Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sophie’s Choice: The Decisions That Transform Our Lives

I’ve been thinking even more lately about our departed one-in-a-million pooch—partly because I’ve started volunteering at a shelter, but mostly because we used to celebrate her birthday in May. May was the month 13 years ago that she pawed her way into our hearts.

Before yet another May goes by—this month that would have been her 15th birthday—I’d like to recount her adoption tale.

Envisioning A No-Kill Nation
It started with one woman’s notion that she could make a difference. Her aim was to turn a city with one of the country’s highest kill rates (the number of adoptable pets “euthanized” before finding a new home) into a no-kill city. She created an organization she named PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) and held her first adoption event in 1998.

It wasn’t the little booth setup near a store or festival we’re accustomed to today. The PAWS event covered the north end of the Magnificent Mile of the Windy City and turned into the block of posh boutiques that ended with Barneys New York. Every window of participating retailers in this shoppers’ mecca held puppies, kittens, cats, and dogs chosen from shelters across the city. (PAWS didn’t yet have a brick-and-mortar presence. Just a woman with a mission.)

Diamonds and Dalmatians? Luxury linens and Leonbergers? Purses and Pixie Bobs? Contrast captivates me and the PAWS event promised to deliver on this count alone. It was a must-see occasion for me.

For my husband, not so much. He acquiesced when we turned the outing into a bike ride and I assured him I had no intention of adding any animals to our recently reduced menagerie. (We were down from three felines to one. Plus our dancing-but-mute bird crossed into the other-world. New shades of quiet had enveloped our home.)

Biking Toward Our Future
When the big weekend came, so did a burst of hot weather. We took our time peddling along the lakefront bicycle path, dodging unaware walkers and parents with strollers. Seven miles later, we locked up our bikes near the Drake Hotel and commenced the tour.

Ralph Lauren sported Golden Retriever pups, natch! Escada boasted a Bluetick Coonhound. In the space Chanel had just abandoned for larger digs were rows of cats and puppies. On the floor next to the doorway was a lone adult dog in a too-small cage. You’d miss seeing her if it wasn’t for the ruckus she made every time a puppy was shepherded past her. She raised and extended a paw to us every time we looked at her.

She caught the eye of many, but inquirers were told she didn’t get along with other dogs. This was a deal-breaker, especially for folks who already had a dog in their households.

When the dog extended her paw, she also tilted her triangular-shaped head at a just-right angle and held our gaze with her liquid-brown doe eyes. She was deep-chested; her coat was white with brindle patches, but her head and floppy ears were pure chocolate.

We hung around long enough to hear her story: Her distrust of other canines likely stemmed from fear. It was believed she’d once been attacked by her own kind—a theory arrived at from both her behavior and the scores of scars on her back legs. Her presence at the PAWS event was a last-ditch effort to get her a home. She hadn’t been borrowed from the luxury accommodations of a shelter; she came from the Animal Care & Control Pound and her death had been scheduled for the next day. (At that time, the Pound hitched a bunch of dogs to a cart and wheeled them into a room to be gassed.)

We left. We had the boutiques yet to see and the event was drawing to a close. Already there were fewer animals to ooh and ahh over—they’d been adopted. Of course, my mind kept returning to that ultra-thin, Greyhoundish creature who was facing a very short future.

My husband and I had dreamed for years about getting a dog. It was part of the fantasy of owning our own home with the fenced-in yard…near the beach and miles away from neighbors. We’d even talked breeds (large) and names (Lola). We’d read about rescuing Greyhounds from the track. We’d also agreed that we couldn’t have a dog until our work schedules were sane and we lived at ground level.

Making Informed Decisions
At last we reached Barneys. We stepped inside to get a closer view of the furballs on display. Only one stood out. When my husband picked her up, the mutual affection was obvious. The woman overseeing the Barneys adoptions was also the foster mom to this particular kitten.

“I can’t believe it!” she said. “Everybody loves that kitten, but you’re the only one she’s shown any interest in.” She went on to say that the kitten was on hold for adoption. “But I’d prefer to see her go to you. She’s already bonded with you two. Will you take her?”

What was happening? We weren’t going to adopt anything one minute, and the next we were going to let a dog die while we took home a kitten instead. I told the woman my husband and I needed to discuss the situation.

We left. What happened next is a matter of interpretation.

