Sunday, September 30, 2012

A New Leash on Life

    I don't typically write posts on Sunday nights.  But sometimes inspiration strikes.  I have chosen to heed it.  A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the loss of our precious pooch, Peregrin Took.  My grief is much diminished now, though a little emptiness still lingers in our home.  Now slightly distanced from the heart-stopping sense of loss that immediately follows death, I have been reflecting on what this experience has taught me.  Death is a harsh teacher, but a teacher nonetheless.  I don't mean to diminish or make light of the unimaginable grief of those of you who have lost spouses, children, parents, or anyone on two legs who was a major part of your life.  I realize that Pippin was just a dog. Nevertheless, he was part of my family and I loved him.  I believe we can learn from our trials whether they be large or small.  Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, the death of a dog is a rather insignificant trial.  But I have chosen to learn from the experience whatever it is that God is trying to teach me.  The main thing I have learned is actually a cliche.  It is something that has been spoken, sung, and turned into poetic verse so many times that it may seem trite.  The thing that I have learned is that life can be short and that  it is precious.  See- told you so.  Let the eye rolling commence, but perhaps, read my explanation when the eye rolling is complete.  This is something I already knew.  It has been taught to me in the form of long winded poems and twangy country songs since I can remember being able to understand the English language.  But, I have now begun to learn this truth for myself in a very real, concrete and painful way.  Truth is not truth until we discover it for ourselves.  Harriet Beecher Stowe wisely observed that, "The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone."  I know now the truth of those words because I have shed such bitter tears over the grave of a four legged friend.  When Pippin died, I grieved because he was gone.  I grieved because I would no longer see his furry black and white Ewok head pop up in the front window when I came home.  I grieved at my childrens' first taste of death.  But the bitterest tears I shed were tears of remorse.  How many times over the past two years did I resolve to walk Pippin more, to brush him every day, to let him sit on my lap more even though his breath smelled like a landfill?  How many times did I vow to be a better dog owner?  Then a week would pass.......soon a month would pass.  And I would rush madly about the business of life as Pippin sat alone in his kennel or chained up in the back yard.  The day he died, I shed a tear for every doggy biscuit I should have given him, for every morning I should have dragged myself out of bed to walk him, for every time I should have stroked his shaggy fur and told him he was a good boy. I was consumed by the grief of all I should have done and could now never do for my loyal friend.
     The thing is, I'm generally pretty good about letting people I love know that I care.  It is actually something that, until recently, I have hated about myself.  Let me explain.  Any of you who are long time followers of my blog probably realize by now that I am a sentimental, idealistic, hopeless romantic to the core.  In other words, I am the kind of person who would get chewed up, spit out and then stomped on by the critics, skeptics and realists of the world.  I still hand write a letter, a thank you note or a birthday card at least once a week for someone that I know.  You, see, I have this crazy notion that people like to feel loved and validated.  I try to help them feel that way.  Sadly, I have found that this does not make me cool, powerful or important.  Strange, but it has taken the death of a dog to help me realize that I don't really care to be any of these three.  These days, thanks to social networking and video sites, anyone and everyone can be famous for at least fifteen minutes.  Mediocrity is celebrated.  Idiocy wins people a guest slot on a talk show and an all expenses paid trip to a tropical island.  Mean-spirited and demeaning media is lavished with critical acclaim.  If these are the things that make people famous and important, well then, thanks but no thanks.  For most of my life it has been my dream to become a published writer.  And yet, I know that I don't have a thick enough skin to handle the repeated rejection and harsh criticism with which my attempts would undoubtedly be met.  But why do I care about becoming a published writer.  Is it perhaps, just maybe, because then I will feel important?  I have decided that I will henceforth write for the sheer joy it brings me and in the hopes that something I write may be of benefit to someone who actually loves and cares about me, and not in the hopes that I will one day turn out a cross-species adolescent sci-fi love story that will captivate readers worldwide.  If this happens someday, it will come as one of life's unexpected perks.  But I adamantly refuse to "grow a thicker skin" or to harden myself and become jaded.  With the sarcasm, skepticism and cynicism which the world is so rife with, perhaps a little fluffy oversentimentality is just what some people need to hear.
