Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Worms, Dogs, and Little Children

On Monday, our new puppy, Laird Woodrow the Wirehaired, was the unwilling recipient of his shots and worming treatment. 
Today on one of his half-dozen walks, he pooped out a half-dozen live worms.  I pointed them out to Husband Don.  “Those things were inside Woodrow?” he cried.
I dutifully picked up the wriggling pile of dog poop in my trademark blue bag and carried it home to the trash.

As I was thinking how the worms were stealing the nutrients in the Blue Buffalo® we have been feeding our baby dog-person, I started thinking about the baby human-persons around the world who are infected with worms, so I started reading. 

I learned that parasitic worms are call helminths.
I learned that more than a billion people worldwide are infected with soil-transmitted helminths due to inadequate sanitation.  A billion. 

If you can’t get your heart wrapped around a billion people suffering from worms, try this:  A person is suffering from nausea, dysentery, intestinal obstruction, rectal prolapse, anemia, weakness, lethargy.  And it’s happening a billion times right now. 

Or try to wrap your heart around this: 1 of every 7 humans suffers from worms.
The World Health Organization says that worldwide, 880 million children need treatment for debilitating worms at this moment.  And the brains of those children cannot develop properly when they are so ill.

Worms burrow into children’s feet from the soil or skin from infected water.  They invade through the bite of a black fly or a mosquito or through eating infected meat or vegetables.

I’m not saying all worms are bad.  In fact, worms have been found to produce positive benefits for some people in some small clinical trials that must be replicated.  Dr. Eric Hollander of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has collected data that suggest that ingesting whipworm eggs may reduce repetitive behaviors in some people on the autism spectrum.  His treatment is based on the Hygiene Hypothesis that posits we live in such a sterile environment that we’ve developed autoimmune disorders that are less common in third-world countries. 
I get that.  All Earthlings evolved together.  Some of us are parasites on others of us.  I am a parasite on the animals I eat.  Mosquitoes are parasites on me, but I get to continue living.  Some of us Earthlings have symbiotic relationships.  Like Baby Woodrow and me.
I don’t know what would happen if all the worms in the world died off, but I suspect we’d all be dead in a matter of weeks.  So I’m not saying that worms are bad.  I’m simply saying that my dog had parasites in his belly, and those parasites would have made him sick, perhaps killed him in time.
And I am saying that a billion people in the world likewise have worms that make them sick.  And that 880 million of those people are little children.
I don’t shop at Christmas.  Instead, I donate to charities that serve the devastating numbers of animals in desperate need.  But perhaps this year I will write an extra check- not in lieu of, but in addition to my usual donations- to a charity that could rid a little girl in Liberia of the worms that this moment are causing her to vomit her guts out, or a tiny boy who will die because his bowel is blocked with a pile of wiggling worms like my Woodrow passed today.  Because no child should have to suffer with a disease that I cured my dog from for less than the cost of going out for pizza and beer.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Taxonomy of Urination

Today I said widdle.  I have never said widdle in my life.  I was surprised to hear myself say it.

I said widdle to defend my new puppy when he dribbled a little urine on my Belgian rug.  I glared at Husband Don and snarled, “It’s okay.  He didn’t tinkle.  He just widdled.” Don backed away from me.

Because I wondered why I had said widdled, I constructed a taxonomy of urinary elimination.  Perhaps some scholar will find it useful.

When I was a little girl, I tee-teed.   But I knew that boys peed.  I preferred the word pee.  Pee.  Good, strong word.  Powerful word.  I wanted to pee.  But according to my mother, I could only tee-tee because that’s what girls did.

However, my fearsome grandmother was an RN, and she required that I say micturate.  I do not know another living soul who has ever said micturate besides Grandmother Martin and me.  But because she was a nurse, I assumed that this was the appropriate term to use with a physician. Therefore, when I was seven and my mother took me to the doctor for a UTI, I told him that it hurt to micturate.  He laughed at me.

As a teenager, I stopped tee-teeing and simply used the restroom. 

