Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

As 2010 draws to a close I would be remiss not to mention the things that helped get me through the year, my sources of survival, salves in the continuing healing of my grief. Looking back, there were many people (Alison, Nan, Melissa, Stacy, Sylvia, Susan my grief counselor, and yes, even Mr. X), places (Portland, LA, Park City, and the biggest plot twist of the year, Eldon, Iowa), and things (learning to drive the RV, the making of the pie show, teaching pie baking, being a pie judge at both the National Pie Championships and the Iowa State Fair, moving into the American Gothic House) that contributed to my well being. But out of everyone, every place, and everything there were two constant, daily, unrelenting sources of comfort and joy.

Meet Team Terrier.
That's Comfort (Daisy) on the left and Joy (Jack) on the right.
IF there is any doubt as to the benefits of owning a pet, I am living proof that a warm-bodied, tail-wagging, four-legged friend is well worth the four walks a day, the middle of the night disruptions, the barking, the trips to Petco for food, and -- as was the case this year -- the exorbitant vet bills. (Uh,yeah, add to the list stained rugs.) In the face of sometimes unbearable grief, I cannot help but wonder if I would still be here if not for these two creatures who depend so fully on me, who make me laugh until my sides hurt, who keep me in shape by demanding long hikes and stick-throwing sessions, who force me out of bed no matter how down I feel, and who -- for whatever godforsaken reason -- love me so completely and unconditionally.
Just looking at them makes me laugh. (One of these days I'll make them pose with the prerequisite pitchfork.)
Daisy is a rescue from Saltillo, Mexico. Little did she know she would end up in Iowa. (That makes two of us!) But she's adaptable and never complains, even in the midst of a very un-Mexican-like snowstorm.
How can you be depressed with Jack around? His singular love for play is infectious. He brings out the kid in everyone. And has an infinite capacity for a game of fetch.

O, dog of wonder, dog of night,
Dog with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Happy New Year, everyone. May you have a peaceful, prosperous and animal-filled 2011. (And hopefully some pie with that too!)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

All I Want for Christmas is...Pie Supplies, Not (Footie) Pajamas

For Christmas, my mom gave me pajamas. These were not your ordinary pajamas. They were not from Victoria's Secret or Gap Body or Soma. These were bright pink fleece with a dog appliqué on the chest. So far, not soooo bad. I love pink. I love fleece. I love dogs. But the pjs were a one-piece zip-up affair with the feet in them. Yes, footie pajamas. And not just plain footie pajamas -- the feet were like built-in doggie slippers, complete with floppy ears and flapping tongue. Now I admit, I loved wearing footie pajamas long past the socially acceptable toddler years, but, um, hey, Mom, I’m not 4 – okay, er, 14 -- anymore!

I know she was proud of her purchase because all of my siblings had heard about them long before the Santa wrapping paper was ripped off the box. When I talked to my brother Patrick in Seattle, he immediately asked, “How’d you like your gift from Mom?” I groaned loud enough for him to pull the phone away from his ear. Still, his laughter came through the receiver loud and clear.

“I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in them,” I said. And I meant it. I always think about how Marcus died so unexpectedly and so suddenly, he didn’t have time to pick out a stylish outfit or groom himself before the paramedics rushed in. In his case, it didn’t matter. He was wearing what looked best on him, his birthday suit, which made it easier for them to hook up their defibrillators and needles anyway. But, yeah, I do think about how I will go out when my time comes, what situation I’ll be in, and what may or may not be covering my body. I can tell you this: it definitely won’t be pink fleece footie pajamas with built-in doggie slippers.

“You could be like Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story,’” Patrick said.

“I’ve never seen it.”

“You’ve never seen ‘A Christmas Story?’”

“No.”

“This kid gets pink bunny pajamas from his aunt, and his parents make him wear them. That’s what your pajamas remind me of.”

“Well, they’re not going to be my pajamas much longer. I’m taking them back. Mom enclosed the gift receipt. She must have known I wasn’t going to like them.”

“Yes, I figured,” he said. “But she had fun buying them for you.”

“Yeah, and telling everyone about them.”

The pjs were from Target. I love Target. And while Southeast Iowa isn’t exactly a shopping Mecca, it does have a Target. I had decided that I was going to use the store credit to buy new underwear.

Someone either told me recently, or I read it somewhere, that they were tossing out all their old undies and getting new ones to symbolize a fresh start. I liked this logic. After all I’ve been through the past 16 months, I could definitely stand to get rid of the dingy old boy shorts and threadbare thongs, and kick off the New Year with some new lingerie. Yeehaw.

