It was the kind of soft-shadow sunlight that was almost too painful to look at, but that you didn’t want to end, because if it ended you would have to make do with what you had had up to that point, and we didn’t understand that part yet. The air was thick and warm and for those moments the world slowed down, and there was The Heathen in his white, always white t-shirt and in his chair lounging, always. He was watching with a smile I would have taken as content (under different circumstances) his two boys, one small, one big, both bossy, running and jumping, panting under the weight of a round orange ball. Somehow there was peace in the game, which wasn’t a competition but a lesson, the big boy chiding and correcting, the younger boy fighting, at first, then resigning to the rules.

There’s a sound like heavy objects falling, and for a moment there is quiet, the sun still thickly hanging but somehow its shadows stop. There’s a pause, ears straining in the inner city test that discerns firework from firearm, justice from feigned ignorance.

Sirens.

And I couldn’t decide what was more painful: watching the boys pick up the pieces of their game and move on, or watching The Heathen, with a sigh, resign.

{This is my memory of the evening Howard Williams was shot and killed, approx. 8 blocks away from our stoop. Full story, here}

So, I couldn’t think of an antonym for “hibernation.” Suggestions in the comment section, please.

I had the chance to hang out with two sweet friends from college, and in passing one asked if my neighbors were back out (in reference to the extended winter hibernation). The answer? YES.

In full force, my friends.

I found it a bit of a shock at first; it was the kind of transition that makes you miss the stage you’ve just left. The quieter, simpler stage. Oh sure, there were freezing temperatures, frigid walks with the dog (3x a day!), unplowed streets, and that time Dave got his truck stuck in the middle of the road when I had to go work. Ahem.

But summer in the city? Is nuts! It took me awhile to appreciate the blaring music, screaming children, and wafting aromas of 
semi-legal substances in the air. Oh, and the off-leash dogs (my new pet peeve. Get it??)

Now that the transition is complete, I’m feeling more appreciative. To go a bit further, I have to say I love my crazy, mixed-up, depressing & hopeful community. I like that CK (the Pirate) sets up his shop and huge amps blaring 70s R&B music at the end of the block. I like that my neighbors sit together on a stoop in the evenings, drinking and smoking casually together. I like that the children are running around in the street, playing outside and draining some energy. Philadelphia is a city that doesn’t hide its emotions for better or worse; it is obvious that people are more congenial simply because the weather is gentler. It’s a basic fact we’re not ashamed to admit.

It’s spring. We’re happy.

Here’s the big guy after a long walk. It’s moments like these that remind me why we got ourselves into this whole pet ownership thing in the first place. There’s something supremely satisfying in knowing you took care of all of a dog’s needs. Plus I mean, come on. Look at that face!

One thing I adore about our church is the quality of all the music we sing. Mennonites have a rich vocal history; this is one of the first congregations I have been part of that naturally sings four part harmony. My heart thrilled when we sang the following song. Not only is it based on an absolutely beautiful, ancient theme (Thomas Tallis, 1500’s) but these words!! It was such a meditative, meaningful experience to ponder these words in the midst of one beautiful, collective voice.

Here are the lyrics; I strongly suggest you hunt down the melody. Ralph Vaughan Williams composed a fantasia for strings around this theme, and it is a piece of music I think every human should experience. You can listen to it in adequate quality, here. (The theme appears in the lower voices around minute 2:00).

How shallow former shadows seem
beside this great reverse
as darkness swallows up the Light
of all the universe:
creation shivers at the shock,
the Temple rends its veil,
a pallid stillness stifles time,
and nature’s motions fail.

This is no midday fantasy,
no flight of fevered brain.
With vengeance awful, grim, and real,
chaos is come again:
the hands that formed us from the soil
are nailed upon the cross;
the Word that gave us life and breath
expires in utter loss.

Yet deep within this darkness lives
a Love so fierce and free
that arcs all voids and–risk supreme!–
embraces agony.
Its perfect testament is etched
in iron, blood, and wood;
with awe we glimpse its true import
and dare to call it good.

Carl P. Daw, Jr. © 1990 Hope Publishing Co.

Now, there is a whole long, drawn out drama between the time we visited the dog and the time we actually picked him up from the shelter. But the more I think about it, the more I think it would be totally boring to read about. Let’s just say it took about a month to come to fruition. 

