Saturday, August 29, 2009

Too busy to blog much this summer. . .

Here's a recap on the last month, when I've been too busy to do much blogging. Mostly pictures. (Note: click to enlarge - and I've just discovered it's MUCH easier to move pictures around if you use the "Edit Html" option than dragging them around in "Compose".)

The rest of my journey to Idaho at the beginning of the month was spectacular, starting with a lovely visit my brother R. and I had with my friends in Boise, where we always eat wonderful food and stay out late by their koi pond catching up with each others' families, jobs, travels, and thoughts.

They also introduced us to a hilarious British stand-up comedian, Eddie Izzard, by showing a video of a show done on a visit to the U.S. some years ago (in drag).

This kept us up until 3:00 or so, but we managed to get off on our drive through some of the most scenic parts of central Idaho the next morning,

. . . stopping in Stanley, a little touristy town, where a sudden cloudburst brought a scattering of hail, which our waitress (a student from south China) had never seen. She was very excited!

Spending a couple of days in Mackay, Idaho, where my family maintains a little vacation home bought by my grandparents, was a trip back into the 1960s, when I was a teenager. The furnishings are mostly the same, and there is even a stash of old magazines from the late 60s.

(Here's the view from the house, across the road to the Lost River Mountains.)

The end of my trip was a lovely evening soak in the pools at Lava Hot Springs with my sister, as the weather had cooled off enough to handle these naturally-heated pools (no sulphur smell). My mother's family grew up there in the Depression years.

The day after getting back to the Twin Cities, I picked up the younger of my young adult sons from his summer camp job.

Our dog Rufus had unexpectedly rallied a bit, which allowed B. time to visit and say goodbye. Then he was off to Chicago on the super-cheap Megabus to visit his good friends who had migrated down there this year for school.

At the end of that week, we picked B. up in Chicago on a very long day's road trip to Cincinnati. We faced heavy rain, heavy traffic, and interminable road construction, pulling into Cincinnati fairly late at night. Older son T. had arrived from New York by plane, but was stranded on the tarmac for a couple of hours due to heavy weather there, coming in five or six hours later than planned. Here's a shot of a downtown boulevard. Those are little red-hot peppers growing alongside the road among the flowers.

The wedding was lovely, and the spare belts and ties and shirts I had brought with me came in handy. My niece was lovely and seemed genuinely happy. Her two young nephews were ring-bearers - the youngest tyke fell asleep for the ceremony, so his cousin pushed him up and then down the aisle in a hastily borrowed stroller.

The wedding and reception were both held at the Newport Aquarium, across the river from Cincinnati. This was a brilliant choice, as we had the whole building to ourselves through the evening, for a wonderfully catered meal, dancing, and wandering around looking at fish.

Earlier in the day, we stopped at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, where my spouse P. spent a good chunk of time learning about the history of slavery in this country. Subsequently, we have both started reading more about this - I thought I was pretty aware, but the story is 250 years long and has many twists and turns, as the nation and its economy changed and grew. To say the history is shameful is just a beginning. To try to comprehend the ongoing cost is mind-boggling. It's heavy lifting even to read about it, but now that I know more, I feel compelled to do so.

We headed back on Sunday, again making the long drive in one day, but this time skirting the center of Chicago. The road construction was quiet, too, which allowed us to make steady progress through what would have taken hours more during the week. I kept alert by doing yoga stretches at rest stops - highly recommended! Must remember to do the same through the work day, when I get fairly oblivious to the results of hunching in a tense way over my computer screen.

I started teaching my fall evening (adjunct, moonlighting job) class last Wednesday: "The Spiritual Journey." For our first book, I'm once again introducing future accountants and nursing administrators and many other returning-to-school adults to the complex and baffling book I and Thou, by Martin Buber. I've created a study guide, but it's often tough going - but gives us a framework to talk about religious ideas outside any particular faith perspective. From there, we'll read The Sacred Pipe by Black Elk, Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hahn, and a choice of a more traditional spiritual classic (which includes work by Teresa of Avila, Juliana of Norwich, St. John of the Cross, etc.) We end up with SuperNatural Christians by Sallie McFague - another somewhat tough text for these mostly working adult students. It's fun to teach, but a lot of work on top of my day job in student services. It's a good thing I've corrected the vitamin D deficiency that my new doctor diagnosed last spring - I seem to have more energy these days than I did last year.

So - that's the busy August, which is rapidly plunging me into a busy September. Getting away for a couple of brief breaks made me feel that I had at least HAD a summer. I'll be posting when I can, and reading at least some of what you are all posting as I can. Here I go - VROOOM - into the early autumn!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It was inevitable, but hard . . .

Last Thursday, we took Rufus to the vet for the last time. It was inevitable, but hard, because he was not clearly dying, not suffering intolerably. He had gone three days without eating (which was a kind of benchmark I'd set earlier for deciding he was declining beyond pulling him back to a reasonable plateau) - but then had finally eaten the night before the scheduled appointment and was seeming somewhat more energetic. Still, he was wobbly enough to fall over if I tugged a bit on the leash.

