“Before I built a wall…”

Hi! It’s me, again. Sarah.

There’s been a lot going on at our house lately. Mom says some of it’s my fault, which doesn’t seem to be a thing that gets me more treats.

I think it started about three weeks ago, though I’m better with clocks than calendars.

Mom went out to run a fast errand, which usually means she comes home with food.

Luther and Phoebe and I stayed home with one of our favorite aunties who was helping mom with some stuff that needed to get done.

Luther and Phoebe were in the house. According to Mom, I was being stubborn–whatever that is–and wanted to stay outside.

It’s started to be Fall here!

As the story goes, right after Mom left I got out of the gate.

I’ve done that a couple of times before, though I’m never quite sure how it works.

It seems like I just want something really badly and I’m on the other side, though nobody can quite figure out how. I just go to the driveway and wait for something exciting to happen!

Anyway, one thing led to another and our friend Greg came as soon as he could to fix the gate.

Fixing made lots of noise.

Something called sawing and some more stuff called drilling. We all had to stay inside for a long time.

I wanted to help. Mom said I could help most by staying inside.

Sometimes she’s no fun!

Anyway, the gate is “fixed”. I can’t see through it anymore and it doesn’t move when I push. Also, it smells like new wood.

Mom seems more relaxed now and we get to play outside for longer times.

Yesterday it was really pretty out and we all sat on the deck. Mom was reading to us.

Something called a poem.

It seemed to be about fences, but also a little about me, even though it was written by somebody I never knew called Robert Frost, a long time ago.

“Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.”
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…”

Mom says fences are often hard but that this one was an easy choice for us.

There’s a big road right behind our house with lots of traffic and Mom seems really sure it’s dangerous.

There’s a smaller road out front but there are rules and one of the rules is that dogs have to be on leads and I never had my lead on back when I used to get out of the gate.

I can’t get out any more.

Somehow, though, I think I can’t get out anymore because Mom loves us, which feels different than the poem she read.

Today, Luther and I chased squirrels and Phoebe rolled on her back in the grass which she likes to do a lot.

Then Mom called us in and gave us all our favorite treats.

She seems to like it when we do what she asks us to do.

(Though, apparently, I’m supposed to try harder!)

Mom writes poems, too. Not usually about fences.

I’m not sure if this is a poem but it might be. I tried hard.

Love, Sarah

Just tell the stories…now!

You know how two things that are familiar, separately, can suddenly appear totally different when they wind up close together? Especially if you add in an unexpected wild card, or two?

This is what my world feels like just now.

It has a lot to do with stories.

Yesterday, a friend told me that she was spending hours and hours a day worrying about the current occupant of the Oval Office. What, she asked, did she do about that?

Please be clear that the answer was not mine. It came from the uber-wise Dr.Clarissa Pinkola Estes, whose book, Untie the Strong Woman, I’m reading at the moment, inspired by my Pilgrimage into the mythos of the Black Madonnas.

Because of this book, I who have five college degrees, am beginning to learn some crucial things about world history that I somehow managed to escape thus far.

The one that feels most important to me in this moment is that this is not the first time the world has been here. We have a long history of power-hungry dictator-types trying to secure their positions through fear.

It has never been fun. It has often been effective.

Knowing that, we have other choices.

One of those choices is telling the stories of liberation.

I have some friends who are working hard to do just that.

Our book, Breathing Words, is coming out in September. It’s an anthology. A collection of words by a community of writers. Many of them, stories of overcoming oppression and tragedy, lifetimes in the making, and utterly of the moment.

We’re all busy learning new things. Formatting. Websites. Pinterest. Perhaps even Twitter. Meme making. (See above. Thanks, friends!) Being a writer is complicated in our world. And yet, we have stories to tell.


According to author and teacher, Natalie Goldberg, “To write is to continue the human lineage” (The True Secret of Writing, p. 3). The oral traditions count, too!

Then, this morning, a wild card.

We’re still adapting to the blessing of three dogs rather than two.

Recently, Sarah and Luther have developed a new dynamic. Sarah, as she is fond of doing, stares out the front window.

Luther barks his head off, in these days, even when there’s nothing to bark about.

I devoutly wish he’d shut up.

Suddenly, this morning, in the midst of all these perceptions rumbling in me…a new thought.

But, on the way, a hint from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, “Write what’s in front of your face”.

Here’s mine… Three minutes. Go.

Luther has eye problems. He can’t see out the window. He can see Sarah, looking out the window. And he assumes that there is something to worry about. So he worries. And barks. Loudly.

It’s a lot like watching the news, especially these days.

The garbage collectors come two times a week. The recycling folks, yet another. The UPS drivers, a whole lot more often than that. It’s the way our world works in this time, no matter how much we might think barking will help.

