Sunday, February 28, 2010

The sun came up upon the left...

We've had some sunny days this winter, but the difference in those days and this one is that those days were still cold. The sun might be brilliant, the sky pure blue, but it just lit up the snow and the white clear expanse of the frozen lake. But today I could feel the sun...and I'd forgotten what that is like. It's no snowstorm, but it's not so bad.

The front yard snow melted all the way off the walkway, and there is green grass under there. I found my wonderful red mitten with the knitted daisies on the wrist. It had been missing for a month, and I'm glad to find it again. Especially because now, perhaps, it will be too warm for the professional-looking ski gloves and mittens Joe bought me before he left. (He was right; in this weather, ridiculously expensive gloves are well worth their cost!)

Or maybe not. They keep telling me, with woe in their voices and weariness in their eyes, that a blizzard could still come, all the way up until Easter. At Easter, they say, with full-body sighs and a slump in their souls, we have The Mud.

I believe it about The Mud. I'm getting a horrible, black, mushy glimpse of it on this warm day. I've bathed Niki twice and Tula once. The white carpet is next. But the mud is fine, I suppose, because it comes with the sun, the ocean-colored sky, the birds I hear on our morning walk downtown.

Do I love these things of spring? Maybe not as much as I love ice and snow. But there is something to be said for them, especially when they start bursting into bloom. I can't imagine that right now, and I'm glad. That's one of the things I hoped to experience in a long North Country winter: The feeling that it would never be spring again, a longing for light and warmth. I don't long, but I think I will be pleasantly shocked to discover that flowers grow and leaves jingle and water moves.

What I do long for, on this weird warm day, is my husband. I miss him so much it takes my breath away. I feel lucky for it. And it makes me sympathize with my neighbors who wish for the sun like I wish for him.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Big, Fat Snow!

I can't write long because I must go outside! I am walking to the post office to mail a package to my husband, and I'm so excited! The snow is coming down fast, but the exciting part is that some of the snow is big CLUMPS of flakes...not even just big flakes. FINALLY something I've never seen before in snow!

I know the snow is dangerous for some people, and I'm sorry for them. Here, it's fun. The news is sorry for upstate New York, but I'm so grateful to be here where it's still full-force winter...or should I say full force winter at last? For this winter hasn't seemed particularly long, or cold, or dramatic to me yet...I hope it starts being all of those things today!

(But you know me...I have to complain about something: I wish it was doing this on a day when it would close school!)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Through the drifts the snowy cliffs did send a dismal sheen

I LOVE a good dismal sheen on the cliffs of Black River Bay, and ladies and gentlemen...and Daddy...we are getting one! Because guess what: IT'S SNOWING!!!

Thick and fast it comes at last, and more and more and more!

They tell me it will continue through tomorrow. Let's pray it does. I love it so much I can't stand it! The dogs and I walked downtown, and the big brick Presbyterian Church and the little white library beside it were dramatic through the snow. The orange streetlights and the little white ones on the gazebo at the river and the lit-up windows of houses with lace curtains looked like illustrations from books my father read during the winters of my childhood. The big red house at the end of our block had its pellet stove going, and the whole street smells like Christmas.

I wish I had red bows for the dog's collars and one of my grandma's heavy quilts with the World War II wool blankets in the center. She was a crochet artist, not a quilter, so hers were just big squares of material from old dresses and work shirts, stitched together for warmth, not beauty. If I had one now, I'd wrap up in it on the couch and call the dogs over to sit on either side of me. I'd read Joseph Mitchell's New York essays and drink Earl Grey and look at the snow falling on the skylight.

I don't, though. But I have a big red and blue quilt made by my Army friend, Michelle, for another birthday. She is a quilt artist, so it's lovely. I'll wrap up in it, then, and hold the dogs and read about the city until I can't stand it anymore and have to put my gnome boots back on to go walking up and down our road with my crooked-toothed companions in the snow, the snow, the snow!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My Grandma, and Snow, and Lent

I was born in a record snowfall for Oklahoma. My parents weren't sure they'd make it to the hospital, but the ambulance had four-wheel drive and the helmsman steered us through. Thus was I born officially an Okie from Muskogee. And then I was taken back through the snow to our little house on the hill in Adair County. Sometimes my father and I run into that ambulance driver, and he remembers that I was the little baby who was born in the blizzard.

