Monday, May 31, 2010

Mom's obituary and guest book

Her obituary is in today's Anchorage Daily News. Since our family is so scattered, we would especially appreciate your signing the online guest book at Legacy as one way to bring us all together.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Notes from Nana

I packed up my mother's room at her assisted living home today. I'd gone through her own room here some time ago, but the things today were the stuff of immediacy, in which she was breathing only a few days ago.

Three things in particular caught my attention today...

First, a birthday card, written a few months ago but which never made its way to me through her forgetful states. But the sentiment had unusual clarity: "To my beautiful dreamer daughter, always wise beyond your years, who worries me one day and inspires me the next. It's never been ordinary; it's always been wonderful, and today and always you are loved."

Second, a notation written on the back of a photograph of Danika. Danika herself has written a lovely tribute on her Nana's passing, and Nana's spidery hand recounts some of the same memories: "I babysat her from birth until about 7 years old. We went out for breakfast on Sunday mornings and Danika always had french toast. We raised a backporch garden, popped snapdragons, played with Baby, and more. I made her lots of cute costumes and outfits. I love her dearly!"

Lastly, a tablet full of assorted notes and scribbles, typical of my mother as her sense of what was important to write down declined along with her ability to remember it. Among pages of facts, non-facts, and random undiscernables, one began in emphatic capitals: "MY potato salad recipe!"

I know exactly what began the fit of pique over this page. Several weeks ago there was a dinner-table debate among the home's ladies - none of the ladies being in full command of their faculties but in abundant command of their opinions, the "correct" way to make potato salad was hotly argued, and Nana evidently decided later to take out her frustration on the ubiquitous yellow legal pad always at her side, to win her argument in writing where none could dispute it.

(However, I have to say: Demented or not, Nana was also totally right on this one. No one has ever made a better potato salad.)

The recipe began with the potatoes and other constituents one would reasonably expect - I didn't even read that part, as the secret of Nana's was in the delicious dressing. And just at the point in the recipe where that alchemy occurs, both the ink in the pen, and her capacity to notice, ran out. Evident scratching continues deliberately down the page, losing to the ages what could be the most important five lines in human history.

I am consoling myself with two things: (a) my brother Kelly probably knows how to make this potato salad or even a better one, and (2) it's more likely that she had lapsed onto another topic entirely by the time she got to the dressing. Oh that Nana.
And a PS: One of my favorite instances of Nana's compulsive writing-on-everything (and I mean everything) has resided in my desk drawer for several years. This container holds a razor scraper and blades. As you can see. But just in case the transparent box isn't enough of a warning:

Brainshock, part 2

I cannot editorialize this in any way better than simply reporting what happened:

I logged into Facebook this morning to keep working on setting up the environment.

Minutes later, my laptop jumped out of my hands and committed suicide by hitting the floor. Hard.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I spent 10 minutes setting up on Facebook and I don't know how any of you people do this with regularity. It's so horrible I had to run away!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I didn't come to Alaska for the heat

Have to divert to some minor matters today, as four years of tension finally breaks and I am more tired than I can remember being in awhile. It was almost 80F in the shade of my back deck this afternoon, and is probably over that now. In the sun it's worse. Laugh if you will but I am not amused. Contributing to the mountain of evidence that I share a good bit of DNA with a lobster, here's my arm after just 20 minutes driving across town. The freckles are tan anyway.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Goodbye to my mama

Margaret Elaine Burrell Gallatin
August 20, 1926 - May 26, 2010

Goodbye to my mama, my uncles and aunts

One after another they went to lie down
In the green pastures, beside the still waters
And make no sound

Their arms had held me for so many years
Their beautiful voices no longer I'll hear
They're in Jesus' arms and he's talking to them
In the rapturous New Jerusalem

And I know they're at peace in a land of delight
But I miss my mama tonight

Possible strategies for managing social media

(1) Friend only those people whose dogs I like

(2) Friend only those people who are liked by my dog

(3) Take this alternate approach instead

Monday, May 24, 2010

A personal strategy for social media

When I said the other day that I would never be a FaceSpaceTwit, I annoyed a few people. (Maybe I actually offended them and they were kind enough to portray it as annoyance.) I'm sorry about that.

