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Mass Confusion

When the decision to help Biscuit die had been made, we had to talk specifics with the vet’s people. A very gentle, soft-spoken woman named Heather, presented the options to me over the phone. I asked for the prices of each option. I was somewhat in a fog of grief, so I had to ask her to repeat several things. The gist of it all was, Biscuit’s body could be returned to us for burial (no charge, except for the injection); he could be cremated individually and returned to us in a basic urn, or in a decorative urn of our choosing ($200 plus injection and urn cost); or he could be cremated along with all the other animals who had recently died, and nothing would be returned to us ($90 plus injection). After going over the prices, Heather added, “I know your bill is already huge, with the last week of day hospital, so I imagine you want to keep costs down…”

“Well, yes,” I answered, on autopilot, while mulling our options. We had once buried another dog in the yard of our old house. We had been told then that it was illegal to do so in our area, and this was a source of anxiety for a very young LG. I thought aloud that cremation would be better. I mentally dismissed, though apparently did not state, that I did not want Biscuit lumped in with all the other deceased pets.

So Heather continued trying to help me with arrangements. “OK, then, we’ll have $90 for the euthanasia; we’ll do the cremation; the mass is an additional $90…”

The mass? We would, I was certain, say a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing as we buried Biscuit’s ashes in the yard, but we had no intention of having a mass for him. $90? For a priest . . . mass cards . . . ? Just when I was mentally finalizing the funeral arrangements, Heather throws in this monkey wrench. I went through an elaborate inner process, trying to find a compartment for this new mass information. I finally decided that I needed to respond something like, “Thank you for thinking of that [clearly, Heather is Roman Catholic, and apparently assumed that we are as well; she is only trying to be sensitive and attentive to our spiritual needs], but we are Presbyterian [Biscuit has received communion (and by “received,” I mean stolen, and by “communion,” I mean bread) on at least two occasions], so we really won’t need a mass, we’ll take care of our own service.”

I opened my mouth to make this rather odd reply, but instead, out came, “Wait, what?”

Turns out, “the mass” meant “mass cremation,” as in, with all the other pets. That’s not what we wanted. Even though we were already dipping into all the $ we had, and some we didn’t, for his care, we wanted him cremated alone. I told Heather this, and that we’d take the basic container, nothing fancy, and we’d bring him home to bury him.

So that’s the story of how Biscuit was almost converted at the end of his life. We were greatly surprised that the “basic container” which I imagined as a plastic margarine tub, is actually a lovely wooden box with an intricate floral carving on the top. It is now on a bookshelf. I don’t know when or if we’ll bury it. Presbyterian.

RIPBiscuit

wannabee 1

Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really. — Agnes Sligh Turnbull

James 1:17

Many of you have heard this, but I’m aware many have not. Two weeks ago this past Friday, Biscuit, the VBD, died. With Jif there, our vet administered an injection. Biscuit had developed a digestive problem that made him unable to digest food — any food at all — for over a week. Three good vets tried to diagnose and treat the problem, but they were unsuccessful. He spent the last week of his life, days at the vet, getting IV fluids, and nights at home with us.

On the night before we finally made the decision, LG took him outside to see if he’d play fetch. He did. He ran all over the yard, sniffing out, then returning, his toys. We were elated. For a moment, it looked as though he could recover. I ran in and called the vet, who had raised the possibility of euthanasia, to give her the good news, and tell her that it ain’t over yet.

As I watched longer, it became clear to me what I was seeing. Years ago, one of Jif’s cousins, a heavy smoker in his 40s, lay comatose and dying in a hospital bed. Even as he lay dying, he repeatedly, mechanically raised two fingers to his lips, then extended his arm outward; back to his lips, outward. Smoking was such a part of him, his body wasn’t going to stop going through the motions until it . . . stopped. I won’t say that Biscuit’s fetching was that mechanical — truly, it wasn’t, because I believe he did feel joy in the play, and I know LG and I felt joy, playing with him — but it was so much a part of him that he wouldn’t stop as long as there was breath in his body.