My grandmother wanted to name me after the snow, but nobody would let her. Even when I couldn't speak, she knew my heart and what I would like best. She always did, all her life, sometimes I think, even before I was thought about. We were alike in many ways. I loved many things about her but also her snow-colored hair and her skin the color of cream. Everything she had was white: Her Bible, her galoshes, the hammer she used to crack open walnuts, her gloves, which had rabbit fur inside them. She often wore pearls. She had the most gracious smile, and when I think of her, I see she would lean it in on the person with whom she was speaking, as if that person was always on the verge of delighting her. Yet these things aren't even the surface of how I loved her.

But for the moment, I think of her because she wanted to name me after snow, my favorite weather, so I only tell you that part, and that she was the color of snow in every way.

She knew that snow is not even a weather; it is a state of being, one that was rare for me until I came here, and now it comes every few days and never quite melts all the way. I was thinking this morning as I walked the dogs through the slush that I am ungrateful for how constant it is. In Oklahoma or Italy or especially Mississippi, I would dream of snow that lasted longer than a week. That's all I asked for. Now I have snow that lasts for months, but I complain that it's not deep enough, that it melts in between, that it's not constant enough. I ask for too much.

My grandmother once built a snow-woman. It was her same height and had her hourglass figure. She ignored dishes, housework, all kinds of things, in order to stand out there and build her. Then she cut a line up the side of an old dress so she could put it on her. There is a picture of the two of them in the yard that sunny, cold day. People stopped by the house to comment on the snow-woman. Grandma talked about her every time it snowed after that, but she never built another one. That one memory was plenty, I guess. I hope so.

I don't know why I keep thinking about her. This entry was supposed to be about the fact that we FINALLY may have snow again -- big snow, but not lake-effect snow. I wished for it so hard on my birthday, and we got some last night and today. I hope we have so much more tonight, so much we can't get out of our houses, so much I must build a fire, so much my small dogs disappear when they jump off the porch. And so it is about that, what I want more of, I guess -- snow, and my grandma, who was its same color and who I loved more than winter, and who has been in Heaven now for many years.

In my rambly way, I come to how this all relates to Lent, I guess: That Lent is wanting desperately what it seems like you can't have -- a miracle, or a person or time that is gone, or for things to change or stay the same when ultimately, nothing ever does either one. The desire is Lent, but Easter is the hope of Heaven, when all those people will come wading across the river carrying daffodils and calling your name and saying, "Come with us! It's snowing over here!" At least, that's what they'll say to me. Lent is remembering that Easter will come, and Life is remembering that Death will, and Winter is remembering that Spring will. The first Easter was better than anyone could have imagined, like spring always is, like I'm sure death will be (as Walt Whitman said, and he's generally right).

And so I shouldn't hurry Lent or try to hold onto winter or waste my precious life. Everything comes in its time, and I'll always have plenty.

Still, I'm no saint, and I hope it snows so much I can't see out the windows in the morning, and that my life is long, and that people have to hunt Easter eggs in the snow this year.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me!

I love having a birthday at the end of February! So often, it means I get snow! This year I'm in the North Country where the snow is supposed to fall until Easter...and it wasn't even that cold today! But you want to hear something weird?

When Joe deploys, I like to have one of those block calendars with days that you tear off. I would NEVER wish time to move faster than it does, even during a deployment, but I do like having something interesting to look at every morning and an indication that he's made it through whole months. This deployment, I have a Mary Engelbreit calendar. I know she's not COOL, but I like a lot of her illustrations. Today, mysteriously, the illustration says, "Happy Birthday To You!" and has a picture of a girl holding a cake! Isn't that neat? Are y'all SURE I'm not God's favorite?

