Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Silly Puppy

I wrote the following clip years ago as part of a novel that now sits in a box in the closet. Yes, I should polish it up and send it out, but that's another story. Anyway, in this clip, Libby is dealing with grief and family conflicts. She begins working with a neighbor, an older woman named Oliver (her last name, but she said her friends call her Oliver, so that's what she wants Libby to call her). Libby helps her around the house and with her home business, after Oliver has an accident.

At that time, I had not experienced a dog with separation anxiety. I made up what I thought a silly, confused dog would do when it was alone and worried. Well, since then, we adopted a dog with these struggles, my parents adopted a dog with challenges, and recently our son and a friend of mine both adopted dogs with these issues. Being left alone is traumatic for them. I guess it is common in shelter, rescue dogs, who have been abandoned for whatever reasons.

Have you dealt with these problem dogs? I asked our vet, and he said, "Give them time and security." Well, that isn't easy if you have to go somewhere and leave them alone. Even for a quick trip out, a short time alone, they panic and do crazy things. One solution I have heard is go for daily walks. The exercise is beneficial on many levels (for the person, too), and they return to the familiar security of their new home. Afraid I am not consistent on this one - this is one of my goals for 2016. Do you know of other, successful ways to deal with separation anxiety?


Oliver, seeing Libby struggle to keep back the tears, asked if she could tell her a little story.

"Of course," said Libby.

"Once upon a time," Oliver chuckled, and Libby had to smile at the silly beginning. "A young dog came to live with a young family. He worked hard at learning what was expected of him, and found that it was really quite easy to do what he was told. Except for one thing. When they left him alone, he became very unhappy, and very forgetful. He forgot that he wasn't supposed to drink out of the toilet, and he wasn't supposed to chew up the towels (they were so much fun to pull off the rods and rip to shreds), and he wasn't supposed to drag the newspaper all over the house. When his people got home, he tried to show them how glad and relieved he was that they were back, but all they did was scold and punish him. So, he became more afraid of times they would leave him. Not the best doggie logic," Oliver said in digression, "But a dog can't be expected to understand everything."

"Back to the story. One day they left him and didn't come back. Not at his dinner time, not when it got dark, and not when it was bedtime. He ripped up two towels and pulled the rest off the wall. He spread newspaper all the way down the hall. Which came in handy when he needed to do his business. He drank half the toilet water and drooled all the way onto the hall rug. But the newspaper absorbed some of it. He was so bored he took a nap." Libby laughed, picturing the dog's antics through the house.

"He became more afraid, the longer his people were gone. He became more forgetful, and forgot he wasn't supposed to howl in the house. The howling made him feel better. At least it wasn't so quiet anymore. When he stopped howling, it was fearfully quiet, so he howled some more."

Oliver paused, while the sound of the fearful quiet settled around them. "Now, dogs don't think in words, I guess, but they seem to sometimes. He wondered where his people were, and why they didn't come home to him. Maybe they were afraid of the mess they'd find when they got here? No, that couldn't be it. Maybe they got lost? Maybe they needed directions to get back? He howled louder so they could hear him and find their way home."

Libby laughed out loud. The silly dog filled her with a vivid picture of intensity and confusion and loneliness. "Oh, Oliver, what does he do? What does he figure out?"

"Well, using typical doggie logic," Oliver grinned back at her, "He decided to try to get out of the house. Not to escape or leave, of course, but to go and find his people and help them get home. Get home to him, to his house."

"He jumped at the front door, which was locked and secure. He scratched and dug at the back door, and pushed at the little door he usually used to get to the yard, but the flap was tightly shut and wouldn't budge. He wandered around the house, wondering what to do next. A cool breeze rustled across his ears. A window must be open, but where? He ran upstairs to the little girls' room. The window. It was open."

"He jumped onto the bed, and found he could reach the windowsill with his paws and look out. Hmmm. A long way down."

Libby laughed again the the dog's thoughts anticking at the window.

Oliver continued, "This story is fun. It keeps growing, but I'd better get to the point."

"You've made me laugh and cry because it is so funny. It feels good to have tears, and not because I'm so unhappy. Thanks. I needed that," said Libby.

"Then, mission accomplished. I'll stop now."

