Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In praise of Piper

This is Piper:

Piper at rest. Which is adorable. And deceiving. And I fall for the adorable quotient every single time, in love with her sweet mug.  Just to give you an idea, a photo essay of sorts detailing her beguiling cuteness:

Piper: the early days

Moxa deserves sainthood. Piper adores him. As we all should.

With cunning intellect, she has the unique penchant 
for sticking her head
through/between/under narrow spaces. It's a special talent.

She also possesses the gift of climbing into things
(i.e. a trashcan, or in this case an empty box) 
that require special talents to free herself. Special talents that she does not have.

Piper is all kinds of things, and she is nothing like our other two dogs, who basically live to be near us, and hang on our every intonation, every trip up and down the stairs, every room we enter and leave. Moxa is always in the same room as I am. Mia goes wherever there is a lap, but really, namely one lap belonging to Alex. Piper goes...somewhere...depending upon her whims, which are fleeting and have the added bonus of being completely out of left field. The drummer to which she marches has no rhyme, rhythm, or reason. And I'm not entirely convinced that there is a drummer, even.  I am convinced that she spends most of her waking hours trying to relocate her Mother Ship. She isn't what we would dub as "normal" (a good thing) and we wondered for a while whether she was deaf. Nope.  She's just in her own orbit, spinning happily through her carefree life with a casual regard for most things.  This is as vexing as it is endearing. 

Piper bounces through the house as cavalierly as a loose-limbed sailor; flopping on cushions, the rug, your face, your newly folded laundry, the coffee table even (case in point: this morning, when she did a flying leap onto the coffee table, stood in stunned stillness for a millisecond, lapped from my iced coffee, and kept cruising). She is as unaware of her surroundings as anyone could be. She soars full throttle through the cat door, only to find herself fabulously stuck in the process. I watched and laughed for a good few minutes as she barked at the dark basement on her end, her little corkscrew tail indignant and her back legs boinging up and down on mine. She skids around corners. She screeches to stops, sliding on rugs  and biting at the AIR (?!) like Aladdin on an acid trip.

She is nothing if not an adventure of mishaps. And she seems to be totally okay with that fact.  I respect her for it, even.

And though she frustrates me to no end, she is also one of my greatest sources of amusement.

Having a dog who licks the air as she makes her approach to licking you never gets old. And she is absolutely indiscriminate in this regard, assailing her humans, her canine compadres, the couch, the wall, the odd throw pillow, even the cat - with all the audible slopping sounds of a toddler diving into his/her first ice cream cone. Mia, ever so dainty and deliberate in her licks, is horrified when Piper assaults her out of nowhere with the force of a frog hurling its tongue out in an effort to ensnare its nearest snack.

There is absolutely nothing subtle about this dog.

If she's bored, she barks. Or jumps. Or pulls every single toy out of the toy bin.

If she's in pain, she whines like a wee banshee.

If she's frisky, she becomes a whirling dervish of chocolate brown and white, and she whirs around you until you are dizzy.  This happens at least three times a day - five, if you're lucky.

She hassles the other dogs, tugging at their ears, nipping their legs, coaxing them into a game of rough house. Sometimes I feel as though I have landed in the midst of a three-way wrestling match. There are no innocent bystanders when this happens. And for three very different dogs, their "pack" is cemented. They are loving, tolerant, and considerate of one another (Piper even waits for Mia before bounding outside in the morning). It's very warm and fuzzy.

She LOVES children, and will kiss them and wag at them, and want to melt into them with no visible signs of fatigue. This can go on for hours.  Children love her back. My niece calls her "Hyper" (an apt description), and carries her around like a rag doll, while Piper smiles away, limbs loose and trusting, her head cocked sideways looking up at something no one else can see (the Mother Ship perhaps?). She loves effortlessly - not at all earnestly, but with an enthusiastic blunt force that I kind of equate to a bear hug that goes on for too long.

The thing about Piper is that she loves us when she feels like it. It's completely spontaneous, her patterns are for the most part unpredictable, but the end result is always the same. She can chew my favorite sandals, demolish a thumb drive, rip holes in carpets, and leave her nose prints all over the glass door.  She can take the stuffing out of each and every toy and scatter it throughout the house, she can topple trashcans and eat the tissues, and she can ignore me with all the intellectual might of a maggot (though our trainer swears she is brilliant). She can curl up to my side, nuzzle my neck, and fall sound asleep in a nanosecond. She can bat me with her paw when she wants attention, and stare at me wide-eyed and alert, ready for whatever I have to give her. She can sit for treats, and bury her nose in my hair (as she is right now). And in all of these ways, she makes her own Piper-esque mark on our hearts.  Our house without her antics would seem somehow less alive.  Even Moxa and Mia agree:

Sunday, August 15, 2010


You have a million-watt smile, and very beautiful teeth.

