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Sunday, February 20, 2022

Rules of Thumb

Napping puppy! Break for puppy mom!

My life these days seems to be governed by rules of thumb. Here are a couple of examples I’m finding especially pertinent:


o  For each day in a hospital, expect recovery to take a week. Ten days in a hospital, then, make for a ten-week recovery time.


o  A puppy can go an hour between eliminations for every month of age, so expect a two-month-old puppy to be able to last two hours from one pee/poop session to the next.


Merriam-Webster defines ‘rule of thumb’ this way:


(1)       A method of procedure based on experience and common sense;

(2)       A general principle regarded as roughly correct but not intended to be scientifically accurate


Apparently there is no evidence linking ‘rule of thumb’ to legal wife-beating in 18th-century England! 


Those words “roughly correct” in the Merriam-Webster definition reminds us that a rule of thumb is not hard and fast. Some patients recover more quickly after hospitalization and surgery, others take longer than the one day/one week rule suggests, and some two-month-old puppies can sleep for five hours at night before waking and needing to go out. There is wide variability in individual cases. Faced with unfamiliar situations, however, as I have been recently, it's helpful to be able to estimate outcomes and adjust expectations somehow, and a rule of thumb gives us a compass, however wobbly, rather than leaving us completely at sea.


My analogy above set me to wondering about what kinds of rules of thumb might be applicable to sailors. One I found says, “When in doubt, take the longer tack first.” No doubt sailors will understand what’s meant by that. Here’s another one for deciding how much anchor chain is necessary in a given situation:


...So how do you decide what is safe before looking elsewhere to anchor? Traditionally you use the scope – a multiple of the water depth to determine the length of anchor chain you’ll need to use. The RYA suggest a scope of at least 4:1, others say you need 7:1 but in crowded anchorages 3:1 is quite common.


A moment’s thought, however, tells you that a static rule of thumb in an environment that can significantly change in different conditions will not sufficiently account for the main forces acting on your boat, namely the wind and the tidal stream....


Given that reminder that a static rule of thumb is not sufficient in every situation, sailors will want to read the entire article!

Sunny Juliet taking a brief rest break from outside tomboy play

A kind friend and neighbor (I have wonderful neighbors here in Dos Cabezas, AZ!) did the driving yesterday on my commute to see the Artist in the hospital in Chandler, up southeast of Phoenix, and that same friend and neighbor puppy-sat with Sunny for over three hours so “dog parents” David and Pamela could have a good, long visit in the hospital. Back home in the evening, it was early night-night for me here in the ghost town. Missing my life partner, I chose one of his favorite books, The Count of Monte Cristo, for my bedtime reading but never got beyond the first page. In fact, I had to read the first sentence over several times to get it to sink in.



On February 24, 1815, the watchtower at Marseilles signaled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples. 


-      Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo


Would you have been able to name that novel, given the first line?


Speaking of the Artist, his birthday is tomorrow, 2/21, and I would be happy to convey birthday wishes to him from far-off friends. Just leave a note in a comment here, and I will read him what you write. Thanks!

Okay, I found the picture I really wanted! Both were taken on the porch at Source of Coffee, in Willcox, AZ, but I love David's laughter in the one below. Now, if only I could remember who he was talking to that day!

THIS is my guy

Friday, February 18, 2022

"Too Much," Part III


Sunny Juliet and her cuddly elephant

Another overly eventful week has passed in the life of the Artist and the seasonally retired bookseller, with continued hospitalization and another surgery for the Artist -- who is now well launched into what will be a slow, but we trust steady, recovery this time around -- and, for the bookseller, long hours of waiting for phone calls, taking care of the new puppy, and a couple of all-day expressway commutes to the Phoenix area and back to spend 20 or 30 minutes each time with my darling. With each visit to the hospital, I am struck by the essential and priceless importance of presence, the irreplaceable comfort of immediacy. Cell phones have helped immeasurably in the last couple of months, making conversations possible across distance, but there is no substitute for being side by side, holding hands, and looking into each other’s eyes. 


That’s pretty much all I’m going to say today, except for books I’ve read since the last time I listed titles. As you can see, I have spent a lot of my waiting time with reading. That and finding soothing lullaby music on my cell phone to help Sunny Juliet get to sleep at night in her crate. Last night we had cello lullabies, and I couldn’t even read a whole page before I was off to dreamland myself.


