Saturday, October 1, 2022

Why we got (yep) ANOTHER dog.

Yogi, Pedro, and Oprah

Before our 14-year-old Schnoodle, Yogi, died last spring from cancer, Ray and I brought home an Aussiedoodle pup for him to train in. We were already living with Yogi; Pedro, our 14-year-old rescued terrier mix; and Yogi’s littermate Oprah, my mom’s dog. When Mom (who lived with us) died in April, we inherited Oprah, who we felt should stay with her pack. So we were down to Oprah, Pedro, and the new guy, Pretzel. Then just this week, Ray and I brought home dog #4, Fiona, a 9-week-old mostly chihuahua mix.

We also have a 26-year-old parrot (with us since she was 4 mos), and 7 canaries. It’s a puzzlement to many, including myself at times, WHY someone would want to live with and be responsible for SO. MANY. ANIMALS. I don’t really have a good explanation, but I do have a few theories…

1. Birds can fly. Our parrot talks. Our canaries sing. Enough said about the birds.

Stella Faye

2. I read that dogs are the only creatures who give unconditional love. I believe this is true.

3. So my long-term dog plan (is it bizarre that I HAD a long-term dog plan?) was to end up with a mini Aussiedoodle and a Chihuahua. The Doodle would be a brainiac, and the Chi would be a pocket munchkin. Ray and I would be able to travel with both, because they’d be small, the Doodle would be brilliant and well-trained, and the Chi would be so tiny no one would notice. In my head, I had the perfect timing all worked out, too. We would get the Doodle in time to let the older dogs train him in, then get the Chi a couple years later, once the Doodle was calmer and well into his (spontaneous, I guess) training. These would be our last dogs. I just didn’t foresee that Pedro and Oprah would keep getting older but would stay relatively healthy. Or that our Aussie would be a brilliant mini Aussiedoodle that didn’t stay mini, with tightly wound springs for legs and the devious mind of a 3-year-old. Or that the perfect 2.3-lb. Chi would appear a year early (according to my plan), born a few blocks away in the home of a friend.

4. It’s an illness, a hereditary weakness, and clearly out of my control, this need to make sure I always have souls to nurture: See

5. Could my dogs be reincarnated humans? According to Tsem Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk, the answer is yes.

6. Chihuahuas. Seriously. Fiona (Fifi) has the face of a pitbull and the body of an undernourished squirrel. When she whines, she sounds like a baby bird.

Fiona "Fifi"

7. “In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.” ― W. H. Auden

8. It’s been a year. As I’ve said, we lost our dog Yogi, and I lost Mom. I also lost my dad a month after Mom. And we lost our parrot Polly Hester. We lost our friends and community stalwarts Dave, Cindy, Marty, Harry, and others. In the larger world, we said goodbye to Olivia Newton John, Nichelle Nichols, Ray Liota, Meatloaf, and Wally Cleaver, among a much longer list of my well-known favorite people. My vertebrae slid off kilter and onto a nerve bundle, making me give up my good old Irish walks and have needles stuck in my spine instead. More Covid. Covid variants, etc. etc. A year. BUT, few things can make the joy well up from deep inside like a puppy tripping headlong over a sock, or another puppy’s 2.3 lbs. of unrestrained ferociousness. Our furry and feathered friends helped Ray and I make it through this year’s Prodigious Pileup of Death and Disease.

9. I may have mentioned once or twice that I tend toward hermitting. But I’m a hermit with a strong sense of social obligation and a pathological need to make sure others are okay. Is it a subconscious drive, then, that consistently leads me to add to responsibilities keeping me home-bound? Excuses to stay hermited? Hmmm…

Pretzel and Pedro

10. I’m 66. As long as I’m not hurting anyone, I don’t need to justify anything I do. So shut up (said with great affection).

11. Last night I dreamed I had a live tiny white mouse in a container. I decided to add the mouse to my morning smoothie. I dumped the poor thing in the blender, already full of other ingredients, then noticed another tiny white mouse staring at me from behind the blender. I SWEAR it was sad. So of course, I fished the first one out of the blender and made them both a tiny house (see #4).

Thursday, July 28, 2022

All this & Covid too!

