I'd ask where the time has gone but I've an idea you're asking yourself the same thing.
All last week I meant to tell you about my Mother's Day, and inquire about yours.
Then came Loretta.
LoLo, I call her.
No. All evidence to the contrary, we did not obtain another dog.
I did, however, sign up and train to volunteer at -- and become a foster for -- a local nonprofit no-kill animal shelter.
It happened when I took Javier's stuff that another small dog could maybe enjoy (everything except his teal crate which he used for his entire life, and which still bears the scars of his puppy chewing on its sides), and donated it to said shelter.
The folks there were glad to get Javier's wee stainless steel dishes in their black wrought iron holder, his barely-used red collar and matching harness, his pedi-paws manicure doohickey, some of his meds (which were store-bought and still fresh) and even a substantial amount of Purina Dog Chow Little Bites, which I'd purchased only days before he stopped eating.
They were even glad to get the tiny newborn diapers I'd used on him (with limited success) toward the end.
I should have just turned around and walked out of the lobby after making my generous donation.
But then I spotted a dog. Out of the corner of my eye. A really really sweet dog which from my vantage point looked like a spaniel puppy.
To make a long tail tale short, I signed up to help. Now I take pictures of dogs and cats for the web site, and I agreed to foster a pet-in-waiting whenever I could.
First up, Loretta. She's turned out to be the female equivalent of Rambo: simply one of the most precious dogs that could ever be devised or imagined, by anyone. Like Rambo, she may very well be a dog angel.
LoLo is obedient and only wants love and to have fun. Lots and lots of hugs, kisses, licking your face and romping around the yard (but only if you're right there watching), sniffing the fragrant air, gnawing on sticks and pine cones.
She adores plant life. I even offered her a moist ruby-red rose petal and she ate it with great enthusiasm.
LoLo's a love. I am glad she's not available for adoption by me -- I don't need the temptation -- as she is slated to be shipped up north to a shelter there, where they have spay-neuter laws and therefore need more adoptable pets.
I'll have her until this Friday and after that, I'm not sure what I'll do with myself. Probably listen more to Dagny, who is talking a blue streak. A blue streak with a southern accent.
But meanwhile, oh my goodness, what a time we had for Mother's Day.
On the Saturday, we all -- Greg, me, Erica, Audrey, and Dagny -- trooped up to Greenville for lunch and a visit with my mother and sister, as well as various other assorted beloved relatives.
Before we left, roses were delivered. To me from my son. What a thrill that was because not only is it an eternally beautiful gesture, but the flowers themselves were some of the prettiest I'd ever seen.
Lunch was in progress at my mother's table a few hours later when with no warning whatsoever, Andrew walked in and asked if he could get something to eat.
Yes. He drove to Greenville from Knoxville to surprise me and us all. And we were so surprised, and I love love love surprises (the good kind) and so it was just a moment.
Later as we sat around visiting and opening our presents (we exchange gifts between all mothers and daughters -- and even some others, just for fun -- on this holiday, and it is awesome) and drinking coffee, my mother went to her door.
And she came back with a large box. A mysterious box. We were sufficiently agog as she pronounced that she believed it was something "for all of us" and worked with her scissors to reveal the secret contents.
So guess what? It turned out to be two big boxes of Shari's Berries -- you know, those massive chocolate-covered strawberries -- and they had been sent to us ladies by ...
... Greg! My TG did that. He stepped up to the plate and hit it into the middle of Waveland Avenue with the bases loaded. For his efforts he received applause, shouts of approval, and hugs and kisses. Plus he helped eat the strawberries.
We were ecstatic. Out came clean plates and more coffee. You know we chowed on them thangs. They were excellent.
It was so special.
Back home and after church the next day, the girls and Andrew (he came on to Columbia with us, for the weekend) were at our house for lunch, and there were gifts from my kids.
I had asked for a berry colander and Erica gave me one in creamy-white ceramic. Stephanie had sent me two more charms for my clear-glass locket: a hummingbird and a Nikon camera, tiny but detailed. Audrey gave me a bottle of perfume I'd been hankering for. And there was a balloon, and of course my roses.
And such lovely cards. Oh and a gift certificate to my favorite nail salon, for a luxurious pedicure.
It was quite a time. I'm so glad we are into celebrating. Making a big deal out of it. Life is short long and too full of heartache, not to take advantage of every possible joy-filled moment.
And that is all for now.
The whole thing was originally my idea.
At least, that's the way I remember it. If you know differently, don't tell me.
Thanks ever so.
I said to Andrew: You should make Rambo into a therapy dog.
