Travels with Mimsy: Part 1

Disclaimer … This is not a literary work like Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie,” just a few musings of Mimsy’s first real vacation and our first post-retirement road trip.

In many ways, we were traveling old paths … a road trip to Sanibel Island, Florida, a route we have taken many times before. But chapters have turned, we are leaving from a new location, a new route, on a pace with minimal deadlines, a future undefined, but underscored by solid old paths; years of love and commitment.

October is a wonderful time for a road trip, the trees in the heartland are just starting to turn, the temperatures have dropped, and the skies seem just a little bluer.

The first day was a mixed bag. Several internet sites informed me that the first leg of our journey should take 7, maybe 7 1/2 hours. They did not take into account numerous road construction sites and a horrific wreck that all but closed the highway for an hour … other parts of the day were delightful. We traveled south down interstate 55 then cut across at Cape Girardeau, Missouri into the farmlands of southern Illinois. Those two-lane roads provided the best vistas of the day. The skies were a brilliant blue, dotted with minimal white puffy clouds whose existence served only to provide contrast to the azure hues behind them. The sun backlit the fields and low rolling hills as plumes of dust generated by combines and tractors reminded us that the food we purchased so neatly wrapped in grocery stores is a product of someone’s toil and sweat.

This brief journey across rural America also underscored that we were weeks away from a major election. Political signs and banners sprang from the edges of cornrows, houses, and small businesses. These are clearly people who are passionate about their politics. Every office from the President of the United States to the local circuit clerk was in evidence. If dog-catcher was an elected position, I have no doubt that we would have seen signs springing up alongside the highway extolling the virtues of various dog-catchers … “Vote Fred for Dog-Catcher, he can corral 3 Pit-Bulls, a feisty Chihuahua and 2 Airedales before you can say Dog Gone.”

I can also say with certainty that if the presidential election were held only in southern Illinois, Donald Trump would win in a landslide. We counted only one pro-Biden sign amidst hundreds of pro-Trump banners.

We ended our first day in East Ridge Tennessee just south of Chattanooga. This destination was chosen not by chance or geographical location, but by pizza. East Ridge is home to Portofino’s Greek and Italian restaurant. Years ago we made a stop at the La Quinta at East Ridge, we often travel with our pets and La Quinta’s are dog friendly. As is our custom in Poppy’s family we end our days travels about 7 or 8 o’clock p.m. Mrs. Poppy and whoever else is traveling with us (kids or grandkids) start the preparations for closing that day and organizing for the next. My organizational skills are limited, but I excel at foraging for food. I returned that night with pizzas from Portofino’s. I can’t speak to anything on their menu other than their pizza … a yeasty, doughy, bubbly concoction of cheese and pepperoni goodness. Since that first night, we make every effort to end our travels at East Ridge for the sole purpose of eating Portofino’s pizza in our motel room.

Did I mention the construction delays and the highway closing wreck?

We checked into the East Ridge La Quinta at 9:45 … Portofino’s closes at 10. We had Wendy’s that night and were thankful for it.

Peace, Poppy

A Gentle Storm

SAMSUNG CSC

I love to see a storm roll in.

In my opinion, the best experience is to see a storm build over the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Sanibel Island. Clouds morph in the distance, twisting … contorting … shifting colors from blue-grey to charcoal, building an internal light show with flashes of lightning. Standing on the beach you can feel the temperature drop as the winds pick up. Soon you are pelted with drops of rain flung at you horizontally. Stinging rain mixed with a grains of sand pelts you as the storm moves across the beach. I grab Mrs. Poppy’s hand and we run laughing toward shelter.

Tonight we are not on Sanibel Island but our new home in Imperial Missouri. It has been a year of chapter turnings, two house moves, moving from a vocation of many years to retirement. Pages flip, chapters turn, some things change, some things stay constant … faith and family.