As a twenty-something until I was forty, I worked as a wilderness guide and horse wrangler in the summers. Horse wrangling is an intensely masculine culture, so in order to seem as tough as the men, I adopted their lexicon and began taking a leak.  (Now in my sixties, I leak when I sneeze, but I don’t intend to.)

When I started dating Husband Don, I peed and he tinkled.  This struck me as funny.  For 20 years, I have peed, and he has tinkled.  He has never succeeded in getting me to tinkle instead of pee, but he has succeeded in teaching me that dogs tinkle. 

Therefore, when we brought new puppy Woodrow home two days ago, I found myself cooing with exaggerated enthusiasm, “Let’s go tinkle!”  When he urinated outdoors, I jumped up and down, waved my arms, and hollered, “Woohoo!  Woohoo!  Good Woodrow!  Good tinkle!  Good tinkle, Woodrow!   I pictured myself as Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) from Golden Girls engaging in this absurd routine, and I felt ridiculous.  But I still kept doing it.

So that is my taxonomy.  Little girls tee-tee.  Little girls with fierce RN grandmothers micturate; or at least I and mine did.  Boys pee.  Teenage girls use the restroom.  Horse wranglers take a leak.  I pee if I am intentionally urinating, leak if unintentionally.  Husband Don and puppy Woodrow tinkle if intentionally urinating, and Woodrow widdles if unintentionally dribbling.  

Although I will feel ridiculous, I will keep woohooing whenever Woodrow tinkles outdoors, onlookers be damned.  Likewise, I will keep defending him when he widdles on the Belgian rug.  Because baby Woodrow is my dog, and a dog is a human’s best friend.  And after all, what’s a little micturition between friends?

Sunday, October 26, 2014


       When I was three, I realized that women were fundamentally different from men.  Men had their hair cut by barbers, wore pants, drank coffee, and stood to pee.  Women had their hair dressed by hair dressers, wore dresses, drank tea, and sat to tee-tee.  I understood the connection between drinking tea and tee-teeing, but not between drinking coffee and peeing.  I asked my mother if coffee were made from peas.  Without asking me where I got that idea, she said it was made from beans.  I thought, “Close enough.”

When I was four, I heard my mother in the kitchen early one winter morning.  She was sitting in the dark with the shades drawn.  She was drinking coffee.  I was horrified.  But then I was intrigued.  This meant that ANYTHING was possible!  Ten minutes later she heard me sobbing in the bathroom.  She ran in to see me standing in front of the toilet trying to urinate.  “Honey!” she cried, “What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to pee like Daddy!” I cried.  “But I can’t do it!  It’s running down my legs!”

She said, “Honey, only boys and men can tee-tee standing up.”

I cried, “But you were drinking coffee!”

She said, “Huh?”

I never tried to stand to pee again after that, but I did learn to enjoy coffee like a man.  And I learned to adore tea like a woman.

My tea is subtle and seductive with names like Prince of Wales or Earl Grey.  But my favorite is Downton Abbey’s® Mrs. Patmore’s Pudding Tea shipped to me directly by the Minister of Supply upon order of the Minister of Tea of the Republic of Tea®.  My mouth waters as I prepare to serve it to myself on a silver tray with lemon curd on a scone.  Hell, with a peanut butter sandwich.

Years ago, in National Geographic, I read an article about the tough-but-gentle people who live in the Himalayas.  The writer interviewed an ancient man living in a cave high on the face of a mountain in Nepal.  The writer asked the wrinkled fellow with the twinkly eyes whether he missed having the conveniences of western civilization.  The man, whose white beard flowed to his chest and who was so old that he probably had to sit to pee, said, “I have my good, strong, hot sweet tea and my friends.  What more could I want?”

I think about that man sometimes.  His soul has surely soared heavenward as his body burned on a funeral pyre, but our spirits are linked by tea.  By the ritual, the slowingdownness of making and sipping tea.  The forced steppingbackness from the daily rushing to hither, thither, and yon.  The inthemomentness of closing the eyes and inhaling the magical aroma deep into the soul.

I, too, am old now, and I am content with being an old woman.  With having my white hair dressed by a hair dresser.  With sitting to tee-tee, though sometimes with difficulty getting up afterward.  And with indulging myself, caressing myself, adoring myself, with my daily ritual of tea.


