Monday, November 23, 2009

Listening...(November 23, 2009 edition)

General Taylor-Great Big Sea
The Chemical Workers' Song (Process Man)-Great Big Sea
England-Great Big Sea
What A Wonderful World-Louis Armstrong
16 Days-Whiskeytown

The first two Great Big Sea songs address my new discoveries after my first GBS concert Saturday night in Bremerton at The Admiral Theater. My dear wife and I enjoyed that the sound wasn't at ear bleed level. The venue was intimate, but not too small. GBS played for nearly 3 hours, and didn't just hit the songs of their newer release, Fortune's Favour, but a wide-variety of their discography. The first two songs of this list were not previously known for me, but their harmonies were instantly addictive and the stories of the songs were compelling. I love Great Big Sea songs for their narrative value as well as the musical quality. I will write more on GBS on a later post.

Daughter #2 has picked up on GBS as well, and her favorite song is "England." I haven't identified the trend that gets her attached to a song. She focuses on one line and gives incorporates that into the title. She calls the Louis Armstrong song "I Think To Myself." She calls "England:" "Wind Cuts Like A Knife." She calls "16 Days:" "Ghost Has Got Me Running." She is not bashful about letting me know, "I don't like that song, play Wind Cuts Like A Knife." We spend about 5-10 hours per week in the car, so we're sharing a lot of music together, though she prefers we listen to a song about 3 consecutive times before we move on.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Getting back on track (literally and figuratively)

Grief and lack of exercise mean lack of writing in my life. It was a strain to put out what I did in the last week. I had to force myself to write something, lest the memories of Hunter drift away into abstraction. Writing makes those memories tangible.

I've run three consecutive days now, which is no small feat considering my recent schedule. I know that exercise is supposed to take priority in daily life, but good habits dwindle quickly, especially when tens of thousands of dollars are on the line in the closing of a house and a beloved dog dies. I've learned that I can't get my running habit established in the winter without a set alarm clock--one of the big transitions between warm and cold weather running in a northern area of the country. I usually wake up on my own, but I also take my time getting up and moving. It's one of my few peaceful times alone during the day--so I like to savor it in the time I carve out around the run. I hate the quickie brand of run.

Writing and running go hand in hand for me, I suppose those linked variables are related to expanded blood flow to my brain and what that combination does for my outlook on life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Politics (entry #6 in the Madhouse Gazette South Dakota Lexicon)

South Dakota has a strange love affair with U.S. Senator John Thune (at least as seen by the rest of world). Many people can't understand why South Dakota would vote out Tom Daschle, someone with seniority, clout, influence and good leadership (okay, he had a hard time doing his taxes, but what politician doesn't), and vote in John Thune.

For any South Dakotan, the political move from Daschle to Thune makes perfect sense. The folks of the Northern Great Plains strongly believe in their values and way of life, yet they struggle with their image when their perspectives move to a national stage. This conundrum of belief and identity are residual effects of the Scandinavian concept of Jante Law. Jante Law is an interesting variable considering Daschle's political fall: I remember that South Dakota public discourse and conventional wisdom said that Daschle was getting "too big for his britches." He needed to be voted out. It didn't matter that Daschle was Senate Majority Leader, accomplished much for South Dakota through his position, and was a marginal presidential candidate--Daschle had to be taken down a peg or two. It didn't help matters that he was a Democrat, either.

The love being articulated for Thune sounds a little like Brokeback Mountain, with which people in the state tried to distance themselves through vitriol and condemnation. I had to laugh when I read the commentary on Thune's rising prominence in the aforementioned link. While I lived in South Dakota, I found the politics maddening. Now that I'm on the outside looking in, South Dakota politics are interesting.