I called the vet back and told her, “I think he would play fetch until he fell over, into a coma.” She agreed. We tried force feeding for one more day, and then made the painful decision to help the VBD do what he had, on some level, already decided to do. On the evening he was to go to the vet for the last time, my back was “out” and I couldn’t walk upright. After LG and I kissed his snoot and told him how much we love him, Jif took him.

There’s another hole in my heart. I don’t equate dogs and humans. Truly, I don’t. But losing my Mom and my dog in the course of a year . . . the two losses are not as dissimilar as I might have predicted they’d be. Perhaps partly because I rarely saw my Mom; in many ways, with the insulin injections and the blindness, our lives revolved around Biscuit’s needs. There is not one speck of complaint in the previous sentence, btw. He more than deserved any TLC he got from us, and then some.

There is more to say. About how they tried to give my Protestant dog a Catholic sendoff, about how people can be so insensitive when commenting on the loss of a pet, and about how grateful I am for the love and support…I’ll save those for the next installment. This is enough for now.

I think most of the posts mentioning or showing Biscuit are categorized under his name, if you want to know more about him. (Thanks to Shawkey for the quote here.)

You two are among the most shallow, insensitive people I’ve ever met, and I wish I didn’t have to spend any time with you at all, ever.

I don’t care that it’s been 16 years. I still think your husband is gay. He ain’t taking all those trips looking for work. There’s this movie I think you should see…

I’m tired of you trying to excuse your temper tantrums by saying, “I’m Italian!” I’m a hillbilly, but you don’t see me married to my cousin. You don’t have to personify your culture’s most dysfunctional stereotypes.

*****

Your turn. You know darn well you have something to say. Let ‘er rip. We won’t tell.

Easter Sunday

I’m not up to writing a post, but it is after midnight here on the east coast, so I want to say:

He is risen!

Of course, I like to keep in mind that this is true every day.

I have much for which to be thankful, and I want to tell you about that; and I have some things which cause me much sadness, and I want to tell you about that, too. Soon, I will.

But for now, anyone who’s still stopping by here, I wish you a joyful Easter. A new beginning, a rebirth, if that’s what you’re needing. And if not, then some chocolate bunny ears.

Through Different Eyes

I’m just a little bit trapped in my family room, while men of various nationalities and native tongues install wood flooring in the adjacent kitchen. So I thought I’d post, for a change. Maybe the various native tongues brought this story on.

The biggest part of my job at the counseling agency where I work is to provide clinical supervision to graduate student interns. We work with a variety of colleges and universities in the area which offer masters’ and doctoral degrees in counseling and psychotherapy. Our interns are required to audiotape or video their sessions, then present them for critique in supervision.

Last year, one of my interns was a priest from Malaysia. I almost always enjoy working with interns; it’s gratifying for me to help them grow and it’s truly exciting to me when I can watch someone realize they’ve discovered a true gift, a calling, for the counseling profession. Ed, the priest, was one I would say was truly gifted, and has great potential.

Throughout the year, I supervised his work. I was immediately struck by the sense of calm that his presence brought to the environment. I’m not sure that can be taught or learned; I think it’s part of a person’s spirit or it isn’t. Ed had this quality to a remarkable degree. He was an extremely well-educated, well-traveled man, probably in his early 40s. The most challenging part of his work was trying to make sense of American culture, particularly in regard to how we treat adolescents.

Ed was often clearly shocked by the way kids speak to their parents; and surprised that we condemn corporal punishment. He described having been beaten as part of a normal upbringing. He is close to his parents and does not see them as having been abusive in any way — his perspective was that beatings were for his own good, not out of their anger. Be that as it may, he agreed to the agency’s policy of requiring parents to agree not to use physical punishment while they are in treatment.

Working with Ed challenged me, both as a counseling supervisor and as an American. He asked questions that I honestly can’t answer, like “Why did she buy an XBox for Christmas when they can’t pay their rent?” “How will children learn respect if their parents don’t behave honorably?” It was fascinating for me to see “us” through Ed’s eyes.

