Thursday, June 17, 2010

Helping the Downtrodden Fight Back

“Kind looks, kind words, kind acts, and warm handshakes—these are secondary means of grace when men are in trouble and fighting their unseen battles.”
—John Hall

[Art by Matisse.]

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wedged Between Sorrows

Written at 8:45 this morning:

“And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one weak creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of vast eternity can fill it up!”
Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens

Still working on the eulogy.

Still missing the pooch.

And STILL going to court! Yes, today is the bench trial for the crazy guy in my ’hood who continues his verbal assaults on people. Just this week he told a couple he hoped their young son contracted leukemia. I hope the judge takes action today and I don’t have to go anywhere near a court again!

Follow-up written at 6:30 this evening:
Oy! I’ve been in court all bloody day. Both the public defender and the state’s attorney tried to weasel their way into an extension of the case, but thankfully the judge pushed them to finish the job today.

It wasn’t a complete waste of time because I learned a couple of things:
1. The plaintiff is not allowed to hear the testimonies of the defendant or the witnesses—in fact, has to leave the courtroom and hang tight in the hallway.
2. You can file a police report well after an incident occurs—months after, in fact.
Newsflash: Never rely on television for information regarding the legal system.

Results of the Day: Mr. Nasty is under court supervision for the next 3 months and required to attend anger management classes. Kind of a wet-noodle slap, but at least he didn’t win on a technicality. If he slips up and somebody else calls the police, he’ll get arrested and the sentencing may not be so lenient.

One victory down, one eulogy to write…

[I wish I'd been in this court today: A Breach of Promise Suit by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge.]

Monday, June 14, 2010

For Grace’s Sake

Last year I started buying some of my dog food at a little shop north of Chicago. One week, a calico kitten greeted me there (not the calico pictured, but one just like it). She was crazy friendly and curled up in my bag while I was trying to pay for my items. I was tempted to take her home, especially after hearing her story.

Her name was Grace and she was brought to the store’s owner just for fostering until an adopter could be found. Of course, the store owner and all her staff fast fell in love with Grace and she’s now permanently employed as the store greeter and nighttime mischief-maker.

But her story started earlier—in the halls of a local high school. A young girl (freshman or sophomore) happened upon a group of older boys who, circled around the pied feline, were taking turns kicking her and stepping on her. The courageous girl told them to stop; they didn’t. So she very simply stepped between the ruffians and took away their plaything.

Her mother called the school to report the incident, but when the school official discovered that the kitten didn’t actually belong to the girl—wasn’t the property of anyone who cared about it—he said it wasn’t necessary to reprimand the boys or take action against them.

I can’t remember why the family couldn’t keep Grace—something to do with severe allergies, no doubt. But they knew enough to contact the store owner, who was known in the community for her rescue work.

Not all abused animals get such a happy ending, as Charles Siebert notes in “The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome” in yesterday’s New York Times. If you’re interested in animal welfare or neurological studies or forensics, this is a must-read. Siebert includes stats on the links between domestic abuse (spouses and children) and animal abuse, new research on the neural circuitry of aggressive teenagers, and why training is needed to provide better forensics in animal abuse cases.

It’s a tough read, but the more we all understand about why animal abusers do what they do and what happens in their brains when they do it, the easier it will be to protect the innocents.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Something for You to Read While I’m Not Writing

I have lots to tell you but no time to write these days. (I feel like this magpie must just by posting this little bit.) Too busy prepping for the Big Sale, planning the next trip south, and trying to write a eulogy for my grandmother. In a moment of muddled thinking, I offered to lead the service. Basically because I hated funerals presided over by ministers who don’t know squat about the deceased. I’ve made remarks at funerals before, written comments for memorials, but passing myself off as a “funeral officiate” is new to me. And weird because of my relationship with the deceased.

I also have a surprise for you, which I’m frantically trying to complete while doing everything else before Wednesday. So bear with me. I’ll probably have to keep apologizing to you for the next month.

For now, here are the comments I made at the funeral of my favorite landlord—and the lessons I’m still barely making a grade on:

“If you can’t be a good example, then be a horrible warning.”

The Mr. Sandin I knew would have taken great delight in being described as a “horrible warning.” However, truth be told, he was also a good example.

He generously supported a number of charities, he had a lifetime membership to the Art Institute, he had a smile and a wave for any child within his line of vision, he was financially shrewd, compassionate to animals and above all, and in spite of his edgy sense of humor, he was kind.

Mr. Sandin—more often called Carl or Colonel by others—was a creature of habit. Every morning he put on his khaki trousers, a Brooks Brothers shirt, a matching tie and suitcoat, and grabbed his hat to take the bus downtown. For the past two years, the destination was Marshall Field’s on State Street for lunch. And almost without exception, the lunch he chose was the same every day. In the afternoon, he came home to lounge with his cat.

At a glance, Mr. Sandin was dapper. Look closer, though, and you might notice his belt buckle—a brass skull—something so seemingly out of character for such a charming elderly gentleman that you’d have to ask about it. The skull was his failproof conversation-starter. And if you were lucky and he had the time, you’d get to hear one of his stories.