     I fear that sometimes we don't express our true feelings to those around us because we don't want to come off as "mushy".  Well, I say, bring on the mush!  I still have a little hollow in my heart carved by regret for words unspoken and deeds undone.  And that is over a dog!  How I would hate to experience that bitter regret over a person in my life.  Through losing Pippin, I have come to realize that my soft heart and sentimentality, while it may cause occasional eye rolling, and perhaps even brief bouts of nausea, is a good thing.  I resolve this day, to say "I love you" more, to express my gratitude more often to those who have made a difference in my life.  And I will start this very moment.  To all of my blog followers, thank you.  You have no idea what it means to me that there are people who support my writing and who perhaps even gain a little perspective from it.  It has helped me to start believing in myself for perhaps the first time in my life.  To my parents, who I know follow my blog: You have made me everything I am.  You have filled my life with cherished memories and taught me what it means to be a good person.  You have given me roots and wings and I can never thank you enough for your sacrifices.  I love you so very much.  To my sister, who I know also reads my blog:  You have been my best friend since I could walk.  You were my girlhood playmate, and as we've grown, even through the distance which has sometimes separated us, and the busyness of everyday life, I have always known that I could turn to you for anything.  That means the world.  To my Gram, who I know follows my blog, because she always remarks the day after reading a post, how much she loved it:  Thank you for your unwavering support, for being hands down the coolest grandma who has ever lived and for providing me with life experiences I will never forget.  Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me and for always believing in me.  To my uncle Doug:  You have been one of the biggest supporters of my writing since I began this blog.  You are always there for my children's birthdays and for other important events in my life.  Thank you for all of your support and for the laughs.:)  To Kate:  You define the word friend and you are really more like family.  Your unfailing love and support give me strength, and your example is a beacon of hope to me every day.  To Sweelin: You also define the word friend for me.  You are someone who I know will always be in my life.  Thank you for your friendship, love and loyalty.  You are one of those rare people with whom I can completely be myself.  To Jo Jo, Amy , Carlie and Katie: I am so blessed to have married into a family and gained four new sisters.  I know you always have my back and I hope you know I always have yours.  We have already shared so many life experiences, both joyful and tragic.  I look forward to a lifetime of more and I pray that they will only bring us closer together.  To Cathi and Craig:  Thank you for always giving me way too much credit and for giving me your son!  You are my second parents.  Your love and support mean the world to me.  To grandma K:  Thanks for being an example of service and of seeing the good in others.  I admire the way you view life and appreciate the way you view me!  And to Dirk:  Words are not enough.  You are my rock and my safe haven.  You are my survival.  You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.  You are my best friend and I will love you forever.  To my children, who may someday read this:  Thank you for filling my life with meaning, purpose and joy.  I live and breathe for you and I love you in a way I could never explain.   To anyone else reading this whom I may have left out......thank you.  I love you.
     Now, here's the thing. If I died tomorrow, Heaven forbid, at least those closest to me would know how I felt.  I am not now going to announce that I have been diagnosed with brain cancer and have one month to live.  But life can be taken from any one of us at any moment.  In the past few years, many people I love have been reminded of that awful truth through losses far more cruel than the death of a dog.  I  am certain that throughout my life I will feel the suffocating blow of death time and again.  I will mourn.  I will grieve.  But I hope that I will never again shed bitter tears because I let pride get in the way of letting someone know what they meant to me.  When we let fear and pride consume us, we die a slow death every day.  I resolve to fill my life with more hope, more love and gratitude.  If that equates to more foolish sentimentalitly, then so be it.  Bring on the mush!  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sew What?

     I think I may have been abducted by aliens a few weeks ago.  This would explain why I haven't had a thought in my head to write for weeks now.  It would also explain why I suddenly felt an otherwise inexplicable urge to try my hand at sewing.  I have a friend who is an expert seamstress.  She sews all of her daughter's church dresses and they all end up looking like something one would pay $40 for at some trendy boutique.  She also sews skirts for herself which are always cute and flattering.  She made my daughter not one, but three adorable skirts for her birthday.  When Morgan and her best friend, who happens to be my sewing wizard friend's daughter, wore the matching pink ruffled skirts my friend had made to church, every single mom who saw them asked me where we had bought the skirts.  So, you get the picture.  My friend makes really really cute dresses and skirts.  I once tried to sew a pair of pajama pants for a church project when I was in high school.  About three minutes into my attempt, I was forcefully removed from the sewing machine by my instructor, who thoroughly examined the machine to see what damage I may have caused, removed the yard of stuck fabric, and instructed me to keep a good ten foot distance from both her and the machine as she finished making the pants herself.  I vowed I would never touch a sewing machine again.  About a week ago I broke that vow and renewed it all in one day.