Your eyes are exactly the color of seaglass, and sometimes they are green.  Other times, they turn blue. They almost always sparkle.

You have few outward fears.

You have the ability to speak your mind, and hold your ground.

Whenever there is a piano within a fifty foot radius, you are drawn to play it. In Vienna, a crowd of listeners cheered after you were finished. And the Viennese know a thing or two about music.

You brought me homemade apple strudel on our first date. Good move.

You don't like spicy food, or beans, or coconut milk, or ginger - all things I love. Somehow this doesn't get in our way.

You always give me the heart of your artichoke when we make them. You claim it is because you are full, but I know it is because you know how much I love them.

You always cut your juice with still or sparkling water, and you are right. It tastes better that way.

You have the ability to make people roar with laughter.

You are unafraid to try something new, or to make an adventure out of a mundane task.

You put music on for me when I cook.

You sleep very strange hours, and sometimes don't go to bed at all. As an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type, I don't get this.

Come to think of it, there are a number of things about you that remain utter mysteries.

And the same is true of me, like why I open the cereal box upside down. Or why I leave cabinets open.

You love to ask questions, even when you already have the answers.

You are frustrated with the state of the basement. I don't blame you.

You love animals. Animals love you. It's a win-win situation.

You notice everything about everyone. You are very observant, sometimes annoyingly so.

You are a perfectionist.  Sometimes this gets in your way; most of the time it means that our pictures are hung straight. Which they wouldn't be if I had the nail and the hammer.

You are fiercely loyal to your friends and family.

You sometimes sacrifice your time and happiness for them.

You worked your way into the heart of our ten year old nephew, who needed a male role model. And who loves you enormously.

You abhor the expression "Shut up." More people should - you're on to something with that one.

You can sit at your desk and work for, like, EVER. I can't stay still that long. I don't know how you do it.

You take the most beautiful photographs. We can be looking at the very same thing, two cameras pointing at it. My photo looks like my two year old nephew took it; yours looks like it should be on the cover of National Geographic.

You remind me to take my vitamins.

You are sensitive.

You are a much better vacuumer than I am.

Bless your soul, you are so very allergic to mosquito bites and poison ivy.

You are irreverent.

Sometimes you will walk by me, or check on me when I am sleeping and ruffle my hair.  It's very soothing. You can do that more often if you would like.

You always want me to try a bite of whatever you are eating.

You had an awkward phase in high school when you wore burgundy turtlenecks. I call it your Masterpiece Theatre years.

You are patently not "one of the guys" and don't enjoy competitive sports- I like this.

You brush your teeth for exactly two minutes. This cracks me up.

You really want me to learn how to scuba dive, but I might just like to stay a snorkler.

You walk with a little spring in your step - did you know this?

You are nothing if not a realist, though you seem to enjoy my flights of fancy and day-dreaming ways. Most of the time.

You remember my students, their stories, and their struggles.

You can take apart and put a computer back together. To me, this is magic.

You chaperone high school dances with me and after the dance is over, you always order a pizza to share at midnight.

You enjoy rituals.

You would happily eat whipped cream straight. I don't think I have ever met someone who loves whipped cream as much as you do.

You always want to help people. Always.

 You are particular.

You patiently follow me around in nurseries as I look at plants. For hours. And hours.

You are very left-brained but you have a right-brainedness about you too.

You switched out the fireplace so I could breathe more easily.

You put away the dishes that are too high for me to reach.

You always know where I am in a crowded room.

I know you are always thinking of me.

And I, of you.

Happy Anniversary, Alexander.  I adore sharing a life with you.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The fatted calf

"Chi troppo vuole, nulla stringe."

-He who wants too much doesn't catch anything"
-Italian proverb

For various reasons, I have an odd relationship with things and with want.

There are places in this world that feel like home to me, but I fear becoming attached to them.  This can be hard.

I have a lovely little bungalow with signs of age and need for improvement, and although we have done a number of minor changes to make it more habitable, I fear wanting too much. I find myself growing overly fond of my home, and feel as though I am jinxing myself.  What if something happens and I lose it?  What will I do?