He appreciated a crisp pant crease, fine leather and cashmere, and Swiss watches. He loved gadgets and he had scores of them. He was well read, kept up with science and medicine, and knowledgeable about many subjects—from numismatics and investing to photography, politics, and the latest celebrity scandals. He wanted nothing to do with Lake Michigan, had no interest in travelling, and he absolutely refused to drink water no matter how thirsty he was. Milk was his liquid of choice.

For about a year, I saw him at least twice a day to give him his medications and to feed and pill his cat. He was always ecstatic to see me, and always ready for me to leave within 15 minutes of my arrival. Like clockwork, he’d dismiss me. But he’d want me to return over and over again during the day—just for 15 minutes at a time.

One night as I was dispersing his numerous pills, which he loathed taking, he looked toward the heavens and cried, “Ohhhhh, woe is me. Is there anyone more put upon than me?” He shook a little as he exhaled it and it terrified me. I hated being the one making him do what he didn’t want to do, but the alternative was unthinkable. I said something in an effort to console him and I left after he took the pills. The next morning, he said the same thing, and I again offered my condolences for the miserable life he thought he was leading. This became our pattern. And when I’d run out of consolation one night and he cried, “Is there anyone more put upon than me?” before he finished, I blurted out: “Yes! ME! Because I have to deal with YOU!” And he laughed and laughed. I realized that I had been expected to say that a long time before. I was his sparring partner. He liked to test my intellect, to provoke me, tease me, shock me, push me to some edge to see if I could hang on. And when I did, he laughed. And it’s those moments I’ll cherish most.

So what about him was a horrible warning? Here are some things I learned from him, though he had no intention of teaching me and I still haven’t applied much of this to my day-to-day existence:

1. We all need to ask for help at some point in our lives—sooner rather than later.
We all need friends. And laughter.

We all like to be taken care of. There’s no shame in it.

We should do our best to maintain our health and mobility—and our minds.

Mr. Sandin led several lives: the one he told people he lived, the one he desired to live, and the one he did live. I like to think that now, at last Mr. Sandin is living one life—the one he dreamed of—confronting injustice without fear of retribution, living large with no restraints on pleasure, and making decisions that hold no regrets.

Mr. Sandin . . . Colonel . . . I salute you.

[Painting by Rubens Peale.]

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Taking the Pastoral Dining Route

While some of you took your mothers to fancy mimosa-laced brunches in well-appointed restaurants on Mother’s Day, I let mine drive us to a state park for à la carte breakfast dishes served on outdoor picnic tables. Though I’d bet you had better food, I’m inclined to believe I had a better experience.

First, before you think I bullied my mother into eating with a bunch of campers, you should know the venue was her choice. I can’t say what of the day will stand in her memory, but I’ll remember Mother’s Day 2010 for its animal encounters.

The restaurant sat along a river frequented by canoers and fishers. Dragonflies darted through the air and the resident restaurant hound monitored all visitors. He wasn’t initially pleased with the Akita pup, but everyone else passed muster. My husband and I enjoyed the company of both canines, reminders for us of the one-in-a-million pooch no longer with us.

The best part of the meal for me, though, was the coming and the going.

On the way to the park, traffic on the country road came to a standstill. Horses. A man got out of his car and held the halters of two of the road-blocking creatures, allowing vehicles to pass and move on. I got out of our car to take pics, and as I did so, the apparent owner of the horses approached the scene. He and the Good Samaritan seemed to know each other, at least enough to trust the G.S. to lead two of the horses back to the barn. The owner had his hands full with the spirited third horse, who had been frolicking in a field and was determined not to be led anywhere by anyone. He’d run toward the owner and just as he got close enough to grab, he’d skip away. My guess is that it was this spirited equine who sprung the group from lockup in the first place, and the two docile horses decided a Sunday stroll wasn’t a bad idea. In the end, Mr. Wild Thing acquiesced to following alongside his mates—as long as no one touched him (see pic above: note the docile horses’ reaction to the willful/gleeful one).

On the way home from our meal—during which time another family shamed me for failing to give my mother a corsage for the holiday (Did you? And if you’re a mother, did you expect a corsage?)—I disembarked from the car again to photograph a feathered family (no corsage in sight).

I don’t know about my mother, but I had a memorable Mom’s Day.

[Sorry about the boring pics. I had close-ups of both to post on Lull, but haven’t yet learned how to get those to stick. Please be patient with my learning curve. Thanks!]

Friday, June 11, 2010

Still Stumped for a Father’s Day Gift?

Do you constantly see letters, shapes, and patterns emerging from natural and manmade environments?

I do. And so do the folks at Undercover Alphabet. I discovered them in a small consignment boutique that specializes in equestrian wear. (I may start wearing this stuff—fabulous fabrics, patent leather boots, mm-mmm…)

They create photographic words from the random and accidental shapes they recognize around them. They even take commissions—which means you’re assured of getting a unique gift for someone, whatever the occasion. Check out their Web site or Facebook page.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

WordGazing: Proof of Proofreaders’ Value

Found this ad online this morning while I was browsing for new clients:

I am looking for author to help me with my upcomming book. (Technical and non-friction author preferred.)