I had to work like the dickens (me and my students are collecting phrases like that at the moment) today...and when I wasn't actually teaching, I had meetings! Joe tried to call from Afghanistan and I couldn't take the call! I can't STAND that!! I hope he gets to try again! It's not as bad as when he had to wait for phones on other deployments; this time he has his own. I did text with him a bit...which is weird. I'm used to deployments with five-minute calls and questionable e-mail service!

I didn't get to do much special today, but I had a nice time. My students tried valiantly to perform what I asked of them, even though it was difficult. My co-workers gave me funny cards and birthday wishes. For dinner I had good bread with brie and grape tomatoes followed by Hagen Daaz Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream (my favorite!). I had many packages and birthday cards saved up, and I opened those too. I'm no good at sending cards and presents, and these were all so thoughtful that I felt both happy and guilty!

I took the dogs walking downtown in the slush, and since then, we have been drying out on the couch wrapped in blankets, watching Canada beat Germany in Olympic hockey. Niki is such a quiet little dog that earlier I forgot we had him and he startled me coming around the side of the couch! He's warm and sweet, and Tula seems to be adjusting. Their dog walker (I know, I know) said she thinks he'll be good for her. I hope so.

So now I am 35. And I live in New York, have a brave and good husband, write some things that get published, have my first book to review, and will be teaching World Literature in the fall. I'm very lucky.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Dog Woes

The new dog, Nikolas Almanzo, Niki for short, is causing very few woes, actually. He is well-behaved, loves having his hair brushed (thank goodness...he is like a tiny little collie for hair!), hasn't tried to mark in the house since the first few hours he was here, submits to Tula being the No. 1 dog, and is generally a sweet little doll.

But I worry that I have made a mistake in bringing him. Is he making Tula sad? It's hard to tell with a cocker spaniel. They always look sad.

She's not enjoying him, which I didn't expect right away. She's only actively mean to him when there are toys involved (more on that in a minute), but I worry that she will never like him and will always feel sad in her own home from now on. We decided to get a second dog because she is alone for so many hours during the week, but maybe she preferred that. We also decided to get the second dog because she seems to enjoy playing with some other dogs (not all of them, though! That's why we had to choose carefully.). And we also decided to get the second dog in the hope that it would teach her how to have better dog manners in general.

So, as I said, she is mostly nicer than anticipated. She lets Niki lay by us on the couch and bed, walks nicer with him on the leash than she does alone, and, amazingly, lets him eat and drink out of her bowls (and she returns the favor with his food and water). Also amazingly, I can sit them down next to each other and give treats without her trying to take his. Anyone who knows Tula knows that this is not an area where we might expect her to behave because she LOVES treats.

But Niki tries to play, tail wagging, and she growls and gets aggressive. Niki doesn't really offer to touch her toys, but I bought them some matching ones -- crooked toothed stuffed squeaky aliens for my crooked-toothed special dogs -- and Tula is absolutely awful when I bring them out. I have figured out a method by which I time their journeys to get the toys so that they are both running in opposite directions and not getting back to me at the same time (Niki has comically short legs and does not run very fast while Tula is a gun dog), and that sort of works, but Tula still growls and acts mean. If Niki happens near her, she goes after him, growling and barking (but so far, not trying to bite, thank goodness).

I know part of it is normal dog behavior, teaching him boundaries, but I don't know enough to tell when to stop it. Niki, for his part, does not participate. When she gets like that, he drops his toy and lays down far from Tula, looking the opposite direction. I think that's a pretty good new dog. It might just take Tula time to figure out he's not trying to horn in. After an episode like that, she'll sit there and hide her toy under her feet and growl at him. Then I take both toys away, which she hates but doesn't fight, until she is calm again. And when she's nice to him again, bacon treats come out.

It's only the first day, though. I just hope I'm doing the right thing, not reinforcing the wrong thing. And I hope it's okay to keep letting them eat out of each other's dishes.

