Christmas Boxes

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Once upon a time…

Don’t all the best stories start out that way?

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Take Ten: My New Year’s Resolution

New Years is so soon upon us. And resolutions and New Year go hand in hand. But to be honest, I’m not so great at resolutions. I’m part of the statistic that shows the vast majority of resolutionists <– I don’t think that was a word before, but it is now…  Right…the statistic: the vast majority of people do NOT keep their resolutions.

Well, this year is going to be different, and it’s going to be different because it’s not an effort toward a great end-goal–like the year I was going to lose 1 measly pound a week to get  back to high school size<— end goal. Or the year I was going to get rid of one thing everyday to do massive de-cluttering by the end of the year <— end goal.

Nope. This year’s resolution doesn’t rely on cumulative effect to make it worthwhile. It’s benefits will be felt and enjoyed everyday.

This year’s resolution I’ve dubbed, “take ten”.  The idea is very simple. Put down the  cellphone, walk away from the computer, the TV, put down the game controllers, the…well, you get the idea. Walk away from the distractions. Sit down–hopefully with someone, and talk for ten minutes. Have a meaningful conversation. If you’re alone, take ten for some internal monologue, or if you’re like me, some external monologue. Or talk to the dog or the cat. The point is to disconnect with the digital, and to connect with another living being.

Choose a spot, and go to the same spot day after day. I came up with the idea a couple of months ago, and my husband and I didn’t wait for the New Year to start. We chose the small, front deck with a view of tall hardwoods as take ten spot. We’ve had a few rainy nights that we did move to the back porch.

Recently, it’s been teeth-chattering cold, so our ten minutes outside is often spent talking about how cold we are. ~smiling~ But unless it’s unbearably cold, we’ve discovered that most ten minute talks turn into an hour.

I like the idea of sitting outside, best. Our eyes are drawn to the trees, the clouds, the sunset, the stars. Our conversations are lifted as well, from people and things, to more philosophical ideas.

How about you–do you take ten? Will you take ten? What’s your resolution, if you so indulge?

Happy New Year. 🙂

View from front deck.

View from front deck.

Sunset from take ten spot.

Sunset from take ten spot.

IMG_8640

Moon from take ten spot.

 

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Weekend Writing Warriors

I’m sorry for this–but due to WordPress and Blogger refusing to get along, I had to sign into my WP account (which is anecdotal stories–not my writing blog) to be able to leave comments on some blogs.

If you are looking for my Weekend Writing Warriors excerpt, please visit Dreamers, Lovers, and Star Voyagers

Once again, many apologies for asking you to jump through hoops to read my excerpt.

Teresa

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Monster Story For a Three Year Old (and grownups who like to giggle)

Today was my Natty Friday; that happens every other week.   She is this amazing, intelligent, and beautiful little girl who also happens to be my granddaughter.  Going on 4, she just started “school” yesterday.

One of the themes of her first day of school was monsters, with a story read about them, and other activities central to the monster theme.

Appropriate, I guess.  Children her age are struggling with sorting out the fundamental concepts of reality…and monsters can occupy a BIG space in the mind of a small child.

We like to go to the park when she visits, but it was 90 degrees today and sweltering humid, so we stayed inside in the air conditioning.  The normal things progressed…I tried to get her to eat something good for lunch.  She requested chocolate pudding. I caved.  But she did devour a plate of peach and apple slices along with red grapes.  And then she washed it down with water.

And then the perfunctory movie–“The Incredibles” along with a snack size of popcorn.  And we colored and painted, along with Bobbi, my son’s girlfriend.

Then I read her books. This visit, I grabbed a stack of Little Golden Books, Bambi and Little Red Riding Hood, a couple others, and in the stack was one I thought so appropriate, a Muppet story called “The Monster At the End Of This Book”.

After all of that was winding down, Bobbi and I were sitting in the family room and she was laying on the floor wondering and babbling (wondering out loud, I call it) while The Incredibles made background noise as it played through for the third time.

Natty looked up at me and said, “Grammy, tell me a monster story.”

Ha! I do fancy myself to be a creator of stories, and thought first of fiction. I would simply make up a story on the spot…and in those few seconds of thought, had already begun to draw guidlelines for what was too scary and was allowed in the story.

