Sunday, February 26, 2012

UPDATE: And Then Murphy Came Home

In January we brought home a new family member, and his name is Murphy.

It was the week we returned to work after traveling for the holidays (that blog post coming soon) and I was checking the pet adoption listings on a dozen different websites five times a day. We'd decided it was time to bring another dog into the family and I was anxious to have that presence in the house again. On Friday of that first week I came across an ad for this little black and white mess you see above, and I emailed the person immediately. Several emails and two days later, I was riding home with a puppy dog in my lap attempting to lick my face clean off. How's that for a long story short? 

Is this not the cutest little sleeping muppet you've ever seen?
Murphy is settling nicely into our family and learning the rules pretty quickly. He learned his new name after just two weeks, the smart little thing. He came to us as 'Toby,' after Toby Keith the country singer, but we weren't really feeling the name (though I had to appreciate that he was named after someone who shared my last name). We whittled a list of names down day by day, one that included nerdy literary names, regular people names, and completely random names. We almost named him Sprocket, after the muppet dog from Fraggle Rock, a beloved kids' show from the eighties. In the end Murphy seemed to fit, and Murphy it became. Now I can't imagine him with any other name.

A sharp little guy, he's learning Chris and me well. He picked up on our corrective noises right away (you know, when "Stop doing that" takes too much energy and brain power, so all that comes out is a sharp, nasal throat noise). He's an instant hit whenever we're out with him, which helps ease my anxiety about having a fairly untrained dog (therefore, impolite by German standards). The first time we took him to a restaurant he was given a new name by our server (Tony - it's an Italian place), a slice of ham by the bartender, and a respectable amount of attention by fellow diners. He may or may not be the unofficial mascot of the pub he frequents with me on Fridays, and I have witnessed the hardest of expressions spread into a wide grin and baby talk at the sight of him on the street. He has a way of making you feel like you are the most important person he's ever met, standing to get closer and leaning his back against your legs, providing his chest to be scratched, and gazing up at you with the evilest of puppy dog eyes. Given the chance he'll lick your face off, but at least his tongue is small and relatively dry. He drives me crazy when he doesn't listen, and I can practically hear his maniacal laugh when he runs from me, but he brings with him the kind of annoyance I miss, the kind of stress that comes with a dog. We'll be attending obedience classes together in time, but for now he's doing pretty great. If I'm being completely honest, we ended up with a pretty great dog.
Murphy and the "Stupid Rope"

He's just a year and a half old, so has boundless energy, but he can cuddle up like nobody's business on the couch. (He also enjoys standing on whatever part of your body is horizontal for a smooch, whether or not you're awake.) His most prized possession is a ratty rope toy and his incessant need for you to throw it - after you've wrestled it away from him - can be trying, especially when you can't ignore him for the cold, wet nose bopping you in the hand. He's a persistent thing, that's for sure.

It was kind of a strange transition adopting this little muppet from another family; even as we left their house with him I felt compelled to look to the former owner for direction. I wondered for a while if he thought we were just keeping him for his real family for a while, or if he missed them. He usually seems very focused on his own needs, whether that means food, going outside, or chasing his rope, and it at first made me wonder if he would ever bond with us. He's never acted depressed, so I've had no indication that he misses his old family. Does that mean he doesn't easily get attached? Will he miss us when we're away? When will he decide that we belong to him? Chris and I both adored him from the start, but for me it was a tentative love, one that seemed slow to warm, like he had to earn it. I know that sounds terrible, especially since I pretty much love every dog I see on the street immediately and have been pining for a dog of our own again, but I think that may be my grieving heart's way of moving on to loving a new dog after Heidi. I don't think it's guilt, but I'm not sure what else to call it.

The other day I was upset and I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure he was being sweet to me because of it. He has freakish strength for his size and we often liken him to a little tank, so when he isn't hurtling himself at you, you notice. His ears flattened back against his head and his kisses came a little slower, a little gentler, and the attention felt more like comfort rather than the desire to eat my face. It's been a little under two months, and I think we're all finally starting to belong to one another in this house. 