In the ongoing saga of the ways in which 2022 is trying to strip me to the bone, Ray and I have Covid. (Could 2022’s string of losses and semi-disasters mean a new beginning soon? Winnowing the chaff? Unsealing the door? Some other bad metaphor?)

We were exposed, we believe, last Friday. On Monday, we both tested negative, though Ray was beginning to have symptoms—tired, sore throat, occasional cough. On Tuesday, we both tested positive. Ray’s symptoms were worse, and mine started.

The progression seems to go like this, at least for us: Day 1: sore throat, cough, fatigue. Day 2: Cough, congestion, sneezing, fatigue, fever (100.something at its worst for us), chills, body aches. Day 3: Much like Day 2. Day 4: Fever down to 99 or below, less of everything else. This is where we are today.

We tested at home, so we don’t know if this is Omicron B-52 Bomber, Omicron CUL8R, Omicron FU, or what variant it might be. What we DO know now is that people on blood thinners for heart issues CANNOT get the Get-Better-Quicker antiviral drug, and that you have to jump through many flaming hoops to get it IF you meet at least 4 criteria on the qualifying list (old, diabetic, hypertensive, can’t carry a tune, pimples, shoe size is 8 or smaller for women, don’t like cilantro, have insurance, etc.). I’m still waiting for the paperwork to go through, so I’ll probably be well by the time I get the drug, which I’ll save for the next inevitable variant…

I’ve mentioned before that I tend toward hermitism (my new word), so isolating doesn’t faze me. And I guess Ray and I are finally getting that quality “couple time” we’ve been after. We can gaze lovingly at each other from our side-by-side recliners, each of us under piles of blankies, a box of Puffs and a paper sack between us, re-watching Jack Ryan and Outer Range, the volume up to OLD-PEOPLE against the trumpety nose blowing. Gawd, we’re romantic fools.

So bring it, 2022. I scoff at you. I throw back my head and laugh at you. I spit in your general direction. I'll be well in time for Dad's funeral in a couple weeks, I’ve got a stash of coffee in the freezer, a laptop, plenty of inane stuff to Google, lots of Vitamin C and Zinc, and a return trip to Ireland to plan. Sure and you're not the boss 'o me.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Heading for Shore

This year. This ocean of release, of letting go, of trying to stay afloat. I think I have my head above water at last, though I’m still bobbing in the waves and have a bit to go before I reach the shore.




Polly Hester 



We celebrated Mom’s life at home last weekend, and it was everything Mom loved: A houseful of family and friends spilling into the backyard, our monthly gathering of the Sisters of Perpetual Disorder (our local women-of-a-certain-age potluck & good times group), a giveaway of Mom’s things, her four children singing together (first time since we sang rounds in the car as kids), poetry readings from Mom’s poems, my poems, and a piece written by a good friend in Mom’s honor, a plethora of potluck “comfort foods” (our SOPD food theme this month in honor of Mom), and much more music from family and friends. My three brothers all spoke (the teary part for me), and I tried to thank everyone, though I forgot many people, including Ray most of all, without whom I never would have survived the last few years of caring for Mom.

Here's a thought: let's have these celebrations of life BEFORE people are gone, so the dying can leave this life brimming with the love the rest of us get to feel at these events.

The next evening, I went to a friend’s house to try and help her husband up after he fell and got stuck. He’s a dear man who’s struggled with a lung disease for the past few years and was too weak to get himself up, and my friend has her foot in a cast and can’t bear weight. There were four of us trying, but we couldn’t move him, and he was less and less responsive. Within the next hour—after police and EMTs, after CPR, after my friend, her daughter, other friends, and I sat with him, held his hand, and called to him, he died.

My heart broke (again) for my friend and her daughter. But honestly, for me it was a surreal mix of shock at such a sudden death and my happening to be there at that sacred moment, and a calm from having become so accustomed to departures lately. Apparently, death has more for me to learn. I told my friend, jokingly, that maybe the Universe wanted my retirement plan to be “death doula.”

I still have more sorting of my mother’s stuff and 100+ years' of family photos, our friend’s funeral next week, and my father’s service to get through early next month. But in the meantime, I’m writing again, and I’ve heard word that two of my poems will be published in upcoming journals. I have a much-anticipated family wedding coming up, and a couple other joyous adventures planned with Ray and with BFFs from my youth—things to look forward to.