As I was googling my brother Matthew to find out what he was speaking at in Tennessee this weekend (since his website didn't tell me that part - nudge, nudge) I found a tweet from Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers, saying they were about to hear Matthew speak. And then later that they'd had dinner with Matthew and some deep theological and philosophical talk. Michael said he'd learned a lot. (I've learned a lot from Matthew too, despite the precious few times we've had dinner together in the last 25 years.)

Not knowing anything about the evidently popular Michael Hyatt, I followed up on his blog and found an interesting article that addressed much of my avoidance of the popular social media. I realized what's been bugging me has not been, as Hyatt says, the media outlets themselves. Now this is a person in public life who really has things to manage. In comparison, I am one step away from the hermitage. What use have I for an inundation of minutiae when my real friends require no more than my two hands to count and only my heart to 'friend' them?

I realized in reading this article that having a strategy was the part I was missing all along. I want my hands on the wheel and my foot on the throttle. So I think you will see me on Facebook soon....or, if I can figure out the right blend of participation and invisibility, maybe you won't. I'm off to strategize it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Holly meets The Holy Man

But for an occasional casual contact, Dr. Ron has been a largely absent figure since Piper and Hunter died the first week of October 2008. All I could think as I sat in the waiting room, looking out at the flowerbeds nourished by Gryphon's ashes, was that it is really good to have a dog again. Having 65 of them every day is just not the same thing. To be more precise, it is really good to finally be ready to have a dog again. But having this kind of safety net for Holly is a true gift from God. Here she is at first communion.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Those comments from Danika

Rather than bury my responses in the comment block, I'm calling her out right here:

Ya know, if you ever had responded in the affirmative to any of my (1) job offers, (2) plane ticket offers, or (3) free college housing offers, you'd have met Holly long before now.

And as to theme parties, yes, my cohorts at Dog Tired did in fact use a Twilight theme for my birthday in March. There was a long moment of indecision as the ice cream cake disappeared from the Edward and/or Jacob plates, and three of us began to weigh the option of licking the frosting.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

False advertising

I go to this store at least once a week, and I have yet to see any of these guys.

The girl is mine, the doggone girl is mine

I am feeling relief and trepidation both. Holly decided to make a change in her future plans. She is of emancipation age in the state of Alaska, after all, and has the right to self-determination. She has also been showing me some neurological symptoms recently. Yesterday she was diagnosed with a brain lesion, and her doctor said there will be no travel for her to join her family in Canada.

Her dad Gary and I had to make some very large decisions in the space of a few minutes and with a couple thousand miles between us. And so now Holly owns us both, and her home is with me.

Gary has had her since she was eight weeks old and I have no right to this dog whatsoever. I feel like I stole something precious, or reached through the phone and did surgery on him without anesthesia. I can't imagine how he must feel to take this act of faith now. I am challenged (and determined) to make sure he never looks back on this with regret and that his heart will heal faster because what he did was selfless.

I also think it strangely coincidental (or not) that just around the time that I lost both my dogs, one to old age (Piper) and one to cancers of the brain and skull (Hunter, a few days later), Holly began her stays with me off and on. It seems to have uniquely positioned me to parent a very old dog with brain cancer. However, Holly is still way more functional than most dogs 5 years her junior, so I am not really considering this a short-term obligation.

Enough. Holly's 17th birthday is June 14 and we have a party to plan.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Holly and the paparazzi

My houseguest Holly has a patented paparazzi-dagger-stare. She made an exception today for portrait artist extraordinaire David Jensen of Alaska Pet-ography. He's the guy who takes all those amazing portraits that help us get homeless animals adopted. And he's just a really good buddy to let us interrupt him on this beautiful weekend and graciously make tons of time for us.

