• Monday, 26 July 2004

Walking the dog in rural Iowa


A dog on a leash with a human trailing behind is a rare sight on the gravel backroads in Plymouth County Iowa.  I expect the local dogs and their humans were a bit puzzled when they saw Mark and me out for an evening stroll long after the sun went down.  In fact the duo could be considered suspicious.  I hope none of them have their shotguns handy.


The weather here is unexpectedly cool for July, but walking the dog during daylight hours is still an invitation for sunstroke.  Trees are few and far between in farm country.  The clean white graveled roads stretch long and straight, cutting a bright swath to frame the patchwork quilt of corn and beans that dominate the landscape.  Roads are laid out in a grid pattern marking one mile intervals, so once you begin a walk “around the block” you are committed to at least four miles.  We have been doing our dog walking early and late to avoid the heat.   


We are not the only ones out and about at night though.  Last night Mark and I followed along as Miss Zoë nosed along eagerly exploring all the new smells the Iowa countryside has to offer. 


Suddenly up ahead, we saw a cat scurry across the road, tail swishing in the moonlight.  The cat apparently had a change of heart and scampered back to the other side of the road.  Perhaps she was a new mother and was attempting to dissuade us from finding her nest of kittens.  Zoë caught the animal’s scent and tugged eagerly on her leash.  Meanwhile the cat continued to run back and forth on the moonlit road.  Zoë tugged and sniffed excitedly. 


As we drew closer, we admired the cat’s fluffy, plume of a tail.  The tail raised high in the air and the cat stopped and struck a pose, looking over its shoulder at us. 


A lightbulb (finally!) went on in my head.  “That is no cat!” I yelped pulling Miss Zoë away.  “That’s a skunk!”


Fortunately we escaped any dire consequences from our midnight encounter, but we did enjoy speculating other outcomes as we finished our late night walk.  We did not, however, make it home alone.


In the country, dogs are allowed to ramble around at will.  Most dogs seem to stay pretty close to home or at least on their own turf.  One handsome local dog decided to accompany us on our walk one night.  He was a roguish young dog with some husky blood in his lineage.   


When this rakish fellow caught a glimpse (or scent) of sophisticated Miss Zoë, he was as smitten as a kitten.  He trailed after her for the remainder of our late night ramble.  He did take a few detours to check on the status of various things out in the fields adjacent to the road, but he always returned to trot along companionably by our side. 


Miss Zoë did not seem overly impressed with his attention, nor was she disparaging.


When we arrived back at my sister’s farm, we bid goodnight to the young gentleman and assumed he would find his way home.  What a surprise it was to find the lovesick dog waiting expectantly outside the kitchen door. The local farm cats were not amused to find a stray dog dominating their home and neither was my brother-in-law.  A few quick phone calls later, Zoë’s swain was loaded into a truck and shipped home to his own farm.


  • 14 July 2004 – Wednesday

A plot twist – inviting the children…


A plot turn in or life as we know it…Cameron and Miranda will come for an extended stay with us while their mom and dad make the move to their new home in Phoenix.  Moriah and Chip met in Tucson during their early college years and have always shared a dream of moving to Phoenix.  When Chip’s boss extended him the invitation to transfer there, Chip smiled and smiled and smiled. 


So now Moriah is scrambling around preparing the house for sale, cleaning, sorting, packing and making all the preparations for the big adventure.  NCS Pearson is not footing the bill for this move so the Howards must be innovative and frugal.  This kind of problem-solving adventure is nothing new to our sweet daughter who was brought up in a home where mother’s mantra was: “…it’s not about the money…”  Moriah will be job hunting in Phoenix.  She hopes to take a temporary position at the same firm where Chip works (she has significant experience in that line of work from her Sally-Mae  sp? days.) 


It was Mark’s idea to invite Cameron and Miranda to come stay with us during the transition.  Of course I feel some trepidation, but mostly I am very excited about the prospect of having two sweet grandchildren in our nest.  The timing is wonderful since I haven’t committed to a job yet and our Peace Corps adventure is on the horizon for March 2005.  We plan to drive to Phoenix to return the children in time for a big Christmas celebration which we hope will also include the Reno Pulvers. 


My morning walks with Miss Zoë always stimulate creative thoughts or at least to-do lists and sometime just plain fantasies.  Today I came home with lots of mental notes to transcribe into the yellow graph paper notebook I use to record my lists and plans (my external mind!).  Most of the thoughts involve tasks to accomplish to make the house more of a home for the grandchildren.  The diningroom will convert nicely into a delightful, bright girl’s room and our TV room (with the “penthouse” lounge space) is well suited for a 12 year old boy to hole up in and thrive. 