So I can see those beach loungers, that big striped umbrella, and ice-cold watermelon mint tea on the table, and I’m dog paddling for the sand.

Celebrating Life

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Dear Universe:

I get it.

The last time I saw my dad before he died in June, he asked me what I believed in. Dad thought of himself as a born again, evangelical Christian. He believed he had a close, personal, speaking relationship with Jesus, and I’m pretty sure he was sincerely worried about my soul. I tried to give him the Readers Digest Condensed version (you have to be really old to get that reference) of my beliefs, and he seemed satisfied, or at least less worried.

My beliefs are amorphous and constantly shifting. This makes sense to me, since our beliefs are shaped (or SHOULD be) by new experiences, personal growth, insight, new information & knowledge, letting go of ideas that prove false, and a constantly changing world.

I don’t believe in a personal god. I do believe there’s order, intention, and evolution in the Universe (the Universe is the name I give to this order, though any name we give it is misleading and inadequate). I believe our planet is a living being (just look into trees and fungi, and you’ll see why). I believe there’s a collective consciousness, and until everyone figures this out, humans will fight and compete with each other. I believe kindness is a warrior skill. I believe there’ve been wise teachers among us who’ve tried to show us better ways to live—Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu, Thich Nhat Hanh, Black Elk, Blanche Devereaux, Marceline the Vampire Queen, Charlotte the spider, and others.

One belief that’s remained pretty consistent for me is that in every situation and experience, I’m presented with the opportunity to LEARN something, which is as close as I can come to believing we have a “purpose” in being here. And I believe that if I’m too stubborn or too dense or too distracted to learn what I need, the Universe will give me the “lesson” over and over until I get it. If need be, the Universe will eventually kick my arse with the lesson.

Take, for example, my stroke in 2012. I had the information, and I’d had a million opportunities, to figure out that I wasn’t coping well with stress, that I needed to quit smoking, and that I needed to ditch the procrastination and 3-day grading marathons, bent over a table in weak light, drinking bottomless pots of coffee, eating Doritos or nothing at all, with occasional smoke breaks. But I didn’t get it until the Universe kicked my arse with just enough of a stroke to pull me out of my stubborn stupor and force me to re-evaluate.

Now, in this freaky, hellish year, I believe the current lesson has to do with DEATH. Mom, several friends, Polly Hester, Dad, school children, Ukranians…they just keep leaving. Now Ray and I are deciding whether we can stop being selfish and let/help our dog Yogi go—he’s 14 and has a mast cell tumor on his foot that’s recently and rapidly grown to the point where he can’t put weight on his foot. But he still eats, jumps in Ray’s chair to nap, sticks his happy face out the window on car rides, gets in line for treats, so we’ve had our lalala fingers in our ears to shush those niggling voices…

I believe this death lesson might have to do with letting go. Tragedies, crises, and missteps have been coming so fast and furious (they should have stopped after the first one; maybe the second) that I haven’t had time (or haven’t made time) to process these losses. I may need to let go of my parents and admit to my orphanhood. I may need to admit how much I adored my mom, and how badly I wanted my dad to be the kind of dad he couldn’t be. I may need to admit that whatever questions I still have will go unanswered. I may need to bury my dog. I may need to hole up, let go, and crycrycrycry.

But in the meantime, I’m in my typical hyper-responsible, “I’m okay” mode, planning funerals, putting together photo boards and slide shows, cleaning, sorting, organizing, writing. And I’m praying (to the Universe) that I’ve already HAD my kick in the arse; I think I get it. I get it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Under the Pile-up

I can’t even. Ray and I were at a reunion gig of his 20’s-something rock and roll band this past weekend in Ray’s home town, when, on Saturday morning, I got a text letting me know my dad had died during the night.