We had visited him a second time, and this time (less blinded by the cuteness factor and the pressure to make the drive “worth it”) I started noticing some of his quirks in a different light. Patch was found as a stray and this gave him some particular characteristics. He was always alert. He was not big on affection. He didn’t play. He most likely had never lived in a home, so who could tell how he would behave in new environs. Around furniture. When he had to pee.

I think it’s safe to say James was at this point, attached. It was freezing outside so I mostly stood around trying to keep warm while James took the leash, running and walking Patch around the field. And there I went again with this imagination of mine, and for some reason I had this moment of perfect clarity. I could see how much work this dog was going to be- he wasn’t used to depending on other animals or people for his survival. Leash work, obedience training, and (shudder) housebreaking were just a few of the things that would take constant work for awhile. 

That’s when my shriveled little heart began to harden. And after that moment every time I looked at that dog, my mind said “No.”

It just wasn’t something I wanted to do.

Thus began the first major disagreement of our young marriage. Not bad, right?? Seriously, this was the first time we had held strongly opposing viewpoints for longer than oh, a couple of hours. People, this lasted for days. It wasn’t filled with pleading our cases or nagging or inventing schemes for getting the other to budge. It was filled with total silence on the subject, waiting for one of us to finally announce we had Changed Our Mind.

In the end, James had made up a plan for when we would fit walks and obedience sessions in our day. He reminded me that we both really wanted a dog. He told me how much he liked this dog, and welcomed the challenge and opportunity to rescue a dog and rehabilitate it so it can have a happy and balanced life. I felt really encouraged by this. I really did want a dog and this dog was perfect for us in many ways. I knew James and I would go into this as a team and we had the tools and knowledge to raise this dog successfully. So we agreed.

We would get the dog.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode – – “You Can’t Backpedal on a Rollercoaster”

Hello All,

I’ve been working on some changes around here and am finally ready for a re-launch of sorts. New features will include regular updating and 2 new series (3rd to be added later) to the general topics already discussed here. 

New Feature #1: Journey with Julius, all about life with our mutt. Please expect an emotional rollercoaster and obsessive references to “calm assertive energy.” This series will update with a new post every Wednesday.

New Feature #2: Life List. I wrote what is essentially a bucket list (but life list sounds so much more positive, don’t you think?) As I work on the items on my list, I’ll update with a new post on Fridays.

Pending Feature #3: Current Events. Part of my post-grad life has consisted of listening to waaay too much NPR. I plan on periodically picking a current event or tidbit and sharing my thoughts about it here. Not sure if this will be a feature that is updated weekly, though.

Also sometime in the future I would LOVE to have guest writers to share about whatever interesting thing they happen to be doing in whatever interesting place they happen to be living!

As always I’ll be sure to write weekly about our day-to-day experience living in South Philly.
So there’s the update, please enjoy and feel free to stop by regularly. This time I’ll hold up my end of the bargain!

This post is part of a series called Life List, all about making and fulfilling a list of things to wrap my life around. You can view my life list in-progress via the link titled “Life List,” next to the “Home” link at the top of the page.

One of my jobs requires a commute to New Jersey twice a week. It’s an easy drive, except for one minor obstacle. Almost every day, there is a homeless man begging along a turn lane that feeds into the on-ramp for I-95. It’s a good spot to be in, because there is a steady flow of traffic in that area throughout the day.

On Mondays and Tuesdays I would find myself sitting in my nice car, waiting for the light to turn green, watching the homeless man take his walk down the line. He holds a cardboard sign that says Homeless & Hungry God Bless written with crooked letters in permanent marker.

People, I never ever ever know what to do in response to homeless people. I had never before confronted it so consistently. Should I give him some coins? There seem to be so many strings attached with giving money. Naturally I want to be sure I’m not just funding a damaging addiction or irresponsible decision. And then there’s the issue of wanting to take them home and give them a place to live, but of course this becomes problematic on a number of levels.

The result of this inner debate is me sitting there, avoiding eye contact, faced with a problem I want desperately to solve but feel powerless to combat even in the smallest degree.

Homelessness, to me, is one of those huge social problems that has so many factors on so many different levels of society and government both causing and perpetuating the problem that as an individual makes me throw up my hands in despair. I can’t begin to fathom a solution and therefore any contribution I could attempt seems, in a word, pointless.

