PJ– July 2001 to May 28, 2013

PJ was my friend Sarah’s dog, and I got to know her well while I was pet-sitting when Sarah would travel. Later on PJ spent a fair amount of time with me and always fit in as a sweet, happy member of our family.

It was a kind of grace to be
PJ’s friend. She came to Sarah as an unsocialized, semi-feral puppy, and Sarah slowly, patiently taught her to trust. Over time PJ became more and more social and ended up loving people, but when I first met her as a two-year-old, she was still quite
reserved. I immediately felt an affinity for this shy, camouflaged
sprite, who so loved being quietly outside by herself, and I always felt
it was a gift and a privilege to have her trust. Sarah often said that PJ had the same personality as I, but in a dog’s body. Maybe that is why PJ and I connected right away; I felt as though we understood each other without words.

PJ was an observer. She spent much of her days watching and waiting in eager expectation. Hour by hour contentedly watching a tree in which she knew a squirrel sometimes foraged. Waiting patiently for a woodchuck to come out of its hole. Watching and waiting while a squirrel walked within a few yards of her on the deck. Weather rarely deterred PJ, and she would frequently ask to stay outside when the other dogs came in.
Watching the Horse Chestnut tree on a rainy day

Watching the world with her, whether slowly
meandering through the woods on leash, investigating every interesting
scent, or roaming fields searching for something moving subtly under the
grass, or sitting on the deck with her watching her watch a tree for hours, opened my eyes to much
that I may otherwise have missed. During times when I might otherwise have been stressed, PJ often helped cultivate a peaceful spirit in me, attentive to easily-overlooked but fascinating aspects of the natural world around my home.
My shadow and PJ, enjoying a winter woods walk

 I miss the gentle tap on my elbow or soft poke behind my knee that were
her quiet ways of saying, “Hi, I’m here with you.” I would turn to see
those bright eyes, that sweet expression or happy grin, and her wagging tail. I miss the
thump, thump, thump of her tail on the floor whenever I’d look in her
direction. I miss her uniquely beautiful ears that would twitch slightly in my direction to greet me, when she was “watching.”

PJ, beloved scruffy girl, I miss
your gentle spirit and quiet zest for life. I will watch and wait and remember all you taught me.

A young PJ, in pencil
watercolor sketch done in the field
How to Appreciate a Tree, by PJ

Silver — 1998 to May 23, 2013

Snuggling while I was working at my computer

Silver sold a painting for me once. When I first saw dark blue pawprints on my recently finished painting of Stonehenge, my initial response was neither appreciation nor joy. Silver, always energetic, mischievous, and into everything, had taken advantage of my brief absence from my studio to leap onto the table She had walked through the wet blue paint on my palette, across the freshly dried watercolor painting, and then along the table and windowsills, leaving a trail of bright blue prints all around the room. I hurriedly scrubbed as much of the blue as I could off the paper, but faint marks were left in the middle of the sky. Unfortunately not faint enough to qualify as sky, the marks ruined my painting… or so I thought.

After some mulling, it occurred to me that perhaps I could hide the marks by covering them with a flock of birds. Not where I’d normally place birds, but it was the only hope for this painting, so I added them. Someone saw my Stonehenge paintings on facebook and came here to look at them. She decided to buy the painting with the flock of birds, saying she particularly liked that one because of the birds. Thank you, Silver!

 That pretty much encapsulates what Silver’s presence in our family was like. Vibrant, playful, and curious, Silver was an active part of nearly everything that went on in our home, adding her own unique personality to the mix. She loved the dogs and enticed the Aussies into chasing her down the hall almost every evening. I wrote this about Silver in an article about our pets a couple of years ago:

Silver, one of my two cats, sashays in front of the dogs, then crouches, swishes her tail wildly back and forth, and suddenly darts down the hall, Petra and Rowan chasing playfully after her. Moments later she confidently strides back into my studio, hops up on the table, and walks through my palette, then leaves a trail of blue paw prints across the bookshelves. I love this cat. I am never bored with her in the house and it would be hard to be lonely. Her mischievous, playful ways are balanced by her quiet poses as she sits on an upside down box or even on a piece of paper and solemnly watches me for long minutes, clearly just wanting to be near.

Silver was Arielle’s cat– a gift for her 11th birthday. Arielle had asked for a kitten for her birthday, and I’d heard that there was a stray kitten at the animal hospital. We went to see it, but the kitten had been adopted. Instead there was a skinny one year old cat who was climbing up the inside of her cage. Arielle took her out, and the cat climbed right up to her shoulder and walked back and forth between our shoulders and heads, constantly on the move, constantly purring. I reminded Arielle that she had wanted a kitten, but was proud of her when she decided that she’d rather give this lonely, affectionate cat a home.

Silver adored Arielle from day one, and even though Arielle hasn’t lived at home much for seven years now, whenever she would visit Silver would be either in or just outside Arielle’s room. For days afterward, I’d find her hanging out by Arielle’s door a couple of times a day. Since Arielle went to college, Silver began to connect more deeply with me as well, and most of the time she was somewhere near me, whether roaming on my desk or painting table, purring on my lap, or sitting beside my chair.

Silver loved all people and often greeted visitors at the door and would beg to be picked up as soon as they settled in a chair. She loved to go to the vet; it was a new place to explore and there were new people to see– all good in her mind. She even loved her crate and was happy to hop in and go for a car ride.