Got a stump right smack dab in the middle of my back yard.  As I understand convention, a civilized person is not supposed to have a stump in her yard.  A civilized person who has a stump in her yard calls sinewy, grizzled guys who come out with a contraption called a stump grinder that erases the stump from its spot on the earth.  Erases all signs that a tree ever lived on that spot: purified the air, shaded rabbits, flowered in lascivious glory, sheltered baby cardinals, shattered the air with brilliant color in the fall, made a home for hoot owls as it died. 

Don’t understand why a person would want to erase a stump. 

My stump is a double stump.  This probably makes me only half as civilized as people who have a single stump.  And infinitely less civilized than people who have no stump at all. 

The left-hand part of my stump is eight inches across and two feet high.  The right-hand part is six inches across and a foot high.  The right and left stump faces are cut at 45 degree angles facing away from each other.  Their upturned faces make them look like they are admiring the leaves in the trees who are still living.  Or enjoying the sun.  Or like two good friends standing back-to-back fighting for their lives.  Against sinewy grizzled guys out to erase them.  “I’m on your six,” the short stump would shout to the tall one.  “Got yer back,” the tall one would yell in return.

My stump has borne silent witness to untold joy and despair:  The delight of an elderly ground squirrel at feeling the warm sun on his fur when he emerges from his long winter’s nap.  The terror of a grey squirrel my neighbors trap and carry away as she clings to the cage bars and screams for her babies.  The despair of a naked baby bird who lies crying in the wet grass and waits for his death. The thrill of a young thumbkin bat, amazed at her own fearsome feats, as she cavorts through the air catching acrobatic bugs.  The sensuous joy of my sweet gum tree as the rain caresses her long lean limbs while she stretches them seductively in the wind. To all this joy and despair, and untold more, has my stump borne silent witness.

I know my double-stump is not a living tree any more.  Don’t know who it was or why it died.  Bought the stump along with the house.  Can’t miss the tree I never knew, but I would miss the stump if sinewy, grizzled guys came with a stump grinder in the middle of the night and grinded it.  Would scream and throw books at them out of my attic window until they threw up their hands and skulked off muttering about the crazy woman in the attic.

I am not the only person to whom this stump is important.  Grey squirrels in the trees that line my back yard love this stump.    They scurry down my sweet gum tree and race across the yard to hop up on it.  They raise up on their haunches and gaze back at the sweet gum to admire it from a different perspective.  Then they peer at the oaks and the elm tree to see whether they have changed from the day before.  Occasionally they look directly at me through the attic window and wonder what the hell I’m doing inside on such a magnificent day.

Once in a glorious while, a couple of young squirrels will climb up on the stump to see the world from a new perspective together.  Thrilling to run out of the safe cover of the trees and climb up on a stump, exposed, for the first time.  Like the first day of school.  Like the first crush.  Like the first kiss.

A few minutes ago, in the rain that is washing my stump, a pale five-pointed sweet gum leaf fell on its left-hand face.  The stump is dark-coffee-brown, so the leaf looks like a star in the night sky.  Seems to be stuck there.  Tomorrow, maybe a squirrel will hop up on the stump and push the leaf off.  But for now, I like to think the leaf is enjoying seeing the world from a new perspective.

Maybe we each live in a Life-Tree.  Maybe we live so close to the wonders of our Life-Trees that we can’t see them clearly.  Maybe sitting on a stump from time to time would help us gain new perspectives on our lives.  I don’t know about civilized people, but I think I’d gladly trade being civilized for the perspective afforded me by sitting on my stump any day. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

On Loss and Gain: Shelter Dogs and Life Changes

Two days ago when we adopted our new dog, Laird Woodrow the Wirehaired of the House of Gore-Lancaster, I did something that gave me pause at first, but in retrospect, I know was right.

Woodrow, then called Jack, shared a cage with a female named Allie; she seemed a couple of years older than he.  They had wire-haired-ish faces, but different coloration and body builds.  She was snow white with a large brown patch; he was retriever gold with an eggshell muzzle.  She was taller and leaner, her face pointier, her mustache more pronounced. He loved people; she didn’t approach.