When I try to read about what to do, I keep coming up with articles that say, basically, "You selfish person! Some dogs just like to live alone, and you shouldn't force them to do otherwise!" I wish someone would say, "This is normal dog behavior, and they'll learn to like each other eventually."

I have dog friends to ask, but I can't ask them because I'm fasting from Facebook for Lent. And I can't gripe about that because if you gripe...or even mention it, as I just negate the effects of your fasting. Sigh. Like poor Niki, I am just trying to do the right thing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Dog Days of Winter

I felt like sleeping in this morning, but instead I drove almost three hours to Malone to pick up Nicky. And now, I can't look at what I'm typing because I have to watch him every second to make sure he isn't marking his territory in Tula's house. He hasn't been too bad about that, actually.

Seriously, though, I have to write quickly so I can watch him. I just wanted everyone to know he's at our house now, after our agonizing decison-making about him.

He's very sweet and furry. Tula hasn't been as bad as I expected, but she's no fan of his yet. She is a fan of the fact that every time she's nice to him I give her (and him, after her) tiny bites of bacon treats. She hasn't had them before. I hope she thinks Nicky brought them.

I'm worried now that he's here, though, because I always wanted a dog that looks like a DOG, like Tula does. Nicky is like a toy. But his saving grace is his teeth, which are not beautiful at all. He's long and low, and I never wanted that either. I wanted an elderly nondescript dog...twice I wanted that. Instead, I have a cocker spaniel and a Tibetan spaniel -- two dogs who look more like they'd be found in Victorian paintings than underneath a porch.

Except Nicky wouldn't be, I guess. His breed was started to guard Tibetan monasteries. No...he'd be a jade carving or something.

Either way, I'm here with two fancy little dogs who require hair appointments. But they are very warm on my feet.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Cookie: A Story of Lent

Today was so hectic, and I felt one step behind on everything I did!

And then, after a textbook meeting, my boss brought me one of the leftover chocolate chip cookies from the lunch the textbook company had provided. She's Catholic too. I said, "You do know it's Lent, don't you?" She said, "Yes, but I'm not fasting from sugar. Are you?" I am not. So I took the cookie with great joy.

It was a massive cookie, the size of my face. The chocolate chips were numerous, small, and high-quality. I could just imagine eating it with dinner later in the evening. The thought sustained me through my last classes of the day and the onslaught of students who needed to talk to me afterward.

I got home, dropped my bag, and went in to change out of my professional outfit into dog-walking clothes. In that short amount of time, Tula dug the cookie out of my bag and ate THE WHOLE THING, napkin and all!

As you might know, chocolate is bad for dogs. I'm always reading about how it can kill them. This is not Tula's first time eating it, though. She's eaten all kinds of poison things: chocolate, grapes, onions, narcissus bulbs. Somehow, she has managed to stay alive. But, they gravely inform me, the poisons in the these foods are waiting in her little kidneys to kill her later, the moment she eats just a little too much of the Forbidden Foods.

When your dog eats something poison, one easy thing you can do is feed her burnt toast. So I burnt some toast to black, smoking up the house so much I had to open windows. Then Tula turned her nose up at it. (She usually thinks it's a treat, but this is Canadian oat bread, so maybe she's just being patriotic for the Olympics.) She's finally eaten a little, and she seems no worse for the wear.

I just wonder if God had her eat my cookie because even though I'm not fasting from sugar I shouldn't be having little celebrations in the middle of Lent. He does, after all, work in mysterious ways.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Because I do not hope to turn again...

It is Ash Wednesday, and I am finally home. I would have been home later had I stayed after services for Stations of the Cross and broken my fast at the soup dinner. But I have a small dog who waits for me, so I came home and walked her toward the lights of town in a quiet, puffy snow.

I finished work too late to get back to my own parish of St. Andrew, and that's how I ended up at St. Patrick's in Watertown. It's the big church, the huge Irish church, with colorful windows and murals of the doctors of the church in the cupola above the altar. I am never disappointed there and always awed by the gilt and stained glass when I first step inside.