It’s been weeks since we have had a decent rain here in the heartland. The ground was starting to crack, even my weeds are becoming withered. Tonight that is changing. It started with a cold front moving in, winds whipping as we struggled to lower the patio umbrella. The scent of the early autumn rain mixed with the anxious damp earth rose through the night.

Mimsy and I take a quick stroll before the rains became heavier.

The wind has died down, the rain falls gently as the sound of a locomotive sounds softly in the distance.

2020 is not over, more storms are likely to come, but faith and family will remain strong.

Peace, Poppy

Filthy Rich

You know you’re wealthy when …

…your car starts on the first crank regardless of the outside temperature. The key has slid into the ignition a thousand times. The edges and indents of the key are softened and rounded with time and use. The car won’t turn heads, it may have a few dings and maybe a smidgen of rust, but it’s dependable and you know it will get you where you need to go. The insignia of the hood doesn’t impress anyone … (bonus points if it’s paid for).

… you are greeted by children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews who treat you like hot property upon arrival. A hug around the knees by a toddler is wealth beyond measure.
(A dog will always treat you like hot property long after the kids, grandkids, etc. are grown … just saying)

…you can ride in silence for miles with your spouse or best friend. Relationships built by time and trust require no idle or forced conversation, no need to impress or entertain … never awkward, the silence wraps you like a soft blanket. Let the wheels roll and the miles slip by.

… a little container garden waits for you in the back yard. The clay pot is chipped and dinged on the edges, it doesn’t hold moisture like a plastic container but somehow feels just right. Sweet basil cascades over the edges. You cut off a few stems, rinse them, dice the leaves for inclusion into a pasta, homemade pizza, or soup. The fragrance fills the kitchen and transports you without cost to Italy.

… you can count your friends on your fingers without using your toes. Friends on Facebook are not the same. As the saying goes … A good friend will come and bail you out of jail, but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying, “Damn, that was fun.” Quality, not quantity.

… you run your index finger across the spines of books on your bookcase, your finger pauses then selects a volume. Extracting it from the shelf you lift it to your nose, inhaling the unique scent of old books; equal parts ink, paper, and a pleasant mustiness. It’s a volume you have read before, but it’s like greeting an old friend. The two of you have traveled this road before, but there are nuances and subtleties yet to be discovered.

… you step outside and look skyward. You know there is a God above who loves you more than you can love him or yourself. A God who would have sent his Son to die for your sins if you were the only boy or girl in town.

It’s good to be filthy rich. Wishing you health, true wealth, and happiness … Poppy 

Where I Attempt to Explain Humanity to a Dog

Mimsy is only truly content when she knows her humans are nearby. She doesn’t feel the need to be right next to you, she’s not a velcro dog but wants to know that you are nearby. Mimsy is a Japanese Chin. They were bred to be companion dogs and Mimsy is true to breed.

My daughter was gifted an Australian Shepherd puppy. The dog was beautiful and smart, but my daughter had to find a new home for it because it kept trying to herd the kids by nipping at their heels. This dog had never seen a sheep and I’m willing to bet that you would have to go back generations and generation in this dog’s linage to find an ancestor who actually herded sheep, yet she was hard-wired to herd. She was true to breed.

Humans don’t come in breeds. We come in different sizes, colors, and shapes, but we don’t come in breeds, we are not hard-wired to any behavior. Instead, we are given this terrifying thing called free will. We can be taught behaviors and attitudes directly and by example, but we have the choice to keep or abandon those behaviors and attitudes. There are individuals who were taught to be racist and intolerant, but have abandoned those attitudes and chosen to be tolerant and loving. It works the other way also. You may have been taught to be generous and caring, but make the decision to be selfish and self-centered.

We humans have a tremendous range in which we can operate, we float between angels and demons. No one is 100% good or 100% evil, but history provides examples of those who have gotten pretty close to either extreme. We have examples of those who have sacrificed their lives to save others and examples of those who have destroyed lives with no thought given to their victims.