As I type this, Murphy is sleeping on his outing pillow beneath the bench I'm sitting on, and he's hardly barked once as people have come in and out of the pub this afternoon. He's either exhausted from a day with Aunt Nancy, or he's getting comfortable with this new life and the places we go. If I'm being irritable, he's a stubborn little mess who drives me up the wall with his spastic excitement and taste for pens, paper, and socks. (He is the PERFECT writer's dog, huh?) But if I'm being reasonable, he's a great little guy who's brought some life, energy, and love in the shape of a furry muppet into our house. 

Our walk in the snow - he loves it.

When I looked through my files to find something to work on today, I came across a file called "aches." Reading it reminded me of how I was feeling just before Murphy came into our lives, and ended up prompting this post. I've pasted it in below to show how sometimes things just fall into place, whatever you want to call it when that happens.

I wrote this the day before I found Murphy.   


I’m listening to Kina Grannis. I love the honesty in her voice. It’s comforting.

I am sad, and I am struggling right now. I am lonely in a very particular kind of way and the ache in my chest is exhausting. It isn’t to say that I don’t have a wonderful partner who is my best friend and the only person I could spend so much time with without losing my mind; he’s fantastic. My heart longs for something to nurture, a little life to hold close and love until I run dry of it. My arms ache to wrap themselves around someone who needs me. When I let myself think about it too long, my insides ache to carry the growing life of the child I’m dying to have.

I am not in control of a very important part of my life, and that's difficult. It’s hard because I have no one to blame, no one to receive the anger I’m trying to rationalize away. He’s not ready; he’s done nothing wrong, he just isn’t ready yet, and I can’t hate him for that. So what do I do when I can’t manage my feelings, and can’t make plans or get excited because I have no idea when it will ever happen? I don’t know. I’m stuck.

I’m hoping that a little furry someone will come into my life and bring the love to my heart I lack and be the baby I need. I have so much love and nowhere to put it. So I’m sending this out into the world to be heard by someone who needs to be loved. Please come find me. 



Reading back over this post, it comes across way too critical. I think I had trouble allowing myself to love Murphy as mine because it was so recent that Heidi was mine in the same way, and I had a rough time with her death. Regardless, we have the best little dog on the planet, I have to say. He's smart, freaking adorable, the biggest cuddle monster ever, and also has the coolest personality. I challenge you to meet my dog and not love him to death and want to steal him. 

I choose to ignore that this is how all people who love their dogs feel, because THIS business is TRUE.

Thank you for your time. (A part of me worried that if I didn't amend this, Murphy would somehow learn to read, then somehow learn how to use computers, navigate the internet and find my blog, and then feel really bad like we weren't in love with him because I referred to him as 'impolite.' Or I just felt like I didn't sing his praises enough and had to fix it. Either way.)

I also realize, upon another read-over, that likening the love of a dog to that of a child might offend some people, and also the fact that I basically said, "Gimme a dog since I can't have a baby yet," and THAT'S not so rational or healthy, but it was how I was feeling at the time and I try not to censor what I choose to share here.

Alright. I'm done explaining now.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Today I smelled cow dung and it made me think of you.

This winter has been strange in western Germany. With hardly any snow fall until February, no one is sure what to expect, but today is sunny and the car told me it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit on the way home - toasty! Being a native Floridian, it's strange to imagine walking outside in nothing but a long sleeved shirt and jeans and rejoicing in the warmth of 50 degrees, but it's happened. If it's more than 35 degrees I often don't even bother with a jacket if I'm just walking down to the car; less if it's sunny. But temperature isn't the point, it's just responsible for the change outside that has stirred something in me today. Perhaps Spring is on her way.

As I ascended the steps to my house this afternoon, the distinct aroma of fresh cow dung accompanied me all the way to the front door. They must be readying the fields for the new growing season, breaking up the dirt and covering it with Mother Nature's best fertilizer - and it's local! Behind the reflexive grimace was a smile, though, because as odd as it sounds, this smell makes me think of a good friend of mine whom I miss very much in this place. Her name is Diane.

Diane is the kind of friend who disarms you with her charm, then shocks you with her humor. We hit it off immediately.

