Dog Sledding Through Social Issues

Photos of bouncy happy dogs ended up in my Twitter feed one day. Who can resist photos of happy dogs? It was Blair Braverman’s feed — they were sled dogs, and she had written a book, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Eventually I bought it and, a further eventually, I read it.

Great decision. Not only is Braverman a dogsledder with interesting Arctic experiences that developed her skills and interests, but she is clearly a writer as well. I would read beautiful sentences or note how she skillfully alternated between timelines and I would be increasingly impressed. Then it was revealed that her first year out of high school she had a capstone-type project of writing a novel and that her undergraduate degree was in English or journalism or something similar. “There we go,” I thought. “Now I see how this all came together.”

In writing about falling into a pit during a race and then getting back out:

“And [the dogs] were so happy, every muscle in their bodies bounding with excitement, smiles wide, not wolves at all–they were sled dogs, and it was a perfect ten below, and there was nothing in the whole world as fun as running and racing and tumbling into pits and getting out of them again.”

pg 270

Oh, to be sled dogs!

“The noontime sunset cast the water in shadow but lit the mountaintops gold.”

pg 263

“Our breath trailed behind us like footprints.”

pg 67

But, as beautiful as the descriptions of working with the dogs, of Norway, and of the glacier in Alaska, were, this book was a tough read for me. I was not entirely prepared for it, despite the subtitle that starts out Chasing Fear. Braverman uses her skills as a writer to perfectly capture, in all its nuances and manipulation, what women face all the time when dealing with men.

Immediately, I was thrown back into my own “normal” experiences as a woman when some men have thought they were entitled to my space, my body, and my decisions:

  • The guy my first night of college who thought it was perfectly fine to crawl into my dorm room twin bed. Luckily he was too drunk to be too much of a threat.
  • The coworker who would sit and watch me doing a task and make suggestive sounds and motions repeatedly and I was too young to really know how to handle it. I have randomly pondered how it was that someone from the company eventually came to interview me privately if this had been going on. And during the interview, as professionally and kindly as it was handled, I experienced a weird guilt and embarrassment?! It was only years later that I realized that one of the chefs had probably reported it, putting his neck out for me. (Sexual harassment reporting was fairly new at the time and he was African American and I and the harassing co-worker were white – I think there would have been social dynamics he must have considered before he reported it for me.)*
  • The paramedic who would always follow me out to the bay at night when I put my turnout gear next to the ambulance, even when I specifically waited until he was not in the room to see me leave to do so. I eventually just quit volunteering with that shift.
  • The guy I was semi-dating who, when I suggested we go for a run at my favorite park, agreed but then never got out of the truck and instead wanted to make out. When I called him on it, I said, “When I said I wanted to go for a run, that’s what I meant.” He just laughed and said, “I know.” He’s also the one who suggested that we do some martial arts practice together and then came out of the changing room stark naked. Semi-dating turned into no interaction. We eventually became friends again and to this day he randomly tells me he has always loved me. I actually believe him. But, how do you trust someone when the relationship begins like that, before it is even a relationship? The confusing part is that he has other great qualities.

Braverman captures that aspect well, too–how these kinds of interactions (and worse) make women doubt ourselves and leave us with a sense of confusion and shame that does not belong to us.

Although I was not prepared for it in her book, it is important. These misogynic/disdain-for-women-as-full-humans secrets should be dragged out into the light.

Another thread gently and unobtrusively woven throughout the narrative addresses how we care for each other as a society and in community.

Around the same time I started the book, we were having Gene Nichol as a guest lecturer at my place of work and he was speaking about his book The Faces of Poverty in North Carolina. I was quickly trying to read his book before the lecture. In it, he writes of the devastating poverty that exists in our state while our state and local governments and our general population make a studied effort to be totally blind to it. So, at the same time that Nichol’s words were ripping out my gut and dragging my battered heart along behind it, I was reading Braverman casually mention that in Norway,

“. . . their poverty was less about need than class, less about money than the facts that they were both northern and rural.”

pg 19

The immediacy of the contrast, coupled with my own personal experience in the past of seeing how easily we cast off people, brought me to tears. Why do we do this here? Why are we so committed to not caring for one another?