Thanks to Allison Kilkenny's recent blog post referencing Thune for the inspiration to reflect upon my life with South Dakota politics.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Hunter Chronicles (part 2)

I couldn't write anymore about Hunter today. The grief is exhausting. In place of writing a longer entry of The Hunter Chronicles, I sent a donation to the place where we adopted Hunter in Waukesha, Wisconsin. I sent the accompanying note with the donation (I also sent the above pictures):

Hunter was a 2-year old (almost 3) chocolate lab my wife and I adopted at HAWS in April 2000 (29th? 30th?). He was about the best birthday present I ever received. I had never had a dog in my home. He was the best dog I could ever imagine--great with everyone in our growing family. He loved rides in the car, walks, chasing a ball and cuddling. We had two daughters while we had Hunter--he loved them and tolerated them (very necessary).

We were his third owners, and my wife told him we would be his "forever family." All he ever wanted was to be with us. His health declined over the last 2 years, he lost about 30 pounds, and we put him down on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) after 12 1/2 years of life. We had a good day together to say goodbye. We took Hunter on some of his favorite nature walks, gave him some of his favorite treats, a trip to the beach on the Puget Sound, and a bath. He wasn't alone his last 72 hours of life. We have holes in our lives and hearts because he is gone.

I've dedicated a song to Hunter's memory in my own daily living, "What A Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong--I think of him all the time. If I knew what Hunter was thinking, the song seems to match his thoughts. I wanted to share a little bit of Hunter's story and offer a small donation because of the great experience we had at HAWS, and thank you for holding on to Hunter for us before he became part of our family. We are thankful for what you do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Waiting for Klosterman

I have a short list of authors whose books (in various genres) I would buy soon after release, in hardcover, and possibly at regular price (but with Amazon, this is foolish).

1. Chuck Klosterman
2. Douglas Coupland
3. Bill Bryson
4. James Wellman
5. Nancy Ammerman

Klosterman makes great appearances on Bill Simmons' B.S. Report Podcast at Pastors generally don't get into weddings, but I would have loved to officiate at Klosterman's wedding. He tells about the event in his October B.S. Report podcast interview. My favorite part was the music at the reception done by an ELO tribute band. That would have been AMAZING. If money was no expense, I imagine that my wife might have enjoyed an ABBA tribute band at our wedding reception, maybe someone like Bjorn Again. I'm considering taking her to one of their shows in the Puget Sound region.

I ordered Klosterman's new release Eating The Dinosaur and should cruise through it in a few days, probably wanting more, and wishing Klosterman would blog, tweet, something. He has great material, but my voracious web appetite leaves my expectations too high, thus he is able to get me to buy a hardcover copy of his book. Nice move on Chuck's part, he can get people to pay for his content, while Bill Simmons writes about stuff I can't care about anymore, the NBA. I hope he enjoys his book tour--at least he stuck up for the Seattle Sonics.

The Hunter Chronicles (part 1)

The story of our life with Hunter began like this: my dear wife had been dropping hints during the first few years of our marriage that she wanted a dog. It wasn't going to happen during our time in seminary, but the hints became more frequent as we moved into a large parsonage in Wisconsin. There were times she walked into a dark, empty house with fear about what awaited her. With a dog, she wouldn't have to worry as much. When she called me upon entering our home while I was at work, I knew that she wasn't kidding around. Security is important.

I learned that getting a dog as a gift for my wife, either for a birthday, Christmas, or an anniversary wasn't going to fly--so I volunteered the idea of receiving a dog for my 30th birthday. Even though my dear wife wanted the dog, the dog would be mine. I don't recall how we decided to look for a Lab, but I think it had something to do with the size and temperament. I merely didn't want a yippy barking dog. Protection and security, but not dangerous to the household. We decided to go to the Waukesha County Humane Society to find our new family member, our first child, our training in team parenting. This was a new experience for me--my brothers and I never owned a dog in our childhood household--and I was a little bit afraid of dogs. I had German Shepherds and Dobermans in my neighborhoods as a child that terrified me. I also had relatives who owned dogs with temperaments not suited for children--a Poodle, a Chow, and some German Shepherds. I have memories of them growling behind closed doors near the bathroom, or nipping at me, or chasing after me in a yard, or savagely barking at me from behind a fence. For years I wanted nothing to do with dogs.