We proceeded to the nearest restaurant for a break and a bite to eat. To hear my husband’s version, I intentionally stuffed him with fried foods and a milkshake and sat him in the sun, whose heat cast a druglike spell over him and rendered him incapable of making any decisions or thwarting my evil plans.

I have to confess I felt just as overcome by the fried foods and sun, but I clearly remember the rationale I tried to present: The kitten was going to be adopted. She might not receive the same care and love we would have provided; she might not like her new family as much as she already liked us, but she’d have a home. The dog, on the other hand, was going to die. Tomorrow.

What failed to flicker in my brain? Here’s a short list:
1. Dogs were prohibited in our apartment building.
We knew nothing about dog behavior.
We didn’t know whether our remaining cat would accept a dog.
We were clueless about how dogs affect their guardians’ lifestyle.
5. We had no plan for bringing a canine into our household and no accommodations—bowls, bed, leash.
All I obsessed about was the imminent and gruesome passing of that doe-eyed pooch.

We returned to the former Chanel space. Maybe someone had adopted the dog and our decision would be made for us, I thought.

No such luck. The dog extended her paw to us as soon as we walked into the room.

Testing Our Hearts
We’d read enough about Greyhound rescues to know some of them can’t navigate stairs. If this dog was stair-challenged, how was she going to live in our third-floor apartment? We asked what was known about the dog; we were fed the same information we’d heard earlier.

“Would you like us to take her out of the cage for you?”

“Um, yeah, that would be good.”

Out she came and a leash was snapped onto her. “Walk around the atrium with her, if you’d like.”

The dog dutifully stayed close to us as we walked through the bevy of news correspondents and camera people who were about to interview PAWS’ founder. We headed for an out-of-the-way corner of the atrium and tested the pooch on some stairs. She was fine.

PAWS’ founder walked to our corner after her interview. It had been a long, successful weekend for her and she apologetically collapsed to the floor before talking to us.

An older, affluent woman approached us, remarking on how beautiful “our” dog was. “How long have you had her?” she asked.

“Our” dog was leaning into my husband at that point, placing her claim on him. We explained we were merely considering adopting her. “Well, she acts like she belongs to you. She’s made her decision.” As the woman left, we noticed her tiny canine peering out from her purse, which told us “our” dog didn’t have a problem with all dogs.

The PAWS founder began speaking. “Our” dog had been a special case for her—a real Sophie’s Choice (the rescue community’s phrase for the animals at Death’s door, i.e., the gas chamber). The woman kept talking but I’d stopped listening because just as she mentioned Sophie’s Choice, the background music swelled with the score from Schindler’s List.

Purely coincidental, right? Yet at that moment, the connection felt full of meaning. Made me dizzy (or was it that bloody lunch kicking in?). What forces were shifting in our lives? How many disparate elements had just converged to bring us to this moment?

I had no answer. I just wanted to get away from the crowd and go home with my husband and “our” dog.

Committing to Lifelong Guardianship
So we began the adoption process. Unfortunately, unlike the shelter adoptions being transacted that day, ours was a POUND transaction. If “our” dog had been at a shelter, we could have adopted her on the spot. However, the POUND required us to transport the animal all the way back to POUND HQ—along pothole-filled streets to the South Side—to fill out additional paperwork. We would be chauffeured there by the assistant to the PAWS founder.

That’s when we learned a few of the dog’s numerous idiosyncrasies: She was afraid of anything with wheels on it, especially cars. Cars made her throw up, even before they got on the road. My husband—for all of the dog’s life—had to pick her up and place her inside the vehicle, ears back and tail between her legs. We apologized profusely when she threw up, but the assistant waved it off—said he was used to it, though that new-car smell of his SUV said otherwise.

Once we made it through stop-and-go traffic to the POUND, we had to force the trembling pooch to go inside. Someone recognized her at once.

“Baby! Are you going to a new home?” The woman said “Baby” had been at the POUND for months, which was months longer than most animals spent there. “Everyone loved Baby,” the woman said by way of explanation.

I’m not sure who “everyone” was because no one else acted remotely interested in helping us maneuver through the system and get the heck out of there.

Somehow, we at last completed the paperwork and left with a newly microchipped dog. Our chauffeur drove us back downtown and dropped us off. We walked to a small park to decompress. Figured the quiet of the green space would appeal to the dog as well. It had been a chaotic, confusing afternoon and now we were pressed to answer one critical question: How were we going to get this dog home?

