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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Turtle Slow

This is Mom's thread painting of me.

This is Mom’s thread painting of me.

I am like a turtle; I move very slowly through life. At my current pace, I may be able to meet the expected life goals of a young adult by the time I’m sixty.

Grumpy turtle (not my picture)

Grumpy turtle (not my picture)

Butterfly, my Lhasa Apso, is stubbornly slow too. We go slowly because we do each task comprehensively. It takes me weeks to write each post for this blog because I go through so many drafts, trying to capture exactly what I mean to say. Butterfly is the same way about eating. She likes to sit down, or even lay down, in front of her bowl so that she can savor each kibble individually. Her sister, Cricket, is more of a speed eater; she’s always in a rush, to pee, to poop, to run, and to greet; everything has to be fast.

Speedy Cricket!

Speedy Cricket!

Butterfly, the fluffy turtle

Butterfly, the fluffy turtle

Back in the Fall I bought Butterfly a set of steps up to my bed and proceeded to try to teach her how to use them. Cricket can jump on and off the bed herself, but Butterfly’s legs are too short. For myself, and for Butterfly, I believe in Anne Lamott’s method, from bird by bird: the best way to manage an overwhelming task is to break it down into a thousand small pieces, and take each one, one at a time, without looking so far ahead that you become overwhelmed.

I worked with Butterfly every day, one step at a time. I put her paws on the first step and gave her a treat. I led her up to the second step and gave her two treats. Day after day, I did everything I could think of, but I couldn’t find a way to break the task down small enough to make it manageable for her. Even when she could finally climb up all three steps, to reach her treats, she still thought going back down to the floor was impossible. But then she got thirsty in the middle of the night. This may have been the onset of the diabetes, without my realizing it, but at the time, I assumed it was about the unreasonable heat in the apartment complex at night. All of a sudden, Butterfly could walk down the steps and run straight to the water bowl.

Up! Up! Up!

Up! Up! Up!

"I made it!"

“I made it!”

"Please don't make me go back down."

“Please don’t make me go back down.”

"What's the big deal?"

“What’s the big deal?”

My therapist has a theory about this. She says that when you’re not ready to do something, it’s like climbing up a mountain, but when you are ready, it becomes easy. I don’t know that I’ve ever reached the easy stage, but I do know that after years and years of effort, for no obvious reason, sometimes things just start to click.

"It's so easy!" (not my picture)

“It’s so easy!” (not my picture)

I assumed that Butterfly would come right back after her miraculous escape to the water bowl, and climb up the stairs to the bed. But she didn’t come back. And I felt rejected. Here I’d worked so hard to give her the freedom to come and go, and she chose to just go.

I’ve heard that if you love someone you’re supposed to let them go, and if they were meant to be with you, they will return. Sayings like that make me want to hit people.

A few nights later, after a number of these heartbreaking episodes, I woke up at three o’clock in the morning to a scratching and tapping sound. Butterfly was scratching at the bottom step, as if it were an escalator that needed to be turned on, and she was looking for the switch. I got up and put her front paws on the steps, and she galloped up onto the bed, curled up by her pillow and went to sleep.

I worry, a lot, that my slow pace in life will mean that I’ll never move forward as much as I need to in the time allotted, but watching Butterfly makes me think that how we use our time should fit us, rather than fit some preset convention. I would never look at her and think she should be more like Cricket. She is Butterfly and that’s a wonderful thing to be.

I’d like to think that the same is true for me. I am a turtle. Is a turtle, by definition, a failed something else?

 

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The Dancing Raccoon

Out for a stroll.

Out for a stroll.

The other night when Mom and I took the dogs out for their last walk of the night, I heard a terrible squawking sound. I couldn’t quite place it, but it was a mix of a little girl being tortured and birds flapping their wings and leaves rustling. I was concerned, but when I looked up into the woods I couldn’t see anything to explain the sound, and the lights from the complex illuminate the area well enough that a screaming child and her tormentor would have been visible.

The scene of the crime (or, the backyard).

The scene of the crime (or, the backyard).

I thought it might be a cat fight or a strange bird ritual that I didn’t want to be a part of, so I turned the girls back towards home. The rustling sound came closer though, and, of course, I turned around to see what it was, and there was the dancing raccoon. He was skipping out of the woods like little red riding hood, without a care, until he saw the dogs. I don’t think of my dogs as especially frightening, especially when Cricket is keeping her barking to herself, but to this raccoon they must have looked terrifying, because first he froze in mid-hop, then he backed up on his tippy toes like a bad cat burglar, and then he turned and ran back into the woods.