     A little over a month ago, I expressed to my friend an interest in learning how to make skirts ( I am pretty sure the aliens had already started working on me by this point).  I suppose it wasn't so much that I actually wanted to learn how to sew as it was that I was sick and tired of shopping for a cute skirt and returning empty handed.  Trends these days are not kind to a mother of three.  What woman, besides Heidi Klum, who has had more than one child, is going to look good in a low rise, 4 inch long denim mini skirt?  Certainly not me!  So, I decided to stop being frustrated and to start being proactive instead.  If I couldn't find a skirt that didn't make me look like Lindsay Lohan after her latest DUI, I would make one.  After a somewhat less descriptive tirade to my friend, she agreed to accompany me to the fabric store.  As soon as we walked in I was dizzy.  Never had I beheld so many different colors, patterns and textures in one room.  I immediately gravitated toward the home fabric section where I proceeded to plan my entire future living and dining rooms around two to die for drapery fabrics.  My friend gently reminded me that I was nowhere near ready to build my dream house and that we were there to find cheap fabric for a couple of skirts.  As we walked through rows and rows of paisleys, plaids and polka dots in every pattern and palette plausible, I began to ponder possibilities.  There were light, playful florals perfect for a summer look and warm rich plaids for fall and winter.  There were silks, cottons, polys, wool blends.  This was a shopaholic's dream!  Somehow, out of the piles and piles of fabric, I was able to decide on two:  a stretchy poly blend tri-colored fabric that would be fun as a long late summer-fall skirt (sort of an earthy tie-die look), and a black and white sort of hounds tooth which would look dashing as a knee-length fall-winter skirt. I walked away with the materials for two skirts and spent only about $10.00.  I was beginning to see the beauty in this whole sewing your own clothes business.
     I must sadly report that my beautiful delusion came crashing down about a month later when it came time to sew the fabric.  Upon arriving at my friend's house, the first thing I saw was a giant square marked with lines and numbers covering the whole surface of the kitchen table.  In general, I try to stay away from anything involving straight lines and/or numbers.  Resting on top of the giant square ruler, was a pair of scissors.  I had thought this would all be done by machine.  And now I was finding out I had to cut something by hand, something which I was then supposed to public.  My history with cutting is not great.  Dirk can always tell when I was the last one to cut the cheese (no......not because of the lingering smell......get your mind out of the toilet) because the once square block looks more like a triangle.  I am very glad that wrapped gifts are meant expressly for the purpose of unwrapping.  If the recipient of my gifts were to look too closely at the wrapping job they would likely think that I had hired Edward Scissor Hands as my in house gift wrapper.  Yet, here I sat, Mrs. crooked cheese, Scissor Hand wrapper, preparing to cut into fabric which was intended for a piece of clothing.  My friend pulled out a straight edge.  I breathed a sigh of relief and began cutting, very slowly, as she held the straight edge.  "This might not be so bad", I began to think after the fabric was cut.  That's when she pulled out the serger.  She began weaving thread into an intricate pattern and hooking it onto little metal hooks.  When she had created a web of thread which would have impressed Charlotte herself, she set the fabric on the machine and told me to start serging.  She instructed me to push the pedal moderately, so the machine wouldn't go too slow nor too fast......just like driving, she said.  I think my friend must have forgotten how I drive.  The fabric began flying through the machine.  "Stop!", yelled my friend.  The machine was no longer even catching the fabric.  And thus began our sewing adventure.  I could make a very long story of it, but I value my dear reader's time far too much for that.  Suffice it to say, two hours later, I had a skirt as well as a splitting headache and a renewed determination to become a better bargain shopper.  The next day at the bus stop, my friend presented me with a Morgan sized skirt made out of the left over fabric from mine.  I am certain it took her ten minutes to make.  That Sunday at church, Morgan and I wore our matching skirts.  I assured everyone that my friend had made the skirt.  She assured everyone that I had.  I think after our skirt debacle, my friend was forever done giving sewing lessons.