What’s In A Name?
As we puzzled over our predicament, a child ran up to our seated pooch and threw her arms around the dog’s neck. I couldn’t breathe. What if the pooch felt the same way about children as she did about puppies? What if she bit the child? What if…

“What’s her name?” the girl asked.

“We just adopted her. She doesn’t have a name yet. Do you have a suggestion?”

“Yes. Sophie.”

“Sophie? That wouldn’t happen to be your name, would it?”

“Yes,” she smiled. “Sophia Tesa.”

“Then Sophie it is.” Of all the names for a dog my husband and I had entertained, Sophie was never one. But it was perfect, wasn’t it? Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List, and now the newly christened Sophia. From that moment on, we referred to the little park as Sophie’s Place.

Our excursion had not unfolded as planned. And so many questions awaited us:
1. Would the cat accept the dog?
[Yes, but the cat insisted on being “top dog.”]

2. Would the dog adjust to the cat?
[Sophie was crazy-in-love with all felines.]

3. Would our landlord negotiate with us about our newest pet?
[NO! “The dog has to GO!” We moved instead.]

4. How much would this adoption change our lives?


Some time after Sophie’s adoption day, my husband happened across an illustration he’d drawn years before and had subsequently forgotten. It was from a play in which his character was supposed to draw a dog, and in every performance, my husband drew a dog that looked just like Sophie.

Coincidence or destiny?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Message: Send a Dog to a Soldier

Here’s a great (and easy) way to thank some of the soldiers who fought on our behalf.

From now until Independence Day, go to the Facebook page of DogBlessYou.org and click “Like.” For every 5,ooo clicks, a service dog will be donated to a soldier suffering from PTSD.

For more information, read the blog of The Humane Society’s CEO, Wayne Pacelle.

[Pictured here are
Smoky, a WWII soldier, and a monument to Sallie, a Civil War Union fighter.]

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fleeting Treasures

“Sometimes the most moving, altering moments of life are in fact only moments. Sometimes they are not destined to be novels, essays, or memoirs. Sometimes, there is no bigger picture.”
—April Monroe

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It’s Official! I’m A Volunteer

After passing an interview screening, I attended a two-hour orientation last week at my local humane society. The woman who presented the orientation talked rapidly, which was a good thing because otherwise, with so much material to cover, we’d still be there. Even so, there were elements of the job that deserved more attention and, ideally, a demonstration.

Some of the policies I had to sign off on surprised me, yet shouldn’t have. Regulations frequently get written after the fact—that is, after some dunderhead has behaved either thoughtlessly or maliciously. For example, one policy states that your own pets aren’t allowed in the facility while you volunteer. Another states that you aren’t to leave your pets in your car while volunteering.

There was also a section detailing the consequences of not following the rules or demonstrating behavior unbecoming to the organization. Like abusing the animals or offering your opinions to prospective adopters. (The example given for the latter concerned declawing. The orientation leader said someone might ask us for the name of a vet who declaws or how much it costs to declaw. We’re to send the person to a humane society employee for answers rather than offer any facts about the procedure. I had to bite my tongue: I don’t regard facts to be opinions. The larger point was “Avoid controversial subjects when speaking with the public—no matter how much science you have on your side.”) Got it. Fine by me. I’m not there to engage people in conversation anyway. My priority is the immediate needs of the animals.

Yesterday was my first day on the job. I’ve been warned by a number of friends and family that working at a shelter may not be the best emotional match for me. They’re right, of course, but I wanted to try just the same.

I’ll describe the experience in another post, but overall, according to my two-item evaluation system, it went well: I didn’t cry, and I came home sans any furry tagalongs.

[Pics are from the shelter.]

Friday, May 27, 2011

Just A Thought

“Not that I want to be a god or a hero. Just to change into a tree, grow for ages, not hurt anyone.”
Czeslaw Milosz

[This twisty-branched evergreen is on the Henry Clay estate.]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spare a Few Words for Our Graduates

As I was enjoying the sunshine in our backyard the other day, I couldn’t stay focused on the book in my hands. Instead, my ear kept wandering to a nearby volley of bird calls. Finally, I saw the reason. This little guy was in flight rehearsal, which meant he spent a whole lotta time calling out to Mama (and listening to whatever she said in return) and fluttering his wings before each takeoff.