He just plain wore out (he was over 15 years old) - kidneys shot, something growing in his sinus cavity that blocked his breathing, hearing and eyesight nearly shot, trembling and wobbly legs - it was getting harder and harder for him to brace himself to pee.

Then we were going to be gone for three days for my niece's wedding and had lined up a young man to care for Rufus, but the previous Monday when Nick came over to visit, Rufus seemed particularly ill, clearly not willing to eat, and quite weak. I thought leaving Rufus in Nick's care would be hard on both of them, and would likely just postpone the inevitable for a few more days.

And then the new school year was starting, and I couldn't imagine how we could continue to pour the time and energy into trying to get Rufus to eat that had consumed many hours of these late summer weeks. I couldn't come home in the middle of the day to let him out, and Peter would be traveling to Mankato to teach twice a week so unavailable those days.

Also, I had also vowed earlier to myself not to drag the inevitable out past the time that there was any reasonable quality of life left for Rufus.

But it was hard, because as weak and limited as he was, Rufus was still the same character he had always been, still interested in some of his favorite things (the sound and vibration of the vacuum cleaner - going into the car for a ride). Who were we to make this decision for him? (But how could we duck the responsibility for giving him a gentle end?)

And it was a gentle end, thankfully. I'm still torn with some regret and uncertainty around having had to decide, for playing the role of God in his life. Mostly I'm sad when we come home to an empty house.

A few weeks ago I wrote a longer story of Rufus's life with us which you will find here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A quiet day on vacation

(The view from my bedroom overlooking the driveway - as always, click to enlarge.)

I'm sitting in the cool lower-level family room of my parents' lovely home built on a hillside at the edge of Pocatello. Below the hill is the Portneuf River valley, a wide expanse build over millenia by the meandering small river that runs through town, faced on either side by land rising up into mountains, a branch of the Rockies. Through our childhood, my brothers roamed and got familiar with all this terrain while I lived in a world of books, mostly, though I also wandered a bit through the dry, sage-brush hills right beyond our block of houses (we lived close to Idaho State University in those days). Just after I left for college, my family (parents and younger brothers and sister) moved to Inkom, a small town just through "the gap" - a place where the mountains come closer together around the river and the interstate that goes through the valley - on the other side of the gap is a different micro-climate. While Pocatello sometimes sweltered in a smoggy haze, Inkom was always clear and fresh, though only 15 miles away.

This visit is going fast. Friday was spent traveling. Saturday visiting (and riding behind my biker brother* on the back of his Harley for a short trip). Sunday I attended the very small Quaker worship group in Pocatello, after checking with Judy Brutz that it was still going with (she's a midwestern Quaker who relocated to Pocatello to be close to her daughter and granddaughters). Then I accepted the invitation of Judy and David to have some tea and snacks in their home nearby, and ended up having a two-hour-long conversation about their worship group, Judy's writing projects, and my own circumstances. Late Sunday was another all-family dinner of hamburgers, eaten out on the patio, followed by root-beer floats (my dad's favorite). Monday - hmm - that was a lazier day, with the high point being lunch at a Mexican restaurant and a shopping trip to Costco. I also finished a re-reading of Harry Potter #5 rather later at night than was truly good for me.

(*"biker" when he isn't running his business)

Today, yoga in the living room, and then I finished up a complete back-up of my laptop, as my sister had a recent hard drive meltdown and hadn't backed things up. I also spent too much time yesterday and today trying to get through to my workplace files via the "VPN" software - virtual private network, I think it stands for. But the ISP settings of my parent's internet service aren't letting me get through. Darn!

So instead of doing job-related work (other than a stray e-mail or two), I went back and finished two long posts I had drafted earlier:

One is the history of Rufus written last June;

and one is a July 19 piece of reflections on feminist spirituality written in the wildflower garden (the blog piece is reflections on writing my dissertation - a discussion of William James and feminist spirituality - for anyone with hard-core interest, here's a corrected link for a downloadable copy of the dissertation bibliography).

I'm posting these in my new adjacent blog, More About Me (Than You Wanted to Know) - a place I can "park" pieces that are stand-alone or background stories, then link them for anyone interested.

Later today? I could finish reading The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, which I bought in a little used bookstore down in Pocatello on Sunday. Or - we might drive up to Lava Hot Springs, a lovely little town built around pools of non-sulphered natural hot springs. But the temperature is in the mid-90s, so the hot pools themselves aren't a real draw. We could take a walk along the volcanic rock hanging gardens, though, in the cool of the evening. A chance to take some more photos!

I've been taking many, many pictures with my little Nikon, getting better at using it, especially when I use the little flexible tripod that Peter bought me. Here's a sample of some of my favorites so far:

Sunday night - moon over the river valley nature preserve nearby

Monday morning(?) - looking north along the valley toward Pocatello

Monday morning - looking south toward the mountains

This morning - uphill from the house - another view of the mountain