I enjoy the challenge of re-arranging furniture and finding ways to make it function more effectively.  Long before I was an adult I would move the bedroom furniture or even the living room furniture around to find better ways to make the room attractive and functional.  I have always had an interest in how space is used and these days I still continue the habit.  My father did not like my hobby, but my husband shares it (usually) and recognizes the gleam in my eye when I get in the mood to move things.  I am content to do the heavy work myself so in the past, he has often come home to find the furniture shuffled around.  For me, these creative moods are a sign of good mental health.  (Obsessing over hair or cutting it is a sign of impending depression)


The grandchildren’s extended visit requires some furniture juggling so I am in a state of euphoria.


I will take the bus to Kansas next week (22nd or 23rd) to spend a week there helping with the mundane tasks associated with moving preparations.  Mark and Miss Zoë will come up in the truck a week later to carry Cameron, Randi and me back to our South Carolina bungalow.  There is lots to do before I depart.


While the children are here I hope to start a website for them so they can chronicle their adventures here.  They can post photos of their rooms and school teachers and they can journal, etc.  It will be a digital scrapbook they can share with their parents (and others).  I think we will make it a weekly project…they can work on their website and I can work on mine.


I have neglected the updates for the CALEB Library site all summer, but not because I have been lazy, just busy living life.  A letter from Byron arrived this week and it is clear from it that the site is working.  He mentioned books arriving from many places and lots of correspondence too.


Maralyn and Ed will be leaving for their trip in about two weeks so there have been many preparations for that.  I still must prepare a photo of Caleb suitable for the library wall.  I also am working on remarks for Maralyn to read on my behalf. 


Byron asked that they bring some of Caleb’s ashes which he will release in a ceremony on the mountainside.  He plans to build a brick bench and plant some flowers there. Byron wants his own remains to be buried on this site.



  • 13 July 2004 – Tuesday

The quilt for Mawingo…


Updating data bases always sounds like an easy task, but it takes so much time.  I decided to “clean up” the address books at the Thompson and Jeys Yahoo sites.  By the time the mail carrier arrived at mid-day, I was very happy to take a break. 


I had several letters, a rarity in this age of cell phones and e-mail.  I sat on the front steps and sipped black coffee while I perused the mail.  One note, from cousin Cleo in Chicago, included snapshots of the quilt she and her sister and brother orchestrated and completed.  The vintage patchwork border pieces pieced years ago by my mother, grandmother and aunts really looks wonderful hugging the border.  The center is comprised of larger, bright patches put together by various Thompson relatives. 


Maralyn will handcarry the quilt to Byron.  It is a rainbow quilt for him to enjoy and I am certain he will.


  • 10 July 2005 – Saturday

Books for CALEB Library & the farmer’s market…


Two of my former students stopped by last night with an unexpected “gift”…many boxes of used books.  The two young men carried the boxes onto our porch and then lingered to gossip a bit about their former classmates.  It was nice to see them so grown-up and moving happily forward with their lives. 


Many of their classmates have failed to find employment and are not in school.  Several of them, gifted students with so much potential, have managed to make some really poor choices.  In some cases abetted by their parents who cannot stand to see their children leave the nest to achieve an education or explore the word.  Their fears have handicapped the young people and now some of them have made irrevocable mistakes out of buried bitterness and anger. 


In the past I have joked that living in Greenwood SC is our Peace Corps assignment.  The poverty and ignorance we see here is amazing.  In the more urban areas we have lived in, there are more opportunities for change.  In this isolated area it is hard for anyone to escape.  Inertia does people a disservice.


Our Saturday was idyllic.  The sun was hot and high in the sky by the time we reached Greenville’s Saturday Market.  It is over an hour’s drive so even rising early to walk Miss Zoë in the cool predawn hours didn’t get us here until almost 9AM. 


The state run farmer’s markets are not too much fun here in South Carolina so we seldom go to them, but the Saturday Market in Greenville is staged April through October just off the main street of this progressive city.  There are craftspeople, flowers and produce too.  It is a “yuppified” market. 