His practice route was from the roof edge to the tree just on the other side of the driveway. Whenever he managed to get in the air, his landing gear dangled and wiggled—eager to hit something solid. He succeeded every time, thankfully.

’Tis the season: Young birds prepare to leave the nest, and young college graduates prepare to do the same. (Correction: Young grads prepare to leave academia; many will have to return to the old nest because a recession has made it impossible to do otherwise.)

I’ve been noodling on writing my own little commencement address for today’s graduates. Phrases like First, Do No Harm and Life Isn’t Fair bob around my gray matter. Kindness, awareness, compassion bob there, too.

But then I thought, Why not ask Lull readers to weigh in on this? Why not include a collective of advice, encouragement, warnings, and inspiration?

So tell me—to borrow from Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure—one thing (or more) that you know for sure now about life that you didn’t know in your early 20s. Or tell me one thing you’ve always known that might help others to know, too. (I, for instance, should have listened to my grandmother’s advice ages ago.)

If you’re too shy to post anything in the Comments section, I understand. But how about shooting me an e-mail instead and I’ll post your contribution (with or without your identity, as you please)? You can send your remarks to lilloflull at gmail dot com.

I look forward to hearing from you…

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Herding (v.) Sheep and Herding (adj.) Sheep

A few words about SHEEP are in order today.

Herding (v.) Sheep
Last week we watched as sheep were tormented round a field, three at a time, in the Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trial. The competition is one of the most prestigious in the nation and held right here in the Horse Capital of the World.

The weather was hot and muggy, which tripped up some of the herders. Even so, every dog deserved our admiration. The concentration and intelligence they exhibited while following the shrill whistle instructions of their owners was mesmerizing. Some had fairly easy sheep to herd across the field and through all the gates and tricks of the course; others were challenged by stubborn woolies who clearly just wanted to stand in one place and graze.

We don’t frequent dog shows or agility competitions, so being surrounded by one breed of canine was new to us. And odd—most of them were traditional black-and-white Border Collies. There was little variation in the dogscape. Even so, I couldn’t help but reminisce about our precious collie mix.

She was our first dog (i.e., we had no idea what we were doing), and because she was an emaciated rescue, no one knew for certain what her heritage was. She had no problem walking on lead, but she walked in circles—around and around us. It took her doltish guardians a while to realize she was a herding breed. Later, her DNA would kick in at the sight of any large appliance or hand-pulled item: She herded lawn mowers, vacuums, weed whackers, strollers, wagons, and anything we would drag home from the beach. She was clever enough to give those Border Collies a run for their money in the Stockdog Trials, but her humans fell a wee bit short in the training department.

Herding (adj.) Sheep
Sissy, the blind quarter horse, hit the animal press this week. And with her came news of sheep who herd horses.

Sissy needed new digs because the shelter she called home was closing. Enter Deer Haven Ranch, sanctuary to unwanted animals of varying disabilities. The hitch? Sissy came with a posse of guides and bodyguards: 5 sheep and 5 goats who artfully surround her and navigate her toward food, water, pastures, and away from every perceived danger. The herded are herders. (Too bad there’s no video of this.)

Taking in one more creature to feed and provide vet care for is one thing; taking in 11 creatures is quite another. Kudos to Deer Haven Ranch for accepting the challenge.

Warning: Every link I tried in the Sissy story turned out to be an advertisement. Maybe that’s what you’re used to, dear readers. However, I assure you there is NO advertising on Lull. The links I provide have been carefully chosen to either give you more information about a subject or to remind you of a related post on Lull. (And, to be perfectly transparent, the links to related posts are meant especially for Lull newbies as a way of explanation and a way to entice them deeper into Lull.)

[Photo of Sissy from Michelle Feldstein, co-owner of Deer Haven Ranch.]

Monday, May 23, 2011

O, Rapturous Monday! How Glad We Are to See Thee

I left Lull alone these past few days because I figured readers were busily preparing for the Rapture—or its aftermath.

I nosed down into a book. Wanted to cross one off my Current Lineup if it was the last thing I did in this lifetime. And whaddaya know? I finally finished Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures. If you’ve not already read this collection of New Yorker articles, then I highly recommend this book. It will give you new (or reaffirming) insights on first impressions, hiring interviews, advertising slogans, dog bites, medical diagnoses, and ketchup.