Or words to that effect.
For those unfamiliar with the cast of characters, Rambo is the beloved pet of our son. Man's best friend, as it were. And he is a remarkable animal.
If you come across a sweeter dog, you should pour it on a waffle because that's going to be the sugariest thing ever invented.
It is basically impossible to rile or provoke Rambo. He lets kids use him as a bed or a pillow. He gives tail-wags and friendly greetings -- and usually a a cute paw, for holding or shaking -- to all comers.
He's a divine canine. He probably has angel wings. We just can't see them.
When Melanie had surgery to repair her cleft palate in the summer of 2006, the therapy dog who came to the hospital room was the first thing that cheered her.
Rambo could coax a smile onto the downcast mug of a bankrupt hammertoed pessimist facing a five-to-ten stretch in Dannemora.
He can even phone it in. I was still down after Javier's passing when Andrew sent me these photos in a text. One look at Rambo all suited and booted delivered a jolt of pure sudden happiness.
So it's official: Rambo, one-time camp dog, full-time best dog, every day and in every way my adored granddog, is a bona fide service animal.
The genuine article, as it were. Andrew has the paper to prove it.
May Rambo bring joy to all he encounters, and in doing so may he distinguish himself in this endeavor as he has in each and every one of his many noble doggy exploits.
And that is all for now.
Happy Monday :: Happy Week
In the waning days of February, we were on tenterhooks, waiting for news of my terminally-ill mother-in-law's impending departure from this life.
Everyone had said their goodbyes, either in person, or by phone, or both. Mostly both.
It was down to a matter of hours.
You know how it is: Every time the phone rings (or makes whatever sound your phone is set to make for an incoming call, text, or email), there is a moment where you wonder if this is it.
So it was that one morning a few days before our loved one passed away, Greg (on his way out the door to work) asked if I'd heard his phone sounding off the previous night.
Actually it was a pre-dawn time frame. But it was still dark. And we were still. Still asleep.
No, I said, momentarily alarmed. Was there news?
No, he said. It was this. And he showed me his phone.
Let's pull over and park here for a mo. Greg does not own a smart phone. He prefers refuses to use anything but an old-fashioned flip phone.
The rest of us (the kids, and me) have been converted. We are an integral part of the iPhone nation.
It's funny because Greg is much enamored of his iPad (which I don't understand because I don't have one and have no need for one, being a devotee of the MacBook Pro), and he enjoys messaging the kids on it now and then, in the evenings when he's relaxing.
The kids and I text back and forth on our iPhones more or less at any time of the day or night (but mostly day).
(Through it all, I am a firm adherent to the adage that no news is good news.)
Greg does not text at all. Never ever. And he isn't likely to respond to a text. I may have texted him one time, and I cannot remember why. As I recall, he did not answer, either in words or emoticons.
And I am his wife. The old ball and chain. So if I need to get in touch while we're apart, I call. Repeatedly, if need be.
Ergo, for him to be texting with someone in what amounts to the middle of the night, is basically a nonexistent scenario.
But he had been forced to. This was what woke him:
Looking back I really believe this is what you've been trying to push me to all along lately by constantly bringing up negative stuff and always calling our relationship into question...I genuinely love and care for you and your son, but apparently you were anxious to move on for some reason. Perhaps I was in the way of something or someone else...
Whatever the case is, I hope you are happier and more satisfied and I'm sorry I could never do enough to please you or prove that I love you...
I'm sorry I wasn't awake to see my beloved's face in the dim glow of his flip phone, squinting, pawing the nightstand for his cheaters, wondering what was actually going down.
My slumber was undisturbed.
I inquired how Greg had responded to the heartfelt cyber-missive (which I believe was written by a female).
He said, I texted back:
Check your #!
No emoticons. I don't know if they're even available on flip phones.
See, I would have added a string of appropriately exasperation-loaded round yellow faces. Especially the one with eyes and no mouth. I love that one.
I likely would also have used the word moron.
But that's just me.
The funniest part is, a few seconds later Greg received a final text from Madam/Sir Lonelyheart:
Methinks she (or he; who knows) was inebriated.
The takeaway: Don't drink and drive. Don't text and drive. Don't drink and text.
And whether you're eight sheets to the wind or sober as a judge, unless they text you first, don't text anybody between midnight and eight o'clock in the morning.
Just to be safe.
Also: In the interest of leaving total strangers out of your cringeworthy lovelorn ruminations, remonstrations, and supplications, always check your number.
And that is all for now. I hope this post did not disturb you.
Happy Friday :: Happy Weekend
If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.