Then, I backed up a bit and recalled a real monster story from my childhood. What is better than non-fiction, especially when told with embellishments?  With eyebrows arched in  appropriate places, and the voice, low when necessary and screeching high when needed…along with the occasional conspiratorial whisper?

“Well, first you know, monsters are in the imagination…at least when you are three. Perhaps, when you are older, we can talk about monsters again, because it is a rather philosophical concept.”

She looked at me like she often does when I go off on a quite vociferous tangent.

I continued, “But, I do have a monster story  I can share with you and you will see that the monster was in my imagination. Do you know what imagination is?” I asked after seeing the puzzle on her face.

“No.” As her head shook from side to side.

“Imagination is when you make up things in your thoughts. Sometimes they seem so real…like monsters.  And one time when I was a little girl, I was sure I saw a monster or a ghost, but it turned out to be my imagination.”

She was listening intently.  So I began.

“When I was a little girl, just a little older than you are now, I lived on a farm. The house was in the middle of a cow pasture.  We had a big yard fence all around the house to keep the cows out.  And since we lived in the cow pasture, when we drove out the lane to go anywhere, we had to stop the car, open the gate, get back in the car, drive it through the gate, then get out, close the gate behind us and then get back in the car and go the rest of the way out the lane.”

“So the cows didn’t get out of the pasture, Grammie?”

I nodded yes while I thought, smart girl, and then I continued.

My mommy worked as a nurse at the hospital, and she left really early in the morning. And when I didn’t have to go to school, in the summer, my mom would wake me up when she was ready to leave for work and I would ride out to the gate with her, get out, open the gate, and she would wave at me while she yelled goodbye, then she would drive to work. I would shut the gate and walk back down to the house.”

She was all ears and eyes as I told the story  from my childhood.

“When summer was getting to an end, the days grew shorter and the sun came up later and later. It finally got to where I was riding out the lane with my mom in the dark. The sun had not come up yet. And I was “sort of” afraid of the dark.

“I am too, Grammie. I am afraid of the dark.” She confessed immediately.

I added that it is okay to be afraid of the dark. “I still don’t like being in the dark.”

<lowered voice> So, this one morning, it was dark and I rode out the lane with my mom. I stepped out, grabbed the gate, lowered it while she drove over it, waving goodbye as she continued on. I fastened the gate quickly, trying to use the dim lights of the car as it drove away, to find the hook of the gate. Then I stood and watched my mom disappear up over the hill.

As I turned to walk back to the house, in the light of a very, very dim predawn, I saw something white across the lane from me, a few feet up over the bank. I was scared!  <eyebrows arched high>  <mine and hers> I didn’t know what it was. I crouched down and decided not to move an inch, and maybe whatever it was would stay where it was and then when the sun came up and it got light, it would just vanish (like I was sure that ghosts did) or if it were a monster, I would at least be able to see what it was.

There, motionless, I waited with pounding heart, as the white thing occasionally moved, rose up a bit then settle back down. As the light came (which took an eternity) suddenly, what my mind–and my imagination had been seeing was…” <pause for dramatic effect while the weight of the moment showed on Natty’s face>

“The white part of a black and white cow!”

Nattie looked confused for a moment then her smile mirrored my own.

“Yep, Grammie couldn’t see the black part in the darkness, just the white part. But my imagination told me it was a monster or a ghost. I didn’t know where  the cows decided to sleep in the pasture. They must have been up there, close to the gate when it got dark and then they just laid down and slept right there.”

I waited for the reaction as I wondered, had I made it too scary? Should I have toned it down, fessed about the cows sooner? Was she upset, scared?

And this was the response, “Did you put the cows back in the fence?”

I smiled while I explained that the cows were always on the same side of the gate as I was.  “And your silly Grammie thought that cows were monsters.”

And that was her monster story for the day.

You just have to love children…their natural inquisitiveness, their innocence, their ways of processing information…the way they make you find the child that still lives, buried in your mind–even the one that is still afraid of the dark and mistakes cows for monsters 🙂

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Never Look at a Vase or an Ashtray the Same Way Again

The woods are enchanted today.  My goodness, there has not been a day so fair since last June!  The sunlight, filtered through the canopy of tall hardwoods, dances in dapples and spots, brilliant, then gone, then back again.  And the wind sings, bringing stories of northwestern worlds in a language that makes me dream, but not comprehend…

And that stack of glass beckons (with my husband’s voice) “When are you going to make some totems?”