"No, no! You have to tell me what that crazy dog does next. You have to."

"As he is looking down the street, lights come around the corner. Of course, they attract his attention, and he watches them. They get closer to his house, and slow down, and then the lights stop in front of his house. He can't see the car from his window, but he hears a familiar voice, then several familiar voices, and realizes it is his people."

"Does he think to run out of the room, down the hall, and to the front door? No. He tries and tries to get out the window, to jump out and go see them. He begins barking and howling, desperate to get to his people. But he can't do it."

"Since he is so busy barking, he doesn't hear the children come down the hall. Suddenly their voices are right behind him, telling him to stop the ruckus and get off the bed. Another rule he'd forgotten."

"He leaps at them, knocking them over and expressing his enthusiasm and joy with all the wiggles and waggles he can muster. The children laugh and tumble with him. When the parents come to the room, it is to remind them it is late and to get ready for bed. He tries to greet them in the same manner, but it isn't received as eagerly."

"The mom lets him out the back door, but now he doesn't want to go. He wants to stay with them, inside. She boots him out, though, he takes care of business and runs back in through the doggie door to greet them all with fresh enthusiasm."

"In his doggie understanding, he just hadn't been able to see that with patience, they would have come home, that it wasn't all his antics that brought them back. All he knew was, that now they were home and he was happy again."

Oliver stopped the story with a flourish of her hand, like closing the pages of a book. Libby smiled, her mind absorbed in the story and mercifully distracted for awhile from her own panic and frustration at life's frightening twists and turns.

our silly puppy

Friday, December 4, 2015

What I Learned in November

Our son and I read through Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp, in November. I wanted the reading to be slow and comfortable and lacking the guilt of previous years. "Oh no, we are three days behind, we have to hustle." We used a different Jesse Tree book for many years. Last year, I bought The Greatest Gift, also by Ann Voskamp, to read, myself, and this year, we bought Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Highly recommended (both of them!). Beautiful drawings. Unwrapping has a large print format, kid-friendly, colorful, and full of thought-provoking insights and stretch-your-thinking challenges. The ornaments can be purchased or printed off her website. I tried to pick a favorite quote. No such thing. Here is a thought, from page 106:

"When we love in little ways, the big things unexpectedly begin to happen (they won't be expecting that!). In little places, through unexpected people, the story is unfolding and unwrapping all around you and in you, the light overtaking the dark. And it's like you can see the new Kingdom bursting in right now - how all the lit up trees and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
The story that is happening is better than the greatest fairy tale ever told - because it's all true."

In November, I read Walking on Water, by Madeleine L'Engle, as a devotional book. As a Christian, she writes about the dilemma of creating Christian art. What defines art as Christian? Does it matter? Her conclusion, as she weaves her powerful words about faith and work (for her, writing, but it applies to any creative pursuit), is that whatever we do, our faith will show through, will influence what we do. She compares work and prayer, that both require discipline, listening, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Again, attempting to pick a favorite quote - not happening.

"Once the child has learned to read alone, and can pick up a book without illustrations, he must become a creator, imagining the setting of the story, visualizing the characters, seeing facial expressions, hearing the inflection of voices. The author and the reader 'know' each other; they meet on the bridge of words."

Seth Godin writes a blog about business and creativity. This month, he wrote,

"The most important lesson is this: If you spend too much time looking for your next big break, you'll be stealing your opportunity to do your best work. Which is the most important break of all."

We had a white Thanksgiving. The snow fell, quiet and calm. I love the quiet of a snowfall - the stillness, the gentle hush that covers and changes the landscape with a cozy uniform of white.

One of our girls made Texas Roadhouse Loaded Sweet Potatoes. Oh my. They say on their website, "...we have trouble deciding whether or not to categorize it as a side item or a dessert." Yes!

Bake sweet potato in oven at 425 for 35 to 45 minutes until tender. (Obviously, make more than one)
Remove at once and prick with fork to let steam out - be careful, steam will be very hot.
Cut a 1 1/2 inch cross in the center of each potato.
Using oven mitts open the potato by pushing the ends toward the center until filling starts to push through the cut.
Place 1/2 the marshmallows into the sweet potato (a small handful)
Pour 2 oz of your favorite store brand caramel sauce over the marshmallows (or use recipe below)
Place the rest of the marshmallows over the caramel sauce (another small handful)
Put the potato back in the oven on an oven safe pan. Broil.
Let cook another minute or two, keeping careful watch.
Remove from oven when marshmallows start to brown.
Serve as soon as possible.