19. Scott, Ann Herbert. Cowboy Country (fiction – juv.). This is a book for children about the real life and work of cowboys, and the illustrations by Ted Lewin are just marvelous.

Beautiful images!

20. Morrison, Rusty. After Urgency (poems).

21. Airgood, Ellen. South of Superior (fiction).

22. Herman, Michelle. Dog (fiction).

23. Henkin. Joshua. Morningside Heights (fiction)

24. Felsen, Henry Gregor. Two and the Town (fiction - YA)

25. Collins, Billy. The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems.

26. Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Passions (fiction)


Note #1: Two of the novels in this week’s list are books I have read before. Sometimes life’s unexpected curve balls make the comfort of familiar books necessary good medicine.  

Note #2: Overwhelming as life can be, it is still far, far from "too much," and the Artist and I look forward to more, together.

More of this beautiful life together, please!

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Upheavals! It is impossible to keep ahead of them!

No simple, easy way forward

Remember a recent post which I titled “Much Too Much (Happening)”? Every time we think we are done with crises and drama, something else comes down the pike, and so it was that the Artist found himself once again in the Emergency unit of Northern Cochise Community Hospital, this time diagnosed with COVID-19. Mind you, both of us are triple-vaxxed and have been crowd-wary for what seems like forever! 


COVID is no joke. Feeling as if you can’t breathe is a terrible feeling. He thought he was having either a heart attack or a panic attack (and was naturally panicked at the possibility of a heart attack). Then came the diagnosis. We were stunned. Really??? 


The day before, I had gone to visit a litter of puppies and see if the one whose looks we liked also had the kind of temperament we hoped to find, and everything seemed good, so I put down a deposit. Then --! Well, I wasn’t even going to say the word ‘puppy’ in the conversations we were having through the hospital window, talking on our cell phones with David inside and me outside shivering in the shade, but he brought it up himself. He’d been looking at pictures of her, admiring her cuteness, and thought we should go ahead. Really???

Picture I saw online

The Artist had another issue besides COVID and so, beds being scarce everywhere and NCCH not having much besides the most basic care (and maybe you know, too, that Cochise County turned down COVID relief?), he was transferred once again to the Phoenix area, this time to Chandler Regional Hospital, with surgery scheduled for next week. He is doing well, blood oxygen levels steadily improving, such that his need for supplemental oxygen has gone from 6L to 1.5, a significant change for the better. Sometimes he sits up in a chair with no extra oxygen at all. He’s having brief physical therapy sessions, too: they are not letting him lie around to risk pneumonia! 


I made the 400-mile round trip on Wednesday and suited up like a spaceman to be allowed in his room so we could have 20 minutes together, and we both thought the time together was well worth the travel. The next morning, on the phone, he said, “Get the puppy. Play with the puppy. Read books. Take a break! You can come again to pick me up when I’m discharged.” Really???


On the one hand, it seems crazy, both the not-being-there (if only to hover in the geographical vicinity and fret) and the puppy-getting. On the other hand, what hasn’t been crazy lately in our lives? And now that the Artist’s breathing problems are being addressed, he is looking forward once again to the future – to making beautiful paintings, getting back to making sculpture, and to having a little canine companion with us once again. Since December, our life has been a steady (though rollercoasterish) series of upheavals, emotional and medical, one crisis after another. We are more than ready to share some happy times again, and those seem to be – we certainly hope! -- coming closer with each passing day. 


The puppy was given the name Juliet by the woman who owns her parents. A good name, but I wanted to add to it, and so she will be our Sunny Juliet. 


What light through yonder window breaks? 

It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!


That was my first thought, and right on its heels came another: “Yesterday my life was filled with rain….” Yes, the hit song recorded by Marvin Gaye. When I told a friend about this, her response was immediate: “She will ease the pain!” Sunny!

7 weeks old

I asked the Artist if we would ever love another dog as much as we loved Peasy or Sarah (he thinks that won’t be a problem, but I’m not sure), and then I asked him what Peasy would think of our having another dog. His response was that Sunny will be our “dog of atonement.” My sister (bless her heart!) did not like the sound of that. She feels we did a wonderful job with Peasy and don’t have to atone for anything. Okay, maybe not rationally. I’m pretty sure most people would say we made the right decision about Pea and have “nothing to regret.” But emotionally? It’s not that easy. 