The raccoon looked something like this (not my picture).

The raccoon looked something like this (not my picture).

I really wish I had a video of the dance. He was a bruiser of a raccoon, clearly eating a lot of the cat food left out for the now scrawny feral cats, but my little white fluff balls intimidated the poop out of him.

Who knew raccoons were so cute? (not my picture)

Who knew raccoons were so cute? (not my picture)

To be fair, it’s possible that he’d been spying on us for a while, for days or weeks or months, and had decided that the little white dog with the curly hair and the big mouth was clearly the devil in disguise. Cricket can really scream. I feel bad for the workmen who’ve been traipsing in and out of the complex for the past eight months, because Cricket barks at them every single time she sees them, and tries to break her leash and lunge at them from fifty feet away. Even Butterfly gets a few deep barks out before she calmly sniffs their pant legs.

Crazy barking Cricket!

Crazy barking Cricket!

The big raccoon had probably written out a schedule of safe times to cross the yard to get to the garbage cans in front of the Seven-Eleven, and we ruined his plans by going out at an unexpected hour. He was making such a racket on his way down the hill that I guess he couldn’t hear us until he was just a few feet away.

This was my first raccoon sighting on the premises in a year. We have a lot of wildlife behind our building: we have chipmunks and squirrels and butterflies and snails, we have tiny birds and fly over geese and feral cats and home grown cats, and of course we have the dogs. But the raccoons have been keeping a low profile, and I’m afraid that this particular raccoon will do his best not to let himself be seen again, at least not by me and my scary, scary dogs.

Who could be scared of these two?

Who could be scared of these two?

Passover for Dogs

 

I think the role of dogs in Passover has been woefully neglected. Cricket and Butterfly are my family, and they deserve a prominent role in such an important holiday, but I’m not sure what that role should be.

Butterfly and Cricket are ready for anything!

Butterfly and Cricket are ready for anything!

Leading up to Passover, there is an official search for leavened bread, or chametz, throughout the house, because you’re not supposed to eat, or even own, leavened bread for the weeklong holiday. When I was a kid, our dogs were very helpful with searching for old crackers under my brother’s bed, or half eaten candy bars in my book bag, or left over dog food in the corners of the kitchen. And then they would help with the ritual cleaning, done by candle light, where we would dump a handful of bread crumbs on the pristine floor and say a blessing as we swept it up, and the dog would lick the floor clean.

Dina, surveying the kitchen floor.

Dina, surveying the kitchen floor.

Samson, chewing on something more tasty

Samson, chewing on something more tasty, my brother

Delilah, intimidating the bread out of the house.

Delilah, intimidating the bread out of the house.

I may have to reinstitute this ritual, if only to clean up the kibble trail Butterfly has left throughout the apartment.

My favorite part of Passover is the Seder itself. All of the stories and songs make me feel like I’m living inside of a story book and travelling back in time. But the Seder is, first and foremost, all about the food.

When you think about it, the Seder is organized as a series of small plates. First you eat a piece of matzo, then a nibble of raw horse radish. Then you make a sandwich out of matzo and horseradish and sweet apple and nut charoset. It’s a tasting menu that gradually builds. And all the way through there’s the wine. This would be Cricket’s idea of a good time. She’s always been a fan of small plates, and wine.

Just a little sip.

Just a little sip

and a taste.

and a taste.

Generally the next course at our house was a hard boiled egg, to represent life, with some salt water to represent the tears that are inevitable in life. Then gefilte fish, for sweetness, with some horseradish on top, to toughen you back up. Then matzoh ball soup with chicken and carrots and onions, just because. And then the rest of the meal came at once, with brisket or chicken or steak, a vegetable or two, some sweet potato tzimmes. And then for desert, a nondairy flourless chocolate cake, Ring Jells, and macaroons.

Every dog we ever had made it a habit to stretch out under the table during the meal, to catch anything that dropped.

We brought Cricket with us to my brother’s Passover Seder one year, before Butterfly arrived on the scene. Cricket was actually a good distraction for the kids, since we didn’t eat dinner until 10:30 at night. The kids were antsy and grumpy with the lateness of the hour, and it was a relief for them to sit under the table with Cricket, and murmur to her, and feel like she could understand them.