The stack of collected glass to use for totems.

Flea market finds for a quarter here, 5 for a buck there.  The collection began last year when a friend emailed me photos of totems at a Botanical Garden…and the hunt began. 

Last autumn I made several, but gave most of them away.  Now it is time to replenish my supply.  I did collect lead crystal pieces for a specific totem, to be donated to a garden in memory of my mom.  That one is almost finished.  Photos will follow.  Instructions first for anyone adventurous in crafts.

Odd glass pieces, various sizes, shapes and colors, and “Amazing Goop” Household adhesive–or any adhesive that is waterproof and clear when dry.  I have several totems that withstood being outside all winter during snow, sleet, freezing rain, bitter cold and thaw cycles.

First, use caution– broken glass can cause cuts and lacerations.  Wear appropriate clothings and protection.

Start with a plate–for taller totems, a wider plate is necessary for stability. Then you begin to stack–carefully, exchanging pieces until you see something that strikes a chord.  There are no rules except what common sense and aesthetics dictate.  Place pieces so that openings face down, and bowls and plates are inverted so that they do not trap water.  The point is to have moisture drain off.  When you create an arrangement that looks good, begin to glue them together. Follow package instructions for your adhesive, allowing ample cure time.  And it is a good idea to glue sections of a couple pieces together, then glue sections together after initial curing.  You may find it helpful to use masking tape to hold pieces in place while the glue is very wet.  Pieces will shift–and cause crooked totems.

When planning where to use in the garden, think “gazing ball type focal point’…

candy dishes, water goblet, candleholder...

snifters (two sizes) candleholders, candydish lid, plate

water goblets, candy dishes, ashtrays, bowls, plates, vases…  It is nice to leave a candleholder on top unattached. That way it can be turned over for bad weather to keep from collecting water, and also you don’t have to lift and turn the whole totem on its side to pour out any collected water.

lead crystal, in memory, angel on topoverwintered outdoors

tall one is about 2 and a half feet tall
tall one is about 2 and a half feet tall
Wintered over outdoors just fine.

Wintered over outdoors just fine.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
So, no big secrets, just a great idea to utilize old pieces of glass in the back of cupboards,  or from fleamarkets and yard sales.
 
Enjoy 🙂
 
 
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Mary and the Makeup

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Cypher  All rights reserved

This spring is a different sort of spring.  So many anchors have been removed in the last year.  I walked up the lane yesterday and looked west, out across the wide expanse of hilltops dotting the horizon.  The orchard’s blossoms below where I stood are falling,  fading the white clouds of apple trees to mint green.

There is not much of that old orchard left, and what remains is gnarled and half broken with age and the elements. But the scent still drifts sweetly on the air, the scent beloved of honeybees and aging country girls.

I stood there with a spring wind blowing in my face, and I thought about time past.

There was a time, years ago, okay, decades ago,  when I picked bouquets of apple blossoms and carried them to the house, their woody stems to be plunked down into mason jars.  Ahhh…so quickly they faded.  But they sufficed for flowers until the lilacs and wildflowers bloomed.

My eyes looked beyond to the neighbor’s pasture, a hillside meadow of emerging green. Cows no longer graze there, but there was a time…

The old neighbor, Mary, who lived on that farm, did not see the return of spring this year.  Having lived ninety plus years, she took the soul of a quickly given smile and eagerly shared story, and moved  beyond our earth-bound vision.

Mary was a beautiful soul.  She was generous with me many times in my life…whether it was buying me a new dress for school the year I went into 6th grade, or just calling me and saying, “Teresa, I picked strawberries. Do you want to come and get some?” She exemplified what a real neighbor is.

Mary never had daughters…and I think that my little sister, Betty, and I benefited from that at least once in our early years.  I recall walking up through the “cattle run”, a fenced in passageway that ran between crop fields. It stretched from just above our creek to Mary’s barn at the top of the field. Once past the barn, we stopped and pumped fresh spring water for a nice cold drink, and then made our way across the yard to Mary’s house.