     We all have our talents.  There are days when I am at a complete loss as to what mine may be.  But, we all have something we can do fairly efficiently and in a way that makes others take note.  Sewing is not among my talents.  Baking bread that is to be eaten and not used as a door stop is not among my talents.  Luckily, I happen to count shopping as one of my talents.  I am very adept at purchasing a nice fresh loaf of Wonder Bread from the store.  My favorite little black dress was a $7.00 find from a Target clearance rack.  I have worn it to funerals, weddings, church and showers.  I get by just fine despite my domestic ineptitude.  And yet, for years I have raked myself over the coals for not being domestic enough.  Don't all good moms sew, scrapbook and bake from scratch?  I know some excellent mothers who do those things.  My friend is one.  Do good mothers occasionally heat up a frozen pizza for dinner and have their kid's photos backed up online just waiting to be put into digital scrapbooks?  Do good mothers forget pajama day at school because they didn't mark it on their calendar?  Do good mothers feed their children sugared cereal and pop-tarts for breakfast?  If those mothers also read to their children every night, hug them plenty of times every day and serve up that frozen pizza with a smile and a listening ear, then, I think so.  Today, I am going to do myself a favor, and so should you.  Whether you are a mother or not, stop beating yourself up!  A week ago I renewed my vow to abstain from sewing.  Today I make another vow: A vow to celebrate small successes, a vow to realize my own talents, as well as my own limits. Motherhood and life are both hard enough.  Let's not make them even harder by trying to be someone we're not.  Today will be the first day of my recovery program as a self-doubter.  Hi.  My name is Shannon.  I don't sew.  I hardly bake.  I despise scrap booking.  And I'm a good mom.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Dog Days are Over

     Today the world lost it's most mischievous Zuchon.  I was sitting at a lovely backyard baby shower when Dirk called me with the news.  Pippin, after one of his regular great escapes from our backyard fence, had been hit by a car.  Thanks to the Lord's tender mercies, Dirk had a friend over at the time.  His friend was able to stay with our children while Dirk drove Pip to the vet.  By the time they arrived there, he couldn't feel much.  Later, when I returned to pick up Pippin's poor broken body and bring him home, the vet informed me that Pippin had died about three minutes after Dirk left.  He didn't suffer long.  I had to tell him goodbye.  I had debated whether to let the vet dispose of him or whether to bring him home and give him a proper burial.  As I looked at him lying there still in the bottom of a newspapered metal crate, I knew I had to bring Peregrin Took home.  The vet found a box.  We brought Pippin home.  We buried him in his bed along with his leash and a few favorite toys, in the corner of the backyard where he loved to spend lazy summer afternoons.  We put a stump over where he lay as a sort of headstone.  I tried to compose myself for the kid's sake as we each said a few words in memoriam.  You may find it odd that I have spent half the day sobbing over the loss of a dog who more often than not drove me crazy.  It's amazing how you can love someone who is a constant nuisance.  But I did.  I loved that stupid mutt.  I threatened to kill him myself on an almost daily basis. But I loved him.  The death of a pet is a strange thing.  When a person we love dies, we would never dream of stuffing them in a cardboard box and burying them in a shallow grave with little more than a few short words of memoriam and no obituary.  I feel terrible that I wasn't there in Pippin's last few moments.  I would have stayed with that rat of a dog until the very end.  To the woman who was stroking Pippin with tears streaming down her face when Dirk found him, thank you.  I don't know who you are.  I know you are not the one who hit him.  But thank you for making some of his last few moments here as comfortable as they could have been.  And to Pippin; I'm so sorry I wasn't there.  I'm so sorry I never fixed that bloody fence.  And I'm sorry I didn't appreciate you more while you were here.  I love you.  I think you deserve a more dignified death.  I can't change the way you died, but I can honor your life by telling my readers what a dog you were.  Peregrin Took, this one's for you:

In Memorium:Peregrin Took Stanger  August 2nd, 2010- September 8th, 2012