Truth be told, I would probably cry for a little while, look for four-leaf clovers, gather my animals around me, and eat a sandwich.

I have art on the walls, books in my shelves, clothes in my closet, a competitively impressive amount of bubble bath, and I know that if I had to, I could leave it all behind, save a few things.  I know this because I have done so. And it wasn't hard. I can't even remember the treasures I summarily took leave of, and I have no desire to do so. There are things in my home - mostly memories saved: a four leaf clover, a special rock, a book from a dear friend's grandfather, a ribbon from Brazil, a stack of postcard love letters from my husband, a cherry pit, a letter from a deceased friend, my first book of poetry from my Gran that holds the memory of reading the poems with her - things that I would miss. They would fit in a medium-ish sized box.

Some have noted my detachment from things to be a curious part of my personality, given the fact that I do have a bit of a crush on shoes; others (my husband, bless his patient soul) have found it slightly frustrating in that I could probably take better care of some of the possessions I have...

...that cost money.

Which doesn't grow on trees.

Which is really the source of my frustration today. 

I work hard for what I have, but that isn't what drives me to work.  And what I have is more than enough.  It's actually quite a lot, compared to the rest of the world. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't wake up and feel lucky: a job I love, a husband I adore, animals that provide endless amusement and joie de vivre, and as I climb up on my soapbox (fair warning given), I am kind of sad that a long walk at sunset doesn't offer the same happiness to people as, say, a new lamp. How could a lamp possibly capture the same kind of light that a sunset does? This is bothering me.  It is bothering me on some level deep in my belly. Despite my hard work and money earned, it makes me want to throw all of my things out of the window in protest.

(One time, when I lived in an apartment a few years ago, the neighbor living above me had the unfortunate habit of throwing things out of her window.  She was on the frayed side of lunacy. She threw money out her windows, mostly quarters.  Jewelry. Clothing, including lots of socks. And also tuna fish, which stuck to my window.  I was bothered by her daily purgings mostly because I could hear her stomping to and from the window in the middle of the night. In clogs. It was kind of annoying and more than a little unsettling. But another part of me celebrated that she did this. Even in her frantic, delusional state, it must have felt awfully good. I collected all of her quarters -a useful commodity for doing laundry- and slipped money under her door for the exact amount. She promptly threw the money out of her living room window. I wrote her family a check for the amount when they came to move her out and into a hospital. It was never cashed. I have always felt guilty about this.)

I can't recall feeling envious of someone else for having "bigger, better, more" - the unofficial motto of the United States, where people are so used to their creature comforts that they refuse to entertain what it must be like to downsize. But now in this economy, people are.

I am all for it. Downsize away.  Most of us haven't lived with food rations, with being permanently displaced from homes and families and towns.  And as an historian, I think about these people who lived on a jar of Marmite and a loaf of bread that was intended to last a week.  I read stories of the fun they had, because they were not focused on what they didn't have.  And I read of people today being displaced and living in makeshift tents. And they don't feel sorry for themselves. They want to know where their loved ones are. That seems a legitimate wish.

All of this sort of came to some fever pitch to me today as I sit in my new office, which is GREEN. Which I love. I have a green office chair. And it is quite possibly the most comfortable thing ever. And a soft green throw for winter. And a really cool map of the world. I started thinking about how much I love my office, and then was reflecting on the color green and why I love it so. Green will always be here.  If I go blind, green will be something I can still have. Its ineffable greenness will go on.  As a child, I stumbled out of my bed in full sleep and leaned precariously over our balcony, asking my mother, "What is green?"  After explaining to me that it was a color (apparently not a satisfactory answer for a sleepwalking four-year-old), my mother said, "It's not a thing. It's everywhere." Or some such philosophical reasoning. This apparently satisfied me and I went back to sleep. This may be why I ADORE Noam Chomsky's oft-quoted "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."  Why, yes they do.

And that's pretty much the coolest thing about green, sunsets, animals, and other things - like double rainbows.  Hey, I've seen a few.  That YouTube guy had a reason to be totally psyched. He made meaning out of what to many, is meaningless. And I would argue that GREEN has more meaning to me than the green chair, the green vase, the green throw on my velvet couch..and so on...

The fatted calf was for homecomings, reunions, the prodigal son returneth...that sort of thing. It wasn't for every day life. Neither are double rainbows, for that matter - but for that we make no claims to own them. And if you don't want a double rainbow, you have a far better chance of catching one.