Farewell Faithful Friend

Sometimes doing the right thing is gut-wrenching. That is the case when you have to euthanize a dog.

We brought her home as an eight week old puppy and watched her grow right alongside our daughters, who adored the little bundle of fur. She became a playmate, a partner, a companion, and a member of the family.

Her jobs were simple, but important:

  • Greet family members each time they returned home, toy in mouth and tail wagging
  • Greet friends and relatives when they came to visit, toy in mouth and tail wagging
  • Take the family for a couple of walks each day to make sure they get their exercise
  • Greet neighbors on the daily walk, tail wagging
  • Bring back the ball that people had obviously, errantly tossed away
  • Keep lookout over the back yard from the patio doors
  • Growl menacingly at any chipmunks, cats, or other dogs that entered her back yard kingdom
  • Bark at the yappy little dogs that walked by on the street each day
  • Run laps around the house in the snow to demonstrate how it feels to be truly free
  • Stare at her bowls at meal time to be sure that we could all dine together, maintaining all social graces
  • Roll over for a belly rub to provide a complete dog experience
  • Nap just enough during the day so that when we dragged ourselves home from an exhausting day of work or school she would be ready to play and ease our stresses
What she loved most of all was just a little attention from her people.

What she loved most of all was just a little attention from her people.

At age five she developed chronic pancreatitis. But with a little tender loving care and constant vigilance over her expensive dog food diet, she kept going for another six years. Then, about six weeks ago she developed new and different symptoms and a routine blood test showed the beginning stages of kidney failure. She held her own for several weeks; and then she grew increasingly lethargic, developed a cough and labored breathing, couldn’t keep food down, and finally was moaning or whimpering in pain. Even though we have spent a bundle on her since her diagnosis, this decision was not at all about the expense. If there was even half a prayer’s worth of hope that she could improve and live a little longer without pain, we would spend more. But there was no more hope, only anguish for her and for us.

So today we made that hardest of all decisions. When your devoted companion is in failing health and constant pain and there is no good outcome on the horizon, you choose to end their suffering because no one should live in misery when there is no longer quality left in their life. We owed it to her to ease her pain. We stayed with her while they administered a sedative and watch her drift into a very peaceful doggy sleep. We said goodbye, and we said thank you, and we told her we would always love and remember her.

I left one of her most important jobs off the earlier list: comforting her humans. She could sense when one of us was sick or especially sad. If we were feeling bad she would come and sit near us – close enough so that we could pet her, because petting your puppy always makes you feel better. Sometimes she would stand close enough to be petted, and then sit down without realizing that the act of sitting put her just barely out of our reach, and that made us smile. Sometimes she would nestle her forehead between our knees so that we could scratch her ears, and that soothed our worries.

Now she is permanently out of reach and not here to handle that most important job of providing comfort. So I write this through tears that won’t stop, without the warmth of my dog by my side.

To say that we will miss her is an enormous understatement. She has left a dog sized hole in our hearts and our home. Now we know that our beloved perpetual baby is no longer hurting. Her torment has transferred to our broken hearts and turned to grief, which we will gratefully accept in thanks for her faithful love for eleven years.

Lane Cake

If you can read, you can cook. My mother subscribed to this policy, and if it was good enough for her then it’s good enough for me.

I am not great in the kitchen. I can hold my own, but don’t have a genuine passion for whipping up fabulous meals or delectable sweets. After working an eight-hour day, dinner most nights is something hastily thrown together or prepared from convenience foods. It’s not that I can’t cook – it’s just that I often don’t have time and choose not to make a great deal of effort – although I can make a killer Beef Stroganoff.

So last week, my reading and cooking converged. Our book group decided that this month’s book would be To Kill a Mockingbird. We had all read it, but not since 8th or 9th grade, and re-reading books from your childhood as an adult really shines a new light on them.