Have you ever heard that cheesy story about a girl and her companion on a beach covered in stranded starfish? The girl persistently picks up a starfish and tosses it back in the ocean. Her companion, hopelessly overwhelmed by the number of stranded creatures, asks why she bothers at all. And the girl, with Christ-like forbearance, says that at least she helped even just one.

Well, that’s great. I’m down with the message of Every One Counts. But that’s not really my problem here.

My problem is more like constantly tossing a starfish back into the ocean with the full knowledge that at some point, maybe even right as you stoop to help another poor soul, the ocean will toss the once-saved starfish back onto the beach. So you toss it back, toss it back again, in this constant game of catch between stranded and safe.

But is that really helping?

I couldn’t see this homeless man two days a week, every week, and do nothing. I still have no answers and, let me be clear, my goal isn’t really to rescue anyone. It’s simply to do what I can, where I am, with what I have.

I began to ask myself some basic questions. What can I do to humanize this forgotten person? What can I do that will make a physical impact or difference in their day? What can I personally give within the limitations of my own time & resources?

My answer to all questions was so basic, it bordered on silly.

Sandwiches.

Thus was created the 100 Lunches goal on my Life List. Every week on Monday and Tuesday, I will make an extra lunch and take it with me on my commute, in the hopes of feeding a homeless man.

This goal filled me with hope and purpose. And then came the day for my first tally mark. 

Life list updates will be posted weekly, on Fridays.

This will be the first post in a series called Journey with Julius, all about life with our adopted mutt.

It’s hard to say what inspired us to get a dog in the first place. It’s a feeling I have felt before, as a young second grader answering every question with “A dog.” This was my answer to “Do you want anything from the grocery store?” “Can I get you anything?” “What do you want for Christmas?” and every question in between. Finally my dreams were realized as my family got a Golden Retriever puppy on my tenth birthday.

That was a milestone in my life in many ways, but perhaps most importantly it taught me two fundamental things:

1- No matter how many promises you make beforehand, Mom always winds up taking care of the dog

2-Dogs are awesome!

Naturally as James and I started our search for our first dog, the second of those fundamentals was the resounding theme, with #1 coming in more as a whispering, nagging side note.

We started looking online for adoptable dogs in the area. Let me just say that http://www.petfinder.com, though a wonderful site, should also come with a message of DANGER DANGER DANGER! If you didn’t want a pup before, you will want one after perusing page after page after page of adorable, adoptable, available dogs! Many of them already trained, spayed/neutered, and inexpensive. I’m telling you, it will totally fuel even the tiniest flame.

We knew we wanted something between the ages of 1-3 (no puppy duty for us) and leaned towards a German Shepherd. This is because neither of us had ever come in contact with an adult German Shepherd. Also because there is a cute one in the movie I Am Legend.

(To be fair, we did our homework and the real reason we wanted a German Shepherd is because of their loyalty and guarding instincts, and we wanted a larger dog.)

So we picked out our first shelter, out in Lebanon County, about an hour’s drive from our fair city. It was a fun road trip. Our main intent was to check out a gorgeous purebred German Shepherd up for adoption there.

This shelter wasn’t really what I had expected. Among other things, this shelter is less than professional. It is out in the boondocks and let’s say friendliness and customer service are not high up on the priority list. We were led back to the cages by an underwhelmed fellow missing a few front teeth. No, I am not making this up.

Anyway, we head back to a deafening corridor of cages filled with everything from pit bulls to dalmatians to pomeranians. There was this one pit bull there who could jump about 5 feet in the air, literally! There was also a psycho mutt that looked like it would devour your legs if given the chance. Of course there are also the Depressing Ones, also known as the age 7+ crowd. These grey-faced elders merely raised their droopy eyes to meet your gaze, and that’s about the height of their excitement.

So we reach the very end of the corridor and there it is. The Giant Monster Dog. Barking her head off and almost breaking the cage down. Her name was Shasta. She was the purebred German Shepherd.

And she was CRAZY.

Hoping for the best, we took her out of the cage and leashed her up. Um, ok. Remember the part where I said “never came in contact with an adult German Shepherd???” Good. Because that part is important.

