We recently discovered (after a series of incredibly painful tests) that our six-year-old son is allergic to both of our pets, especially our cat. We’re trying a medication, we’ve banned both dog and cat from the second story where our bedrooms are, and I have been attempting to be more obsessive about vacuuming than feels natural. Lastly, I have been looking for a new home for our twelve-year-old cat.
Yesterday, we were thinking (hoping) we’d found it. Lydia went home with a newer acquaintance of mine who is sweet and loving and who was looking for a friend for her older cat.
Today, Lydia came home again.
Here’s the trouble with old cats–or at least my old cat: she is set in her ways, used to her own home and family, and not interested in making new friends, apparently.
Despite the fact that every attempt was made by her new potential family to introduce the cats the right way (separate rooms, etc.) Lydia was very open about her displeasure, hissing, growling, biting, escaping, fighting…you get the picture.
She is obviously a one-cat-household cat.
So now we know.
And now we have our Lydia back.
The trouble with old cats is that, much like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, all ways are their ways. They are tiny, furry tyrants. If cats were people, I doubt anyone would tolerate them long. But they’re cats. So they can behave as they wish, and we will still take them back.
Yesterday I met a woman from Iraq at an area playground. A teacher, she was there with a number of young girls and two other teachers. She has lived in the US for 6 years, coming here with her two young daughters after her husband was killed in the war. She was much more talkative than any other Muslim woman I’ve ever encountered, and I probably see Muslim women every other day in the Greater Lansing Area. It may be because she had been living in the US for so long and spoke such good English that there was no language barrier. We talked for perhaps twenty minutes, and in that short time frame she shared a number of interesting things with me.
First, she was compelled by one of her charges to go down a slide. Afterward, she came back to our bench and said, “I probably shouldn’t have done that. I may hurt my baby.” She shared that she was two months pregnant and that in Iraq, when a woman is pregnant, she basically does nothing but sit around all day. “We are afraid that the glue that holds the baby in will come loose. But American women do everything–they work, they run.” I told her that it was my understanding that as long as you had a normal healthy pregnancy, nothing much was forbidden by American doctors except flying in the last month of your term. She said her husband, who has lived in America for 18 years, told her the same thing. “He says, ‘Get out of the house. American women do not just sit around when they are pregnant.'”
Second, she said that her daughters, now both in high school, live with their grandmother rather than her and her new husband. He had proposed to her not long after she arrived in the US and she refused him because her daughters were “still missing their father.” But a few years later, when he proposed again, she accepted and the girls from her first marriage moved in with their grandmother. “I can tell my girls are sad without me, but it is hard for a new husband and wife to live with older children from another marriage.” I found this very interesting. At first, her focus was on her daughters who were grieving, but then they are sent out of her house, as high schoolers, so that she and her new husband can focus on their new relationship. I’m still not sure what I think of this method of not blending families. But apparently, that’s how it’s done back in Iraq.
Lastly, when I asked her if she liked living here she said yes. She mentioned that her neighborhood was very safe, but that she used to live in the area where two men were shot back in May (you may remember me blogging on that incident). Coming from a war-torn country, she was very concerned that she be somewhere safe. But even in her East Lansing neighborhood, she said, there had been a recent break-in and robbery. I told her that there really is nowhere that is safe from all crime and she seemed surprised by this. This seemed so odd to me since she has come out of a situation in which the worst of human nature is on display.
Soon my son retrieved me and I had to leave. I was reluctant to stop talking with this woman and we never even exchanged names. I don’t know that I will ever run into her again. But I wanted to share our conversation with you. She and I are of different origins and different faiths, but we came together on a bench, connecting first through the common subject of children. We chatted, told each other “it was nice talking to you,” and went our separate ways.
I see those “Coexist” bumper stickers all over town. I’m not a particularly big fan of them because they seem to imply to me that we should ignore all of our difference and leave each other alone. But I don’t want to ignore our differences. I want to discuss them, learn from them, and struggle with them–in a civil manner. And I don’t want to leave other people alone. I want to have conversations and strike up friendships.
My short time with this kind, thoughtful, and sweet-spirited Iraqi woman on a bench in an East Lansing park is what coexisting really looks like, and I’m so grateful that she struck up this conversation with me. I will (hopefully) never know the horrors she had to live through, but regardless of that, we had a lot in common. We both love our families. We worry a little about safety. And frankly, we think that perhaps the new equipment at this playground is a little on the dangerous side for small children.
Thinking of how often Muslims in the US probably encounter hostility from others, I hope that my friendly demeanor reinforced a positive view of this woman’s adopted country. After all, one of the foundational principles upon which this country was built was religious toleration (brought to you by the Baptists via Roger Williams…You’re welcome, America). Toleration doesn’t mean that you accept that the religious beliefs of others are correct or that you never debate about them. It means that you don’t let those differences cause you to persecute those not of your own faith. You live side by side in peace.
So who have you encountered lately that broadened your horizons?
I’m sure you can tell why…
It’s always humbling to realize you have a problem, a weakness, perhaps even a pathology. When it’s brought to your attention, you might deny it or rail against it. But there it is. Your problem. Not going away.
In cleaning out the attics in our house this week to find stuff to donate to our church rummage sale, I made a remarkable and disconcerting discovery.
I’m a pillow hoarder.
There, I said it.