We met by coincidence on a Tuesday while looking at houses to rent. It was a coincidence that we'd both come across an attractive listing online the night before, and that we'd both called the realtor attached to it to set up an appointment for the following day. We saw three places that day, Chris, me, Diane, and her two daughters. Everyone was quiet and polite when we arrived at the first house, and we followed Frank the realtor up the stairs and around the house Chris and I had decided to call 'Sunshine' for all its windows. I remember watching the two little girls explore the belongings of the children who still lived there, and thinking how well behaved they were with so many toys around. Chris and I loved the place and hoped we wouldn't have to battle the nice-looking lady with the big smile for it later. The second place we viewed was an apartment with an elevator inside - INSIDE! - but it was too small, and the third place was a house with lots of space and in a neighborhood where it was rumored several American families already lived. This was really where we first met, in the empty living room that would soon be filled with Diane's life.

Polite introductions all around, where are you from, aren't these houses interesting? Which one are you leaning toward? Once it was established she wanted the third and we wanted the first, and there would be no need to take anyone down for the sake of the perfect new abode, we were instant friends. We swapped numbers at our cars and made plans to get together soon. It was a coincidence that Diane and her family were staying at the hotel across the street from ours, and that two weeks later some hotel and room swapping required by the hotels made us neighbors in the same building, just two floors apart. This is how our families came to be friends.

When Chris and I first moved in Germany a little over three years ago, we did so in the dead of winter, and 2009 was an especially frosty one. I walked Heidi in fields thick with snow behind the hotel we called home for our first two and a half months, and we layered on the clothes like never before. Living in Tuscany for the past five years did little to prepare us for German winters, and so the relief that Spring brought was exceptionally glorious.

When Spring started to thaw the world outside, the sun shone a little brighter to me because I'd found a friend in this new place. Moving is scary, and moving to a(nother) foreign country is a little scarier because the task of making new connections is complicated by language and cultural differences. That is unless you wind up living practically next door to someone from the same place as you, who also ends up being one of the most amazing people you've ever been lucky enough to call a friend.
The more time we spent together, whether at breakfast downstairs at the hotel or hanging out in one of our rooms with the kids and dog, the quicker we laughed and the longer we talked. Diane is a burst of sunshine with a smile that's even brighter, and her outgoing nature and friendliness only rival her crazy positive outlook on life. It's decidedly impossible not to love her, which would be annoying if she weren't so genuine and charming. One of the things I love most about her is her ability to come out from behind her good Catholic girl modesty with a comment so cheeky and suggestive, you'd swear you'd misheard her. An outrageous flirt, but one you'd trust without hesitation with your significant other, she's a friend who will smack your ass, and then turn bright red at the word penis. (Somewhere in Florida my friend is blushing and she doesn't know why.) My point? My friend Diane is one of a kind and I'm so glad she came into my life. She very quickly became a source of security and comfort for me, a safe place to turn when I felt unsure, and the one to gently yank me into a conversation when I felt awkward and shy. I easily fell in love with her children, and to top it all off, her husband was really cool, too - what luck! Chris and I both felt fortunate to have found such great friends so quickly, friends around whom we could be our normal, crazy selves without fear of running them off, because they were kind of crazy, too.

It was a coincidence that Chris and I moved into Sunshine and Diane and her family moved into their house on the same day, April 1st. Did I mention we had the same house number? If I hadn't been listening before, this was a smack that made me wonder if some things are meant to be. Hokey, I know, but some friendships really do feel intended, like something in you recognizes something in them, and another piece of the puzzle has found its way home.

For the next two and a half years, these people were family to us, and I will always be grateful for that. There are some people who come in and out of your life without causing much of a stir, but Diane was not one of those people. She changed something in me, she helped me grow in a way only she could, and for that she will always be an important part of my life. She showed me that confidence does not have to be vain, and that really loving yourself doesn't mean loving anyone else less. I haven't met many people who have touched my life like she has, and it's a lovely feeling when you know you've mattered to someone you admire so much, too.

When the time came for Diane's family to leave, as is the cycle around here, I was a little terrified of how I'd handle it. But life threw a curveball our way and our friends left in the wake of Heidi's death, while I was stuck in a strange place of emotional numbness. I didn't cry when we waved as the train carried my friend away, and I still haven't written her that long and sappy letter about what she meant to me while we lived in this place together. I now wonder if it was too much, if she meant too much to deal with then, so I just didn't deal with it at all. Whatever the reason, I felt like I'd failed to show her how important she'd become to me and how deeply I cherished our friendship by not allowing my true sadness at her leaving to manifest. I know she knows, but I'm all about showing.