Braverman does not spend a lot of time on the formal social support systems in Norway, but woven throughout the narrative is her experience getting to know Arild, the local shopkeeper in a northern rural part of Norway. In the rural areas, it has long been the social role of the shopkeeper to be an additional safety net. The shopkeeper knows everyone in the area and checks in on people if they had not been seen in a while or are generally homebound. While Braverman was living there, she saw that this included the local alcoholic. They never let him go hungry. They made him use his own funds for the alcohol and, when he ran out each month, he ran out. But, they never let him go hungry or unseen.

Over the course of the book, it seems that she may be suggesting that this tradition is fading as modern life continues to creep into the livelihoods and ways of those in rural areas. But her descriptions of the role Arild played are a glimpse into how communities can care for each other, even when the shopkeeper is just as human and imperfect as the rest of us.

“During visits [traveling out and around] he kept careful track of what people needed, whether it was a new belt or a refrigerator or just human company, and he did what he could do to provide it.”

pg 40

* Yes, there is anonymous reporting, I believe. But, the location I was cornered into to do my work would have been in the line of sight of only one person. If I figured it out when I thought about it enough, so could anyone receiving the report or learning of it. I never told anyone about the company interviewing me, mainly because, again, I was embarrassed that any of it had occurred in the first place. Now, I am glad I never told anyone, for this other reason. And, if it was him, I wish he would know he did the right thing and that I am grateful.

Grandma’s Puppy Camp

I am dogs-cat-bunny-and-puppy sitting for my daughter.

I am happy to report that New Puppy flies in and out of their dog door with no problem. She also pees and poops outside happily and regularly. But, New Puppy does not seem particularly concerned about also peeing inside.

As a little background, I was not allowed to have pets growing up. Thus, the start of my adult life proceeded through the following rapid sequence: graduated from college in May, first career-type job started in July, rented my first post-college apartment, went to the animal shelter and adopted a puppy. I have basically had dogs ever since.

At first, I only adopted puppies. But, when my young daughter’s beloved Black Cat died, I was regularly checking the kitten status at the shelter. I had been told that “kitten season” was delayed because of the cooler weather. On one of these stop-bys, there were still no kittens, but I immediately fell in love with a 5-year-old Coton de Tulear dog. (We did eventually get a kitten too, the one who grew up to be White Cat.) Oh. My. Goodness! I had no idea how much easier life could be if you adopted an adult dog who was already housebroken!

After Little Dog passed on, there was a puppy adoption again. Then, my two current dogs were adopted as adults.

So, it is not surprising that my daughter’s first two dogs of her own have been adopted as adults. She is amazing with animals and, of course, she got to experience housebreaking the puppy we got while she lived at home.

But, life is kind of busy with a 1-year-old and 3-year-old and both parents working and life, and they have only had New Puppy for about two weeks now.

The best way I have found to housebreak a puppy is to use a crate when you are not home or cannot watch them like a hawk. If they are out of the crate, confine them to the room that has the doggy door and don’t take your eye off them. The second they start to sniff for a pee spot or squat, one sharp “no” and hustle them out the doggy door (with lots of praise and love when they finish outside).

New Puppy and I were doing pretty good with the peeing because she generally wanted to stay in the same room with me. But, after I fed her, I knew she was going to need to poop — and dogs are notorious for seeking a bit of privacy when pooping inside a home. Looking around, I realized I could slide the couch down to block one doorway and slide her crate down to block the other doorway.

So, here we sit. In this one room, all together. Of course, all three dogs seem to be happiest right around my feet and Gentle Giant sits and pants his hot breath right across my hands on the keyboard.

We only have about 30 hours left of Grandma’s Puppy Camp, but I figure whatever progress New Puppy can make in that amount of time is probably the best gift I can give to my daughter and her whole family right now. (Plus, I am kind of sick, so the sacrifice is not that big.)

Wish us luck!

UPDATE

New Puppy did great in the remaining 30 hours. No start-to-have-an-accident episodes at all. Hopefully, the little bit of additional learning she achieved will stick and transfer once regular life resumes and she again has freer roaming privileges.