On the day we adopted him, the shelter attendant had to drag Woodrow-To-Be outside to meet us.  Long strings of fear-saliva flung from his whiskers, and he flattened himself on the walkway as she dragged him. I’ve seen roadkill less pancaked. “Sorry,” the attendant said.  “He’s not leash trained.”

I said, “He’s probably scared without his cage-mate.”

“Oh,” she said, “That’s his sister.” 

Whoa. “I didn’t know that,” I said.  “Petfinder doesn’t say they are pair-bonded.  I don’t want to break them up, and we can’t take them both. So we better not take him.”

“That’s the problem,” said the lovely young attendant, “People say exactly what you said; everybody thinks they’re cute, but nobody wants to separate them, so they don’t get adopted.”

“I understand that.”

“But the bigger problem is that they’ve been here over three weeks.  The shelter director has passed them over for euthanasia twice.  They’ll both have to be put down soon.”


“If you take Jack, Allie has a much better chance of getting adopted.  If you take him, she might be saved, too.”

Oh, I thought.  If they stay together, they’ll almost certainly both be euthanized.  If I take him, he’ll be saved, and she might be euthanized.  But she might not.  At least she’ll have a shot at being adopted.  We might save both dogs by taking one.

Meanwhile, Woodrow cowered in front of us.  But our dog Callie liked him immediately; she play bowed.  That was the first criterion: Callie had to like him. Tenderhearted Husband Don liked him, too.  That wasn’t much of a hurdle because Don’s a softie for dogs.  Dad commended Woodrow as a charming fellow, so the deal was done.  Dog Pound Jack was to become our Woodrow.  Allie would lose her brother, but because of her loss, she would have a real shot at being adopted, too.

The Jack/Allie Catch 22 has led me to think about the need for sometimes letting go of people, things, and old roles in order to embrace new joys that life has to offer. You see, two objects cannot exist in the same space at the same time. And once a space is made available, something must fill it up. Because Nature abhors a vacuum. That’s physics.  And metaphysics.

This year, I’ve had to let go of my role as a college professor.  Sometimes it’s been a struggle.  But making that space has allowed me to regain a role I had to sacrifice long ago: now, in the autumn of my life, I can once again say, I am a musician. 

This year I watched a widow let go of her grief and become a beaming young lover once again.

I watched a shy, friendless old woman let go of her solitary life and move into assisted living where she has learned how much fun sharing a meal with new friends can be.

I watched a man let go of a home he could no longer care for and thereby find that freedom from homeownership pulses with possibility.

So losing something offers the possibility of filling the vacuum with something new, and perhaps in its own way, better.

So this is my prayer for Allie, whose brother I took from her yesterday.

Creator God, to save our Woodrow, I have forced dear Allie to give up her brother.  I beg that Thou wilt transform her loss into gain; I beseech Thee to send her a person who will shower her with the love that we pledge to shower upon her brother.  And Lord, I beseech Thee to embrace with Thy peace all the dear shelter dogs who this day must die because they have no one to love them.



Friday, October 24, 2014

Finding Your Do-er: What a First Grader and His Teacher Taught Me About Retirement

Mrs. Moss, age 40, became a brand-new first-grade teacher in the elementary school where I had grown up.  In fact, she taught in the same classroom where I had attended first-grade, so I know that classroom, Room 4, well. 

The west end of Room 4 shared a boys' restroom with Room 5; the east end of Room 4 shared a girls' restroom with Room 3.  The classrooms and restrooms were like links in a chain.  By going from restroom to classroom to restroom, you could travel the entire wing without ever setting foot into the hall.

I've never seen another school with toilet facilities like this one, but having been a first grade teacher, I can attest to the handiness of the architecture.  A teacher could closely supervise the children using the toilet while still supervising the children who were at their desks.  She never had to leave the classroom to check up on someone who was ill or  lingering in the restroom.