The trouble is, I got to Target and I just wasn’t in the mood. Or, perhaps, digging through the sale bins of black lace and white cotton and plaid and flowered and polka dot and everything else in every size all mixed together killed the mood. It wasn’t just the disorganized display though. The prospect of buying underwear made me contemplate my future. Will anyone ever see me in these? Will there be new love on the horizon? How can I even meet a man when I live in such an unpopulated place? And anyway, does the style or color of underwear really even matter in the scheme of life? Even if these new ones are marked down to as little as $2 a pair, do I really need to throw out the old ones which are perfectly fine?

I got so fed up with myself I threw the ones I had already picked back into the bins and walked off in a huff.

I had two other things on my shopping list:
1. Silver polish. I use my grandma’s silver as everyday flatware and her beautiful cutlery is due for a cleaning.
2. Detangler. For my hair, which is getting harder and harder to comb seeing as I haven’t cut it since July.

I wove in and out of the aisles, and somewhere in between Cleaning Supplies and Hair Care I stumbled upon Kitchen Gadgets. There I was, as instinctive as a Golden Retriever sniffing out a tennis ball, homing right in on the pie supplies. Perfect! I’m waaaaay overdue on getting a Christmas present for my niece, the 16-year-old beauty who I taught to make pie last summer. In an instant, I knew just what to get her. My adrenaline pumped, my pulse quickened, my mood lifted as I grabbed not one, not two, but five Chop N’ Scoops. I could send one to Lauren and give the others as presents later. They were $2.99! (I got ripped off paying 10 bucks for mine at that BBB store.) I also put in my heretofore empty basket a set of paring knives (my favorite for peeling apples) for my niece -- they were a crazy 99 cents -- along with a set of pastry brushes for $2.50. What a score!

As I drove home elated about buying the pie supplies (you know how I love a good bargain) I forgot all about my underwear buying mission. I figure I don’t have to really think about it again until spring anyway because as long as I’m spending the cold winter in an Iowa farmhouse the only kind of underwear I need are long ones. As for the pajamas, I shouldn’t have to worry about those again...until next Christmas.

Thanks anyway, Mom. It’s the thought that counts!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Going to Church...In my Basement

My phone rang and rang and rang on Christmas Eve -- my local line, I mean -- and I knew why Eldon's residents were calling. They wanted to invite me to church. Worried about me spending the holiday alone, my new Eldonite friends were doing what I've experienced them do best: demonstrate kindness, compassion and generosity. And as kind, compassionate and generous as their invitations were, I was not interested in going to church. Period.

Church and I were never great pals. Subjected to a Catholic education (Sunday Mass, the scriptures, the prayers, the rituals, the GUILT, et al), the only reason I got confirmed -- or allowed to graduate from my parochial high school for that matter -- was because my dad was a reliable donor and my mom worked for the diocese. I knew -- really KNEW – as early as age 12, when I had to fight for my feminist right to serve as an altar girl, that this political, er, religious institution was not going to be my source of spiritual fulfillment.

So instead of answering my phone only to decline the many invitations to the 6PM candlelit service at the Living Hope Bible Church, I went down to my basement.

Now I realize that spending Christmas Eve alone in one’s basement sounds a little depressing, potentially scary, questionable, even dangerous – after all, suicide rates skyrocket during the holidays and I am a grieving widow... But no. My bike (mounted on the Blackburn Trakstand bike trainer) is in the basement. So while the rest of Eldon attended their church, I attended mine.

Just as making pie is my therapy and therefore my kitchen is my therapist's office, my basement is my church. My body is my temple. My bike is my God. I could have been sitting in a pew for an hour watching candles burn. Instead I was sitting on my bike seat, burning calories.

Instead of singing Christmas hymns, I sang along to Coldplay and pedaled to the French techno groove of my Buddha Bar collection. For good measure, though not a great biking song, I even played the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. (Yes, I have a very eclectic mix of music.)

Instead of being in a room packed with people I don’t know all that well -- a potentially lonely experience, actually lonelier than being alone -- I was getting to know myself better, tuning in to every muscle fiber and oxygenated blood cell, every thought, every breath.

Churches are a place for some to find strength. For me, someone whose heart was shattered 16 months ago with the unexpected death of my husband Marcus, biking literally strengthens my heart. My goal is to be the Lance Armstrong of grieving widows, and that kind of salvation doesn't come from listening to a preacher on the pulpit. Exercise is a moving meditation. And meditation is a form of prayer. Prayer is considered spiritual worship. And therefore I was, to all intents and purposes, like a good Eldonite, worshipping.

I’m not sure how congregation members felt after church, but I felt GREAT after my bike ride. I took a long candlelit bath afterward. And then I talked to my family via a Skype video call. Really, it was the best Christmas I could have hoped for. You know, considering...

I’m continuing to enjoy some solitude this holiday week. So if I don’t answer my phone, please don’t worry about me. I’m probably just in the basement -- going to church.