     Peregrin Took Stanger, known to those who loved him as "Pippin", passed away due to internal bleeding on the morning of September 8, 2012.  Pippin was born on the 2nd of August, 2010, and was taken in by the Stanger family a short time later.  As a puppy, Pippin spent his days napping by his then expectant mother, Shannon, and causing all sorts of puppy mischief.  Pippin excelled at Puppy kindergarten where he gave even the biggest and noblest breeds a run for their Kibble.  As he grew, he became slightly more mischievous, but he always loved his family fiercely.  He was a protector and playmate of Morgan, Hyrum and Ryan.  He also acted many times as Morgan's rag doll, the arch nemesis to Hyrum's Spiderman, and Ryan's pull toy.  He loved to sit for hours atop his favorite perch on top of the leather couch and gaze out the window.  He enjoyed going for long walks.  Whenever he managed to escape the confines of the Stanger yard, which was quite often, he loved to visit his friends around the neighborhood.  He also enjoyed lengthy conversations with the dogs across the fence.  Pippin was always there when anyone was having a bad day, with a wag of his tail and a lick of his pink rough tongue.  He loved Greenies and any table scraps he could get his paws on.  He had a zest for life, which was often made manifest by his complete lack of respect for authority figures or adherence to the rules.  Above all, Peregrin Took was a fiercely loyal friend who loved his family and would have done anything to keep them safe and happy.  He is survived by his brother Clarky, his parents, Shannon and Dirk and his siblings, Morgan, Hyrum and Ryan.  Memorial services have been held, but condolences are welcome.

     Pippin, I am sorry I wasn't there with you in your last painful moments.  I am sorry I was never as loyal to you as you were to me.  Thank you for always being there for me when I needed you, and for bringing so many joyful memories to our family.  i would gladly clean up doggy pee from my throw pillows every day if it would bring you back.  I hope you are happy and among friends, in a place with wide open fields, no cars, and no fences.  Goodbye, Pip.  We love you.  We'll be seeing you again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


     Last Saturday I cleaned my house from top to bottom.  I dusted, mopped, scrubbed, vacuumed and scoured until everything was sparkling.  Some people may say that cleaning is overrated or that it is a waste of time, but I love the feeling of relaxing in a clean, orderly, lovely smelling (courtesy of my Scentsy) home.  It has been four days since I cleaned, and I sit here amazed that everything is still relatively unsullied and fairly organized.  The windows sparkle as the mid afternoon light streams through them onto the sleek Pergo floor.  The mirror above the piano is as clear as, well, glass.  Books sit in neat stacks under the coffee table and the leather couches still retain a trace of lemon scented polish.  Two mason jars containing dead insects rest on the middle of the counter.  Piano music is put away.  The hamper has no laundry overflowing from it's top.  Beds are made and toys are put away.  Even the refrigerator magnets are tastefully (as tasteful as refrigerator magnets can be) arranged and equally spaced...........oh, what's that you say?  Did the jars of dead insects on the counter seem out of place to you in my description of domestic bliss?  Well, let me tell you, they seem out of place to me too!  My idea of a clean and comfortable home is one that is not only dust free, but also bug free.  I am not a bug person.  As I don't know many people who would consider themselves "bug people", I will expound.  When I come across a creepy crawler, the register of my voice goes up a good two octaves and my feet become springs as I bounce around the bug in a frenzied manner.  Most people can kill spiders with little difficulty.  Now, I realize that spiders are not insects.  But, while we are on the subject of creepy crawly things, I must mention the creepiest and crawliest of them all.  I have no problem holding live snakes.  I think mice are cute.  But, lock me in a room with a spider, and there's no telling which one of us would come out of there alive.  On the few occasions when I have had to kill spiders on my own, the process has taken a good twenty minutes and has involved much screaming, flailing of arms and perhaps a few inadvertent obscenities.  By the time I pick the dead abomination up with a handful of no less than twenty tissues, I have exerted as much physical and emotional energy as most people would exert trying to fight off a lion.  Spiders are my nemesis.  I can't say I'm much fonder of insects.  I have been known to defy gravity to remove myself from the path of an overzealous grasshopper.  And moths send me into a fit of hand batting, head shaking, arm flailing hysterics.