Holly has been an emotional catalyst for a lot of what's going on with me lately and is mainly the one responsible for bringing this blog back to life. (Just so you know who to blame.) You'll learn more about that in time. She's staying with me while her family is getting settled in their new Calgary home and will be embarking on that big adventure herself before long.

Meanwhile, enjoy the portraits, video compilation and commentary by David, who was quite charmed by Holly's independent spirit. I would not say Holly endeavored to make this process go smoothly in any way whatsoever, which only goes to prove that David, you really are the very best!

on Mother's Day

Margaret Elaine Burrell Gallatin was born on August 20, 1926 in Ridgeley, West Virginia. She was mother to four children, three of whom are living today. She has been living here in Anchorage for the last few years, and much of this blog's absence the last few years has to do with her journey and mine. About 10 days ago Mom returned into the care of Hospice. But that is not the story I want to tell today. And it's not even mine, but one told more beautifully by my eldest brother. And the photo isn't a recent one, but it's what I want to remember when I hear these words. Love you, mom.

How Your Eyes Still Dance
Music and lyrics by Matthew Gallatin

You had no shelter from ill winds that blew
So how did the grain of your heart run so true?
And how did you manage to drink bitter tears
And grow only sweeter as grey grew the years?

How your bright eyes dance, Marguerita...
You sashay and swing on light silver wings
And trip gaily through their laughter-warmed blue
How your eyes still dance...

So many loves sadly taken away,
See all the stones where the mourning wreaths lay;
But every grave with its measure of pain
Touched by your memories, grows roses again.

How your bright eyes dance, Marguerita...
You sashay and swing on light silver wings
And trip gaily through their laughter-warmed blue
How your eyes still dance...

There's music that lingers and rises above
The heartache, the sadness, the tears and the love;
And all these fair tunes that are cast on the wind
Meet with your smile and you're dancing again!

How your bright eyes dance, Marguerita...
You sashay and swing on light silver wings
And trip gaily through their laughter-warmed blue
How your eyes still dance...
How your eyes still dance.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Join my movement

I'm calling it Defenders Of Old Dogs. Partly because they really need it and partly so we can all greet each other with "Dood....."

Friday, May 07, 2010


No, not that one.
A couple weeks ago Kari and I were at the Alaska Women's Show and were approached by folks from The Avatar Compassion Project. (I walked away musing whether we looked like the kind of people who could use some how-to on compassion, but then decided instead that we looked like the kind of people you could depend on to carry out the instructions.) The challenge of the project is to hand to strangers a total of 1 million compassion cards by October 17, 2010.

The card itself contains an exercise from Harry Palmer's book Resurfacing, and it spoke to me right now because I've had several conversations with people in grief lately. I often regret that our culture has abandoned the tradition of the mourning band, because it let everyone know who among us was in a vulnerable state of sorrow. Now we are surrounded by them invisibly so that our thoughtlessness adds to their burden, as we are also invisible in that state ourselves.

Monday, May 03, 2010

I don't know where to start

As a linear thinker it feels right to me to connect, even in an abbreviated way, some narrative thread of the epic that’s occurred. Cliff’s done it with Shakespeare after all.

But the highlights haven’t been high and they haven’t been light.

I could simply hail the boat from this point, so far downriver now, and begin to describe the change in the scenery.

But I am so changed too. I have become someone who can articulate about all kinds of feelings and thoughts, except the most important ones and particularly about my own pain. I am no longer a sharer in that sense. With anyone. I have no aspiration to be different. The planet is down to just a few inhabitants and the cave is really down to just me.

I am never going to be a FaceSpaceTwit, that much is certain.

But the tide is ebbing and I am being pulled with its shift. And, not surprisingly, all of it is under the influence of one dog. This weekend was the first time in 18 months that I allowed it to take me deeply into the undertow. It was a meaningful baptism.

So I am stirring the sand here a bit, feeling that something is meant to be said now but guarding all that is in me to say.