= Will Rogers =
I knew my little pet was getting seriously old -- dog years and all that -- but until a few weeks ago, I didn't know he was dying. Only last year, the doctor told us that Javier's heart was strong.
Even when I realized the worst, I was slow to pick up on the fact that it was time to "do the right thing." Until last Friday, when the penny dropped.
You get a sense that even though the thing you're contemplating is awful, you're not wrong to do it. It's odd. Nothing adds up and yet you're forced to accept the sum of the equation.
On Saturday morning, I called the vet and made the appointment for Monday. The eleventh of April. Three-thirty in the afternoon. I was crying. I may have been a bit short with the girl on the line because I felt she was dithering and not answering my simple questions. It was probably my fault; the act of making the call had upset me.
On Sunday we held Javier endlessly. He was lethargic and unresponsive. He could no longer eat or stand on his legs. His will to live had faded away so quickly. He had no interest in his surroundings or in any of us.
On Monday morning I awakened, after fitful sleep, plagued by second thoughts. Whose idea was this whole pet euthanasia thing? I asked Andrew. He let me talk it out. He said he supported me whatever my decision and he'd be with me throughout the day, no matter what it brought.
I called the vet. I said I'd show up that afternoon with Javier, but just to talk. If I didn't get good answers, I was prepared to bring him back home. The same girl I had talked with on Saturday was kind and patient. Jessica. She said whatever we wanted to do was fine; they were only there to help.
I hung up, satisfied. I'd allow my little dog to die at home! Wouldn't he rather? It was my choice. I'd hold him, giving him water with my fingertip if need be. I had nothing better to do. He'd probably pass away peacefully in his sleep anyway.
Why subject him to a trip to the vet where he'd be dispatched by lethal injection? Wasn't that cruel? What had my baby done to deserve such an end?
Then Javier moaned. Twice. It was the first time I'd heard his little voice in many days. Erica had told me on Sunday, as she cradled and comforted him, that she was sure he was in pain. I'd had my doubts.
Maybe I was wrong. I did a mental about-face and began a process of dull acceptance: We'd put Javier in his teal crate, drive to the veterinary hospital, and talk to Dr. Chambers. We'd learn that we were doing the right thing, the humane thing. Javier would be put to sleep. No more suffering and no more questions.
I looked outside. Andrew, who had been weed whacking in the back, beyond the pool and by the fence, had dug a small grave. There was a mound of red dirt and a shovel standing by. The white lights twinkled in the ivy and the pines sighed in the wind. It was a beautiful day.
At the vet, it was confirmed that Javier was in renal failure. He was never going to recover, in fact was all but gone already, except for pain from toxins flooding his tiny body.
Javier had had a long life, a good life, the doctor reassured us. He was suffering. More pain would follow before he finally expired, and no one could say how long that would be.
Later, after giving us all the time we needed (at least that's what was said) to hold Javier and say goodbye, Dr. Chambers calmly gave our bright-eyed boy a shot. Within ten seconds, Javier's little head sagged. His wide eyes stayed open and seeing that, I guess is when my heart actually broke.
The doctor faded out of the room. Erica said she couldn't bear to hold Javier anymore. She was sobbing. I took him and I'm pretty sure I made a spectacle of myself, wailing and telling him I was so sorry. He didn't hear me. His little eyes just stared and he was our Javier still, only he wasn't. He had left us.*
Since then, in between crying jags, I have thought: What kind of person takes a hit out on their own sick dog? I'd written a check to pay them to kill him, and then I'd watched them do it.
The power of guilt is strong. The feelings it produces can be irrational. This article by Moira Anderson Allen helped me. A little. She calls euthanasia the "grand master of guilt." I concur.
And now there's an angel statue back by the fence, marking where our Javier is buried. Loving torture, I look out there a lot.
If you'd like to see pictures of Javier's burial, click here.
And that is all for now.
*In all of these photos, Javier was still alive. Except the one of the sky, and the last one.
March -- whether viewed as a directive or merely a month -- turned out to be a singular challenge this year.
I feel as though all I've done since three-one-sixteen is grieve, cry, travel, rinse, repeat.
But there have been happy moments. There always are, scattered amongst the sad ones.
Then there are those times when, without planning to, you laugh and cry simultaneously.
Let me tell you about one of them.
I hope when I'm done telling it I won't say to myself: Guess you had to be there -- about the time I read my readers' collective mind and it's saying: What is she on about now?
Oh well. You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take. So here goes.
Last December, early in the month, we learned that Greg's mother was not well.
Consequently, once the hols had concluded, and the winter proving warmer than usual all over the country, Greg and Andrew made a trip north to see Mom/Grandma.