I’ve asked before, and I’m going to keep asking: What are YOU reading? A few people I know recently finished The Shadow of the Wind by Carlo Ruiz Zafón; another friend is reading Molly Peacock’s The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 (which I can hardly wait to start, though first I need to dig in to an SEO guide for the business site I’m building). Even a nearly illiterate acquaintance listens to books on CD. No one in my orbit is book-averse.

So ’fess up: What’s between the covers you hold?

[Pic of collage by Mary Delany from the British Museum.]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It’s NOT My Imagination

As I write, it’s not raining.

I’ve spent most of this wet season being grateful for the flowers it’s nurtured, but in truth, I’ve had enough of it. I like gray, when it’s a fabric or ceramic; a daily gray sky, though, can dampen the jolliest of spirits. Even without the rain, this morning’s sky remains overcast. Is a hint of blue too much to ask for?

Yeah, probably.

“The rain ceases, and a bird’s clear song suddenly announces the difference between Heaven and Hell.”
—Thomas Merton

I’m concentrating on the better news of the day: Two House Finches have braved our new bird feeder and tasted its special blend of seed. I hope other little birds will soon follow suit.

[Pic by Wes Griffin.]

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

LOL? Reversing the Pet Surrender Excuse

The Animal Rescue Site sells a T-shirt with this cartoon on the front of it. I laughed hard the first time I saw it—the night after my orientation at a local animal shelter.

Yes, my application was accepted, I passed the phone-screening interview, and sat through a lengthy dos-and-don’ts presentation about how to be a high-achieving volunteer.

On the tour of the facility, I couldn’t help but notice the histories of the caged animals. In addition to those who were surrendered because a household member had become allergic to them, others were there for these “reasons”:
Guardian has a new baby
Guardian has a new boyfriend/girlfriend
Guardian says the cat/dog can’t be trained
Animal doesn’t mesh with guardian’s lifestyle

I’ve tucked this little cartoon into my brain to steel myself for working at the shelter. Imagining a world where adults honor their commitment to the animals they safeguard calms me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Flower Power

The sun’s been a bit shy about coming out these past few weeks, but that hasn’t prevented the fleurs from flaunting themselves. They’re crazy with color right now in the Bluegrass, which makes the gray skies tolerable. Reminds me of a Rilke passage:

“[E]verything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke

[Nature pics without credits are from either yours truly or her camera-toting husband. This particular one was shot by the latter.]

Monday, May 16, 2011

OMG! I’m Normal!

Before stress started wreaking havoc with my mental filing system, I had an excellent memory.

I could quickly and easily memorize every line of a play. As an editor, I could remember what month and where on a page a particular piece of information had been published in a newsletter. Scenes from my family’s history could be retrieved in detail, sometimes to the embarrassment of family members. My first memory on this planet predates my ability to use language.

The weird twist to all this recall? Personal memories were affiliated with clothing. I could remember what I wore when something happened: The Easter photos taken beneath the redbud tree? Powder-blue dress with white ducks on it and the powder-blue crushed-velvet trench coat with silver buttons. Parents’ reunion picnic at the neighbors’ farm? Turquoise terrycloth playsuit with kelly-green piping. Getting invited to the big-deal country club for lunch? Flowy, ruffly dress of tangerine roses with hints of yellow in it.

I’ve inquired of friends and colleagues whether their memories also included wardrobe choices, but no one ever fessed up to sharing that quirk with me. Made me feel weird, as if my memories were tainted by vanity.

Until now.

Yesterday, on a morning television program, I learned that sisters Delia and Nora Ephron wrote a play about this very memory quirk. Love, Loss, and What I Wore hit Broadway in 2009 and is about to go on tour. It’s a collection of women’s monologues depicting life’s ups and downs and what the women wore when each occurred. According to the Ephrons, this is a gender thing and not my personal psychological disorder. (Apparently, all the women I’ve known are exceptions to the rule.)

Whew! You can’t imagine how much better I feel about my mental health! No longer must I hide this dark secret. No longer must I wonder why in the world my wardrobe got tucked away in my brain with my memories.

You can bet that years from now, I’ll be able to recall the plaid of the Pendleton blanket I wrapped round my nightclothes when I first heard the news of my normalcy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Are YOU Reading?