Part of “speaking the language” of another culture is learning the slang, the idiomatic idiosyncrasies of a region. This is true, by the way, of American adults working with American adolescents. Not that we necessarily must “talk the talk,” but we must understand what they’re saying. (You know’m sayin’?) I helped Ed out with these kinds of things, when I saw he was floundering. Although he is a priest, his language was mildly peppered with profanity. My “style” as a counselor is to match (as much as is comfortable, without being disingenuous) my clients’ or supervisees’ way of speaking. So he cursed occasionally, I cursed occasionally, and we understood one another.

One of Ed’s client families was a very conservative, evangelical Christian Mom, Dad and two teens. They would not have dreamed of uttering a hell, a damn or an ass, unless they were reading from the scriptures.

One day, Ed sat down in my office and said, “I believe I have offended the Purebreds.”

“Oh? How so?”

“I’m not sure, but I may have cursed at them.”

“Oh. What did you say?”

“Well, you know how they are always flat, and never express any emotion?” I did know this; we discussed it regularly. Ed went on, “I have tried and tried to get them to share some feelings, but they do not. Last night, Adam was very disrespectful to his father. When I asked how his father felt, he said, ‘I do not like this.’ That’s all he said! No passion, no emphasis! So I said to his father, ‘Well, if it were me — and here I pounded on the chair arms — if it were me and my son spoke to me that way, I would let him know that I AM MAD AS SHIT!! MAD! AS! SHIT! MAD! AS! SHIT!’ Then everyone grew silent and looked frightened… is ‘shit’ considered vulgar?”

“Weeeelll…yea. It is.” I had to laugh. I couldn’t help but imagine the wide eyes and dropped jaws of the Purebreds while their Asian counselor pounded the chair and shouted about being MAD! AS! SHIT!

At the end of the year when we talked about how things had gone in the supervisory relationship, Ed profusely expressed gratitude for what he’d learned from me. He even asked if I would supervise him via Skype when he returns home. I would be honored. I told him that part of the reason he had learned so much was his humility. He was brighter, and more mature and better educated than most of my students have been. But he was by far the most humble; the most willing to risk being vulnerable, telling me about his blunders, asking for help. This ability is uncommon among humans in general; in my experience, it’s almost unheard of among priests, of whom I’ve supervised many.

He listened carefully to my assessment, and offered this perspective, “I don’t feel that I am being humble. I am being a student. In my tradition, a student finds a worthy master, and then submits himself wholly to the teachings of that master. You have been a worthy master.” Yea, that was a good day at work.

Usually when Ed offered his perspective on American life, I was left thinking, “You’re right; we’re pretty fucked up.” But there was one moment I recall when I felt some national pride, following Ed’s examination of Americans. Commenting on the prayer presented at President Obama’s inauguration, he said, “I thought it was just perfect. It was honest about difficult things, but in the end, it brought humor. It said, ‘We can laugh while we work together to do better.’ That is a very American way of being!” I hope so; I like to think of us that way. Here’s the part of the prayer he was talking about:

“…we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say, ‘Amen.'”

Amen.

The Big One!

SNOWMAGGEDON 2010:Front door view2

This is what I saw when I opened my front door a few hours ago. The little hole is where I stuck a yardstick, to measure 21″. We’re up to 27″ now, and it’s still snowing! I’m AMAZED I have electricity and internet, to be able to share this with you; thought I should take advantage of that while I can. Click on the photo to see a few more on flickr.

If you’re in SNOWMAGGEDON 2010, stay inside, be safe and warm! (I love the names for this storm: Snowpocalypse, Snowmygosh (SNOWMG!), SNOWNAMI… any others?)