In my memory, she was always happy to see us, and I still suspect that was the case.  She invited us inside on one particular day, and proceeded to show us her makeup.  Here I have to add that Mary, for a country girl to the core, always seemed to have her blush and her lipstick on. Even when I was a very little girl, I thought she was quite the lady…and she never wore trousers or jeans!  Always a dress, even when she gardened or took care of her cows and chickens.

So there we were, Betty and me, wide-eyed with amazement at the makeup before us…all the things that make a woman glamorous and p.r.e.t.t.y.  Our mom never wore makeup, so this was foreign to us…Mary offered to make us up, and we accepted, never giving a thought to whether we were permitted to wear makeup. I am guessing that we were probably around the ages of 5 and 6, maybe 6 and 7.

I remember Mary giggling her beautiful, unique, giggle, that even into her nineties made her sound like a child.  And I recall smiling from ear to ear because I knew that now I was beautiful, glamorous…and very p.r.e.t.t.y.  and Betty grinned from ear to ear, enjoying the very same beautiful, glamorous, fashionable, face that Mary wore, lipstick and all.

And then, it was a Christmas moment! (The memory of it makes me smile so hard while typing this that I look a chipmunk with my cheeks stuffed full of acorns).  Mary said, “Here, I don’t use this one anymore, or this one, or this one…and this one…you can have them…go ahead, take them home with you.”

Holy cow!  We would be beautiful…and glamorous, and fashionable for years now!  <laughing>

We retraced our steps, back down through the cattle run, always watching for new cow-patties. You know they could completely destroy a glamor girl’s image…wet cow-patties on bare feet. Ugh!

I can’t recall specific words, just the expression on my mother’s face as we walked in the back door to our kitchen.  But…I am pretty sure that it involved a hasty interrogation about where we got that stuff on our faces! <laughing harder> and then after proudly showing our near endless-supply of rouge and lipstick so generously given to us, it was immediately confiscated and then our faces were scrubbed with lye soap!

I knew that day that all my hope of being glamorous was gone.  And it was years until I wore makeup again–sneaking it on at school so my dad wouldn’t see it.

In retrospect…it really added nothing in the way of beauty and glamor.  But I suppose that it helped this square peg fit into the round hole that school was.

And Mary? Bless her beautiful heart…I don’t know if mom ever said a word to her about it, but the makeup incident did nothing to lessen the traffic on the cattle run between our homes.  And I grew up happy to know such a lady who even wore her rouge and lipstick when she sat on her front porch in her later years of life.

Today…makeup and me? We have formed an uneasy truce.  Each time I am invited to a wedding, I have to go buy a tube of waterproof mascara (because we always cry at weddings, right?) and my lipstick is chapstick.  Other than that…not so much.  Because I know…glamor is a fantasy sold to us when we are little girls, and being p.r.e.t.t.y is something within our very hearts.

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You Were My Dog

Copyright 2011  ©  by Teresa Cypher

You Were My Dog

It was June of 1996; it seems like such a long time ago.  We were walking across the parking lot to the flea market when we saw a couple giving away puppies.  A month earlier we had put down our 5-year-old German shepherd after a mystery paralysis had left him unable to move anything but his head and neck.  Still emotionally bruised from the loss, we had no plans to get a dog so soon, if at all.

But here we were, looking at three Border Collie mix puppies. Two were black and white, and one was blonde like the famous Lassie.  I liked the blonde but it shied away– to the point of cowering behind the clothesbasket in which they had arrived.  One of the black and white ones was aggressive.  I had just read an article about choosing puppies from a litter, and it suggested avoiding the shy (a frightened dog will bite) and to avoid the most aggressive for obvious reasons.  So, we were like Goldilocks…looking them over and picked the one that was “just right”—the other black and white puppy.

We brought him home with us. He sat on the seat of the truck like a little trooper, eyes forward, alert.  I recall marveling that we had just taken him from everything he had ever known in his whole 6 weeks of life, yet here he was, happy and accepting of his new family as if he had never had another.

We put him on the ground when we got home, and coaxed him—which he happily obliged by following us up the hill to the house. He paused and gave a sweet little puppy bark at the cat.  He was so chubby  he had to stop and rest every so many feet.  He was dubbed, on the spot, the Pokey Little Puppy.