It is so hard to wrap my mind around the idea that this vibrant, loving cat is no longer here. She was with us for so long and was a warm, loving part of every day for me in the past few years. I miss you so much, my little gray shadow. This house will never be the same without your playing, your pranks, and your purring.

On my lap, watching my face
She loved to sit in baskets, boxes, and wastebaskets
Sketches during Silver’s hyperthyroid days (once treated she was calmer)
Helping me with my work
Watching the birds with me

My last sketch of Silver


My dear friend Ann passed away recently. Ann was one of the building blocks
of who I am, not in large dramatic ways, but in so many small ways that, when I
think about it, I see her imprint all over my days, affecting in some way or
another how I raised my children, how I relate to Stephen, the ways I pray and
meditate on Scripture, my willingness (that has never come naturally) to speak
up when someone is headed for trouble.
Ann and I met shortly after she
moved to the Ithaca, NY area, when she came to our small house church one
evening. I don’t remember first meeting her, but I would guess that she introduced
herself to me—she is far more sociable than I, and I was probably hanging back,
a bit shy and reserved. Right from the start, she became family to us, mostly
as a much-needed source of wisdom and encouragement to me, a young wife and
expectant mother at the time, but also a warm and loving person in our
children’s younger years, and a fun, wise friend for all of us. One of my
children said he always had a sense of “her support, and a sense of her love,
faith, and very profound kindness when she visited. It seems like she was like
an aunt or grandmother to us…”
And there’s so much more—Ann’s
openness to reading all sorts of books and the many recommendations she passed
on to me, both classic literature and interesting new books on all sorts of
topics. We probably talked about what we were each reading in every
conversation we had. The fun we had cooking together in my kitchen when she
would visit, companionably sharing life. The wonderful stories of her children
and extended family members, most of which in some way or another exemplified
God’s faithfulness and Ann’s trust in him. Her insights into each of my
children’s personalities and strengths and into mine as well.
It wasn’t that we always saw things
the same way, because we didn’t. Ann was adventurous in her thinking and
attitudes, while I am more skeptical and cautious by nature, but we always
loved and respected each other and were always interested in each others’
thoughts. To hear that she is no longer here is hard to believe and very hard
to accept. I will miss her always, but will always carry with me some of the
ways she influenced my life and who I am.
Perhaps foremost, Ann’s example of
faith, no matter the circumstances, influenced me deeply and helped me grow in
trusting and loving God. She was never without Jesus, not just in the sense
that he was always with her as he is with all believers, but also in the way
she was constantly aware of his presence and in open, easy communication with
him. I got to know him better through spending time with Ann. Perhaps that is
what I will miss the most. Ann’s wonderful smile must be brightening heaven now
and I look forward to a joyful reunion when I see her again. We will have much
to catch up on.
This passage comes to mind when I think of Ann and her abiding
faith in God:

the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to go on the heights.
                                    Habakkuk 3:

Here are a
couple of poems that Ann wrote on scraps of paper when she was visiting us:

Beneath the Snow

Crocuses beneath the snow, 

do you know- do you know

How near is the sun,

That winter is done,
And you will tiptoe forth
With a sudden golden sound,
Crocuses beneath the snow,
Do you know?     3/21/89
Hemingway’s heroes move me, but not in
the way you might think;
His lovers don’t move me to love-
drunkards don’t move me to drink;
With his anglers I’ll not go a
his hunters not follow the trail;
His men can have all of his women,
women each bull fighting male.
His boxers can box themselves silly,
toss each other right out
of the ring;
When they land with a thud in a puddle
of blood
I personally don’t feel a
Yet Hemingway’s heroes move me to
out with all of my might,
“If I earnestly try, I wonder if
like Earnest could learn to write.
(written July 1999?)


A Blessing Named Bituminous

A lapful of love, a warm chin in my elbow, a soft paw tapping my chest, green eyes gazing into mine. This was Bituminous for many wonderful years.
This morning his time ran out, and I let him go peacefully before he lost his peace in this life. He snuggled his cheek into my hand right up to the end, enjoying my gentle love that wanted to keep him forever, but even more wanted for him to never know the suffering that would have come soon due to his failing body.
My Bituminous—a mighty hunter in his younger years; a friend small in stature but great in trust; a beloved member of our family for over eighteen years. Somehow, because he had beaten the odds so many times over the years, I thought he would keep on going forever.
I learned much from my little friend. Early on he showed me what trust looks like. I remember stepping outside before bed and calling him to come inside. The night was black and so was he, and all was silent. Then a small piece of the night would step into the circle of light spilling from the windows, and Bituminous would come running joyfully to me from the darkness. A small creature, less than one tenth my size, hurrying toward me without hesitation, with perfect trust. From him I learned to have a greater trust in God, who is so much greater than I.
In recent years Bituminous has helped me learn to slow down and savor quiet moments. Over the past few years I have spent many happy hours with my warm cat on my lap, with him sleeping or watching me, and me reading or watching his calm breathing. Life slowed down as I stepped out of the rat race, into peaceful reflection and silent connection that enriched my days and helped me grow into the person I am today.
Thank you, Bituminous, for the gifts you brought me. You were a gift in every way.