At the market, I delighted in a conversation with a spinner whose handsome teenaged son sat by her side working his chain mail projects and chatting with us.  We bought a few items, listened to the music and later enjoyed a lovely picnic on the banks of the Reedy River, in view of the falls.  We took sips from our illicit bottle of wine labeled “Our Daily Red” and dined on carefully selected goodies that indulged us without violating our dietary requirements.  You can eat well and still avoid the traps of diabetes and cholesterol.


  • Friday, 9 July 2004

Summer days & working on PCV plans…


Ernest Hemingway was quoted as saying “Never confuse movement with action.”  Of course he was probably speaking about writing and plot movement, but he could be talking about how one lives ones’ life. 


This past month has been one of activity, but no forward movement, just action.  I am still wrestling with my emotions and attitude over the loss of my computer files and all the associated creative and psychological baggage associated with the documents, photos and files I will never be able to conjure up again.  I am grieving.  When Caleb died, my grief did not see to go through the classic steps, but perhaps I learned something about how tenuous our hold is…that tremendous life-shaking event, so unfair, so unexpected has changed irrevocably the way I live my life.  I will not strive to get the lessons on paper (or should I say digitized?) but will move forward.


I have been delinquent in writing here (or anywhere really) because I feel vulnerable somehow…somehow this computer loss has gotten under my skin and at times I think maybe it is time to just move on and forget about writing.  (I can hardly touch this keyboard with feeling resentment, anger and dark emotions…sigh.)


Here’s a recap of some of our activities in June.


We took a quick trip to Huntsville for a weekend of family and blues music.  We also had a house guest – Jim Salter, from our Spain days, hung out on our front porch for almost a week.  He has lived in Maine for thirty plus years so the heat and humidity drew this southern-born man to linger there far into the night.  We listened to old Beatles music and reminisced and drank wine. 


A friend of mine (Kathy Hodge) from my JROTC Leadership Camp days sailed down the highway in her sleek red convertible to pay us a visit one afternoon.  We had Marty Hahn and her friend Pat over for dinner one evening and Jacqueline and Domer dropped by and stayed to enjoy an evening under the pergola with candles lit.


The fourth of July marked the end of the month and the beginning of the next one.  Our celebration involved an evening in Greenville on the banks of the Reedy River, watching the Army concert band perform patriotic songs (preceded by boy-band Hansen, accompanied by much screaming from local teen girls).  The music was followed by marvelous pyrotechnics.  We picnicked and enjoyed crowd watching at the perfect venue: a brand new grassy amphitheater overlooking the river. 


In between all this activity we also worked at the Festival of Flowers Master Gardener’s Booth and I coordinated some activities with a group in Germany for the CALEB Library project.  I also did some research on travel concerns for cousin Maralyn who will head off to Malawi later this month. 


And of course I walked with Miss Zoë twice each day.


The Zoë-walks have become more important lately.  We walk faster and longer now and most days Mark comes along too.  He is dropping weight quickly because he is serious about his diet and exercise.  I am watching my fats and Cholesterol so I can avoid taking medication so proper diet and exercise are part of my regime too. 


We had a myriad of doctor’s appointments in June too.  The Peace Corps application process requires a thorough medical exam and because we are over fifty, we have additional tests.  We squeezed in an early morning appointment in Augusta on our way home from Huntsville (after driving through the night without AC…I stopped at the gym, showered and made it just in time for my pap smear!) 


The trips to Augusta and the time spent in waiting rooms adds up.  There are still a few appointments to accomplish before we can send our package in.  This is character building.  Even after we submit it there will be a long wait I am sure.  The diabetes diagnosis is not disqualifying, but it may be a challenge placing us. 


Looking ahead, I should consider taking a job until our departure.  I started to apply for one, but my resume materials and job history documents were among the items lost so I have yet to come to terms with re-constructing them…sigh.  I am also not excited about losing my freedom, but I could negotiate a tradeoff for something part time or flexible.  I am considering substitute teaching.  The idea of purchasing sleeping bags and a camera, etc motivate me to consider this.


I am also considering the wisdom of applying for a “real” job for next summer.  This would be a backup plan in case our Peace Corps adventure fails to materialize.  I am more inclined to head out to Colorado or California too.  In any case, that is where we want to be when we return from the Peace Corps.  This idea will simmer a bit.


So, our life in June and so far in July has been one of action, but not movement.  The inertia of daily life makes us feel like we are making progress, but we are really just hanging on.



 I did work on an essay for the local paper, wrote some letters and worked on a couple data bases and a school project too.  I am working on a collage of photos of Caleb for Maralyn to take with her to Malawi. There will be a dedication ceremony and Maralyn will speak.