Every day we are provided opportunities and scenarios, interactions with other travelers where we make decisions which direction on that angel-demon scale we want to move. Most of us will never come close to either extreme, but there is a lot of latitude in which to engage. We can respond to a sleight or insult with equal rudeness or choose to offer forgiveness and care.

Terriers were bred to hunt and chase vermin, they are true to breed. If I see an Airdale terrier, with good accuracy I can predict how that dog will respond if a rabbit runs across its path. I can identify most dog breeds on sight and knowing the characteristics of that breed can make predictions on how that dog will respond to certain situations.

Since humans don’t come in breeds, I can’t predict any potential behaviors based on how someone looks. I have to get to know them. After time spent with them, I may discover that they are much closer to the angel side of things than I am, or I may discover the converse, but I can’t tell on sight.

In the beginning, God made one version of humans and we are still on 1.0, you will find no examples of people operating on Humanity 2.0 or even 1.3, we are all equal and operating on the original software, no one has gotten an upgrade that others haven’t. Some of us are smarter or dumber than others. Some are more caring and giving than others. Some are crueler than others, but in God’s eyes, we are all equal and all his children. I would be well served if I could get to the point where my first thought, upon seeing a fellow human, is to think, “Oh look, another child of God.”

Mimsy quivers with excitement when she sees someone coming toward us on our walks. Bred as a companion dog, Mimsy loves everyone she sees and assumes that they will return that feeling in kind. I can’t explain to Mimsy the complexity of humanity. I can’t explain that while most people will pet her and tell her how pretty she is, there will be others who will view her as a dirty animal, a carrier of germs and dander.  I can’t explain to Mimsy, though as small as she is, there will be people genuinely afraid of her.

I can’t explain humanity to Mimsy and in truth, I don’t understand us myself.

Poppy

 

End of Day

Without fanfare, almost apologetically the sun retreated to another hemisphere. Tonight there would be no dramatic sunsets, no palettes of gold and magenta, just cool shades of grey and blue. The beauty was there, just understated and that’s okay, if every evening produced a dramatic sunset it would become common, even forgettable.

Our little family … Mrs. Poppy, myself, my grandson, and of course Mimsy went for an evening stroll. Though not in a traditional sanctuary, I believe it could qualify as Vespers. Vespers is sometimes referred to as “Evensong,” and that was the case tonight. The cumulus clouds billowed and the distant rolls of thunder played the part of the pipe organ, the night birds called back and forth as violins and violas. The frogs could only be the piccolos, raising in chorus then suddenly quieting to the wand of an unseen conductor. The sound of a train in the distance was the only mechanical contribution but somehow fit as the bass drum in this concerto.

It may be the curmudgeon in me, but I fear we are losing the art of being still. Somethings can only be discovered and appreciated by becoming quiet. It is against our nature to reduce and become small, but I believe our God-given senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing) need as much exercise as our muscles.

I have discovered that I’m most at peace when I’ve distanced myself from my electron driven devices (and yes, I understand the irony that I’m posting this on social media).

It’s easy to be anxious. Media outlets still need clicks to survive and fearmongering seems to have replaced the merely sensational. Pundits, talking heads and experts offer their opinions, which shift and change from day-to-day.

I’m reminded of this verse from an old Gospel song …

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

The rest of the family has gone to bed. I step outside one last time. The temperature has dropped, the sky has cleared, revealing just a sliver of the waning moon. The birds are silent, leaving only a few insects and the frogs to carry on nature’s symphony. I turn and go back inside to things I know to be true.

Poppy

A Cleansing Rain and Remembering Jackie

I started recording this brief video clip 30 seconds too late.

April 2020 was close to a conclusion. The evening brought a prototypical spring shower, no blowing wind, thunder, or lightning, just a good steady rain. I sat on the first concrete step of the narrow porch, “soaking” in the view before me. I had completed a few small landscaping projects earlier in the day and was grateful for the precipitation.

