Our Sweet Petra May 16, 2005 to September 18, 2020

We said good-bye to our sweet Petra yesterday evening. She had been aging but otherwise doing great until late Thursday evening; a week ago she even went on a three mile hike with us in the woods at Taconic Hereford, a place she has always loved. I’m so thankful we took the time for what we didn’t know would be her last hike. She was even playing with Ramble earlier Thursday evening and trotting happily around the house while I prepared the animals’ dinners. Then something suddenly changed and she went rapidly downhill. By yesterday evening it was apparent that she was telling us it was time for us to let her go in peace.

I fell in love with Petra when I first met her when she was three weeks old and fell asleep in my arms. When I brought her home at eight weeks, she immediately bonded with Stephen and he with her. Then she met Rowan, who was enchanted with his little sister. She was less enchanted with him at that first meeting, and promptly put him in his place, but then, respect having been established, they bonded deeply for life.

Six weeks old– our first meeting

Petra was so always so full of life, leaping up trees, running full tilt through woods, playing with Rowan, Milo, and more recently Ramble. She loved people and was a fabulous therapy dog, listening to elementary children as they read to her and talked to her, and demonstrating obedience and doing tricks when she and I did programs for school assemblies. When I sometimes couldn’t sleep or was just drawn outside by the beauty of moonlit nights, Petra was always my first choice for a quiet nocturnal companion as I walked around the yard listening to the sounds of the night and watching for fleeting shadows of the wild denizens of our land.

Petra also had a tender side that drew out a matching tenderness in many people, especially Stephen, whom Petra adored. They would sit on the floor together, face to face, holding long eye contact, as Steve petted Petra and she “sang” to him with happy dog sounds. She was always so gentle with our cats, “petting” them with a front paw, or licking their ears, which they seemed to like. She used to lick Rowan’s ears, too, and he would groan with appreciation while she licked one ear, then he would turn his head for her to lick his other ear. I remember one time when Milo found a rabbit’s nest and started devouring the baby bunnies. I quickly called him away and took him to the house, where I found a squirming baby bunny that Petra had gently carried up and put on the doorstep, presumably so I could protect it.

Petra also had an intensity that showed itself in various ways. She was always vigilant, which meant she was a fabulous watchdog, always keeping an eye on who was coming or going. She was intensely bonded to all of us in the family, and if Stephen or I was out, she would usually sit by the door watching for us to come home, no matter how long we were out. If I told her one of our children was coming home from college and would soon be arriving, she would run to the door and sit watchfully, waiting for even an hour or two for them to arrive, then would leap with great joy. And in her younger years Petra chewed Nylabones so intensely that she chewed them to sharp points—we called it her dagger collection.

Petra’s dagger collection

There was so much more that is running through my mind like a kaleidoscope of memories and images. Petra was a strong and vibrant presence in our home for over fifteen years, and her passing leaves a giant hole in our lives. Thank you, Sweet Petra, for all you were to us. We love you and miss you.

Dressed up and ready for a Therapy Dog visit to a school

A Spark of Light (Book Review)

I rarely write reviews of the books I read, mostly because I am usually well into another book by the time I finished reading one, but sometimes, if I feel very strongly either positively or negatively, I am inclined to review one. I’m hoping to start reviewing a few more, and generally my reviews will be about why I like a book, as I often just don’t finish a book if I don’t like it. But I’m writing a strongly negative review this time.

I recently finished reading A Spark of Light, by Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite novel writers, whose books I enjoy both for how engaging her writing is (hard for me to put down, so I have to space out how often I read them) and for the well-researched ways she presents the complexity of challenging contemporary issues. I was very disappointed with this book. I’ve enjoyed many books by Picoult and have appreciated the diverse points of view she presents, but she failed to do that with A Spark of Light. One of the things I have loved about her books is the way she presents both (or multiple) sides of an issue with well-rounded characters with whom one can sympathize and relate to. That has made me come away from her books with a better understanding of why people would approach an issue differently than I do, and greater understanding of the complexity of whatever issue the book is dealing with. In some cases that has even resulted in me modifying my own views. Not so with this book. In A Spark of Light, Picoult presents the pro-life characters as shallow, extreme, and unlikable. While there certainly are some who fit that description, it is an unfair and inaccurate caricature of the majority of pro-life people.