Pokey was the family pet, but for reasons I can only suspect have to do with a dog always knowing who the cook is in a house, chose me as his master.  My daughter, Ziggy, bathed him and fussed over his “pretty paws” and my sons coaxed him to tag along with them everywhere they went on the family farm, still, at the end of my work day when I parked and shut off my truck, he came, rumble, tumble, roly, poly, down the hill in the yard with his little voice yapping excitedly.

I didn’t want a dog, not one of my own. I wanted him to worship the kids, not me.  Yet, day after day it became obvious that Pokey was choosing me.   I tried to deny acceptance of my “masterdom” he was granting me.  But it was undeniable when still a pup,  at a slightly older, long-gangly-legged stage, he followed the old farm dog roaming.  The farm dog came back but Pokey did not.  I was heart-sick, worrying where he could be. I canvassed the neighborhood, making known to all the neighbors that we had lost our dog. It took two days, but a neighbor called. He was at her house…glad to have learned that it was our dog—because she did not want a dog!  I conceded then; he was my dog.

The years began to slip by. He travelled to St Louis with us and walked beneath the arch.  He always travelled well, but was the dickens for burying his cheeseburger, instead of eating it, when we stopped at a McDonald’s.  He loved it when we went for ice cream, and he always got this own.

We memorized the black freckles on his white muzzle, and marveled at the Holstein pattern on his belly. Which prompted us to even check his gums—and yes, there were pink and black spots inside his mouth.  The vet told us that he thought there must be some Springer Spaniel there too.  My daughter and I used to laugh when we would gently lift the long tufts of hair on his ears and ask him in a silly voice, “Who does your hair? I simply must know!”

Pokey chased Frisbees and played fetch—sometimes even returning the ball to us.  He spent summers on bramble covered hillside with the kids and me, while we picked berries, basked in summer sunshine, and relished summer breezes.   There was birdsong, laughter, berry stained faces—and Pokey ate as many berries as we did—and nowhere was there a single, sad, thought about how short a dog’s life is.

Excuse me while I pause.  There, better.  Could not see the keyboard for my tears.

A couple summers later when Dave and I got married, Pokey attended with my niece holding his leash.  He was not fond of other animals, but he sure loved people.  He would excitedly bark and dance when the kid’s friends showed up—and he had his favorites.

He tagged along outside, but was never quite the outdoor dog that Gus was. Pokey was our intellectual with a British accent, and Gus was our big bruiser, head of security.  But Poke was willing to follow me anywhere I went.

High School graduations came and went, college absences were endured.  Dogs don’t understand. All they can do is react when the world is wonderful again. Each trip home from University brought a round of barking, licking and tail wagging that was nearly more than my daughter could take!

Our middle child, Nathan, got married, and his absence was acknowledged with a dancing and barking routine each time he visited.  And oh, how Pokey loved out daughter in law, Amanda.

I took him for walks out across the fields after work, him and Gus, our Rotty mix that was a couple of years younger.  They were my best walking pals…and I think they felt that way about me too, with the exception that I outright refused to pursue groundhogs with them.

Poke loved all of us, but I know that through and through, he had chosen me as his master—that human being who gets all of the trust…that he will not go hungry, and he will not be abandoned, and that he will not grow old alone in a chain link kennel.

More years went by, seeming to fly now.  We moved into our new home, Dave and  I having agreed  that the dogs could live a comfortable life in the basement.  Then…it just sort of happened. At first it was an area inside the front floor, then it was the living room, then it included the family room.

And life went on in its comfortable way.

A few more years vanished and Ziggy married Tim.  Gus was suspicious at first, but Poke loved him from the very start.  He received the happy bark and dance when he arrived.

Our youngest, DC, was the last remaining child at home, and as the dogs aged, he spent hours with them rubbing their ears and playing with them, but we all could see that the dogs were slowing down.

I can’t recall exactly when it happened, but Pokey moved beyond just slowing down to actually becoming an old dog.  It seemed to coincide with the birth of our first grandchild. Pokey was not only an old man by then, he was a grumpy old man…refusing to take Natalie into his “pack” or his heart.

Gus, on the other hand, our big bruiser, adored her from day one.  Not long after Natalie was born, Gus developed diabetes which after several months of insulin shots and trying to get his blood sugar under control, took his eyesight anyhow.   DC steadfastly gave insulin shots to him every day.  A year and a half later Gus was gone from complications of the disease.