Politicians worry about polls. And self-image. They look for scary things to distract us from the hunger for power and self-interest. It doesn’t help, any more than barking does.

What will help is hope. Our hope. And the certainty that we will not always be where we are.

Also, paint. And stories.


Keep up with the news on our anthology project by liking Breathing Words on Facebook. We’d appreciate it!






A Trip to Another World

Deep in the winter of 1989, I went with a group of seminary students and one of our professors to visit the far away land of Hungary.

It was just before the old Eastern block fell. Free falling into a world of communist customs agents and Russian tanks thundering through what were once farmers’ fields beside the road.

It was cold. It was dark. It was so very, very different. (Which was, after all, the point.)

Alternative Context. A program designed to get wanna-be preachers outside the familiar worlds where they grew up and into the lives of those who seemed other.

Food was quite an issue.

Red pickled cabbage, the only vegetable we encountered.

Coffee so dark and thick it didn’t require a cup.

Something that resembled liquid peanut brittle for breakfast.

A fabulous bowl of fish soup on the shores of Lake Balanton. If you didn’t mind picking out the eyeballs.

And the infamous “pig jell-o” all gray and jiggly on a platter, full of suspicious chunks, at a village luncheon.

So much I didn’t understand, long before my days of local, seasonal food.

And so much I’ve learned.

We’re having a similar learning experience at our house.

The resident herd of Newfies are going species appropriate real food.

Controversial, perhaps, in some circles. The next logical thing in our world.

They have orthopedic and digestive and allergy problems I haven’t been able to solve so far. Problems that limit their lives.

We’re starting with turkey and, while we have some skill development to work on, it looks like they’re pretty thrilled.

My fears are disappearing.

There was the whole (perceived) germ thing, after years as an O.R. nurse. (Which is way more me than what they’re eating!)

And the hunting and gathering thing which I’m doing lots of myself, still complicated a bit by that recent fall.

Quantities. Timing. Keeping them from mugging each other for a chicken foot.

I started out anxious. And hopeful. And pretending to be confident!

Which is exactly how I’ve felt about every big change in my life.

My local farmer friends are thrilled.

Bill’s stocking up on dishwasher soap.

The ironic thing is that I’m feeding our dogs essentially what we eat. Clean, local, seasonal food.

Sources I trust.

Support for farmers I know.

The beasties might be feeling like they woke up in Hungary for a while. And there’s the whole thing about shifting to one meal a day!  Adjusting to that may take a bit.

I’m hoping they’ll be glad to learn new things. I’m still learning from that trip to Hungary.

And grateful now, more than ever.

Life is for learning!






Kind of an odd week…

Hi! It’s me, Sarah. I’ve been practicing blogging for a while now.

Today, Mom said she needed my help.

She fell down about a week ago. There was a lot of noise. Some of it was crying. Things have been kind of odd since then.

Sitting down still seems to hurt a lot. She goes in the bedroom, in the middle of the day, and lays on her side so it doesn’t feel so bad.

She also does this new thing when we need water. She puts the water in a big cup, holds onto the freezer door and tips over on one foot to get the water in our bowl without spilling too much.

It seems to help a lot if we all sit while she does it!

Mom still loves us, though. And I think she needs us.

I decided to be the nurse. I’m not sure what other nurses do, but I lay in Dad’s bathtub and listen in case she needs me. (It’s also cool in there!)

She’s been doing the thing called reading a lot. Apparently it’s hard to type lying down.

We still do the usual things.

Everybody gets food. And love. Mom says she’s going to be fine but it seems we’re not roasting chickens right now. Something about the oven being too close to the floor. Phoebe and Luther and I are kind of sad about that. Roast chicken smells really good.

We also have people we can help. Mom says there are lots of ways to help.

She does helping on the phone.

One of our friends got her foot hurt.

Dad hunted around in the place called the basement until he found some crutches we could lend.

Mom stood in the driveway with a package of first aid supplies and gave hugs.

I’m not sure what first aid supplies are, but apparently they have something to do with the thing called healthcare. I think we have enough for right now and some people don’t have so much, which makes Mom sad.

Luther and I tried really hard not to knock the fan over while we watched out the window. It almost worked!

Mom says there are lots of things people could learn from Newfoundlands like us. We’re good at helping.

I think, some days, we even help Mom help.

I’m also pretty sure you don’t have to be a Newfoundland to help people wherever you are.

Maybe you just have to believe in love.

You can do that in the bathtub, too!

PS…Dad made the breakfast room better today. Mom gave advice. We stayed out of the way. Mostly.




Three Tiny Words

The miracle is happening just in this moment! All three of the big, hairy beasties are busy blanketing the worn hardwood floors and snoring gently at my feet. The light in the garden is clear and sparkly. The weeds, after their morning encounter with absolutely organic, heavy-duty vinegar spray, are passing on to a place that will very shortly be known as compost. Peace reigns and it’s great!