In her Author’s Note at the end of the book, Picoult states that she interviewed pro-life advocates and they were “not religious zealots…were appalled by acts of violence…weren’t trying to circumvent women’s rights or tell women what to do with their bodies,” and that she had enjoyed conversation with them. So why did that not come across in her writing? I can’t imagine anyone coming away from this book feeling sympathy with any of the pro-life characters. It seems to me that Picoult threw aside one of her greatest strengths in her writing in order to get across a political message. I’ve seen other writers do that, too,and it is always dismaying, even when I have agreed with the point they were making or perspective they were advocating. I may still read some of Picoult’s books I haven’t read yet, but I am less interested in reading her more recent ones.


A few months ago, during the pandemic lockdown, a friend suggested we each do some writing based on the prompt “Unexpected.” My mind was immediately flooded with all sorts of thoughts, some of which I scribbled in my journal.

Then my father died. He had not been in good health and was increasingly frail, but his death had not seemed imminent until a few days prior, despite the fact that he was nearly 96. Both of these pieces were written before my father’s death, but having experienced yet again that even the expected can hit one hard emotionally, I didn’t get around to typing them up until now. I may yet have more to add on this topic as I continue to process his death, my life, and a world in which hard things, both expected and unexpected, will continue to occur.

Unexpected (April 22, 2020)

“Come Thou Long-expected Jesus”—One of my favorite Christmas hymns, comes to mind every time I think of the word “unexpected.” Since I was a teenager I’ve loved this hymn that speaks of how Christ the Messiah was expected, predicted, prophesied for generations, centuries actually—more than 18 centuries. Expected for so long that he became unexpected, so that even those who knew the prophecies best and were, in theory, waiting eagerly for his coming were not actually expecting his arrival.

How about me? I know he will come again; that coming was also prophesied by multiple prophets, and Jesus said many times that he will come again. But will I be ready, watching for him, expectant? Or will his coming be unexpected, because time goes by and the ordinary continues, as it always does?

Or does it? These days of Covid-19 are far from ordinary. Nothing like this has happened in my lifetime, and our society, along with many societies around the world, is reeling. This level of disruption to our daily life and economy is truly unexpected. Because the unexpected has occurred, the possibility of serious illness and death at a relatively young age for some in our circles of friends and family can no longer be considered unexpected.

Interesting that the unexpected of one sort has made what was unexpected in another realm now likely rather than unexpected. The unexpected makes the unexpected expected. Am I ready? Am I expectant?

More thoughts on “Unexpected” (May 7, 2020)

It seems to me there are two categories of “unexpected.” There is that which is unexpected because one never thought it would happen and most likely never gave it any thought. This Covid-19 pandemic is such—who would ever have thought that our economy would come to a screeching halt, and not just ours, but most economies around the world? Who would have ever thought we’d be under stay-at-home orders for many weeks? This is unprecedented in our country, at least in my lifetime. I suppose there are countless scenarios that fall into this category, but it doesn’t seem reasonable to expend much mental energy on such possibilities, as they are truly unlikely by virtue of being so extreme.

So how can one prepare? I think in the same way one prepares for the other category of “unexpected,”  those events that are inevitable but happen earlier than expected. This second category would include what is often termed the “unexpected death” of someone. Actually, dying is one of the most certain events I or anyone will ever face—every one of us will die someday. So by “unexpected” we mean that death came at a time we didn’t see it coming. A heart attack, stroke, accident, violent attack—these are some causes of unexpected deaths,, even though some of these causes are not so uncommon.

So how can I avoid the shock of the inevitable catching me unawares, thus seeming unexpected? I think Moses, millennia ago, had part of the answer:

Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may grow in wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

If I truly grasp the brevity of my life (or as another translation puts it, if I “number my days”), I will always live with an awareness of possible death and a readiness to face it. If viewed with wisdom, that readiness to face and accept my death, whenever it may come, includes a recognition that God holds all of this life and this world, past, present, and future in his good, powerful, and loving hands. That confidence should enable me to trust him with both the inevitable and the truly unexpected, because I know I am safely held in his hands, and nothing is unexpected for him.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.. Lamentations 3:22-23