I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of looking at my Current Reading Lineup (the list I keep on the right side of Lull of books and magazines I’m reading). It contains a number of books that have been there for months—a few of them because they’re quite long, but all of them because I just haven’t been able to emotionally engage with them. It’s not that they’re not interesting; it’s just the wrong time for me to connect with them. Also, I periodically make a library run and load up the list with books I have to read within a two-week period.

So I read a tiny bit here and there in each book from my own library, never making much headway, and they stare back at me from that Current Reading Lineup every day, daring me to do something about them. What I’m tempted to do is remove the list.

This morning an idea came to me: What if I turned the list around? Why not have a list of the books Lull readers currently have their noses in?

I know some of you are reading something that’s work-related or school-related or helping you with your new business endeavor or inspiring you to change whatever it is you’ve been told is wrong with you. That’s okay. It’s still reading material and could prove valuable to someone else who visits Lull. I also know that many of you are quiet folks who rarely or never comment online. That’s fine. Just write the name of the book you’re reading in the Comments section of Lull—nothing else needed. On the other hand, if you want to remark on the book—a synopsis, a review, why you’re reading it, what you’re getting from it, thumb up or down—feel free.

Even if you don’t care what anyone else is reading, I would really like to know what YOU are reading. Select “Comments” below and everything else will be self-explanatory.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Parking First, Safety Second

Stranger in a Strange Land – No. 15
The street parking still confounds me here.

In the Land of Lincoln, cars are parked on the side of the street nose to tail. Here in the Bluegrass, in addition to the nose-to-tail style, you also see nose-to-nose and tail-to-tail.

In some neighborhoods of the Windy City, a space on the street for a car is hard to come by; it can take upwards of 30 minutes to find one.* If you see a space on the opposite side of the street, you’re wise to engineer a U-Turn (if it’s legal) and grab it while you can.

Here in Horseyland, though, you merely have to drive across incoming traffic and pull into the space.

When exiting your space in the Windy City, you pull into traffic that is headed in the same direction as your car. Easy. But pulling out in the Bluegrass demands more thought and skill: You’re facing oncoming traffic—sometimes two lanes of it—and have to dodge cars in order to reach the opposite lanes, or you have to make a U-Turn in order to join the oncoming traffic. Either way, you need a car with great acceleration and few blind spots. If you have any respect for other drivers, you’ll stay off your phone during this maneuver.

I keep parking nose-to-tail style. And each time I turn onto a street where the parked cars are all facing me, I still suffer a mini panic attack—believing I’ve made the mistake of driving the wrong direction on a one-way street. In this one instance, I think it safer to maintain my Windy City ways; assimilation could prove harmful.

* Note: This may sound daft, but…Calvin Trillin wrote a wonderful little novel about parking. Tepper Isn’t Going Out centers on a New York City resident who relishes every parking space he’s able to find and makes the most of it while the meter ticks away the minutes of his life.

[Meter pic from Wired magazine.]

This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. To read other articles in the series, select Stranger in a Strange Land from Lull’s Topic List on the right.

Blogger Downed By…

I finally put a little something on Lull last night, but I wasn’t able to post anything for nearly two days because…well, I don’t know.

Google’s Blogger division started doing some maintenance work on Wednesday, but something went horribly wrong and the whole system went down. You could see the blogs of Blogger, but we bloggers didn’t have access to the infrastructures of our blogs and so couldn’t publish anything new or even prepare content for later publishing.

Let’s hope we’re glitch-free for a while.

[Google doodle by Morgan Forrest.]

Friday, May 13, 2011

Reading: The GOOD Addiction

“[R]eading is socially accepted disassociation. You flip a switch and you’re not there anymore. It’s better than heroin. More effective and cheaper and legal.”
—Mary Karr

[Art by Claude Monet.]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Calling All Birds

When we signed the lease for our new apartment, the one thing we liked about it was the small birch tree right outside our living room window. Besides being one of our favorite types of trees, it added beauty to the dull landscaping, provided a bit of privacy for us, and made a nice rest stop for birds.

However, months later, the property was sold. Our new landlord didn’t share our perspective and promptly cut down the tree. Had the bushes around the building been so easy to remove, they’d probably be gone, too.