Of course, it isn’t always that way. Especially since our latest Newfoundland rescue dog joined the family. We’ve all had lots of learning to do!

Luther arrived just four and a half months ago from a traumatic and developmentally limiting situation with, shall we say, a lot of baggage. Despite the love and care of some awesome foster parents in the couple of weeks before he joined us, when he went through yet another transition to our home he didn’t understand cuddles, or even petting. He didn’t understand treats. He didn’t understand house!

The thing that struck me most, though, was that he had only two options for communication.

The first was to absolutely melt into the floor and try to disappear in the face of anything he perceived as frightening. And everything was frightening at first.

Friends thought he was well-behaved. Actually, he was terrified and experiencing what psychiatrists might refer to as dissociative states.

I cried a lot in those first weeks. And believed, with every fiber of my being, that he would learn to feel safe, perhaps for the first time..

Luther’s second strategy for communication was to bark. Sharply. Loudly. Insistently.

He had no working vocabulary. No mellow Newfie sense of the word, “Wait.” No certainty that I would appear because I always did. And so he barked.

It reminded me of when Dave was new and I was still learning the different baby cries.

There were days when I wanted to run away from home. (Then and now.)

In time, the days decreased but the moments lingered. It seemed that as he melted less often into the floor, he barked all the more incessantly.

And, more often than I would like to admit, I barked back… usually when he was way ready to get out of his crate after meals and I was otherwise engaged.

“Wait just a #@%* minute!”

“Shut the %!*& up!”

Well, you get the point. Not my finest moments. And not at all effective.

Then, one day, I had a thought. Or, rather, one of those magical, mental connections when two things that are true in very distant corners of your brain suddenly discover each other.

Inspired mostly, I think, by the amazing author and teacher, SARK, who helps wannabe writers and real people deal with the voices of their inner critics,  I discovered a new plan.

The next time Luther barked in that particular demanding, nails on the chalkboard tone, I responded, “I hear you.”

Three tiny words.

The energy of our encounter totally shifted.

I felt better.

I could hear the difference in my tone.

And, since changing me was a whole lot more in my control than changing him, I persisted.

You want out of your crate after dinner and you want out immediately, despite the fact that I am, just this moment, in the bathroom.

“I hear you.”

You want to go out NOW, despite the fact that I am in my chair, buried under a laptop, a journal, 62 index cards, a phone and at least two pens.

“I hear you.”

It’s hard to describe the miracle of these three tiny words.

Admittedly, Luther still wants what he wants, when he wants it.

So do I.

We’re working hard, though, on this whole safe and heard thing.

Luther’s working on his communication skills. He’s gotten the hang of enthusiastic tail wagging.

Nudging my hand for a head rub is a new favorite.

And, if you look really closely at his recent portrait, he’s even mastered my Mom’s infamous one eyebrow up, “What are you thinking?” move.

Oh, there are still vocabulary issues.

We’re still working on the notion that “Come” means now and not when he’s in the mood.

“Stay” may take a good while longer.

Not ready for “Down” yet.

We’ve gotten really good at saving dog hair for our weaving auntie.

One of these days, perhaps, we’ll get the hang of face washing!

One of these days.

It’s a wonder, when you think about it, that any of us can communicate at all. I’m beginning to suspect that it really is all about energy and creating reality.

What we can do with three tiny words!




It’s Been a Day!

Today has been a bit crazy.

Last night the house bears and I fell asleep in my studio space, West Wing saving the world on Netflix.

Someone, who shall remain nameless, had to pee about 5:00 am. I put them all out, turned out a bunch of lights, checked all the locks, and we all headed to bed.

That lasted about an hour and a half, when a different someone started pacing.

All out again. A cup of hot water with lemon for me. Back to my chair.

Several choruses of, “No, it’s not breakfast time, yet.” Morning meditation conveniently delivered with help from my phone. Birds singing the sun up in the background. Another brief nap.

Sarah off to the dog spa for her summer style update.

Walks. Fast brunch for me. (Which would turn out to have been a good choice on timing!)

A lesson for Luther. His first away from home. Phoebe helped!

The faucet at our kitchen sink staged a sudden walkout. One minute I was happily filling the water dish, for about the 4th time this morning. The next minute, no water.

No warning. No leaking. No funny noises. No quaking construction noises from the big road behind the house.

I did the obvious thing and went to see if there was water elsewhere.

There was.

More perplexing. (And more than a bit frustrating.) Then, the light came on. Or, rather, didn’t.

You see, this faucet was a recent replacement after the one I loved died about six months ago. New-fangled and fancy, more commercial-esque  than actual commercial, but reportedly sturdy. Making a choice was more about urgent, at that point, than important. In-stock. Complete with a sensor that turned it on or off with one touch of a forearm, rather than, you know, smearing raw chicken all over the handle.

