Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Flocking with My Sister Janice

Please enjoy with me the email my sister Janice sent after reading the post "A Joyful Sound." Apparently the birds are bringing blessings all around New England!

(Janice is somewhat new to cycling, having taken it up a few months back to compete in her first triathlon.)

Laura and I were doing one of our "last rides of the season" today. We were on Pleasant St, going north toward the high school, delirious with the beautiful weather. I heard loud, wild, bird songs from a tree to my left. I knew it was the Starlings that (probably) had visited with you earlier this week. They are not strangers to our backyard either, but appear infrequently. They are medium sized, black, and travel in great flocks. They were occupying a couple of trees along our route, saying hello to us while on their trip south. We were homeward bound, having done a strenuous but thrilling ride in the glorious weather. I gave thanks for the visit of the Starlings and, more importantly, my discovery this year of the many rewards of biking outdoors. The day was full of autumn smells and sights, but winter was being held back in the 60+ degree weather. The sun was getting low (it was after 4:30 PM) and creating vibrant colors all around us, just adding to our many delights. When we got back to my house, Peter remarked that we both smelled of fall, and indeed, small pieces of leaves were clinging to our leggings.

"Oh Lord, I do fear, you made the world too beautiful this year............." It's been a recurring thought this summer when I've been biking. (Not bad for a Chemistry major).

Getting to Know You

The quickest way to get to know someone is to know their dog. I would love to feature the dogs of any of you who would like to share. I plan to feature one guest "dog" every other day or so.

So if you'd like to give your pal some cyber-play, here's the interview questions. Please send them to me at, along with a picture of your dog (and you, if you'd like) and your website, if you have one.

(Catlovers, we'll do you later...maybe if I get through a week without BadCat swiping me.)

Here are the questions.

1. What's your dog's name, breed, and age?
2. Where did you get him/her?
3. What is the weirdest/sweetest/most annoying thing they've ever done? (You can answer all three.)
4. How does their companionship enrich your spiritual life?
5. How does their companionship enrich your everyday (or writing) life ?
6. Is there something about your dog that you'd like to brag about? Or that we just wouldn't believe?

Looking forward to getting to know you and your puppies a little better.

TOMORROW: Meet Angela Hunt's "puppies." If you haven't already, you're in for a big, BIG surprise. The picture above is Angie's dog, Babe. That should tell you all you need to know about what's coming!

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Joyful Sound

I went out on my front porch this morning, resolved to be more consistent in my devotions. I sat in the sun, pulled my jacket tight because the frost was still on the grass, and then grimaced because the forester was in the woods, his chain saw bzzzt-ing and his bulldozer roaring. I tried to focus, reminding myself not my woods, trying to believe not my life, but yours Lord.

And then something amazing happened. A flock of birds landed in the trees on the corner of my many and so raucous that I couldn't hear the buzz of the chainsaw. They were smallish birds, black as far as I could see, with a song only a half-step away from a cackle. But it didn't matter because they were loud and joyful and they filled the trees so that the leaves crackled in tune with their song.

I tried to make out what they were but the sun was in my eyes. I didn't need to see because the power of Creation asserted itself in music far more powerful than my own little devotion or the forester's saw. BadCat came running and cowered behind me...even in her evil ways, she recognized a power she couldn't scratch or bite.

As if to multiply the blessing, the flock came down from the trees and spread themselves out before me on my front lawn. Nondescript black birds, maybe smaller than robins, with a high-pitched tweet tweet. Singly, I wouldn't have noticed them but as a flock...a body, perhaps one could say...they formed a joyous congregation. Surely they're migrating and hence the stop to pick through my grass for a little nourishment. I love that they are fulfilling God's plan for them, and doing it with a roar!

They're gone now but their song does my smile.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Old Dog, New Tricks

Friday was a tough day for Tasha. As cheered as she was about 2 Red Sox victories, she woke up very shaky. Hunched and off-balance, she looked her age.

When she's shaky like this (which is seldom), we find it helps to force her to walk. There's a condition in geriatric canines involving the inner ear that can throw their balance off. Being a hysterical sort, if Tasha feels uncertain on her feet, she tends to cower. So I chucked a couple of dog biscuits in my pocket and lured her down the driveway. She lurched after me, looking shaky the whole way.

Uh-oh, I thought. Maybe this is the beginning of that final decline.