So we went shopping. We couldn’t replace the privacy or beauty of the tree, but we could do something for the birds. We bought a lovely ceramic arts-and-crafts style bird feeder for starters, along with a special blend of seed to attract songbirds, and placed it just outside our living room window. We hear songbirds all the time, but rarely see them and haven’t yet been able to identify what we’re hearing. We expected the feeder to entice a flurry of activity (and, selfishly, we expected to be endlessly entertained by the feathered flurry).

It hasn’t. We haven’t.

The other day as I sat down at the computer (the scene the birds can see if they look through the living room window from the feeder), three birds passed by at feeder level and I waited to see if they would turn back to light on the feeder. This, I thought, could be the beginning of our vision come true.

Before the birds were out of my view, though, I noticed a Siamese cat following behind. In the air—as if on invisible wings. As if s/he was just another bird.

Lots of felines roam their own yards in this neighborhood, but I’d never seen this one before. S/he didn’t live here. Was our feeder attracting the wrong element? Would it make us accomplices to feline hunting sprees? Our birch tree substitute may have to become a mere objet d’art.


[Scarlet Tanager pic by Alan Murphy. Tough-guy Siamese/Snowshoe cat is available for adoption on Petfinder.]

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Looking for a light read? Jincy Willett delivers laughs and wit with a whodunit in The Writing Class.

The book was published a few years ago, so you may have read it already. If not, you’ll appreciate the (intentionally) bad writing in it as much as the inspired writing. What’s more, it’s a short read—making it perfect for the beach or a trip.

Monday, May 9, 2011

137th Derby Follow-Up

My apologies to those who followed my grammar-based tip for the Derby. I read last night that Comma to the Top came in last. However, he also suffered an ankle injury for which he was flown to Colorado for surgery.

Comma to the Top wasn’t the only horse to finish the Run for the Roses in worse shape than when he started. Pants on Fire bled internally during the race due to some immune system problem and rather than heading on to the Preakness, will spend an undetermined amount of time recuperating at home.

ArchArchArch was bumped coming out of the gate, where his jockey believes his leg fractured, and then got bumped again further down the track. The poor creature ran the entire race on a fracture. He will never race again.

You know what? I take back my apology. If you’re a gambler, you do it at your own risk. All I ask is that you find something else to bet on besides animals.

There’s a great PETA ad that says it all. Obviously, dog fighting is a bloodier “sport” than dog racing, but the consequences—neglect and death—are the same for the dogs either way. The dogs have no choice in the matter. Nor do racehorses.

When gambling, stick to your own species.

[Pic of ArchArchArch by Harold Roth.]

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Paying Tribute to Mothers

Our mothers shape us. Whether through kindness, control, neglect, or guidance, their influence on the adults we become stretches far beyond the genetics we share with them.

The mother of bioacoustic scientist Katy Payne stoked her curiosity and imagination. In Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants, Payne writes of one childhood incident that would have had very different consequences had her mother been cut from the same cloth as, say, Mary Karr’s mom or my father-in-law’s Tiger Mom.

School officials informed her mother that Katy had been getting to school increasingly late. In fact, on that particular day, she had arrived two hours after the other children.

Without reprimand, her mother coaxed from her the reason for the tardiness: Katy had devised an experiment to see if she could differentiate by taste the maple trees she passed on the way to grade school. Her mother’s solution was to wake and dress Katy before sunrise the next day so she had plenty of time to sample the sap of each tree and still get to school on time.

It’s stories like this that make us happy to honor our mothers today, or honor the women who acted as mothers to us. These are the memories worth sharing and savoring with others—especially with the very individual who shaped who we’ve become.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

WordGazing: Derby Tip for Grammarians

If you’re still looking for a pony to bet on in today’s Run for the Roses, put your money toward the only one with a connection to punctuation: Comma to the Top. It’s a Southern expression for apostrophe.

I read an uptight blogger’s rant about how ridiculous it is to use a four-word euphemism in place of apostrophe. I don’t know the etymology behind it, but it works—descriptively speaking. And if it helps some folks use a “comma to the top” properly (we already know how many folks can’t master the apostrophe), then what’s to complain about?

Derby Day Is Here

“The Derby is the supreme hour of a supreme creature, a moment in which most falter and one transcends. It is not the richest race, not the longest, nor the fastest, but for many, it is the only race.”
—Laura Hillenbrand, in her essay “The Derby”

I won’t be watching the race today. But I will be hoping that each and every horse makes it through the big show without incident—no injuries, no accidents.