Here’s what we want now: We want to give Sunny the kind of life Sarah had, the life we would have given Peasy if only it had been possible … a life where nothing bad ever happens to her … a life in which she is sheltered and feels secure and knows herself to be loved … a life in which she meets and makes new friends every day … a life of play and adventure but never want or fear … the kind of life every dog deserves to have … the life our Peasy should have had, right from the beginning.


I heard on the radio today that Daniel Pink has a new book called The Power of Regret. Rather than chiding readers over feeling regret, Pink looks at the emotion in terms of its positive value. His subtitle is How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward. And that’s our idea with Sunny, our dog of atonement: going forward together into the happiest tomorrow we can create together, helped by the regret we feel over poor little Pea.

Eight weeks old

But my main message today is not about dogsIt's this: If you are not vaccinated against COVID, get vaccinated! Without those three doses we got, I would be sick, too, and the Artist would be much sicker than he is. (I don’t even want to think about how awful that could have been!) For us, these frightening medical separations have only underlined what we already knew, which is that we need each other and belong together. And that we are not ready to leave this beautiful earth!


One more thought. Whenever life’s various challenges start getting me down -- the kind of challenges you never want to have in the first place, but there they are, and there’s nothing to do but deal with them – I turn to Ellen Airgood’s first novel, South of Superior. The protagonist Madeline’s expectations, the anger she carries and judgments she makes against others all come gradually face to face with the reality of life Up North. For instance,


Madeline looks woeful. “Nothing’s the way I expected, now.” 


“Ha,” Mary said. She didn’t mean to laugh at the girl but if that wasn’t the story of life, nothing was.


Then farther down the same page, we catch an important glimpse into Mary Feather’s life and thoughts:


…Mary gave a piercing whistle that brought Jack running and put a hand on his head. Much as she’d groused to John Fitzgerald, the truth was that a dog was a good thing to have. A dog steadied you. Just the smell of a dog, the feel of its fur, the way a dog lived, up front and simple. She stared at her feet. And then she said, “What you have to do here, you have to accept. You have to – lay down before the way things are.”


I don’t know. Maybe these two passages, if you haven’t read the book, will seem completely random. (So read the book, already!) The thing is, I could have chosen from a couple hundred other passages, because my point here is that Madeline’s story steadies me. It helps me to accept the way things are -- and at the same time it strengthens my resolve to do what I can to make things better. I take a deep breath and call on all my sisu. I see also, in this latest of many readings of South of Superior, that one of its messages is one of the messages also to be found in The Little Prince. But I’m not here to preach, so read both books yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.

Thanks for reading my blog post today.


Thank you again and again, Ellen!

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Dear Fellow Bibliophiles

No, not really -- no one is there this winter. The bookstore is closed.

No, I am not there, in Northport, in my bookstore, pictured above in another year, when I was there. Now, in February of 2022, the Artist and I are still ensconced in our ghost town cabin in southeast Arizona, far from icy roads, snowed-in driveway, and snowy sidewalk to shovel in front of our places of business in the village. We have both spent a lot of winters in Michigan (many of them together), and I loved that exhilarating season -- below, for example, is puppy Sarah in the snow, shortly after we adopted her in January of 2008 -- but we are happy now to take life easier here in the Southwest, with sunshine warming our old bones. 

Sarah, January 2008

As long as I’m somewhere I want to be, though (which excludes places like hospital waiting rooms or expressway traffic jams), one of my aims is to be in that place as fully as possible. To be immersed, attentive, curious. Taking in as much as I can. It is for this reason that much of my reading during Arizona winters focuses on fiction, history, and memoirs set in this part of the country – the American West generally, Arizona and New Mexico more particularly, and especially Cochise County, Arizona. Away from Michigan, I buy books wherever I find them, but bookstores are fewer and farther between out here in the West. Other than one bookstore visit in Phoenix and another recently in Tucson, most of my finds are limited to the outlets available, Friends of the Library bookstores and thrift shops. I am a bookseller, but during the winter I am a bookseller in seasonal retirement, and selling is not foremost in my mind when I look at books. More often I’m thinking, Do I want to read that?


This is where I am

But after nearly three decades in the business, bookselling is in my blood, and it was for this reason that I ordered through Netflix (whether in Michigan or Arizona, we still get our movies on DVDs, old fogies that we are) a small film called “The Booksellers.” And as we watched it, I kept thinking of all my fellow bibliophiles – my bookseller colleagues, but others, too – who would be as crazy about this movie as I am. So many thoughts and opinions expressed that we all (booksellers, collectors, biblophiles) share! So many quotable lines and wonderful scenes! Our world!