Place

I dragged a piano with me all over the country – literally. There was nothing particularly special about the piano except that it was my piano and I loved to play it. I am not particularly talented. I can’t play by ear. I have to practice a lot and, even then, I’m not a good accompanist or performer. I just enjoy it. The concentration it requires of me drives out any thoughts, so it is a bit of a meditative medium that also happens to include music. It is responsive to my moods and can respond to my fury or frustration and slowly transform and mellow it–or laugh along with my joy. And so, I dragged it from place to place.

Pianos are heavy. And take up space. And cost money to move, even if it is “just” the cost of renting a U-Haul.

Eventually, I ran out. I ran out of energy and space and money. I gave my piano away. I told myself that I was becoming a person who was lightweight and mobile and carefree. I have always moved. It is in my nature.

With this recent move, I had major anxiety thinking about buying a home. A home would be kind of permanent. It would be settling down. It made the most economic and autonomy sense, but, what if I wanted to move?

I bought the great little house. It’s been about a year now.

Yesterday, I bought a used piano, and it was delivered today. Pianos are heavy and don’t pack into cardboard boxes. If you want to move, they require planning, decisions.

But, oh! they invite you to sit
and pour yourself into their keys and
hear the sounds of your soul.

Stating the Obvious

I think sometimes we adults forget how quickly we process environmental and experiential information compared to small children.

Pickup from daycare was a little different today. Normally, 3-year-old E’s Dad picks her up, but he had something else this evening and I agreed to pick her up. My daughter would meet us at my house, we would all spend a little time together, and then they would continue the rest of the way home.

Everything went well (other than a massive attack of mosquito bites on my daughter because of the rain last night and I haven’t been keeping up with the creek treatments and mosquitoes have always desired her gourmet blood). When it came time to go home, I put 1-year-old A in her car seat while 3-year-old E was climbing from the front seat to the back seat. Granddaughter E and I both realized at the same second that there was no car seat in its regular spot — there was just a big empty void of space above the back seat. Instantly, my daughter and I knew what happened. I told my daughter it was okay, I would drive E to their house right quick and I started assisting my granddaughter out of my daughter’s car, back into my house to grab my car keys, and back into my car, moving even more quickly than would otherwise be requisite due to the mosquitoes gathering in numbers with the descending dusk.

All the while, little E’s agitation continued to rise and finally broke out into outright wails. Safely in the car, but before starting to drive, I turned to console her.

E wanted to know why someone stole her car seat.

What my daughter and I had simultaneously deduced, without ever saying a word, was that she and my son-in-law had moved E’s car seat to the other vehicle over the weekend. They had simply forgotten to the move E’s car seat back to the main child-transporting-vehicle last night.

Because it was immediately obvious to the adults what had happened, we had simply reacted and adjusted course without verbalizing exactly what that situation was. However, it had not been obvious to 3-year-old E. At all.

On the entire drive back to their house, I explained to E what had happened: that it was just an accident that Mom and Dad had forgotten to move her car seat back and that they would surely take care of it tonight. E asserted that she would check the other car herself to determine that her car seat was actually where I said it was. Fair enough.

It’s hard to be 3. A little information helps.

It’s hard to be a parent, a grandparent, an adult, too. We keep trying and, hopefully, keep getting a little more skillful at it.

Goals vs Flow?

Will someone please tell me how to get everything done I want to do every day? Prioritization and organization and schedules are not enough of an answer.

My coworker has a garden that is producing well — I’m sure due to her dedicated care. She gave me the eggplant, squash, zucchini, and cucumber. So, one of my plans for this weekend was to use at least one of them (in addition to the cucumber).

But, I had other plans this weekend, too. It came down to today.

So, let’s review today, shall we? My amazing grandchildren had a sleepover last night with me. When we got up, we had pancakes for breakfast and then bath time (ie, includes play time). I got them out and dressed just in time for their parents to pick them up just before I Zoomed in for a church service. That went until noon. Then, I napped — because, did I mention I had a sleepover with a 1-year-old and 3-year-old?