Sunday Post

cnd window

“You would do well to pursue your causes with vigor, while remembering that you are a servant of God, not a spokesman for God, and remembering that God might well choose to bless an opposing point of view for reasons that have not yet been revealed to you.” — Barbara Jordan

Romans 8:18-28

I love/hate this quote. It came to me serendipitously, attached as a signature on the bottom of an email forward. The kind of thing I would not normally even scroll low enough to see. The forward was actually “People of Wal-Mart,” and the quote was the signature of someone a few senders back, someone I don’t know at all. But I knew it was for me.

It came a few months ago when I found myself in the middle of a situation in which one of my students was being scapegoated by someone who had an axe to grind with our agency. The student was being sacrificed in what amounted to a pissing contest between the agency’s director and the college’s program director. I am a mama bear for my interns, for better or worse. I supported the intern in every way that I could. I wrote letters and went to meetings and I encouraged, and I prayed.

And it started to become clear to me that while I had no doubt we (the intern’s team) were on the side of right and good, we were not going to “win.” I just began to have that sense, even without any confirmation of it.

And the day I began to have that intuition, was the day I noticed that “coincidental” email signature, by someone I don’t know. Except at that point, I knew it was from Someone I do know. It was a note from God. And I said (btw, I wouldn’t recommend this as a response to a note from God), “Oh, shit. It’s not going to go our way, is it?”

I knew that so clearly that I wrote to the intern and told her. She wasn’t going to be vindicated. Not right then, anyway. And we must have faith that our momentary loss was in the service of a greater victory later on. Being a person of faith, and a person who, I think, has come to trust me, she accepted this. Indeed, she may have come to that realization on her own.

Sure enough, many weeks later, someone in a position of power intervened and my intern no longer was oppressed in the way that she had been. The matter is not over. But more people are looking more closely, and our best hope is that the whole matter will lead to an examination of some people and some practices that needed examining.

All that to say, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. That reminds of another quote, I may have used it here before. From Richard Foster in the book, “Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home”:
“God is out to do me good.” And I always add, although the good Mr. Foster did not say, “even when everything looks like shit.”

Keep the faith. Or get you some.

For pronunciation of the “hon” in the title, one must watch the movie, “Hairspray,” either version. As I began to prepare for this year’s exchange, I noticed a theme emerging. It’s Bawlmer, hon. Baltimore, MD, USA, from whence I am blogging to you. (Well, about 20 minutes outside of Bawlmer, but still.)

First I will share with you an ornament that may not appear on everyone’s Christmas tree, but many folks in our area have some variation of this on the tree. It’s a crab! A few friends scattered over the country have one of these (or some variation thereof) on their tree from me, a reminder that “someone in Baltimore loves you.” People even paint and decorate actual crab shells! I haven’t done that yet, but hey, it ain’t over til it’s over. (I’m feeling a theme for a crab feast next summer…eat, then decorate!) And if you’re wondering why, it’s because Baltimore, and the Chesapeake Bay area, are famous for delicious steamed crabs.

crab ornament

The full crab theme emerged when yesterday, a friend gave us some crab cookies, and someone else requested that we bring my famous crab dip to their holiday party. Yes, in stores here, holiday baking displays may include a crab-shaped cookie cutter.

crab cookie

And here’s the crab dip recipe. I can’t show you the finished product, because I won’t make it until tomorrow, but I will tell you that once I make it, I will have to photograph it QUICK! because people scarf this stuff right up and lick the bowl.

old bay

Hot Crab Dip

1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sour cream
2 T mayo
1 1/2 T lemon juice
2 t Worcestershire sauce
garlic powder to taste
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 lb. lump crab meat
3 dashes hot sauce
1 1/2 T Old Bay seasoning

Preheat oven to 325. Lightly grease 1 quart baking dish.

In medium bowl, mix first 6 ingredients plus 2 T of the cheddar. Fold in crab meat, hot sauce, Old Bay.

Transfer mixture to baking dish. Top with remaining cheddar and sprinkle with Old Bay. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned.

Serve with your favorite crackers or crunchy bread slices.

Yes, crabs are such a vital part of life here in “the land of pleasant living,” that each year, the school children sing this song:

OK, that’s not true. But the radio stations do play it every Christmas.