This one hit me like a battering ram, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s cumulative. I’ve always said it’s the pile-up that’ll get you: too many ordeals, too close together. I’ve been putting off the Big Meltdown, though, because I’ve had to turn my attention to things I’d put off or that have needed tending since Mom died – Dad’s illness, our kids and grandkids, Mom’s arrangements and final wishes for the distribution of things that were important to her, Polly Hester’s sudden death, the memorial service for a dear friend, sleep, pets, laundry, etc. Add to that my utter disbelief, sorrow, and rage over the January 6 hearings, the Supreme Court’s hypocritical Roe debacle, and SD Atty Gen Ravensborg’s impeachment trial (he drove in a ditch and struck and killed an old friend of mine). I’ve been too busy/stunned/paralyzed to mourn.

Fortunately, we were staying at the home of friends when I got the news about Dad. Their beautiful home sits on a lake, so I spent the day on a deck down by the water, crying, phoning people about Dad’s arrangements, crying, watching pelicans soar past over the water, crying. At one point, one of our gracious hosts came down to the deck with water, coffee, lunch, and tissues. That night was a happy reunion of friends, the band in fine form, and plenty of wine. And, I got to sit in and sing a few songs – always healing medicine for me.

I’ve never been shy about saying that I’ve been at odds with my parents over the years. There were many years when my dad and I didn’t have anything to do with each other. There were times when I was so angry about or hurt by my relationship (or non-relationship) with one parent or the other that I needed counseling just to stay afloat. But I realized something on the drive home: Although they died only two months apart – an almost unbearable double blow – they both waited until we’d made peace with one another, until I could admit (without gritting my teeth or saying ‘bless his/her heart’), how much I love them both. I had to take a deeeeep breath and thank the Universe for that grace.

I’m not done, I know. I feel an eruption coming. Little fissures release some tears here and there, but the pressure’s building. For now, though, I need to tend to two separate upcoming “celebrations of life.” And I know how incredibly lucky I am to be safe, well fed, housed, and not living in the middle of a bomb target or climbing a fence at a border in the desert.

But I also know that one of these days, I’ll suddenly curl up in a ball and wail, then hole up until the splotches and puffiness and pain are gone and I can smile again (and mean it). And if ANYONE says, “God never gives you more than you can handle,” they’d better be at least 10 fecking feet away when they say it.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Sprummer Days/Daze

It’s Sprummer here on the Row. That’s the odd fifth season between spring and summer, where one day it’s 94 degrees, and the next day it’s 32 and snaining, and the next day it’s 88 with gale-force winds that twist my prayer flags around a tree.

Pretzel "Trouble" MacTier 

Last weekend, though, we had a windless day in the 70s, so Ray and I (mostly Ray) put in the garden. It was another year when we said, “Let’s minimize this year,” then we took out a home equity loan to pay for all the seeds, plants, and supplies we ended up buying. We planted enough tomatoes to roast, can, eat, and give away. We planted enough cucumbers to supply ourselves, the Food Pantry, everyone I know, and still have some to leave (anonymously) in open car windows. Plus peppers, herbs, and baskets of flowers.

Mom’s fairy garden is doing great, with bergenia, hydrangea, and bearded iris, and we planted a calla lily, daffodils, and star flowers in another flower bed for her. Two of her good bridge buddies (one just had her 100th birthday) stopped by with a garden spinner, which we put out in front so they could see it and remember Mom whenever they drive by.

I’ve been sorting through Mom’s things, dispersing little sentimental treasures to the kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. Her room still smells like her, and I’ll admit I sometimes just sit in there. It gets easier day by day, though now it seems like she’s been away on vacation, and it’s been long enough—I’m ready for her to come home.

This past week, I went to the Really Big City, my hometown, to visit my dad, who recently moved from the hospital after a fall, to a nursing home. Dad is living with late-stage prostate cancer that’s spread to his bones, so he’s in constant pain. In spite of that, we had good visits, and he was surprisingly cheerful. He’s told me over the years about his “covenant with Jesus” to live to 100. So on this visit, we had a good chuckle over being a little more careful about what one wishes for.

I also got to see my childhood friend, who lives in New York. She and I have been friends since we were 4, when we would call to each other (in our best mourning dove coos) from our front porches after dinner, so we could come back out and play till the streetlights came on. We had brunch, and we laughed over what we remembered and what we’ve forgotten. It was a sweet, too-rare reunion. She was back in the old hometown for her sister’s funeral.