Appealing to a former surgical nurse.

But today, in the space of about half an hour, the sensor light went out. And the water did not run.

Fast text to the wizard guy who built our deck. Several texts to Bill who is not, at the moment, local.

BTW, my neck is not amused at the moment, and there’s no way I could get under there and try to fix it myself.

While I was cruising Amazon, pondering a replacement, I noticed a twitchy sort of feeling. Mentally, that is. And then, from my objective observer position (Think owl in a tree. You have one, too!) I noticed something else. I was twitchy but coping. Breathing, even. Deeply.

Suddenly, I really felt, for the first time, the wisdom of meditation which has, historically, been something of a challenge for me.

I believe it works. I’ve just had trouble getting it to work in my world.

Noise. Distractions. Too small a house. Really big dogs.

No time or space.

Recently, I’ve been showing up and sitting more often. Daily, even. (Well, mostly.) A way of coping, I suspect, with lots of learning and change.

The faucet doesn’t work yet.

I still have to deal with the air conditioner repair guy AGAIN tomorrow, for like the fourth time in three weeks.

More to learn. Blogs to write… you get the drift.

And then I knew. From the inside, rather than the outside!

Meditation is not about keeping everything calm and quiet so we can sit on the floor (read that “chair”) and breathe.

Meditation is about being able to breathe even when everything is not all calm and quiet.

Which, when you think about it, is pretty awesome. And useful.

You can start right now, with three slow breaths, as deep as you find comfortable. Those three breaths start sending signals to your brain to relax. Reminders that the sky is not actually falling in this exact moment.

At which point, you might just decide to ask the handy-wizard guy for some advice tomorrow and buy a new faucet then. (One, I suspect, without a battery!)

And, maybe, you decide three more breaths would be good. And teaching the strategy of three deep breaths to your grandkids and any other kids you know would be even better.

Then, if this makes sense to you, you might just want to check out Meditation 2.0 The Miracle of Awakening with Craig Hamilton. There’s an online event this weekend. Jean Houston says it will be fabulous. I’m excited!

Until then, keep breathing!

Grandmothers Are In Charge Of Hope



Things That Are Better!

Hi! It’s me, again. Luther. I asked Mom if I could tell you some new things I’m learning and she said I could, so here goes!

I’m not too sure I like bicycles. One snuck up on me while I was out walking the other day and I wanted to leave. Fast.

Of course, I couldn’t. It has something to do with the thing called a lead. There’s always somebody who loves me holding on to the other end, telling me they think it’s all ok.

Just between us, there are a lot of things in the world that I think are pretty scary.

And some that don’t feel quite so scary anymore.

The other day, a new Auntie I’d heard lots about, but hadn’t met before, came to visit. Her name is Kate. She and Mom talked about me a lot. Not in a bad way.

They talked about Sarah and Phoebe, too, but I didn’t pay so much attention to that! I guess we’re all connected.

What I think they said was that there are some more things I need to learn. There was something about balance-whatever that is-and not wanting to push me beyond what I’m ready for and not wanting to hold me back from all the great stuff in life.

Apparently it’s a lot like those cool people puppies everybody gets so excited about! Mom seems to know lots about them! (The tall ones, too.)

I could tell by their voices that they both love me. And they made a long list of things that are better for me than they were before.

I can ride in the car now.

The other day, I survived when the top, noisy part of the thing called a salad spinner leaped out of the dish drainer and crashed on the floor about four feet from me.

Mom said it was ok and brought it to me to sniff.

I know it was ok because I’m still here!

Mom told me how brave I was and then went back to washing dishes. I went back to sleep.

I actually like being brushed now. I used to think a brush was just another thing to use for hitting dogs.

Nobody here hits and the brush feels really good, especially when I’m itchy.

Mom and Auntie Kate needed some of that fluffy stuff called Kleenex (which I’m not supposed to eat) when they were talking about my old life. Then they decided that the best thing for me is to help me stretch a little bit at a time and cheer me on.

My Auntie Alli says things like that, too.

They also said some stuff about insisting that Sarah sits, which I don’t think she’ll like so much, so she doesn’t think she’s in charge.

And they said Phoebe is not as sweet and innocent as she looks, but I’m not sure what that means.

Auntie Kate says she feels a lot like Mom does, with the people puppies at her house. I guess everybody needs what they need and a lot of that seems to be about things called comfort and confidence.

IMG_1187I’m glad I don’t have to figure all of that out. I’m still trying to learn to sit!

And I’m still not sure about bicycles. I do know that it helps to have somebody close by who believes you can do the new stuff. I have even more Aunties who help with that!

Mom says maybe I can help people by believing for them. Apparently that’s an important job!

Right now, I think it’s nap time. Blogging is hard, but I like telling my stories. Who knew?

Love, Luther