Shasta writhed around and whined and pulled and was altogether uncontrollable. Seriously, aside from a friend’s Great Dane and a Newfoundland at our honeymoon campsite, this was the biggest dog I had ever met. My wedding gifts and sundry other items were smashed to smithereens in my mind’s eye as I just imagined this beast sharing our small-but-not-tiny living space.

So, not for us.

Then walking back through the corridor, a smaller fellow caught our eye. He was a unique looking German Shepherd mix. Unlike the other high-energy dogs participating in the kennel-wide Persistent Bark Contest, this guy just sat down calmly as we stood in front of his cage. His tail swished the floor in a gentle wag as he let out one straightforward bark. It was just like saying hello. His name, at the time, was Patch.

We decided to squeeze some more purpose out of our hour-long drive and took him out for a walk. We walked along a wooded path to this great fenced-in field on the property. He did ok on the leash; not pulling but not really heeling either. He seemed to respond well to correction.

The first few things we noticed about Patch were as follows:

-Not affectionate (didn’t even sniff us until 20 mins later)

-A talker (moans and grumbles and grunts when petted)

-Perfect size for our home

-Pretty dang cute

As for the things we didn’t notice, well, you’ll just have to stick around for that part of the journey.

to be continued….


Now, before we get started, you may think I’m being slightly overzealous with the title of this post, but it must be said that I did not make up the term! As if housing thousands of different varieties of plants and trees and all manner of growing things in a giant glass mansion wasn’t cool enough, the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens named this special exhibit ‘ORCHID EXTRAVAGANZA’!

Which saved me a bit of work making up a post title, I must say.

Moving on– James and I had been planning on visiting the gardens for awhile, and took advantage of our free weekend last week to check it out.

It was wonderful. I had a moment, staring across a green field of grass surrounded by perfectly tended blooms, warmed by the sunbeams slanting through the glass ceiling. I thought to myself, ‘Dear Lord, why did I not come here sooner???’ To think that all this time, throughout this cold, grey, snowy winter, as I trudged through dirty snowbanks with an equally dirty dog, here was this oasis! This verdant paradise! This sumptuously fragranced other-word-for-oasis!

I’ll work on the synonyms, ok?

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. These aren’t orchids! But they are lovely, no? I loved how through a combination of their color and shape, these flowers look so genuinely happy.

I wanted to name this one Alfonso. I think it’s the mustache. 

More pictures, here

You may have been hearing on the news recently certain comments made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid while our President was a mere senator. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the controversy, Reid was asked what he thought about Obama running for president. He responded that he thought Obama had a good chance of winning because he is “light-skinned” and doesn’t speak with a “Negro dialect.”

My reaction was similar to most everyone’s upon hearing this comment; I thought it was ignorant and an archaic use of a pseudo-offensive racial term. Yet some felt more passionately about the issue. The angry mobs took only instants to swarm, and suddenly people are demanding he step down from his position and live a life forever shamed. 

My opinion changed a little after listening to NPR on my way home from work. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was being interviewed about his upcoming health care rally, the main goal of which is to bring attention to the working poor minorities who so often get the short end of the health care stick. In the few closing questions, the interviewer asked what he thought about Reid’s comment and whether he thought the Sentate Majority Leader should step down.

“No.” He said. And he went on to say that he is not interested in discussing what he calls “gotcha phrases;” phrases that aim to catch a high-profile person red-handed. He said that he thought it was sad, the way we get so distracted by these comments, yet we are somehow not phased by the injustices promoted in our infrastructure (health care, for example). 

And I thought something really rang true about that, about our culture. It’s almost inspirational, how valiantly so many of us rose to the occasion to defend the representation of minorities– in speech. After hearing this alternative view I became almost scared at how easily I can be distracted by the flashiness of tabloid-news and still ignore issues of great depth and importance.

Read more, here http://www.npr.org/blogs/tellmemore/2010/01/what_is_being_light_skinned_wi.html
~~~~~~~~

A couple of noteworthy and related things:

-Harry Reid could have been referring to actual, legitimate studies proving the likelihood of success for candidates like he described 

-The identification “Negro” is an option for race/ethnicity on the 2010 Census. A census authority stated that its inclusion is not a remnant of a racially ignorant American era, but was added to this census because so many people wrote it in on the last census (for example as Other: Negro)

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