     About two weeks ago, my daughter brought a note home from school informing me that she would need to complete a bug collection containing at least 10 bugs, which would be due the 21st of this month.  I stared at the paper for a good five minutes.  I called Dirk and informed him that he would be helping Morgan collect 10 bugs for a collection which would be due on the 21st.  He seemed fine with the idea and even said it would be easy after the collection of 100+ bugs he had had to come up with in high school.  I knew I wouldn't be able to catch any of the bugs, but I figured I could at least start doing some Google research on different methods of capturing, preserving and displaying insects.  In my research, I discovered that the two easiest ways to kill insects are, 1) to put them in a jar, close the lid and stick the jar in the freezer, or 2)to put them in a jar with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol and asphyxiate them.  As much as I hate bugs, I have trouble with the idea of killing any creature using either of these methods.  I eat vegetarian three to four days a week and have considered becoming a full time vegetarian because I so dislike the idea of innocent animals dying.  It's a shame they taste so delicious when marinated and cooked, or when dipped in batter and fried to crispy golden brown perfection. Alright, enough with the tangent.  Back to the battle of the bothersome bugs.  The freezing method can apparently take a few weeks, as the poor disgusting critter slowly slips into a permanent unconsciousness and then returns to the fiery abyss from whence it undoubtedly came.  Even bugs should have a more dignified death than that.  My second problem with the freezing method is that I really do not relish the thought of reaching into my freezer for a pint of Ben and Jerry's and instead pulling out a jar of Praying Mantis a la mode.  I actually had a Praying Mantis in my freezer for a few days.  Shortly after assigning Dirk to assist Morgan with her bug collection, I also recruited my father.  My parents live in the foothills near open fields, which teem with quite a variety of critters, including Praying Mantis. I decided this would be an impressive specimen to add to the collection and assigned my dad the special task of procuring one.  I felt bad asking him to do this, as I don't think he relished the idea of killing a Mantis any more than I do.  While killing a Mantis is not quite killing a mockingbird, I still think there has to be some type of bad karma that comes from killing the Ghandi of insects.  But my dad, who is always willing to lend a hand, no matter how unsavory the required favor, presented me with a pint sized jar when we came to their house for a Labor Day picnic.  In the bottom of the jar was a smallish brown female Praying Mantis.  As I gazed at her, I was overcome with a mix of awe and revulsion.  The poor emaciated creature looked like she had indeed been praying; sending her last desperate plea to God as she folded her gangly buggy legs in what looked like a mark of reverence.  Her huge orb like eyes were vacant, but I still somehow felt she was looking at me.......plotting her revenge.  I watched the bug jar nervously as we drove home.  It rested on the floor by my foot.  I just knew at any moment that Dirk would brake too hard........sending the jar into the air and then.........down would come mason jar, mantis and all.  The second she was free of the confines of her glass prison, I was sure she would go right for my jugular  (even Ghandi may have gotten a little ticked if he had been trapped in a glass jar by menacing giants).  Thankfully, the ride home was free of insect incident.  When we got inside, Dirk set the jar on the counter.  As I entered the kitchen a while later to get the kids some water for bedtime, I glanced at it.  I saw a twitch, then another......Ghandi was still alive!!!!  I knew it!  She had been waiting until she was firmly planted in enemy territory to make her move.  I screamed.  Dirk dashed in, briefly assessed the situation, rolled his eyes, and put the jar in the freezer.  I went to bed half terrified and half bemused, trying to come up with lyrics to a spoof song which would be entitled, "It's just another mantis Monday."
     The next day, Dirk caught a small black beetle he found crawling across our living room floor.  I heard the sound of a lid being removed from a jar and began to panic......."WHY is he letting the mantis out?!", I thought.  That's when he entered holding aloft the beetle jar.  He doused a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol, threw it in the jar and closed the lid.  The beetle was on it's back and it's legs were wriggling as fast as buggy legs can go.  In my mind it was writhing in pain.  I had to look away.  I will have to recruit Dirk's help again when it comes time to pin the poor creepers to a display board.  I had a hard time even reading about sticking a pin through the thorax while trying to avoid cracking the delicate exoskeleton.  Now, I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking I am going to end this post with some sentimental gibberish about the unappealing things we do for the love of our children.  Not so. I am wondering which religion is opposed to killing any living creature and which  I can join for exactly one year when Hyrum reaches third grade.