She had a nap and then I took her into the woods. She was limping and hunched so I just walked way ahead of her, not trying to get her to keep up. I took the usual right turn to the stream, thinking I'd get to my favorite patch of woods, turn around, and get back to the main path before she even made it to the turn.

I'm coming back when I see her run by the turn-off. Run, mind you. I yell but of course, she can't hear me. So I had to run after her until I'm close enough so she can hear me screaming at her. She turns around, ears perked as if to say, "Hey, there you are!"

The thing was...on Thursday we had gone straight, instead of taking the turn for the stream. We do this once in every fifty or so trips. Tasha astounded me by supplanting habit with the unusual and seldom-trodden.

Yesterday was what Tasha thought would be a happy day because we had a houseful of people. To her consternation, there were no kids. No kids meant no food dropped. Finally, I took pity on her and gave her a plate of scraps for supper. Though we still had guests, I needed to walk her immediately after because...well, this is what you do with an old dog if you don't want accidents. I grabbed another chunk of sausage bread as a lure, excused myself, and went into the woods...showing her the treat so she'd follow.

Our usual habit is, she gets the treat partway up the path, and then continues after me. (One never knows what might be in my pocket!) So I dropped the sausage bread and kept walking. I turned around to see her gulp the bread and then practically piroutte in mid-air so she could race back to the house.

It amazes me how Tasha broke two deeply-ingrained habits to go after something she thought to be better. In the case of not turning down the path to the stream, going the way less trod is always more fun. And racing back to the party was the smart thing to do because there was still the hope of someone dropping food!

It amazes me how I don't break deeply-ingrained habits, even when I know something is better. I'm doing radio interviews right now to promote VANISHED. One of my talking points is that a Christian prepares for possible disaster by walking closely with Christ. Daily. I know that in glorious theory and I've had more robust devotionals in the past but right now, it's hard to break out of the habits that have arisen to reduce my devotional time.

Continuing on this path is a dumb thing. Like Tasha, I should look for opportunities to race towards something better.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No Pictures Called For

So I'm watching the World Series game last night. Boston has a commanding lead and Josh Beckett is close to untouchable. Steve's already gone to bed, secure in victory, and I'm thinking I'll do the same. I'd only slept 2 hours the night before because of pain. I'm yawning, watching one last out...

...and I heard the clitter-clatter of Tasha's paws on the kitchen floor. I'm still yawning, thinking I'll give her a dog biscuit on my way up to bed. And there's more tick-tock of claws, meaning she's wandering...

...meaning she needs to go to the bathroom.

I hop up, run to the kitchen and euwwwwwwww.

There's is nothing worse than cleaning up dog diarrhea, especially when it's in the hall, the kitchen, and my carpeted office. Except maybe doing it at 11:30 at night with a bad arm. Dear me!

Why didn't she just go to the door and scratch? Maybe because, in her deafness, she didn't realize I was still downstairs? Is that why she went from room to room, leaving a mess?

This begs another in-your-face spiritual analogy. God is in heaven, Christ is in us, and yet I admit that I wander around as if I don't have this glorious promise, this remedy for my sin. Sprinkling (or smearing) my sin here and there, not able to find the door and ask to be let out...or really, to ask God in.

Last night I used bleach to wash the stains away. I had to get on my hands and knees to do a good part of it.

God provides a different remedy, an eternal one, a wash-and-rinse cycle that won't ever fade or discolor. I need to be on my hands and knees to receive the best part of it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No Words Needed

Monday, October 22, 2007

Cranky, Cranky

Marj and I are teaching a Sunday School class on the book of Daniel. Yesterday we dug into the 4th chapter, in which Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a magnificent, all-sufficient tree that is cut and shorn, left as a stump. The holy messenger tells Nebuchadnezzar that, because he had not humbled himself before the God of heaven, he would be reduced to the mind and status of an animal for a time.

Our class discussion centered around how we think we direct our own paths, and what a shock it is to be derailed. I had the obvious example of being slammed to the floor of the Dallas Fort-Worth airport, my physical path home disrupted but also my physical well-being. I also chatted about the work of the forester. Nice analogies.

The forester is annoying me today. Rather than going deep in the woods to cut trees, he's working on the other side of our stone walls, cutting the big logs. Loud, loud, loud! So loud, in fact, that even Tasha can hear him. (She's annoyed, too. Even Sultana is annoyed but what else is new?)

It's such a stunningly beautiful day but I can't sit out there because it's all bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt.

Cranky me. I'm so used to being alone with Tasha all day, the woods silent, the house silent, the world my own, that I also leave God out of the equation. Like Nebuchadnezzar, I stand and think, "What a wonderful world I've made through the splendor of my hands."