Then, I found two eggplant recipes and made my shopping list. One was the main recipe I wanted to try (Eggplant and Buckwheat Patties) but this Brown Rice with Eggplant and Cheese Custard recipe was the alternate in case I could not find the ingredients. Sure enough, not only did the store not sell any celery with leaves still attached (some weird kind of modern commentary surely is waiting to be made on this), but also no buckwheat groats. Another day then — I wasn’t going to go look at another store tonight.

I had wanted to make the patties because I like other things I have made with buckwheat. But the real reason was because the patties were to be cooked on the range versus this recipe that used the oven–twice. That is why I have not been sharing new adventures with vegetarian recipes lately — North Carolina summers are too hot to be using the oven, if you can avoid it.

By the time I put away the groceries, relaxed for a few minutes, and read over the recipe again, it was 9:00 pm. But, I really wanted to have this dish for leftovers this week. So, I started cooking at 9:00 pm. I wasn’t really feeling a musical accompaniment tonight, so I put on a podcast. And what always happens with podcasts for me? If they are worth listening to, there are often notes I want to take, which you can’t do while you are cooking . . . agghhh

This layer, on top of the eggplant and before the
custard topping, was just too pretty not to photograph.

Anyway, it is well after midnight, now. The cookbook calls this a “meatless version of Greek moussaka.” I am embarrassed to admit that I have never had moussaka before. I cooked the rice with 1 tsp of salt and added 0.5 tsp salt both to the tomato/onion mixture and to the custard (because this book never uses salt, I have found).

I can’t really tell if I like it. If I make it again, I will definitely add more salt to the mixture and the custard as well as salt the eggplant slices. Maybe more pepper, too. I always cut back on the pepper, but I probably should have used all the recipe called for. It is not bad, just underwhelming. The walnuts add a wonderful texture, though. I am hoping that, after the flavors meld, I will enjoy the leftovers more in the coming days. We’ll see.

Also, how lucky am I to have an amazing and generous coworker?

In the end, while I would not have changed a single thing about what I did or how I did them today — I did not do nearly all the things I wanted to do. I wrote most of this post while it baked. How is this acceptable in life? It is not one of my favorite parts, to be honest. I don’t like making choices of what not to do. I want to do it all.

Off to bed – I have to work . . . today.

Recipe was from Rodale’s Basic Natural Foods Cookbook, 1984. pg. 308

Legion: For We Are Many

[I originally posted a longer version of this review on another blog in June 2017.]

Exploring Moral Injury in Sacred Texts is a compilation of essays written from various perspectives – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and civil. Some of the essays resonated more with me than others, but that is generally to be expected in such a work.

In the Christian Bible, remember the man who lived among the tombs, who gave his name as Legion? Michael Yandell offers a unique but coherent treatment of this story. He imagines a scenario in which this man’s suffering is from moral injury that resulted from his experiences as a soldier and from shouldering the mental/emotional/spiritual burdens of his entire legion. When the man approaches Jesus, he is seeking out a representative of his victims from whom he seeks forgiveness but also interacting with a benevolent religious figure. The healing is neither instantaneous nor completed by the end of the narrative. Rather, he is given work to do within his community to continue the process of healing and reintegration.

My reaction to the essay written from a civil perspective was interesting. I initially recoiled at the term civil religion, even though this is not a new term. If religion is supposed to have some hint of the divine within it, then equating secular activities with the sacred can feel like an affront. But, Daniel C. Maguire makes a powerful case for how the one has been co-opted by the other. He explains the power that is intentionally built by using themes and techniques found in the Bible, in sermons, and in religious music, intensifying national fervor and patriotism. He also notes a troubling result: Our culture is so overwhelmingly patriotic that thoroughly questioning the morality of a specific (or all) military action is immediately interpreted to be at odds with this national moral code of patriotism.

Additional essays I found particularly interesting were:

  • “Division of Spoils after Battle” by Brad E. Kelle, mainly for highlighting the community’s responsibility in sending soldiers into battle.
  • An essay discussing our sacrificial language and imagery by Kelly Denton-Borhaug, including recent literary examples capturing its effect on returning soldiers and on the communities who remain at home.
  • “Peter and Judas: Moral Injury and Repair” [or failure of repair in the case of Judas] by Warren Carter. This is an excellent contrast of outcomes.
  • The story of Aṅgulimāla as told by John M. Thompson, mainly for contrasting the Buddhist focus on “how to respond?” with the Western question of “what is just?”.