If I had started recording earlier you would have heard the sound of a locomotive’s horn in the distance. The train must have been going through a series of intersections because the mournful blast sounded, again and again, reverberating through the rain-sodden air, each wail becoming a little fainter until it finally faded away. The last notes left only the rain rushing down the aluminum gutters and the chorus of frogs competing in the soundscape.

The damp soil exuded the scent of fertility and new growth. The rinse cycle of spring had washed away any dust or detritus from the previous day. It was a season of new beginnings, rebirth, a season of hope and promise.

I needed this rain as much as the flowers, trees, and shrubs in front of me. I felt the stress, cares, and tears of the day melt away as if they had joined the rain gushing into the drainpipe, swept away into streams, creeks, and rivers to eventually join the sea.

We lost a valuable and much-loved member of our design team this week. Jackie had begun her service at Concordia Publishing House on July 24, 1967. I started to refer to her as a matriarch, but that would be inaccurate. Matriarch implies someone in a position of power and control. Jackie was none of those things. She possessed the quintessential servant’s heart.  With Jackie, it was all about the mission.  Her dedication to Concordia Publishing House, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and her local congregation, Trinity Soulard was the driving force in her life.

In her almost 53 years of service, Jackie had witnessed multiple revolutions in the publishing industry; hot type, phototypesetting, desktop publishing. Through each phase she adapted, she learned, and she kept up. I believe it was her desire to always learn new things that kept her young at heart. She knew she was not as fast as some of the “whippersnappers,” but she was more than willing to work long days or weekends to make up the difference … its that dedication thing.

We are working from home these days. The technology makes it doable, but we are reminded at times like this that we were not designed for social distancing. We bounced memories and stories back-and-forth about Jackie as best we could through chat channels, but there is a need for physical hugs and shared tears.

Jackie died by herself, but she was not alone. Never married, she had few blood relatives, but she was part of a large family.

I was not able to record the horn of the locomotive as it rumbled down the tracks, but the memory is clear and sharp in my mind. My memories of Jackie are equally clear; her hearty laugh and mighty sneeze. Her recollection of past projects, illustrators, and fonts that we all relied on. Her quick wit and dry humor. She took pride in her craft without any self-pride. She possessed the perfect balance of spunk, humor, work ethic and humility to be the perfect coworker.

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! …”

Everyone loves the sound of a train in the distance.
Poppy

Mimsy and I Walk a New Path

We are walking new paths these days, literally and metaphorically.

Three weeks ago we moved from our beloved house where our family lived for 27 years, and the town of Ferguson where we lived for 35 years. Toss in a little Corona-virus, shake well, and March-April 2020 became months to remember.

Walking a Japanese Chin will never be aerobic exercise … at best we amble. That pace is not without its benefits. Mimsy has endless opportunities to stop and sniff out new and exotic smells, I have plenty of time for thinking and reflection. Mimsy does not watch any cable news networks and has no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts (at least not that I know of). But Mimsy knows as much about the prospects of Covid-19 as I, and after a brief period of self-flagellation flipping between Fox News and CNN (which could be reporting from two different planets), she may know as much as any of the talking heads and experts.

What is certain is that the natural world is proceeding exactly as designed with no regard for the Corona-virus or what we silly humans are doing. A slight tilt of the earth’s axis and for those of us in the Northern hemisphere the days become longer and the temperatures start to rise. Each walk reveals a slow motion shift in nature’s color palette. Three weeks ago the trees reached heavenward with limbs and barren fingers of twig and branch. Today  a haze of yellow-green new foliage softens the skyline.

A male cardinal in the tree ahead of us is belting out his spring-time mating song. I don’t speak Cardinal, but have a pretty good idea what he is saying.

“Hey ladies, look at me, I’ve got brightest plumage of any bird around. I can help you build the strongest and biggest nest in the county. Pay no attention to that guy down the road, I’m much better looking!”

A sudden gust of wind loosens the last of this mornings shower trapped in new leaves above us. For a few seconds we are baptized with cold, fresh droplets. The rain dampened earth below carries the scent of fertility and the promise of new growth.