Hunter changed my attitude of dog fear rather quickly. One day I went to look at dogs on my own and found a dog that seemed interesting. Almost every dog in the Humane Society was barking or yipping or jumping up and down as I walked by. Cheyenne was a 5-year old female black lab. She wasn't barking in the cacophony of dog conversation, but she was active and excited to greet me in a playful way behind her cage. Cheyenne had been there awhile--I think I read somewhere that they keep dogs at that Humane Society for approximately two weeks (?) before they are euthanized. Cheyenne had been there for over a week. Her time seemed short. The Waukesha County Humane Society set up dog interviews for their prospective owners and had a few rooms to accommodate these interviews--an opportunity for owners to meet and interact with an animal. When my dear wife and I walked through the Human Society and saw Cheyenne again, we were both interested. We also notice one more dog who didn't bark. His name was Hunter, and he sat there, sitting down watching us walk by. He didn't jump, he didn't bark, he only looked at us. He was 2 years old--a beautiful Chocolate Lab. We thought we'd take a look at him as well.

Cheyenne came into the interview room first and was a nice dog, very playful and energetic. I can't say we were particularly drawn to her. Hunter came in the room next, gave us each a little bit of a sniff, curled up in a compact ball and laid down in between our chairs in the room. We knew Hunter was the dog for us. After a two day waiting period, Hunter joined our family on April 30, 2000. We bought him a few accessories--a large burgundy dog bed, a leash, a collar, some good food (Eukaneuba), and some chew toys. He was always sad to see us leave the house, and exceedingly excited to see us return from wherever life took us, almost singing every time we were reunited. We originally set up his bed in a spare room near our bedroom, but quickly learned that he wanted nothing to do with separation--he wanted to be as near to us as possible. We placed his bed near ours--sometimes that wasn't even good enough--on chilly evenings he would move his way from the drafty floor to inside our bed. He wanted to be by our side--a common theme for his behavior and how he became a part of the family.

As I remember the details of Hunter becoming part of the family, I remember another young man, about my age, carrying a dog and sobbing as I sat waiting to talk to someone from the Humane Society. It was clear the young man was giving up his dog because he couldn't care for him anymore. This appeared to be a normal occurrence--we were Hunter's third owners before he turned 3 years old. His previous owners both wrote they didn't have time to take care of him anymore. My dear wife reminded Hunter that we were going to be his "forever family." I wonder if he knows that. We were brought together for a reason. I've learned much from Hunter. This morning as we took a longer walk in the woods than normal, I realized how much more I have to remember. These days have been devoted to remember someone who has been in our family longer than our children. I don't know how long The Hunter Chronicles will be, but the memories are filling a blog library. Such is life with my first dog. I am continually awed by my relationship with God's creation--and Hunter expanded that understanding.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Giving Thanks for the Family Dog, Hunter

Hunter is a our 12 year old chocolate lab who is personally crushed when he disappoints someone, especially his people/my family. It may seem to him that he has let us down over the past two years as his health has declined. He throws up relatively often, been incontinent several times in the last few weeks, he has challenging food allergies that make his skin a mess (literally and figuratively), his joints have significantly deteriorated, he has declining liver function, his body is covered in benign tumors, his cataracts are worsening, his anxiety is growing, and maybe he has a little doggie dementia (he walks and stands in unusual places in the house over the last several weeks). He paces throughout our home in the evening (a recent development), and has lost about 25 pounds in the last two years--he can't seem to keep quite enough food down. Because of his increasing anxiety, he now barks most of the day while we're gone at school and work (we heard from the neighbors, and noticed that he's barking when we get home). Hunter has never been much of a barker in his life, usually only when the doorbell rings. All of these changes have been hard to manage while we have moved and tried to make a stable and healthy environment for our family. The hard part has been making life good for Hunter--and attempting to do so has become an extremely expensive venture. We are at the point where the only option for Hunter to have a peaceful life is to keep him on heavy drugs most of the time, and that is no way for him to live. In the past two years I have learned new lessons (for me) about patience and compassion. I have become easily frustrated with Hunter, and I haven't been very fair with him. He would never intentionally do anything to disappoint any of us (unlike some of the cats I have known)--and I took his good nature for granted. He truly doesn't ask for much, only a little food,love and attention. I could have been much better to him.