One day, Mrs. Moss allowed six-year-old James to go to the toilet during class.  A minute later, an agonizing wail erupted from behind the boys' restroom door.  Good Lord, thought Mrs. Moss.  He's caught himself in his zipper!  She flew to the door, threw it open, and cast herself down beside the sobbing child to try to help extricate his tender flesh.

But nothing was stuck in the zipper.  Instead, James was grabbing desperately inside of his open zipper and wailing.

"What's wrong?" Mrs. Moss asked, and James threw himself into her arms.

"My do-er!"  he cried.  "I can't find my do-er!"

"What?" she asked, gently removing his arms from around her neck to try to assess the problem.

"I can't find my do-er!" he sobbed again, pointing to his zipper.  Then Mrs. Moss understood.  She unbuttoned James's pants and lowered them to his ankles.

"Sweetheart," she soothed, "You've got your underpants on backward."

Since I retired, I've thought a lot about James and Mrs. Moss.  About how terrified you feel when you think you've lost your do-er. About how important finding it is when you retire.

The president of my concert band told me recently that he had taken up playing percussion after he retired.  "I'd had a busy life as a Lutheran pastor," he said, "And suddenly I had nothing to do.  I didn't know how to fill my days, so I decided that I'd better find something to do.  I found band, and it made all the difference." 

A lovely retired nurse in the adult beginners band where I teach woodwinds told me the same thing.  She didn't know what to do with herself when she retired from years in neonatal intensive care.  Then she found New Horizons Band.  An experienced pianist, she decided she wanted to learn to play clarinet.  Her do-er went into high gear, and she's thriving.

People at the humane society thrift shop where I volunteer have told me their stories: after retirement, they didn't know what to do with themselves.  They felt lost. Worse, they felt Unmotivated. Unmotivated to learn anything new, like how to play pickleball or the tuba. Unmotivated to improve talents they'd always dabbled with, like writing or singing. Unmotivated to make the world a better place, like volunteering at the food bank with their church group, or raising money for shelter dogs with a bunch of like-minded strangers who might become friends. They couldn't find their do-ers

Then they'd met someone who did work at the thrift shop and suggested they try it, say one four-hour shift a month.  Or maybe two.  They'd tried it, liked it, and had found something to do.  Once they found something to do, they got motivated.  They found their do-ers.

So this is what James-the-First-Grader and Mrs. Moss taught me.  Sometimes when you think you've lost your do-er, it's still there. You just have to know where to look for it. 

That might mean having to tell someone else that you're afraid you've lost your do-er. That might mean asking them how they found their do-ers, and asking them to help you find yours.  And that might mean following their advice, even if they tell you to drop your trousers, step out of your underpants, and turn them around the right way.

The Transformation of a Shelter Dog: Laird Woodrow the Wirehaired of the House of Gore-Lancaster

Until yesterday,                        23 October 2014, at 3:00 p.m. CST, this was Jack, an innocent dog-person condemned to die through the fault of irresponsible human-persons: first and foremost, the human-person who owned Jack's mother and failed to spay her; second, the human-person who owned Jack's father and failed to neuter him; third, the human-person who abandoned him.  These perpetrators may have been  three separate irresponsible human-persons, or they may have been one human-person whose crimes of irresponsibility are manifold. Shame on the guilty for bringing more unwanted dog-babies into the world when 6.3 innocent dog-babies are already born for every innocent human-baby. 

However, yesterday at 3:01 p.m. CST, Jack's fate was transformed by the magic of love: Jack the Condemned to Die Through No Fault of His Own became Laird Woodrow the Wirehaired of the House of Gore-Lancaster.  This transformation required only a few swipes of the pen, $55, and a lifetime commitment of love, time and money from the whole fam-damily. 

Our Woodrow will be a dog-person adored from this day forward, although his adopted sister, Lady Callie (now 70+ in dog years), will see that he remains Second Dog while she remains Top Dog.

But appearances are often deceiving, and magic often produces results other than what we intended.  So here's the story.