The homily was about how we are not to brag or point out our Lenten sacrifices, for it we do, we have gotten our only reward of them -- not the forgiveness, the penance, the salvation, God's approval, but only the momentary recognition that we are doing something unusual. It's a cruel homily, and I hear it every year. It is cruel for this penitent anyway, because I would love for someone to ask why I have ashes on my head, why I'm not eating, "why so pale and wan, fond lover, prithee, why so pale?" I am as silly as the addressed in that poem because I like only the praise of fasting, not the sacrifice.

And so I come to this dilemma: I set about to chronicle my Lenten progress here, yet I must do it in a way that doesn't brag, or whine, or imply that I am proud of how difficult it is. And it is difficult, friends (and by "friends," I mean "Daddy," for he is the principle reader). I have given up Facebook and committed to at least one extra Mass, Stations or Holy Hour a week. That just ensures that I will crave my far-flung friends more than usual and have meetings at every hour of church for the next forty days. For this is how Lent works: What I cannot have, I crave incessantly.

But here is also how Lent works: I plant seeds at Ash Wednesday and hope they grow. So far, they always grow until I transplant them outside. But this year I have my own yard. The little seedlings won't always have to live in pots that are inevitably too shallow for things that want to reach down into the earth as far as they reach into the sky.

For weeks, the seeds are in the dirt and I can't see them. Then they poke out green or white or translucent threads, and then a stem, and then a leaf. ("A speck! A mist! A shape I wist!") And by Easter, they look like plants. And at Easter, I look more like myself too, because I've been underground, resting and contemplating how best to unfold myself toward the light.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mardi Gras

I've never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but I've been to Carnivale in Venice. I went with my husband, dressed in homemade costumes representing (in my case) "Spring" and (in his case) "The Old Man of the Woods." His was made of a duvet cover with a giant tree applique made from an old Army blanket on the back. Mine was made of flannel sheets and an old, gauzy flowered curtain. I bought all the stuff for about $1.50 at the post thrift store in Vicenza. We had a great time wandering around among the dressed-up people, and everyone wanted to take a picture with Joe. I often think about all the people in other countries who have my husband in their photo albums.

He wore his backpack underneath his costume so he had a humpback. French people kept rubbing it, which nearly got the first few of them clobbered with the crooked stick he carried as part of his costume. But finally, one who spoke English explained to him that it was good luck to rub the hump of a humpback. Who knew?

I'm sad I never went to Mardi Gras. I lived in south Mississippi, barely an hour from New Orleans, but I could never convince anyone to go with me. The people there weren't big fans of New Orleans for the most part, considering it a wild, dirty, dangerous place, and even worse on Mardi Gras because of all the drunken visitors. I wasn't about to go to Mardi Gras alone because that's a good way to disappear off the face of the earth, which would be selfish.

I did go to some small coast parades, though, and I had such a good time. I was never in Mississippi for Mardi Gras before Hurricane Katrina, but the year after, I found myself there, finishing my doctoral coursework in the spring semester. Joe was on his way from Italy to Oklahoma, where we would be stationed next, so he stayed with me for that week. Unbelievably, I convinced him to come down to some of the Coast parades. I'd been going for weeks at that point and had loved dancing and singing and wearing sparkly beads among the rubble with everyone else.

I'd asked to go to New Orleans, but he'd recently returned from Afghanistan and had no desire to enter a city he considered even more dangerous than the one he'd just left. So I asked for Mobile, but he'd just gotten off a plane from Italy, and the drive was far with jet lag. So I asked for the Coast, and he said yes.

We had such a good time that I wrote a detailed essay about it for my creative dissertation, and I don't want to rehash it here. I just want to tell you about this part: That morning, in the costumes I'd once again made for us, we ate at Cracker Barrel to celebrate the "Fat" part of Fat Tuesday. Bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, sausage...the word was "abundance." It was the first good time we'd had in ages, after the hurricane, the hard deployment, and a year of losing people and places we loved. We ate like kings, we danced like lords, we pulled coins out of the air and came home laden with jewels.