It’s hard to admit, but I think I have a pillow problem. I found, stuffed into bags and stashed in the attics, no fewer than a dozen throw pillows of various shapes and sizes (most on the large side) that I was saving in case I ever wanted to recover them. You know, because throw pillows can be so prohibitively expensive that once you have them, you really need to hang onto them. Perhaps they will appreciate in value sitting there in your 100 degree attic.
Though I was tempted to keep some of them, I pushed them all into the car and now they are sitting atop long tables awaiting new homes with new owners who will use them (I hope).
Phew! It feels so good to get that off my chest.
For the past couple weeks, I have been mired in some rather tedious work that I won’t bore you with. Suffice to say, it may be a few more days before I can get my brain or camera back into working order. I will say that my weekends have been beautiful and tragic and backbreaking and relaxing, practically all at once. Two Friday evenings ago, I started ripping out sad tufts of grass from the very back of our backyard, moved about fifty large blocks out to expand the shade gardens, dug a long trench, and repositioned the blocks. It was hot, sweaty, mosquito-infested work.
Saturday morning I meant to go to church to plant some ornamental grasses and help mow the lawn, but as I was closing the lift gate on my Explorer, I accidentally ripped the thing off, which, as you can imagine, was fairly surprising. I caught the 50 pounds of window, etc. and stood there wondering what to do with it. I couldn’t put it down because it was still attached by a bunch of wires for the electric and one of the shocks. I ended up wrenching it from the other shock, maneuvering it into the back of the hatch, and fashioning a tarp cover for the gaping hole so as not to let the rain in that was expected the next day. Since no body shop in our entire city is apparently open on Saturday, I went back to the garden and worked six hours, digging up/dividing/transplanting what became 99 plants (I counted), and again got sweaty and buggy and dirty.
But Sunday–ah, Sunday!–was bliss. Gorgeous weather (after some helpful morning rain) and it was church, baseball game with friends, cookout, cigars, and great conversation into the evening. Fantastically relaxing.
Then after another mind-numbing week working on (and finally finishing!) copy for a few hundred books I’ve never read, my mother and I went to visit my almost-97-year-old great aunt who is closing her house and looking for homes for most of her treasures. I came home with a quilt that her mother (my great great grandmother) made from her and my grandma’s old childhood dresses, some teacups her mother bought on trips, some beautiful linens her mother had embroidered, a couple antique cameras, vintage aprons, and more. I also purchased her dining room set and was then faced with the problem of getting it halfway across the state.
Did you know that U-Haul will not rent trailers to you if you’re going to hitch them to an Explorer? True story. But an old friend on the west side of the state came through with his own trailer (which he pulls behind an Explorer) and on Friday we managed to get table, six chairs, corner china cabinet, and sideboard to my house in one piece. Some Old English and some Pledge and the set looks very happy in my home. So now Great Great Grandma Koch’s lovely linens can continue their useful lives on the very table they’ve graced for the past 68 years.
Saturday and Sunday were days of perfect weather, time with my boys celebrating one of the best dads I think there has ever been, and the prospect of returning to work this week with that gargantuan one-time (until the next time?) task checked off my list. I’m very happy with my lovely redesigned and expanded garden, the ability to keep some special things in the family, and a lot more storage space in the dining room. I’ve got my work cut out for me in the garden still this week. Every weed will be pulled in anticipation of 10 yards of mulch being delivered soon.
And then I guess I’ll be shoveling and spreading mulch for the rest of the month. :P
What are you doing with your summer days?
When I was a kid, we had a standard garden plan each year from which we rarely deviated. Constant structure was provided by groomed yew bushes. Red geraniums, dusty miller, and a spike plant populated the flower boxes. The shady side yard became home to multicolored impatiens. The only perennials were a common bleeding heart plant that appeared by the apple tree and an ever-expanding patch of peppermint I had started with transplants from the Heritage House, an old museum of a house by the junior high school we all toured as part of our well-rounded education.
When I started my own garden, I was very interested in creating expansive perennial gardens, inspired by my mother-in-law’s beautiful garden and the glossy pages of her many gardening books and magazines. I envisioned a riotous cottage garden bursting with extravagant flowers all summer. But it’s harder to get constant color than you might think, and I realized at some point that the only moment those gardens in magazines looked perfect was on the day the photos were taken. I’ve also had to adjust my expectations of my back yard garden as I take into account the heavy shade, the heavy soil, the walnut tree that slowly poisons many other types of plants.
Just as with my new garden bed around my new tree and that immovable stump, you have to work with what you’ve got. You can spend years amending the soil, trimming trees, and doing lots of extra watering or fertilizing to get your ideal garden to thrive. Or you can simply look for plants that will be happy in the conditions you already have. And when we start looking at our current situations as opportunities rather than liabilities, we’re a lot happier.
As time goes by and my gardens evolve and new varieties of hostas and huecheras and many other plants are developed, I find I’m just as happy with the many textures and shades of green you can get with the right assortment of plants as I would have been with a garden of nothing but flowers. The above photo collage shows just a few of these.
It’s not hard to extrapolate this lesson into the rest of life. Even when we’re not in the exact job or relationship or state of personal or professional development we might want to be, we can find ways to thrive right where we are. We may need to adjust our expectations. Or we may simply need to recognize that there are different opportunities waiting for us to take advantage of them. You know the term “bloom where you’re planted.” But maybe you don’t even need to bloom right at this moment. Maybe you just want to be a cool green plant with lots of texture. Be assured that you’re just as interesting that way (and a heck of a lot less trouble to keep happy).