Woodrow had sat on death row for more than three weeks; his cuteness factor gave him extra time while his kennel mates met their untimely ends.  His bio on Petfinder.com said he was an adult, and I'd been laboring under that misconception for two weeks. Yesterday, however, the shelter employee said he was six to eight months old, so I thought, O.....kay. Well, he's pretty close to full size.  But the vet told me three minutes ago that he is only four months old and is going to get twice as big.  He's gonna be a bonny, strapping boy.  Not exactly what I had in mind, but apparently what God did.  "Ha HA!" said God.  Who happens to be the Ultimate Magician.
So Laird Woodrow the Wirehaired, my 30-pound dog-person, will become my 60-pound dog-person.  But that's okay.  Twice as much dog for the money. Twice as much magic.  Twice as much love.  Darn good deal if you ask me. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lessons My Band Director Taught Me: #1 Be Careful What You Ask For

My junior high band director, Mr. Wilson, taught me more life lessons than anybody else ever did.  One lesson he taught me was:  Be sure you want what you ask for.   You just might get it.

Fifty years ago, Mr. Wilson was forced to deal with a narcissistic cheerleader coach.  Mrs. Gundershoot thought the school existed to serve her, and through her largesse, the cheerleaders, and through them, the football team. 

Mrs. Gundershoot didn’t politely ask people to do things.  She demanded it.   You didn’t demand things of my band director.  If you did, you might get exactly what you asked for—on HIS terms.

One day, Mrs. Gundershoot marched up to Mr. Wilson and demanded, “We have a pep rally in the gym in a half hour. I want your band in there, and I want them to make a LOT OF NOISE.  Got it?  Your band’s job is to get the kids all riled up by making a lot of noise.”  Out she marched.

Now first of all, music is not noise.  Music is the antithesis of noise.  Even music by Paul Hindemith. Music has structure, rules, logic.  Music is mathematically beautiful.  Even music that sounds like cacophony has an underlying structure. 

Telling my band director that his band is supposed to make a lot of noise was equivalent to telling Gordon Ramsay, “Put some crap on the table.”  Chef Ramsay wouldn’t take kindly to that, and when you came to the table, you’d find a steaming pile of horse manure garnished with a sprig of parsley.  Crap you want? Crap you get.

Noise you want? Noise you get.

Mr. Wilson rounded up his band.  He had an enormous brass section that year: 16 trumpets; 9 trombones; 4 baritones; and 4 tubas.  Big boys.  Most of them ninth-graders.  We’re talking HEAVY on brass.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “Mrs. Gundershoot wants noise at the assembly.  She told us to ‘make a lot of noise.’ We are going to give her what she wants.”  Then, “Brass, I want you to STRAIGHTEN THE TUBES.”   Translation: “Blow so hard that you unfurl the twists and turns in your horn.”  All 33 brass players grinned from ear to ear.  “Oh, yeah.”

The he said, “Play March Grandioso.”  The band understood the subtext.  Think about the name.  March.  Grandioso.  March Grandioso is a Sherman tank.  The idea of straightening the pipes on March Grandioso is the equivalent of Patton blasting his way through Bastogne at the Battle of the Bulge.

The band entered the gym and Mr. Wilson lined them up at attention in block formation.  The drum major gave a roll off.  And the room exploded in sound.  Kids in the bleachers shrieked and covered their ears. 

Mrs. Gundershoot ran up to the choir teacher and screamed, “That band is too Goddamn loud!” 

The choir teacher yelled back, “You told him you wanted the band to make a bunch of noise!  Well, you got it!”

That’s when the fun started.  The first gym light popped and went out.  The band played louder.  The second gym light exploded.  The twists and turns on the trumpets began to unfurl.  The third gym light popped.  The drummers pounded till they split their drumheads. The fourth gym light went out.  By the time the tubas finished hurling their grenades, the filaments of 16 gym lights had exploded, and Mrs. Gundershoot was purple with rage.

I don’t know whether the football team won or lost that game. I do know that nobody learned anything at school that day except that the band could blow 16 lights out in the gym.

So what was the lesson that Mr. Wilson taught me from that story? The Story of The Day the Band Blew 16 Lights Out of the Gym Ceiling? Be careful about what you ask for.  You just might get it.