Spring blossoms make their appearance and strut down natures fashion runway. Some fade quickly, others last for weeks, but all attract the attention of the bees and bumblebees, who go about their busyness oblivious to their role in this divine design.

Seasons change.

The pace of that change depends on your perspective and experience. I have seen 65 springs come and go and hope to see many more. Time will tell if we have over-reacted or under-reacted to the Corona-virus, but the spring of 2020 will be one that we all remember.

Mimsy and I will continue to take our walks and we will continue to hold onto our core values of faith, family, and friends.

Peace, Poppy

A few snapshots from our spring walks:

A World Turned Upside Down, a Psalm, an Island, and a Clam.

Mrs.Poppy and I have vacationed on Sanibel Island since before we had children, now we are taking our grandchildren there. Regardless of the time of year we visit, I have a routine … a tradition that is religiously followed. After a quick run to Bailey’s or Jerry’s for provisions, I head down to the beach. It is usually late afternoon at that point. To the best of my ability, I try to mentally record everything before me, making a deposit of every sensory experience. When January or February comes in the Midwest and I’m faced with freezing rain and snow, I will need to make a withdrawal from that memory bank.


The late afternoon sun warms my back and highlights the waves with exploding sparkles. The perfume of the beach; saltwater mist, with hints of seaweed and sunscreen lotion delight my olfactory nerves.  The soundtrack provided by the breeze, waves, gulls and distant laughter of children, rise and fall in a pleasant and endless loop.

Standing at that magical spot where the gentle surf of the Gulf meets the land, I feel the sand pulled from beneath my feet with each retreating wave. At dusk or dawn, the horizon is a soft blurred line, the sea appears to bleed into the sky. At this time of day, the horizon is crisp, a razor-sharp edge of ultramarine blue.

Sitting down, I push my heels back and forth through the wet sand, creating a pair of miniature trenches. The lapping waves soon drag in sand and broken shell bits filling the gullies, leaving my feet half-buried.

I force my hands through the wet sand, lifting as much as I can hold in each palm, then flip it over to form small mounds on either side of my bent legs. Each handful exposes dozens of colorful, tiny coquina clams They lay there helpless on the beach until the next wave washes over them. That is their signal to right themselves and dig frantically back into the sand. I turned their world upside down, but the next wave restored order in their little universe.

The Coronavirus has turned our world upside down. Doubt, fear, uncertainty, and anxiety can become our constant companions if we don’t fight them off. The media provides 24/7 coverage without any answers. We worry about our families, our jobs, the economy, and we worry about toilet paper. It’s as if we were laying on the sand like the tiny coquina clams, directionless, waiting for a signal to right ourselves. We need a wave!

The wave for me was Psalm 139.

I was on a grocery run when this Psalm came to my mind. The premise of this Psalm is very simple and beautifully poetic. It does not promise a life of ease without trouble, but it lets us know that God knows us and is always present wherever we are (If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me). It provided a much-needed wave of peace,  grace and the reminder that God is always with me.

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

Peace, Poppy

Signs of Spring (and Hope)

Spring has arrived and my weeds are coming back strong. Mrs. G is once again hunting field mice. Taking out the trash I may have seen the first mosquito of the year. God in his wisdom has given the gift of survival to the common, the ordinary, and yes, the annoying. This gives me hope as I often qualify for all three of those attributes.

In spite of our best attempts to destroy ourselves at times, I believe God has also given the gift of survival to humanity. This does not mean our journey will always be pleasant or easy. Viewed objectively we are a silly species. I can find no scripture that speaks to God’s sense of humor, but the evidence leads me to believe he must have a great sense of humor to put up with our arrogance, self-importance, and hubris. This may be sacrilegious but I have this picture of God sitting back with a big bowl of popcorn, laughing, as he scrolls through our Facebook posts.