My dear wife and I have been seeing the writing on the wall about Hunter. We have been about pushed over the edge when it comes to his anxious behavior related to separation anxiety. The barking is a bad situation in a rental. If the barking was the only problem we were facing with Hunter, then we would find a way to deal with it. The problems are mounting, and they aren't getting any better. This post is the first time I've written them all down--it's quite a list. We're going to have to say goodbye, and it breaks my heart. I try to keep my emotions directed to places like showing Hunter a little extra love, or taking some time to myself. I don't know what it is about Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" and death, but that is one of the greatest pastoral care songs I know. I've heard it used at multiple funerals as a pastor, and I played it 7 times on my morning run. The experience of physical exertion, that song and reflection this morning was cathartic, thankful, but also deeply sad. I don't ever remember a time in my life when I ran and cried at the same time.

Hunter is truly the first child for my dear wife and me. We have so many memories of him. Putting him down is going to be really hard. In the end, I hope he knows he is loved. In the midst of that love and the questions about life, I know that God is there. That is what really matters. I was planning on writing out some of the memories, stories and lessons from Hunter's life, but I can't do it right now. I knew this transition wasn't going to be easy, but I'm hitting waves of sadness that are difficult to bear. I wish I could be at home, outside, playing with him. But it is raining outside to the tune of a downpour, and Hunter hates the rain. I think we know each other well.

Adding insult to injury

While traversing the Kitsap Peninsula for work this weekend, I wanted to catch a little bit of the Washington-UCLA game. Having them on television is still a novelty to me after 20 years in the Midwest. When the Huskies were good during that stretch--I might be able to get a nationally televised game, but for many years I was stuck with mediocre Big Ten football, and once in awhile I could occasionally watch the Jayhawks, but would usually get stuck with Nebraska or Iowa State. Yawn.

I finally found the Applebee's in Silverdale and caught most of the fourth quarter. I found myself hopeful, even after a big missed field goal. UCLA was not playing the role of a juggernaut, and Washington had the best player on the field in Jake Locker. Having seen in person "The Drive" against USC, I thought good things were possible and the Huskies would mature and pick up a needed road win.

Interesting crowd at Applebee's at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon--not the Dawg-watching hotspot I was hoping for, more like the elderly early-dinner crowd. My cheers for the Huskies were somewhat muted, but I could at least watch the game. I wanted a beverage, but not a pop--I was already strung out on caffeine for the day. I still needed to work and drive, so I opted for an O'Doul's. Even the taste of beer and football sounded good. I was about halfway through that near-beer when Locker threw the interception and the game was essentially over. Throwing the bottle through the television would not be an appropriate response.

I reconsidered the beer throwing position when I got the bill. $4.60??!?!?!? For a 12-ounce O'Doul's???? I am not a bar patron often enough to know what the going rate for a beer is, but that price was brutal. Go ahead and kick a Husky fan when he's down, Applebee's.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Action-packed week

Closing on a house, attended a conference, leading a stewardship campaign, preparing to lead a retreat. I think family laundry needs to get done at some point. Mercifully, someone else is preaching this Sunday. I didn't deal with too many deadlines outside of getting my daughter off to school in the morning and picking her up after school. I don't mind the deadlines--I am only recognizing the big mental shift. I am thankful for the peaceful moment this morning staring at the Pacific Ocean waves and listening for the sound of the surf as I walked in between each conference activity. I am a West Coast guy.