Speaking of yet…another…funeral…, I believe people can handle most tragedies, traumas, losses, and changes, so long as they have time in between—time to process, heal, get help if needed. It’s the pile-ups that’ll get you. Since the first of this year, we’ve lost Mom, Dad’s moved into the final setting & stage of his life, our oldest dog Yogi is dying of cancer, and we’ve lost five friends/acquaintances/community members. Ray and I both retired, our bones are achier, conversations with each other and others now include everyone’s maladies and procedures (we swore we’d never be THOSE people), and we’re all on Covid alert—again. And Uvalde, again and again and again.

So although I’m waking up from the surrealistic past few months of caring for Mom, when I operated on what Mom called “head down, plow forward” momentum, I think I’m feeling the pile-up now. For me, it manifests in extreme fatigue regardless of how much sleep I get and an urge to hermit.

My first best friend


But I also think you can weather a pile-up if you have/give yourself/make yourself things to look forward to. And here on this beautiful Sprummer day, the hummingbirds and orioles are back, our Little Town public pool is open and water-walking in the lazy river can commence, the garden is in, and the kids and grandkids are healthy and amazing. We have a sweet, wild puppy to train, and we also have some family & travel plans this summer. So I’ll double up on my B-12 and get back out there in the world. Just after a little nap…

Sprummer Chic

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Grief is like a South Dakota spring...

Spring walk with Yogi.

The river waking.

Grief is like a South Dakota spring: You’re outside, smelling all the green, green, green; the sun is shining; birds are happily twittering in the trees. It’s a goll-dern Disney cartoon out there, and any minute bunnies will hop out of the brush pile and start singing “Love is in the Air.” Then suddenly, while you’re standing there with that goofy grin on your face, a 45 mph gust of wind blows up the bluff and slaps you in the face with bone-chilling cold. And in case you’re still standing, the wind’s packing ice pellets.

Gooseberry bushes..approach with caution.

Grief is also like the ocean, which is a slightly tired metaphor until YOU live it. You’re standing there with your toes in the water, you finally feel like you can breathe deeply again, and wham…a huge wave comes barreling in and sweeps you into a giant hole (they’ve probably dug for a new gaudy tourist hotel). This happens less frequently as you learn where to stand, but it goes on indefinitely.

Yeah, it’s like that. Like the other day, I was in Walmart when I got a text saying “Lois [my mom], it’s time to refill your prescription for…” (I managed Mom’s meds for the past year or more). There I was in the toothpaste aisle, digging for Kleenex and pretending I had something in my eye.

Grief can be good, too. I think it helps cement memories. For example, a couple days ago I was organizing Mom’s closet when I came across a white wig. Suddenly, I was transported back to a Halloween prank many, many eons ago, when Mom and I dressed up as her then-husband and Irish bartender Mike, went to the hotel bar where he worked, sat at the bar, and ordered his usual drink. We each wore black dress pants, a white shirt with a pack of Lucky’s in the front pocket, a black tie, a white wig, and black glasses. Mike stood dumbfounded behind the bar, wearing the exact same outfit. Priceless. There I was in the closet, holding the wig and laughing my arse off.


Ray and I are moving slowly but steadily ahead here at the Row. For the first time, we’re intentionally navigating this dual retirement thing. I’ve been going through Mom’s stuff, making little boxes of mementos for all the grandkids. Ray started sorting out our basement freezers, got a bee in his bonnet, and we’ve been working on gooseberry syrup and jam for two days now. Ray’s playing drums with his long-time band pals for the Friday happy hour service at Our Lady of Little Town Cabernet watering hole every week, and he has a few other gigs coming up. I’ve done a couple of poetry readings and have been writing again. I’ll go to our annual Women Poets Collective manuscript workshop retreat and reading later this summer. We’re finding our way.

That dark stuff? That's gold (gooseberry jam).

Next week, though, I leave for my hometown Big City to visit my Dad, who’s in the hospital while he waits for a room at a hospice facility, because, as my granny always said, “There’s no rest for the wicked.” And one of the many lessons I’ve learned since the whole Covid/Mom/Retirement epoch started, is that if you’re waiting around for those “golden years,” or for that time when all the bumps will iron themselves out and life will be all cupcakes and Doritos from then on, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time. Like forever.

Mom was always sooooo serious.