This Christmas will be white, not because of new snow, but because last weekend we got 2 feet! We made powdered dognuts:

abominable snow biscuit

But he’s thawed out now, and ready to party:

reindeer

Your turn! Show and tell us about the holidays at your house!

Yes! We are doing it again! Five years now! And thank you for the hundreds dozens OK, none, really of inquiries unspoken vibrations sent in this direction, wondering whether we would have it this year. That does mean SO much to me! (You know, that I could just FEEL that so many people were thinking about it.)

(Just an update, for anyone wondering. I’m getting better, healthwise. I am better than I was at this time last year. I’m just not “well.” And in some ways (not complaining, truly), life is a little tougher, because the weller I get, the more I try to accomplish, and the more I look to other people like I’m just fine, and then I overdo or overestimate and wipe out. So, my absence here doesn’t mean I’m not OK; it means I’m adjusting to the next phase of my recovery. Or something like that.)

So, yea, back to the Cookie Exchange, which will be held next Wednesday, December 23 (borrowing from previous years’ invitations):

Start with some variation of:

Favorite holiday recipes
Special traditions
Favorite gift to give
What you wear when you don your gay apparel 🙂

and/or anything else you’d like to tell us about your holiday celebration. As is the custom here, there aren’t many rules. Whatever you’d like to share is fine — carols, stories, decorations, a favorite holiday tradition or memory, something new that you’re trying this year, whatever. Here it’s Christmas, but all holidays are welcome. If you don’t celebrate ANYTHING, then your grinchy scroogey ass can just fake it for one day, for goodness’ sake! Make something up! And you don’t HAVE to include cookies, if cookies aren’t your thing. It’s just that “Cookie Exchange” has a nice, Christmas ring to it. Better than, say, “shindig” or “hootenanny,” although it may turn into either or both.

If you don’t have a blog (what?! why not?!), stop in next week and leave your contributions in the comments. If you DO have a blog, leave a comment here next Wednesday on the Cookie Exchange post, and we’ll all come to your party, too. You won’t gain any weight, and you won’t need a designated driver! So here’s the deal, again. We wanna come to your place and eat your cookies and rummage around in your things and stuff next Wednesday. (Oh, and do post an invitation at your place, if you’re so inclined — everyone is welcome, the more the merrier!)

Last year, I had an ambition to show you photographs of my town — Pretty City — which really is glorious at this time of year. I wasn’t well enough to get out and take the pix. I’m going to attempt again. That’s something you might like to share, too — does your hometown have some holiday decorations or events that we should not live our whole lives without seeing?

I’m so, so far behind in holidaying. I almost scrapped the party this year. But truth is, it does help get me in the spirit. I hope you’ll post at your place or come by here 🙂

They’re baaaaaack! It’s turkey time! Here’s the deal:

turkey farm

Across the hall from my office is what I believed to be a daycare center. Turns out, it is some sort of work-release program for 3- and 4-year-olds, from which they operate a turkey farm. As you can imagine, it’s been a busy place this week. I’ve dealt with a turkey or two in my day, so I thought I’d take a moment to offer some last-minute turkey selection guidance, with a little help from my turkey-raising friends across the hall.

Do look for:

good bird

A plump, confident bird that will look you right in the eye. All parts should be . . . “in the ballpark,” so to speak.

AVOID:

visually challenged turkey

A bird that appears intoxicated, or just effin’ goofy. You don’t want that.

inverted bird

The upside-down turkey, with crossed legs and shifty eyes. May also exhibit a paranoid demeanor. This bird will NOT digest easily.

ingrown turkey

Watch for the inbred turkey. Its feathers and legs tend to grow inward. Also be leery of turkeys with excessive glue or other miscellaneous white liquids dripping from their beaks. You just don’t know where a turkey like this has been.

afflicted turkey

This is the “WTF” turkey. Any bird that elicits, as your first response, a startled “WTF?!” is to be avoided. Just say no.

**********
Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I hope your turkey is in fine form.