day parade two streets away and the barbecue in our tree-filled backyard. (Back in Conklin, efficient house owners cut down most of the trees that mess up their trimmed and lush lawns)

We had laughed at the dog's begging antics during our barbecue and subsequent chocolate-chip cookie eating. She had seemed pretty tired after her first parade and 21-gun salute at the memorial park on the end of our street. We assumed she had finally found a pile of sheets or stack of flattened cardboard in some corner and curled up for a nap, finally content in her new surroundings.

Around 9:00, as Brian made his way through his checklist of shutting up the unfamiliar house for the night the call came out, "Anyone seen the dog?"

continued in next post

Monday, June 09, 2008

in the meantime...

I'm working on a post about our dog and her adjustment to our new city life. In the meantime you absolutely have to read this post by Brett McCracken. And then you absolutely have to comment here with your votes. Got it? (while you're over there check out my comment)

Why are you still here?
Get clicking...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Getting Settled: a photo diary

Memorial Day 2008
Monday, May 26
Mom and Dad Hill and Wes, Kaley and Griffin walk the two blocks with us to the parade. Beautiful weather!

Saturday, May 31
yardwork with Pastor Sal and Sal the Third
Jim Corbin treats us at the Original Italian on the Avenue with Sal, Sal, Deena

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