Given that I have no desire to be eating grass tonight, I am off right now to praise God for His splendor.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Evil Among Us

I've always been a cat person. We had three cats live into their teens, despite being outdoor cats in coyote country. Tasha was their protector. More than once, I saw her drive coyotes out of the yard and away from our beloved but world-class stupid cat, Frisco.

Martha and Frisco died from old age in their mid-teens. Keyser died at 12, lost to coyotes the week we thought Tasha was dying. What looked like strokes turned out to be a geriatric inner-ear disturbance. With her out of commission (at the spry age of 14), we lost Keyser.

So we got a gray kitten. Sleek and sweet, we named her Sultana. She was my baby until she got she's the bane of our existence. This is a cat so evil that we had to teach my grandson to call her Bad Cat so he'd learn to keep away from her. I warn visitors not to touch her but she's so beautiful, she lures them in and then she attacks...claws and teeth.

Tasha loved our other cats. She slept with them, hunted mice with them (yes, she learned to mouse!), bathed them, cared for them. She would love to do the same with Sullie but this cat is so evil, Tasha goes the other way whenever she's around.

When I was hospitalized in Dallas, Marj came over to take Tasha out and do some laundry. She folded a towel and immediately, Sullie got on it. That is the nature of possess what you have last touched. When I had the three cats, it got comical to see them trying to all sit on my business papers or my jacket.

Thinking it inappropriate that Sullie sit on clean laundry, Marj decided to move her. She tried a 'shoo' but Sullie swiped at her. So she tried to lure her away with a squiggling string. Nope. Finally she needed to use another towel to push her away. Evil cat.

Tasha has suffered at her claws. Finally, contrary to fifteen years of cat-lovin', she's started to snap back. It's a weird sight, to see both of them frozen with fangs bared, waiting for the other one to move. In the picture I took yesterday, Sullie tried to get lovin' from Tasha but clearly, Tasha would not trust her. She didn't dare move but no way would she offer kisses to this evil cat.

The worst thing Sullie does is to hide on the dining room chairs when she knows Tasha is at the back slider. We let Tasha in and, if we don't know the evil cat is lurking, Sullie leaps on her, all claws and teeth.

Sultana is the embodiment of 1 Peter 5: 8--"Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."

So beautiful a cat...and so dangerous.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ticked Off

I woke up this morning with a sore neck. I rubbed it, found a deer tick the size of a pencil-point sitting atop a grape-sized lump.

We've had a quiet year tick-wise, likely because it's been so dry. Despite spotting Tasha and Sullie (the evil cat), normally we're picking blood-swelled ticks off the animals' bedding--or stepping on the stupid things and splattering blood. Not so this summer. With the continuing dry weather, I thought we'd dodged the bullet.

Now this. I started antibiotics and pondered why now? Steve theorizes their reappearance is a result of the forester's work. He's been plowing over brush and felling trees, maybe driving the ticks toward the untouched land, such as what's left of the path Tasha and I walk.

And we won't stop walking. No way. This afternoon I pulled on my Wellington boots (normally reserved for downpours or high snow) and marched back out, confident the rubber footwear would keep the ticks from climbing up my pants.

Remember that pile of poop in the path, that I couldn't clear because of my one-handedness? I gleefully kicked dirt over it, then kicked it into the brush. What a feeling of power, to clear the path with three good kicks.

Interesting sequence of events. The forester cuts and plows, stirring up ticks. I pull on the boots as a defensive act, only to find I can use them "offensively" to keep my path clear.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Poop in the Path

Dogs will eat almost anything. Marj once unloaded Maddie from the car after a walk only to find that Maddie had brought home a rotten rat corpse with her. Marj can comment on how long it took her to get the smell out of her car!

Our first dog, Barney, was a purebred black Lab. He wouldn't eat raw chicken or beef if we offered it to him but if something had been decaying for weeks and weeks, he thought it was a delicacy. One winter Steve caught him gnawing on a frozen squirrel corpse. Being a well-bred hunting dog (in the genetic, not the etiquette sense), he invariably tracked down the corpse, no matter how far Steve flung it away.

Even burying it couldn't rid us of Barney's disgustingly odious 'chew' toy. Finally I poked a hole in the ice and shoved it into the pond. A few days later, the kids and I were out skating when I noticed Barney poking at the ice. Sure enough, he had gnawed/dug his way through and was hauling the squirrel out for another round of lab-lovin'!