Perhaps I should explain that our book group doesn’t just read the book and then talk about it. We usually have a little wine during our book discussions, and either dessert or a pot-luck dinner. We take turns hosting these events and though some of us didn’t know one another when we started this group, we have built some friendships and enjoy each others company.

This time, our very creative hostess encouraged each of us to bring a food that is mentioned in the book: ham, baked beans, cornbread pudding, biscuits, “Boo” berry salad, and Lane Cake.  She also provided Coca Cola which we drank through straws, with the bottles hidden inside brown paper bags.  It is a joy to be in the company of such interesting women!

“Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.”

The rich filling was the best part of this cake.

Now, I have never been to Alabama, am not at all a southerner, truly am a Yankee, and not much of a baker.  But I do enjoy a good challenge, and Lane Cake was mentioned a couple of times in the book, so I looked it up online and found a recipe that looked manageable on the Southern Living website.

Lane Cake is basically a white cake made in three or four layers, with a rich filling between each layer. To make the filling, you cook a lot of egg yolks, sugar, and butter, and then mix in coconut, raisins, chopped pecans, and bourbon. Then the entire cake is covered with a creamy, white, seven-minute frosting. (My attempt at making the frosting in a double boiler was a huge disaster, so I cheated and used canned whipped frosting.) After about two hours in the kitchen, I had myself a Lane Cake.

You would think that two hours, eight separated eggs, more sugar than I can recall using ever before in a single recipe, and the bourbon would produce something pretty spectacular. But, again, I am not a baker. So here’s my assessment: it was fun to try, the cake by itself was a little bland so the decadent filling had to work extra hard to make up for that, and I will never make it again. If I am going to bake with booze, I really prefer rum cake, which is much easier to do and always turns out moist and delicious.

As for the remaining bourbon, I’ll have a little on the rocks while I’m reading the next book.

Moving Day Costs

My out of pocket costs for the day: $4 for coffee, $8 for highway tolls, $45 for groceries, $50 for gas, and one daughter – for whom there is no price.

Once again, it was “take your daughter to school day” and emotions were all over the map – mostly mine – reaching the highest heights of Mount Everest and the lowest lows of the Krubera Cave.

Her new front door, in one of the oldest and most beautiful dorms on the campus

Her new home – one of the oldest and most beautiful dorms on the campus

None of this experience is new to us, although each time it feels a little different. This is, after all, our younger daughter’s third year in college. Each time one of them leaves, I feel sad. But more often now I also feel elated from watching them grow into themselves. This particular one has been on a growth spurt from the moment she was born at just 6 pounds, and her cognitive development has always been a little ahead of the curve.

So this morning we headed out with a car packed with dorm bedding, a small fridge, a couple of collapsible shelving units, some small appliances, artwork to liven up bland walls, and more clothing than any twenty year old really needs for college life. But there it was, a vehicle sagging slightly under the weight of most of her worldly possessions. All of this stuff had to be trekked up two flights of stairs to her new room, which is actually quite nice for a dorm room. Then we made one more trip to pick up her college bicycle from the friend who kindly stored it in her garage all summer, and made a stop at the supermarket to stock her little refrigerator.

I helped her make her bed, move some furniture, and put together just a few things. Then, knowing that she prefers to organize her own room and her own life, I hugged her goodbye and left. Of course I shed a few tears. I can’t help feeling sad, because she will always be my baby and she is gone again for several months. Some were also tears of joy, because I know so well that this place suits her perfectly. For her part, I am certain she is grateful that I’m past the weeping stage at these departures. (The first time we left our older daughter at college I was sobbing uncontrollably as we drove away.)

Today, when we pulled into the main entrance onto this lovely campus with its ivy covered walls, she said, “It feels good to be home.” For these four years, the university is very much her home. This year she is tackling some new and important responsibilities as a part of the Residential Life team, and that makes her parents proud. She is surrounded at school by people who teach, nurture, and care for her (not as well as we have, but pretty good none-the-less.)