“The Booksellers” is set in New York City. I have been fortunate enough to visit the Strand (only once) and have read about the three sisters who followed their father’s footsteps in the Argosy Bookshop. Most of the shops I've visited over the years selling used books have been elsewhere, however, all across the United States. If you know the used book world, it shouldn't surprise you that there are a few eccentrics featured in this film. Laughing with delight, I exclaimed out loud to the Artist, “These are my people!” 


Other than recommending the film to you, my other reason for writing this brief post today is to say that it has renewed my feeling of gratitude for my life's path, leading me into the world of bookselling. Other booksellers, readers, booklovers, customers, and the many wonderful authors I have been honored to meet in my line of work – all have made for a richly rewarding life. There is also the joy of simply spending days in my bookstore, surrounded by books, and never knowing what "new" old books are going to come my way next. 


I am a lucky woman. And I will be back in my shop come spring. Hope to see you there!


Books Read in 2022 since last I posted titles:


11. Jance, J. A. Judgment Call (fiction)

12. Barnard, Mary, trans. Sappho: A New Translation (poetry)

13. Hunger, Christina. How Stella Learned to Talk (nonfiction)

14. Miller, Susan Cummins. Hoodoo (fiction)

15. Teale, Edwin Way. North with the Spring (nonfiction)

16. Baker, Will. Mountain Blood (nonfiction)

17. St. Exupéry, Antoine. The Little Prince (fiction)

18. St. Exupéry, Antoine. Le Petit Prince (fiction)

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Who is the little prince, who the pilot, the fox, the rose?

Roses are not rare on earth. No investor would assign to any rose a value of its weight in gold, however heavy with dew the petals. If you know the story of The Little Prince, the classic tale of imagination by French pilot and writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry, you will recall the little prince’s disappointment when he discovers how common roses are here and realizes that his rose, back on his tiny planet, is not one of a kind, after all. He had cared for her so tenderly, believing her unique au monde, as she had assured him she was. 


It is the fox, who begs to be tamed (which is, he explains, to have ties established, for instance between himself and the boy), who teaches the little prince the inestimable value of relationship.


“…To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”


“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower … I think she has tamed me….”


But there comes a time when the fox and the boy must part, and as the fox is overcome with sadness the boy thinks their friendship has done the fox no good at all. The fox tells him otherwise and explains why. -- But for those of you who have not yet read this book, I leave the sweetly poignant details for you to discover on your own. 


Did the flower tame the boy who then tamed the fox and also the pilot? As I read this book once again, I can’t help thinking of our Peasy. Did we tame him, or did he tame us? Was the Artist in the beginning the pilot, only later on to become a fox to the little prince? Or was Peasy the rose to the Artist and me? Or was Peasy the little prince, come to earth to be with us for a while and teach us about love even as he was learning? 


I see my little Pea in the rose, deluded in thinking himself so strongly defended against the world’s dangers. I see him also in the little prince, so concerned to protect the Artist and me, his roses. 


I see our Peasy in the fox,  eager to have us tame him and create ties to bind the three of us together. How happy and grateful he was to have a home and family! And I see the Artist and myself in all these different roles and also in the role of the pilot. 


Did we “waste” a year of our life on a dog like a hundred thousand other nameless dogs needing rescue? ‘Waste’ is the English word Katherine Woods uses in her translation: 


“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes her so important.” 


The original French reads somewhat differently:


“C’est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante.”

“The time you have lost….”

We human beings lose time every day. Whether we feel we have been “productive” or “creative” or that we have “wasted” twenty-four hours, yesterday is gone, and there is no turning back. Yet as Proust discovered in his final volume, Time Regained, the past continues with us in memory. And just as there is no love created, no relationship forged, no friendship made, without taking time for it, spending time on it, losing time for it, so too love lives on in memories forged by time.


I suppose there are some among you, reading this, who think I have spent, wasted, lost quite enough time and words dwelling on my little lost boy. The Artist and I are fortunate in having each other – for many, many reasons, but one these days is being able to talk to each other about the dog we loved and couldn’t keep. Because no one else can ever fully understand why we miss him as much as we do. Only the two of us knew “the essential” loving heart of Peasy. 


And now we are the pilot, left behind and remembering, missing him, but the world is richer for us in all the ways that call our boy to mind again and again. 

Toujours dans nos âmes