That brought us to August of 2010.  Poke was ancient. Only one time the whole summer did he walk up to the garden with us.  He no longer followed us up the lane to watch the sunset. I started lifting his hips to help him up the porch steps and into the house, and he continued on in his very limited way. I grappled with having him put down.  As a human, I felt so limited in my ability to assess his quality of life.  He never cried in pain, he laid where he could watch me work on the computer, and seemed happy enough.  Who was I to judge that was not enough?  How can we measure in by human standards when death is better than living?  I never imagined that he would make it through the winter.  I rarely prayed, but I began to pray that he would just quietly and painlessly stop breathing while he slept.

But, his heart was strong.

The day finally came when I stood inside the house, watching him hobble outside to do his business.  He was beginning to lose his ability to realize when he had to go to the bathroom, completely deaf, and in the preceding two weeks, his eyes had begun to cloud over.

I called the vet and took the first step, getting the information into the computer.  From there it was a matter of me deciding when I was able to handle it, when I could move past the emotions of the love he had loyally given me for nearly 15 years, and allow my intellect to step up to the task of what I had to do.

We dug the grave.

Another couple of days went by, and at a visit to the vet for our new rescued dog on Tuesday, I told the receptionist that I would be back on Thursday with Pokey.

I had not baked cookies in a while, but I baked a batch of chocolate chips, and fed Pokey all that he would eat.  And he had eggs for breakfast—not just one, like normal mornings, but several.  And I counted days, then hours.

DC made the call to confirm the time to take him –after all the regular appointments were done.  That made it 3:30.  I gave Pokey a half-gallon of Neapolitan ice-cream. He licked and licked and licked…unaware that with each moment ticking by my heart was breaking even more.

I sat outside with him in the beautiful sunny day, a light breeze bringing scents to his nose, and thought about how I could barely remember what it was like to not have Poke in my world.  Steadfast friend, skunk spray, the dancing when he smelled cookies baking, how I reached a point that spelling the word W-A-L-K no longer worked because he knew it by the letters too, when he was year old and I fell and fractured the sinus bone under my eye, after the ER missed it, I laid on the couch for two days and he laid on the floor beside me, only leaving to do his business.

The time came.

Dave gathered him up and put him in the van…and he rode just like the trooper he always was in a vehicle.  At the vet’s, I went inside and paid…and signed the consent.

Then I went back out and crawled into the back of the van where DC  was already rubbing his ears. The vet wondered if he might bite, so I held his muzzle by rubbing his chocolate ice cream covered chin.  I talked to him while the vet worked, and tried in vain not to cry. I wished out loud that Poke could hear my voice. He looked up into my eyes and I kept telling him through sobs that it was okay, “It will be alright, sweetie”.

I don’t think he was scared, but he struggled for a second when the vet had to try for a vein the second time.  Inside I was screaming for it all to stop.  Let him close his eyes and sleep.

I watched as he relaxed, and through tears we continued petting him and rubbing him.  It felt like it took so long, but in reality, the end of his life happened very fast.  The vet listened with his stethoscope and said  Poke’s  heart had stopped.

Ten minutes after we had arrived at the vet’s, we were pulling back out onto the highway.

Pokey, if you could hear me I would tell you, I did not miss the fact that only a few weeks ago, you took Natalie into your pack.  And two weeks ago when she arrived, you laid on the floor on your rug and barked and barked and barked that joyful bark you saved for when your most favorite people came to visit.

I would tell you while I rubbed your ears and tousled your fur… that it was the hardest thing I ever did.  And I will miss you forever.

Dave heaved with huge sobs as he lifted you from the van, then we buried you in the shade of a witch hazel and a butternut tree, on the east side of the house.  There, where there is a flower garden with a small stone wall, and the daffodils are blooming right now.  There is a gazing ball…and sometimes, if you recall, I do go there just to sit, but mostly to work, pulling weeds, turning the compost, admiring the lilacs that came from the farmhouse.  And to clear my mind and just think.

Maybe not tomorrow, but in time, when I work around your grave, I will smile when I think about the joy you brought to my world…to all of our worlds.  And admit again, even though I never wanted it, you chose me and I accepted it…sometimes we don’t even know the things we need in our lives…or the things we want.

You were my dog… and my life was bettered for it.

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