Tasha isn't quite as persistent, though I've shared previously how it's a very bad sign when she leaves the path. This means she's scented something disgusting in the brush and is off to dine on it.

Sometimes it's just too easy for her, like yesterday. Sitting right in the middle of the path was a huge pile of horse manure. Usually I take a big stick and sweep it off the path (so I don't have to keep stepping around it) but I just wasn't inclined. Sure enough, Tasha came lumbering along behind me, stopped, and opened her mouth to dine.

"NO!" I yelled with violent disgust.

Even a couple years ago, she would have grabbed a mouthful and dashed away where she could eat in peace. But she just gave me a mournful look and walked around the clump.

On the way back, she was ahead of me on the path. That's her usual strategy for getting away with something she knows is wrong. I was about to holler and scream (she's almost stone-deaf...I've got to be ridiculous about it) when I saw her sidestep the horse poop and just keep going.

Wow, I thought. If only I could learn to obey my Master's voice so quickly.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Standing in the Light

Tasha and I were just out for our morning sojourn. It's a chilly, brilliant day in the New Hampshire woods. The sky is so blue, it almost hurts. The trees are turning gold but have a ways to go yet. What a joy, to know that autumn majesty is still to come.

I keep a chair out in the woods, folded up and leaning against a tree. I've often done bible study or even some writing out there. My plan today was to sit in the sun and pray for a few minutes, absorbing creation in its October glory. But the path where I keep my chair was all in chilly shade (the sun comes in the afternoon). With my injured arm, I didn't feel like dragging the chair a hundred feet down the path. I walked on, Tasha trailing me, until I came to a big patch of sunlight. I simply stood there, prayed a little but mostly abiding in the light and warmth.

I looked down, saw Tasha standing with me.

And isn't that the blessing of a dog?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Art, Life, and Dogs

Vanished is now out. As a responsible author, I guess I need to mention that. Just as I must confess what to me seems a deficiency--there's no dog in the book.

In my mind, that leaves a hole in the story. That Tasha has brought me companionship and yes--challenges--is reflected in my art. Dogs and kids are a big part of my life, and thus, a big part of many of my stories. My favorite canine (more technically, lupine) appearance is in Outriders, where Niki's wolf actually has his own point-of-view. She had a long, painful journey and it only seemed right to give her a companion and guardian. Haven't I been graced with the same?

I'm working on book 2 of the Vanished series, called Darkening because it takes place at night. I have teens and little girls in my character set, so that part of my world is satisfied. It seems to me a dog would be natural in the environment of the story, and a comfort to characters who are cut off from the outside world and plunged into a terrible darkness.

The question is--do I write a cuddly dog who provides licks and comic relief, or a sturdy dog who stands watch against a terrible unknown? Maybe I'll create some beast far more fierce than Niki's wolf but just as loyal.

Sigh. The joy of dogs and the wonder of art.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

If The Walker Falls?

Thank you, Elsi. Yes, something was wrong.

I was traveling and had a terrible accident at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. I fell, shattered my shoulder, and had emergency surgery. I'm home now, recovering nicely, and trying to get back into the swing of things. My writer's group gave me voice recognition software which is a big help. Having lost the use of my left arm temporarily, I'm always reminded that we take things for granted until they aren't there anymore.

What were so grateful for is that, with Steve flying out on little notice, we have great friends who came over and took care of Tasha. As a very old dog, she has her challenges andRick, Marj, and and Beth stepped in without hesitation.

It's wonderful to be back home and back in the woods. The forester has been hard at work, and yet I don't feel that much is missing. I will have the sunlight this winter in the woods and so have a place to pause and to think and to listen and to pray.

That's not easy for me now. With my left arm immobile, I walk outside with a cane because I fear falling. Surely that's a direct analogy to the Holy Spirit. And the lesson for me is that I too often walk out without that support.

It's raining today, but I'll put on my boots and slog with Tasha in the mud. She likes the rain. It invigorates her. From inside my home, the woods look dreary. It's only through experience that I know that once I get out there, I'll be rewarded with a sense of peace. And yes, the little challenge of dealing with the rain will energize me as well.

A couple weeks back, I was heading for the plane in Dallas on my own steam, and with my own plans in mind. I got stopped... hard... but I wouldn't dare say it was the hand of God. All I know now is that, I need that cane to keep steady.

But maybe that's not a bad thing, if it keeps me from racing away from God.