So why the cow dung? When Chris and I had just moved to Europe from the States, we spent a couple of weeks in Vilseck, Germany for a class Chris had to take for work that first summer. We stayed in a family-run hotel in the very small township where the food was fantastic and the walking paths plentiful, but our windows opened to cow pastures all around. That very thick and pungent odor of cow dung filled the room that was otherwise uncomfortably hot with the windows closed, and was quite an assault at first. But as we got used to the smell (and the sounds of the cows not far from our room), that kind of gross detail became part of my first memory of this country. And just as catching a whiff of Old Spice will forever make me think of my Papa whom I loved dearly and miss just as much, the smell of cow manure in the air will always make me think of Germany when it was still new and overly foreign to me. And thinking of Germany when it was so fresh and new will always remind me of the first friends we had in this place who were there when new became familiar, and friends became family.

Thanks, Diane, for bringing the Force of Love that is you into my life. Love you always.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I have no idea what I'm doing.

Hello reader of my blog. I hope you're having a super day, mostly because you either still have a little faith in me as someone who occasionally writes here, or you accidentally found yourself here while poking around looking for a read. Either way, you're my favorite person today.

You know who's not my favorite person today? Me. Why, you ask? I've gone and frustrated myself into a corner about a short list of things, writing hovering at the top. Sidling up alongside writing is my relationship with Depression, a lifelong presence that had taken a step back, but has recently stopped back by for a visit. This is a very big part of my life, but not one I've chosen to discuss here. I'm starting to wonder if this isn't the perfect outlet to share some of my personal struggle with something that still has such a stigma attached. Really? We've gotten past the shame associated with openly talking about abuse, physical disease, and sexuality, but this one's still hiding in the closet? There is a woman whom I deeply admire and respect who has recently written about her own struggles with Depression, and she is the reason I'm thinking about following suit. If only to be one more voice out there saying that this is something we should be able to talk about. But that's all for another post.

Back to my paralysis...

So here I am, looking at my blog, my lovely, wonderful outlet, which I've neglected once again. Why would anyone come back when I leave it dry for so long? Don't answer that...just let me imagine you've been waiting for something new, and now you're excited to read whatever random babbling you may step into. I so appreciate you. I keep wanting to write, but then something else always seems more pressing and I do that instead. The longer I’m away, the farther off I feel from my writing self. Why do I allow such a distance to grow? The obligation it becomes when my planning doesn’t match my actual ambition? Maybe. I can make a mean list of all the posts I'd like to write, but that's where it's all been camping out for a while now. What serves as a great motivator when I’m on is a supreme embarrassment when I’m off. How do I stop this awful cycle?

It appears my first post of 2012 is an admission that I have no idea what I'm doing. Am I a writer? Or am I just some silly person chasing some silly dream, not able to see the silliness in front of her face? I've never been very good at going after what I want, or even clearly identifying what I want, but that's really no excuse to waste away the opportunities laid at my feet. So I suppose it's time to get serious or pack it in before the opportunity is completely out of my hands.

I'm learning that working full time in the outside world, doing what I'm doing, is too draining to be followed by any kind of creative productivity once I walk in the door at home. But I also know that I lack the discipline to self-impose structure left entirely to my own devices, so now I've got to figure out how to find a balance there. I need someone else to require me to leave my house most every day or I have the tendency to slide downward, and in more than one sense. I also need time and space to find my way back to who I am deep down in order to make a real go at this dream of not only producing good writing, but sharing it in a way that encourages more.

So what's next...I think I'm going to do some re-organizing here. A tab for travel posts, a tab for everything else. Maybe that'll get things rolling again, or maybe this will. This or that, I need something to push me off.

I'm not really sure why I'm choosing to post this particular stroll through my thoughts, but here it is. I think I've been needing to write something and put it out there, on here to share, and not worry over the content. I'm not good at leaving things to rest before pushing them wherever they need to go. It takes me so long to get to things, I have to just do it and be done with it. Otherwise I worry and stress. That's what this post is, it's my need to just say something and let it go. Who knows, maybe one day someone will find these early ramblings an intriguing peek into the psyche of a successful writer. Stranger things have happened :)

Thanks again for stopping by. I'm going to stop saying I'm going to do better, and just do it instead.