The news today is filled with nothing but articles about the Coronavirus or Covid-19, often accompanied by this phrase or something similar, “We are in uncharted territory.” … Newsflash! … Every day of our life is uncharted territory. Humanities’ very existence is uncharted territory.

I’ve thought about my mom and dad a lot this past week. They were married during the great depression (the real one) and went through the turmoils of World War II. I’ve wondered how they would have responded to our current crisis. They were part of the “The Greatest Generation,” an attribute not to be taken lightly.

I know the first thing they would tell me would be to quote the scripture that defined their lives, “… seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” If I heard that scripture from Matthew 6:33, once growing up, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Putting God first was the North Star of their lives. It was a fixed destination that stayed constant as the world around them changed.

They would have told me about their life as newlyweds in 1933. They lived with my dad’s parents in a four-room house in Sherman, Texas. They had chickens and a garden and were thankful for their “riches.” My dad scraped floors before electric sanders were invented for 10 cents a day, and was thankful.

At the onset of World War II, my mother assumed that her husband would serve in the military and in a romantic notion became a volunteer nurse’s aide, thinking that if something happened to him, perhaps she would be able to care for him. My dad failed his physical and managed grocery stores during the war while my mother rolled bandages and gave sponge baths to wounded soldiers, not exactly what she expected.

Unknown to them at the time, on the other side of the world was a horror of unprecedented proportions … the Holocaust!

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “What seems to us more important, more painful, and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful and more unendurable, but merely that which is closer to home. Everything distant which for all its moans and muffled cries, its ruined lives and millions of victims, that does not threaten to come rolling up to our threshold today, we consider endurable and of tolerable dimensions.”

What will roll up to our threshold with this crisis?

At it’s worst it will mean the death of a loved one and all the pain that accompanies that. At the least, it will mean a shortage of toilet paper and a lot of bitching and moaning. Yes, we are all in uncharted territory, but the constant is that we are God’s children, His love is unconditional … and spring is coming.

A Curmudgeon Looks at an Election Year

I’m too self-aware to claim to be wise (grey hair alone doesn’t cut it) but I have circled the sun enough times to claim some perspective. For what it’s worth (2 cents) here are my musings about dealing with pre-election stress syndrome..

  1. Everything is clickbait. Gone are the days of in-depth reporting, fact-checking, analysis, and impartiality. Walter Cronkite is nowhere to be found. The race is on to be first with a story, and first is not good enough, it has to be just a little more sensational than the competition … accuracy be damned, we need clicks!
  2. Carmelize the stories. Some things cannot be rushed. If you want to make onion soup you must transform the raw, biting onions into a sweet, caramelized version of their formal self. It requires slow even heat and constant attention. You can’t hurry the process by just turning up the heat,  a burnt mess will be the result. So it is with news stories, it’s the bombshell, the next shocking revelation that gets our attention … but in a few days or weeks, the truth will come out and it often bears no resemblance to the initial story ( be patient and don’t jump to conclusions).
  3. Pick your truth. Critical thinking may not be dead, but it’s on life -support. The internet provides the option of selecting those news feeds which match our own preconceived ideas. Gone are the days of a few traditional news sources, newspapers, TV or cable. Today you can pick your news feeds from the most radical (left or right). If you decide to believe the Holocaust never happened, you can find those who will prop-up your ideas, it saves you the effort from having to think or research.
  4. Question everything. Life is complicated, people are complicated. If you believe one party is always right and the other party is always wrong … come see me, I have a bridge and some prime Florida land for sale.
  5. Know where you stand. Take an inventory of your beliefs, then rank them. There are some issues where I will remain resolute and nothing will budge me. There are issues of foreign or financial policy where I may have an opinion but be open to other ideas. Then there are issues where I just want to say, “Meh.” You can stand firm on your principles without being hateful.
  6. Get small. National politics are one thing, neighbors and family are another. You can rail, stew and scream about things happening on the national stage without affecting them at all. But you can wind yourself up so tight that it will affect you and those around you. Family and friends come first.
  7. Forgiveness is not a weakness.