Honey Caramel Sauce
4 tbsp butter
1/4 c light brown sugar
1/4 c honey
In a saucepan add butter and whisk in brown sugar; do not boil. Add honey and continue stirring fro approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
Thanksgiving sunflowers, now wilted. Very van Gogh.

After Thanksgiving, we decorated for Christmas, the snow falling, our favorite Christmas music playing - delightful!

 Emily Freeman (this post is linked with hers) quotes Dallas Willard,
"Relentlessly eliminate hurry from [your] life."
I allowed these words to filter through my days in November, and they are a prominent goal for December, also.  A process, not always an achievement, but words worthy of attention and focus as we move into these next weeks of Christmas and on into the New Year. Whatever you do, hurry is not necessary.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Very Little

To write a short story, is, for me, a lesson in traveling light. Condense. Refine. Edit. Simplify. Clarify my thinking. Ask - what exactly am I trying to say? Limit the words. Especially for short shorts, a short story limited to five hundred words: how to incorporate protagonist, conflict, climax, and a satisfying resolution in few words.

Working within a framework, within a given, limited space provides form and structure, like an architect designing a tiny house, including all the necessary elements, excluding anything unnecessary.

Process. Practice. Patience - to write, refine, edit, and do it again, over and over.

Every word matters.

Here is my next five hundred word short story. Not perfection, for the learning process, for practice.

Very Little

Interesting things happen in grocery stores. Anywhere, actually, where people are, interesting things happen.

Brandy and I went to the store for two loaves of bread, chunky peanut butter and bananas. We giggled and talked about something silly - I don't remember what.

An older man walked past us. I thought he looked grumpy. Even that made me giggle. Some days everything is funny. This was one of those days.

Brandy said, "A loaf of bread. Mom didn't say what kind, and I have no idea. Shelves, thirty feet long, five shelves tall, six feet high. We could feed two whole schools with all this bread. Shandia, what do I get?"

"What looks familiar?" I asked Brandy. "What does she usually buy?

"Whole-wheat, I guess. This looks familiar. Yeah, this looks good."

Three little girls ran around us. One grabbed Brandy's jeans, to hide behind her. We giggled, they giggled.

Their mom scolded, "Really, girls, can't you behave? Leave her alone. Isn't it enough you smacked into that man?"

"It's okay," said Brandy. "She's just having fun."

"All day long she's just having fun. Nothing serious, ever, for her," the mom complained.

We couldn't help giggling. Brandy squatted down to be eye level with the girl, who gave her a sheepish grin. "You are mischievous, aren't you?" Brandy said. "I think you have a pretty smile, and, I think you should listen to your mom."

The girl glanced up at her mom. The other girls drew closer, drawn by Brandy's friendliness.

"Do you know what my mom tells me?" Brandy asked them.

The three shook their heads.

"'It's good to laugh,' in fact, she quotes some famous guy, 'The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.' And she quotes another famous guy: 'Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.' So, listen to your mom. She knows what she is talking about. Okay?"

Brandy held up her hand, and high-fived them.

"Not bad," I told Brandy. "You quoted a poet and a Roman Emperor to three cute little girls who probably didn't understand a word you said."

"Nonsense," said Brandy. "They understood perfectly. It will give them something to think about while they look at bread and pickles and bags of apples."

The older man turned toward us, a loaf of bread in his hand. "Please, excuse me. I overheard you. My grandmother had that plaque on her wall, 'Very little is needed to make a happy life.' She loved that, she always had it to remind her. Sometimes she didn't have much, but she was happy." He smiled, "Thank you for reminding me of her."

Brandy and I thanked him, then went to find the peanut butter.  I told her, "Even a very little encounter with someone is interesting. Because people are interesting, and they do interesting things."

"And every day has a reason to smile," said Brandy. We giggled.

(In case you are wondering, the quotes are from e.e. cummings and Marcus Aurelius)