I'm in the North Country this Mardi Gras, and nobody here seems to realize what day it is. They are all weary with dirty snow and in no mood for celebrating. I think they feel like Lent is upon them from the first blizzard until spring. Joe is in Afghanistan again, but the cook at his camp used to be a chef at Belagio. He said the food is so good he doesn't even need me to send canned ravioli to sustain him.

So there is no parade for me, nor dancing unless I parade dancing down the street myself...which I may yet do. There is Cracker Barrel, though, and I'm going. I know some will say this food would be better if I made it myself, but I want no consequences -- no dishes, no leftovers, nothing but a plate appearing like magic before laden with pork and butter and all other things that break your heart for goodness. Tomorrow I'll miss them until Easter, and by then, maybe the sun will start coming out more regularly and the people up here will dance with me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lazy List Post

If I were a real blogger, I would be writing a really entertaining piece about my trip to New York City, from which I got home yesterday. Instead, I am giving you a list to update you on my doings and thinkings...

1. I went to New York City. This was my second trip there, and I love it even more. I walked all over it with a friend from grad school and also covered a show at Fashion Week for a newspaper. The Fashion Week description really does deserve its own blog post. Maybe later. Anyway, it was a lot of work, mostly -- but good work. The most fun part of my trip was the walking around Greenwich Village and Chelsea and visiting with my friends at their beautiful apartment in Inwood.

2. New York City had lots of snow the day before I arrived, but it was mostly swept up by the time I got there. All the people were freezing, but I was not. I'm becoming acclimated to the North Country apparently. If it's above 10 degrees, I feel pretty good.

3. It snowed a little here today, but not much. It was light, fluffy, quiet snow. Sigh.

4. I may get Dog Two this coming weekend. We'll see. I'm awaiting news about his messed-up jaw from the vet. I don't want to take on a dog I know I can't afford at the outset. (I realize dogs can get expensive once you've gotten them, but that's different.) He's a sweet little dog. His name is Nicky, and he's a Tibetan Spaniel. He had a run-in with a pit bull awhile ago, so he has a little wired together jaw and teeth that all stick out. He's no show dog! But he has a dear little personality and let Tula boss him around when we visited him at his shelter.

5. I'm behind on housework and teaching work, but I can't seem to make myself do either one. I just keep sitting on the couch watching the Olympics. The only reason I'm writing this now is that I took Tula for a walk, breaking my Olympics haze. I should take advantage of that and not turn the television back on, but I fear I won't have the discipline. We'll see.

6. I wish I had some ice cream.

Friday, February 5, 2010


I haven't been writing much lately because the first two weeks of school have been incredibly hectic. I just got back from a poetry reading in Syracuse (Santee Frazier), and it is past my bedtime, so I'll make this short:

The Groundhog saw his shadow, but it doesn't feel like winter is going to keep on! My icicles are dripping! My snow is muddy and melted into a thin sheet of ice on top! But at least the lake is still frozen. This morning there were 24 ice fisherman holes out there.

I am traveling next week, so of course I don't want snow then. But after that, I pray for even just one more regular blizzard. It doesn't even have to be a bad one...I just want a little howling wind full of snow, and one more chance to not be able to see across the road, and one more set of days in which everything is the same color -- pavement, mud, grass -- a set of days with no edges.

And also I want to ice skate outside and cross country ski around campus (in the works!) and snowshoe (still can't find anyone willing) and go snowboarding for my birthday (I have two friends willing to join me so far!).

But mostly, I just want snow. I came here to the land of mist and snow, but it's the land of just a little snow, and just a little mist. I realize this is an unusual winter for them, but I don't have many available, so selfishly, I wish it was a normal winter with huge drifts and dangerously cold air. I don't mean to complain. At least we still have snow. My cousin was just in Texas and it was 60 degrees. And we had a few little flakes this morning. Maybe we'll have more after awhile.