A few weeks later, Erica and I made the same trip.
(Stephanie and Audrey had seen her in late summer and hoped to visit again. There wasn't time before their grandmother passed away.)
But at Christmastime, we wanted to make sure we were thoughtful of her.
So it was that one December day when I was keeping an eye on Dagny and Audrey was out shopping, I asked my daughter to locate and purchase a specific item for my mother-in-law's Christmas. The gift was to be from me alone.
You should know about my mother-in-law that, throughout her ninety years, she was a tall, slender, handsome woman. Since she loved clothes was an excellent seamstress, she made many of her own stylish outfits.
She always looked lovely. The type of clothes she favored were classic, tailored but soft, and -- especially in winter -- warm.
Since I am partial to soft turtlenecks -- be they mock or the fold-over kind -- as layering pieces during cold weather, I wanted to get her one.
So I asked Audrey to go to a department store and find a turtleneck that looked dressy but comfortable, in a pretty color. I provided her with my debit card.
She promptly texted me photos of two separate tops. I chose the one I thought my mother-in-law would like the best: a soft mock-neck in a vibrant shade of raspberry.
I wrapped it up with a Christmas card just from me to her, and Greg took it to the post office.
The holidays came and went. Grandma got sicker. When Erica and I were with her in February, days before her ninetieth birthday and scarcely a month before her death, she wasn't dressing in much besides her robe over pajamas.
Also it was fairly warm there at the time -- not like a normal Northwest Ohio February at all. And so I never saw my mother-in-law wear the shirt I'd given her. Nor did the subject come up.
When the entire family assembled the first week in March at the house that seemed to be missing her too, the girls and I went into Grandma's bedroom one evening.
It was empty except for her dresser and a few side tables, and her cherished phonograph player with her vinyl LP collection. She loved to listen to records that reminded her of her youth.
Her bed had been disassembled and stowed in the basement when the hospice workers brought in a hospital bed. She'd gone to sleep for the final time in that bed, in the room where she'd slept for nearly sixty years.
But we girls turned our backs on the empty room and began rummaging through Grandma's closet.
Don't look at us like that. It's not as though she was going to walk in and catch us. I'm still not sure why we did it except, for one thing, we wanted to see if she'd worn the things we'd sent her.
(Audrey had picked out a dressy sweatshirt for her grandmother's Christmas. Grandma loved cozy shirts.)
It wasn't long before Audrey located the sweatshirt, the one she'd chosen in a classy shade of plum. She said: I'm taking this back and I'm going to wear it.
I said, I would. I knew Grandma would want Audrey to have that shirt back, and to enjoy it. And I continued looking for the raspberry-colored mock-neck I'd sent.
Not finding the shirt, I worried that she hadn't liked it.
Meanwhile, earlier that day, Greg and Andrew had driven the mile to the funeral home to check on a few last-minute arrangements. The funeral director, Brian, beloved to all of us since Grandpa's passing five years ago, gestured toward the viewing room.
Mom is in here, he motioned. We chuckled about that later, and repeated it a lot during those few days. Mom is in here. We thought it was amusing that he called her Mom. But she loved him, so it was fitting.
We girls asked the guys how Mom looked, and especially what she was wearing.
Something green and blue, was the answer. That's as specific as the menfolk were able to be. I couldn't think of what outfit that might be, but I knew my sister-in-law Ruth would have chosen something appropriate and beautiful for her mother, so I didn't think any more of it.
The day of the viewing came and throngs of relatives were assembled in the lobby of the funeral home.
Faithful sweet Brian -- who told us we are his favorite family and he hopes to never see any of us again, alive or dead -- indicated that it was time for Greg, Ron, and Ruth -- the children -- and the brothers' wives, to spend a few minutes with Mom privately before the viewing was opened to other family and friends.
And so we followed, and the five of us approached the casket. And I began to laugh and cry at the same time, and Greg looked at me funny and when I explained, he began to exhibit similar emotions.
Because Grandma wasn't wearing blue and green. Well -- she was wearing blue: a sedate but soft suede-cloth jacket in understated slate. And underneath, a nearly-new raspberry-colored mock-neck.
The one I'd given her. The one I couldn't find in her closet. She's wearing it still.
The top and jacket completed an outfit that featured a skirt containing the same berry-and-blue colors. A granddaughter told us that Grandma loved the mock-neck because it was the first time she'd had a shirt that coordinated perfectly with the jacket and skirt -- both of which she'd made with her own hands.