Of course, running a spellcheck program could have fixed the poorly spelled upcomming. But what about non-friction?

Technically, this isn’t a misspelling; spellcheck would have ignored it. Yet, if it doesn’t communicate what the writer intended, it’s a typo.

Now I’m left to wonder what the writer intended. Is s/he simply averse to conflict? Or does s/he really REALLY need an editor?

[Photo of 1901 proofreaders by Thomas Lewis.]

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Language of Solace

After a day of visiting with my ailing grandmother, I randomly opened a book (Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin), thinking I might want to start it. Here’s what I saw:

The seeming opposition between life and death is now cut through. Do not thrash or lunge or flee. There is no longer a container or anything to be contained. All is resolved in dazzling measureless freedom.
—From “The Warrior Song of King Gesar

It was astonishingly appropriate. I read the quotation to my grandmother the next day, along with poetry from The Missouri Review. She could no longer speak or open her eyes; there was no way to assess her awareness or cognitive abilities. Yet I like to think she understood, on some level, my communications.

Louise Jeannette Phipps Urbas
June 6, 1912 – June 6, 2010

She found her freedom early the next morning—on her 98th birthday.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pondering the Familial

While traveling south of the Mason-Dixon, I saw this on a T-shirt in a motorcycle shop:

We Love Our Cousins

It made me laugh, and subsequently scared me.

But then, to offset my conflicted emotions, I saw this quote framed in a gift shop:

“We raise our girls to reach for the sky…
but sometimes
it’s still just

all about the dress.”

And ain’t that the truth?

[1950 Dior gown photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe; 1957 group photo of Dior designs by Loomis Dean.]

Learning Life’s Lessons Over and Over Again

“Life is easier than you’d think; all that is necessary is to accept the impossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable.”
—Kathleen Norris

Indeed. This is the chipper outlook I’ve been trying to embrace. But it hasn’t been easy and Life’s little surprises keep taking me on the road and away from my Apple.

Bear with me. Please.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Coffee Capers

Before our recent trip South, I took great care to pack my coffee grinder, beans, filters, teapot, special spoon, etc., etc.—everything I needed to make a proper cup of Joe.

So it was a big disappointment to find that in a last-minute bag rearrangement, I’d left the coffee and the cone filter at home. Fortunately, my father had a pound of Italian roast in his pantry—from 2008! And guess what? It was fine. We ground it and put it in an espresso machine and the coffee was great. Much better, in fact, than any of the colored water that passes for coffee in restaurants. (I get especially cranky if I’ve eaten a wonderful meal in a not-inexpensive food joint and the finishing touch—the coffee—is lackluster. For me, this taints the entire experience.

Today I thought I’d share a few tips from the road about coffee. (To the friend I’d promised to give lessons in brewing the perfect cup: Consider this the sidebar to your future instructions.)

The way you make your coffee is critical. One reason restaurant coffee is so awful—well, two reasons—is because it’s made in those dreadful coffee-makers that aren’t cleaned often
enough, and the pots rest for extended periods on a warming plate. Acidity builds in both cases, warming plates ultimately burn the brew, and the coffee is undrinkable for discriminating palates. Almost any method of brewing coffee—cone filter, Swedish vacuum, French press, stovetop percolator—is superior to the easiest plug-in appliance. Serve coffee immediately while it’s at its hottest temperature.

When the tap water smells like algae, it will affect the taste of the coffee, but if made correctly, the coffee will still be worth drinking.

Old beans are better than no beans.

$_ _ _ _ _ _ _ $ $ell$ an in$tant e$pre$$o that makes a great travelling companion. If you find yourself craving the deep taste of home-brewed coffee while in an environment void of taste (for instance, a hospital, a nursing facility, a tea-drinker’s home*), simply ask for a cup of boiling water and get your fix.
* That’s not to say tea-drinkers don’t have taste/aesthetics. I just couldn’t stop myself from writing it. My apologies to my tea-drinking friends.

[Illustration from Experimental Pharmacology and Materia Medica, by Dennis E. Jackson.]

I’m Ba-aack

I’m back. Sort of. It seems ages ago since I last wrote anything of consequence.

April and May marked several milestones in my life that I’ve not discussed but want to, once I figure out how. June and July promise to be especially busy as we wrap up our final months north of the Mason-Dixon Line. So I’m afraid Lull will continue being Lull Lite for a bit.

Note: As in the past when there’s been a break in Lull posts, I tend to write several posts at once. So any time you see fresh content here, scroll down—there might be more to read.

And if you’re new to Lull, poke around in the archives. Lull is already approaching its first birthday so there’s a lot of content you missed. (However, I noticed yesterday that something funky happened to the formatting; typefaces and sizes are all askew in the 2009 articles. Please ignore.)
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