I think anyone working with moral injury, particularly moral injury resulting from military service, would find this book thought-provoking.

Does God Kill?

If God is Love, does God kill? Ever?

I was reading 1 Nephi 4. I kept putting it off, but I was working on a project and the only way through it was, well, through it.

I had already decided that the “Spirit” did not tell Nephi to murder Laban in cold blood, no matter what his rationalization might have been for telling himself and us so. But, as I was mulling over this chapter, I noted that Nephi specifically calls forth the story of the Egyptians being drowned in the Red Sea.

Stories like the drowning of the Egyptians . . . or the flood of Noah . . . take the question back further and lay it squarely with God. There are quite a few tidy rationalizations here as well. For drowning everyone but Noah and his family: it was saving future generations from being raised in wickedness and thus having their free agency curtailed by never having the opportunity to be taught righteousness. The Egyptians? Well, we are not to judge–judgment belongs to God. And sometimes that godly judgement is a death penalty.

And so all these stories stay in our “scriptures” and our “sacred texts,” if for no other reason than to teach us that prophets were human, that God uses the imperfect to accomplish God’s perfect will . . . and that God is a jealous God–that we shall have no other gods before the great I Am.

But, I wonder if studying the scriptures and sacred texts as they are currently canonized and enshrined teaches us that, on some level, there is an eventual justification for murder, for killing.

If we fully embrace this concept of God, then, either consciously or subconsciously, people (each of us?) have the foundation to take it to its logical conclusion: If snuffing life is good enough for an omnipotent and omniscient God, then will some believe it is good enough for them in extreme circumstances? If “the Spirit” commands it, demands it? Perhaps they tell themselves their cause warrants violence or “revolution” or violent resistance “if necessary” but, you know, without targeted murder. After all, who is to say when Armageddon (God’s very own bloody war) begins?

It is the subconscious foundation that concerns me.

This is what we have sewn. This is what we reap.

I do not think that God, the God that is the manifestation of Love, kills.

Ever.

I think these are the stories we have told ourselves and turned into the “sacred.”

I think we should stop telling ourselves these stories.

I think what is sacred, what we should study, are the stories that inspire us to be like God, a God that is Love. A God that does not kill.

The Triple Chocolate Cheesecake

My daughter’s birthday has taken on a holiday status larger than that of a simple birthday–all because of this cheesecake.

I only make it once a year, on her birthday. All year, we anticipate her birthday and this cheesecake much like any other major holiday with its accompanying signature recipes.

This year was at least my twelfth time making it.

And it was almost a disaster. I went shopping for the ingredients last night and easily found everything–until I got to the cooler that should have had whipping cream and heavy cream neatly lined up in rows upon rows.

This is what I found.

When I asked about it, I was told that they are starting to have supply chain issues again and, again, it is random in what is suddenly not available. Because it was so hot, even in the evening, I took my groceries straight home rather than check another store on the way.

I made the cake (the whipping cream was for the ganache – luckily last to be made and done separately, but not to be left out). Because I am a night owl, things got started at 8:45 pm. Hamilton was the baking soundtrack and a pretzel purchased earlier from Lidl was the accompanying dinner. I planned to search, high and low if necessary, for the whipping cream first thing in the morning.

And so it was that with fear and trepidation, I ventured down the aisle of another grocery store just as the world was getting its day underway this morning. Ahhh, plenty of whipping cream!

This has been a hard summer. It was nice to have a little sweetness connected to many other happy memories.

The grandchildren got to decorate their pieces with the hard sugar store-bought decorations and enjoy their raspberries separately. And, yes, it was simplest just to avoid chocolate-covered clothing on the youngest!

Only one tip from me:

  • I use chocolate Teddy Grahams for the cookie crust. It needs at least 2.5 cups of Teddy Grahams, perhaps even closer to 3 full cups.
  • Oh, and I start checking it at 50 minutes. If you can smell its deliciousness, you need to check it quick.