She'd worn the top with the skirt once, and even twirled a bit in delight at the way it matched. Best of all, it was so warm.
Sometimes things just fall into place.
Eventually we made the long trip home and began to feel normal again. March did what it does: marches.
But before it marched out, I learned that a dear lifelong friend had passed away suddenly.
Greg and I attended her funeral last week, in Atlanta. I miss her so much.
At my mother-in-law's graveside the family lifted our voices into the balmy, windy day and sang a verse of It Is Well With My Soul:
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
I know it is well with my mother-in-law's soul, and with my friend's soul too. And although I wept my way through March, this knowledge makes me happy. I'll be laughing before you can say April showers bring May flowers.
And that is all for now.
Happy Monday :: Happy April
Last week I received a text from an exceptionally talented young lady. Name of Lexus.
Isn't that pretty?
Lexus is a high school senior with a serious interest in photography. So much so, she has studied it as part of her coursework.
Thus, she had the assignment of completing a casual externship with a photographer and, since she was acquainted with my work, she asked me to do the honors.
I was thrilled to acquiesce to her request, and so it was that yesterday afternoon, on a cool, cloudy, first day of spring, I bundled Lexus into the Cadillac and we set out.
Destination? Elmwood. As in, the cemetery. It was Lexus's choice. Honest.
Okay well, I may have suggested it but it was Lexus who insisted we go there. All I did was navigate the Raven on a well-known path.
I never tire of attempting to inspire photographers to hone their craft within the serene, near-mystical acreage of a historic cemetery. If you have not tried it, you should.
See? There I go again.
Only consider that all of the elements are there: natural light, an abundance of nature, fascinating detail, essential mystery, and enthusiastic wildlife.
Also life. Just plain non-wild life is there too.
Upon arrival, we made a right at the first opportunity. I was headed for the Sims angel. Speaking of life, this is the angel that changed mine.
I told Lexus about the first time I saw a picture of this angel. It was over a decade ago.
The picture had been taken by another photography student: a seventh-grader who, in order to gain an interesting perspective of his subject, laid on the ground and aimed up at the angel's face and wings.
Viewing the photo at a fine-arts competition, I knew the instant I saw it that locating angels in cemeteries -- and taking their picture -- was what I wanted to do. Something told me that as a field of endeavor, it was wide open.
My camera at the time -- the first digital point-and-shoot of two I have owned -- was used primarily to take pictures of one-year-old Melanie.
Like I said: angels are a favorite subject. But it would be several years before I photographed the Sims angel.
Observing Lexus shoot the Sims angel from her own unique perspective, using her gorgeous Canon DSLR fitted with primo 18-200mm Canon glass, I reflected on the fact that no matter how early or late one comes to art photography, it is of all hobbies one of the most therapeutic and restorative.
It has yet to let me down.
We drove the quiet lanes of Elmwood and stopped frequently at some of my most-loved haunts. The grave of little Charles Frederick never fails to strike a plaintive note.
Lexus found the monument charming. She said she'd never seen anything like it. Like an old pro, she framed up and swung for the fences.
Fat robins hopped and flew from stone to stone, gemming the grass, pecking for worms, flaunting their vibrant feathers. The dogwoods and azaleas were in magnificent bloom. Everywhere we looked, there was tranquil beauty.
We made our way to the Confederate soldiers memorial, the stone-and-concrete platform of which affords a view of the cemetery's expanse from a raised vantage point. I told Lexus that if she ever wanted to do a rise-and-shine type of shoot, this was an ideal place to capture the first buttery rays of sun on a clear morning.
I also told her about the time I face-planted in the dirt in front of said platform, wearing both of my fine cameras. But let's not relive that for the second consecutive day.
Lexus and I chatted as we made the circuit of the cemetery a few more times. We agreed that among our favorite things to photograph are abandoned places and ruins.
We also both love the human face, and architecture. She had some questions about how I deal with the challenges of photographing children. As in, what is the greatest challenge?
Getting them to be still? Ha ha. My philosophy is this: forget that. Just follow them around and take pictures of whatever they do. Unless they'll cooperate and pose. Then by all means, pose them and be quick about it.
When the little angels wear you out, though? Head for a cemetery and practice on the ones that don't move.
It will give you a new appreciation for every blessing of your life. You'll look at your hands in new ways, and your eyes, and your gifts, and the days of your years. Maybe even your broken wing.
As we drove away from Elmwood, Lexus declared that although she'd never given a thought to shooting in a cemetery before, her interest had been thoroughly piqued and she was sure she'd be back to do it again.
To which I replied: Yay! My work here is done.
Happy Monday :: Happy Spring