I think Cricket would have been very helpful with the search for the Afikomen, if she’d been invited to participate. There’s a custom to break the middle piece of matzoh and hide half of it somewhere in the house. The children search for it like a treasure hunt and get a reward if they find it. At my brother’s house it was an every-man-for-himself blood sport, but I would have loved if Cricket could have participated as part of a team, with some chopped liver smeared across the matzoh, so she could really use her skills to help her human cousins. She would have been especially happy to share in the reward, which, for her, would have been the chopped liver.

I’d really like for Butterfly to experience a Seder. It’s not that I believe she would understand the words, but the story is all about the escape from slavery to freedom: this year we are slaves in Egypt, but next year we will be free in Jerusalem. And Butterfly knows that story. She lived in a puppy mill for eight years, and now she is home, where she belongs. There should be songs for her to sing, to express the pain of her journey, and the happiness of the now. I’d like to sing those songs with her and celebrate that miracle. And maybe find some kosher for Passover chicken treats for her to eat between songs.

Butterfly has a lot to sing about!

Butterfly has a lot to say!

Candle Lighting

 

When we first moved into the new apartment, back in May of 2013, I promised myself a set of candle sticks for Friday night candle lighting. Usually I’m at synagogue for Friday night services and they light Shabbat candles for us there, but I thought it would be a milestone to light my own candles again.

Traditional Shabbat Candles (not my picture)

Traditional Shabbat Candles (not my picture)

I looked in a few brick and mortar stores, while we were looking for other things we needed, like shelving and couches and tables and other little things like that. But I couldn’t find anything. The ensuing online search was extensive, but I eventually found a set of candlesticks that I liked very much. And then I found out that the online store that advertised the special candlesticks had gone out of business, just leaving the web page up to taunt me. When the special candlesticks disappeared, I lost my nerve.

Candlesticks with attitude. Eek!

Candlesticks with attitude. Eek!

I used to be clumsy, or distracted, and sometimes I still am. I have memories of dropping lit matches into full garbage cans, dropping lit candles onto counter tops, setting tablecloths on fire, etc. My fingers would get numb and shaky in the presence of fire, and not act the way I’d trained them to.

Don't worry, that's just my house burning down.

Don’t worry, that’s just my house burning down.

I used to light the Shabbat candles in our house growing up. I’m not sure why my mom didn’t want to light the candles, maybe it was her way of rebelling against my father’s obsession with becoming more and more religious. So it became my job, and I didn’t feel like I could say no.

The fat white Shabbat candles never sat still in their candle holders, so I had to melt the bottoms a bit to make them stick in place. Lighting the wooden matches always made me anxious. If the strip on the box had started to wear down, because we got those huge boxes instead of pocket sized, I’d have to light the candle from the stove, and then worry about doing something ritually wrong by turning off the flame on the stove after the official Shabbat candles were lit.

I hated that fear of doing it wrong. I hated feeling like someone was watching me, just waiting to yell “Gotcha!”

There’s something universal about candles, in all religions, despite electric light being ubiquitous. The flickering, temperamental quality of candle light, or the heat or temporariness of it, seems to add meaning. The Sabbath is a day of rest, a day to stop doing things the way you always do them and be more conscious and aware, of your family, of nature, of love and joy. It’s a time to remind yourself that there’s more to life than work. I wonder if the flame of the candles is, in part, a symbol of how dangerous that rest day maybe be, or may feel, when you stop rushing around and start to really experience your life. There are a lot of shadows hiding behind our busy lives, and the light of the candles may illuminate them in a way we are afraid to face.

If I could make this ritual work for me, I’d want to light four candles: one for me, one for Mom, and one for each of the dogs. But I keep seeing the dogs getting burned and the apartment going up in flames.

There’s a custom in orthodox Jewish homes, and maybe in more liberal Jewish homes now too, of blessing each child on Friday night as part of the ritual of the Sabbath. I knew a family with six kids who did this, and it was a lovely thing to see. Each child went up to their father, in age order, and he closed his eyes and put his hands over the child’s head and said a blessing, including a special wish for each child.

Maybe I could adapt this ritual for my dogs, instead of doing candle lighting, and come up with a prayer to say for them once a week. Just the act of resting hands on their heads would have a calming effect. I could wish them good sleep, good poops, and exciting things to sniff.

"Go ahead, Mommy. I dare you to bless me." (That would be Cricket.)

“Go ahead, Mommy. I dare you to bless me.” (That would be Cricket, on the right.)

And eventually, maybe, I’ll find another set of candle sticks that captures my imagination and help me over the hump. And maybe a fire retardant table cloth to put under them wouldn’t hurt.