[Pic by Dan Dry.]

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dressing for Derby Day

The 137th Run for the Roses is only a day away and, as a new resident of the Bluegrass, I feel obligated to help you prepare properly.

There are
two items you must wear as an authentic Derby audience member: a hat on your head and a mint julep in your hand.

The hat I’ll leave up to you. It can range from ridiculous to stunning. Personally, I prefer elegant. Whatever your choice, it’s supposed to bring luck.

As for the mint julep, I encourage you to rely on tradition. Sure, the Internet will give you gobs of recipes. But I’m about to share with you 19th-century statesman Henry Clay’s version—the one he introduced to D.C. society and the nation—straight from his estate in Lexington, Kentucky.

Clay was a bourbon connoisseur. He doesn’t specify a particular brand in his julep instructions, of course, but you can bet he didn’t cut corners.

“The mint leaves, fresh and tender, should be pressed against a coin-silver goblet with the back of a silver spoon. Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet. Half fill with cracked ice. Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice.

In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed into chilled limestone water to make a silvery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice. While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with the choicest sprigs of mint.”

Sip slowly.

Other recipes exist for this traditional drink and any claim to the RIGHT recipe stirred a great deal of controversy back in Clay’s day. In 1936, humorist Irvin S. Cobb wrote the following about mint juleps:

“…well, down our way we’ve always had a theory that the Civil War was not brought on by Secession or Slavery or the State’s Rights issue. These matters contributed to the quarrel, but there is a deeper reason. It was brought on by some Yankee coming down south and putting nutmeg in a julep. So our folks just up and left the Union flat.”
—From Beyond the Fence: A Culinary View of Historic Lexington

For stats regarding the mint juleps served at Churchill Downs, visit Kentucky Derby. If you’re a bourbon-drinking novice, visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Barrels Web sites for additional information on this very American Spirit.

Happy Derby viewing. And don’t forget…

Sip slowly.

[Images of hats from a previous Derby: James Brown photographed by AP’s David J. Phillip, and an unidentified pic. Goblet crafted for Gabriel Jones by Lawrence Miller, based on an Asa Blanchard design; photo from Kempt. Unidentified Derby horses (pic by Kinetic); Lookin At Lucky from 2010 Derby (pic taken by Dan Dry).]

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Truth Trap

hile applying for a volunteer position last week, I wrote myself into a corner and a confession.

The position is at a local animal shelter. I didn’t want to be too cliché and say I love all animals—largely because it isn’t true. (Back when I was a hiring manager, countless applicants for editorial positions wrote “I love words” in their cover letters. I believed them, but I also grew weary of the repetition. I assume it’s the same for hiring managers at shelters.)

I told the volunteer coordinator that I had a reverence for most animals, with the exception of clothes moths. I didn’t tell her just how much I loathe the little critters. Even writing about them gives me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. Makes me want to burn the clothes they light on and take a bath.

I have, in fact, killed clothes moths. We had an infestation of them one year in our apartment and lost countless cashmere sweaters and woolen goods. I’ve held it against them ever since.

Do you think I blew my chances at the position? Can a moth murderer be accepted in the animal welfare community?

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pardon Me: May I Give You A Weather Update?

Stranger in a Strange Land – No. 14
s tornadoes ripped through the country last week, each new wave of storm cells sounded the alarms here in the Horse Capital of the World. But not in the way the Windy City warned its citizenry of pending terror and danger.

In the Windy City, you couldn’t not hear the alarms. They sounded like a fire engine siren—only much louder and much more annoying.

Here in Horseyland, though, the acoustics have to be just right for you to understand what you’re hearing—that is, IF you even heard it. The warning system here is more like the ice-cream truck we had in our old neighborhood, only here it’s more polite. It’s a chime that plays several measures of music. Then someone tells us a storm is near (someone who sounds suspiciously like a political candidate trying to get votes through a bullhorn in a parade). Only not that loud or adamant. Just nice.

It’s all niceness and civility here. Which is probably not the best tactic to use when attempting to protect people from imminent disaster, but in almost all other cases, it’s mighty refreshing.

This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. For a list of previous articles in the series, type Stranger in a Strange Land into Lull’s search function on the right.

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische; illustration depicts Aeolus, Greek god of wind.]
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