She is in the right place for this time in her life. We see the growth and development in the ways she forges relationships and the way she thinks and behaves. She is growing into a confident, creative, caring, hopeful, purposeful, young woman. She is priceless.

Oh…there are a couple of little items I forgot to include in my initial expense report: 1) the thousands of dollars that we already sent to the school to help pay her way for another semester; and 2) the dollar I spent on a donut with my coffee on the way home, because once in a while on a stressful parenting day it’s okay to eat your feelings of happiness, pride, sadness, and love.

Questions of Faith

It’s hard to be religious when you are as cynical as I am. I was raised in the Catholic Church, but grew away from it many years ago and have never, as an adult, regularly attended any church. There are a variety of reasons for this, which may lead to more writing in the future. But one of my key struggles in life is that I tend to question everything. I was apparently born a skeptic. As a result, faith often eludes me.

Then, a couple of years ago my youngest daughter asked me to go to church with her at Chautauqua Institution on Sunday mornings. So I have gone with her on beautiful summer Sundays, and it is has been an inspiring seasonal journey.

The Women of Peace sculptures at Chautauqua

The Women of Peace sculptures at Chautauqua

Chautauqua, which started as a summer camp for Methodist Sunday school teachers, has become a world renowned cultural center for the arts, education, and religion. What’s most interesting to me about religion at Chautauqua is that it has grown substantially over 140 years from a focus on Methodist teachings, to become a richly diverse center for all religions with houses on the grounds for a variety of Christian denominations as well as a Jewish Center. There is also an Abrahamic Program for Young Adults, designed to teach about the shared heritage of the Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All of this happens just twenty minutes from my home.

The Sunday morning service is very much in the ecumenical Christian tradition, and most Christians who are regular church-goers would find spectacular music from the giant Massey Organ, some inspiring words, and very little that would offend them. At the same time, it also speaks to me – not a regular church goer – sometimes loudly.

One of my greatest struggles with organized religion in our current and extremely polarized society is that too often people are considered to be either good or bad, with too little allowance for the gray area into which most of us fall. Often, we are too busy judging one another’s differences to find our commonalities. Some of the loudest voices may or may not be right, but my usual question is, “Who are we to judge?”

The voices I hear at Chautauqua come from all over the globe, from all different backgrounds, and address topics that are keenly important to me: diversity, inclusion, justice, and compassion. This Sunday’s speaker was particularly effective. Reverend Allan Aubrey Boesak is a native of South Africa, an anti-apartheid activist, former leader of the World Alliance of Churches, and the first incumbent Desmond Tutu Chair for Peace, Global Justice, and Reconciliation Studies, Christian Theological Seminary and Butler University.

Speaking about the parable of the Good Samaritan, Boesak noted that the Samaritan did not question the victim’s ethnicity or beliefs before helping the beaten man, he simply helped. But Boesak took it a step further and asked, “What if the Samaritan had come upon the attack as it was happening?”

“It’s easy,” he noted, “to lend a hand when the danger is over. But aren’t we called by God to step into the fray? What if…we respond with courage and compassion and open our eyes to injustice and violence?”

What if we saw injustice or war or damage being inflicted? Don’t we have a moral obligation to help, regardless of race or class or language barriers or beliefs? Courage is often one of the hardest virtues to summon, and violence and war are pervasive.

Boesak is just one of the many inspiring speakers I have heard in the past few summers at Chautauqua. Almost every one of them has forcefully proclaimed the importance of seeking peace, inclusion, and justice – not just tolerating diversity, but truly embracing it: religiously, sexually, and ethnically.

Yes, faith often eludes me. That does not mean I don’t think about it. I freely admit that I am an unfinished person, and for me my spiritual nature is very deeply linked to a longing for justice. Why can’t we open our eyes and ears to the violence and injustice all over the world? Why do simple acts of humanity sometimes fall beyond our reach?

Throughout their lives my daughters have (mostly unbeknownst to them) encouraged me to be a better person. Sincere thanks to my youngest for sharing her faith with me. Blessed are the peacemakers.