In Defense of Walking on the Dead

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Palm Sunday I was walking my dogs in the cemetery. Sundays are busier there than any other day of the week, and holiday Sundays even more so. Team Puggle and I do our best to steer clear of people tending or visiting graves, as well as other dogs, so upon seeing five cars parked along the front drive, we took to the back paths.

The dogs were sniffing away in a clearing, enjoying the perfect weather and all the new spring smells. A car pulled slowly down the road about a hundred feet from us and someone in the car did my all-time least favorite thing: made a passive-aggressive judgmental comment just loud enough for me to hear as they drove by, not stopping to actually confront. The woman said, “How dare anyone walk a dog in a cemetery? That’s disgusting!” Her Jersey accent dripped with contempt.

The Puggles perked their ears and tilted their heads at her. She said some other things but I didn’t quite catch them, though her tone of voice made it sound as if I were personally digging up graves and toppling headstones.

I assured the Puggles that they were not, in fact, disgusting and we went on our way to sniff somewhere else. I asked Jack if he wanted to go track her down and inform her that we likely visit the grave of her dead relative far more than she does, because for this woman to be surprised and offended that people walk their dogs in this cemetery, she can’t come here very often.

Jack scented the air and opted out. He is a better man than I, and his insistence that we merely carry on with the walk shut off the imaginary conversation I was having with her in my head- you know, the one where I judge her back and put her in her place and make her feel at least as bad as she made me feel. Jack pulled in another direction and brought me back to where we were.

For a moment there, I second-guessed myself. About walking my dogs in the cemetery being a good thing.

I started walking them here on the advice of my therapist when I could barely get out of bed from depression a few years ago. For a couple of months it was the only thing I could accomplish in a day besides show up to work.

Walking in the cemetery is their very favorite thing in the world. Because we don’t have a yard, they consider the cemetery to be theirs. It’s part of their territory, and I’m willing to bet every other dog that walks there feels the same. It’s the kind of place that inspires ownership.

 

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For me, it’s a chance to serve. I let them choose which way we go. I let them sniff. I pick up their poop; I don’t let them pee on the flags.

 

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They explore as far as they can on the end of a leash. They notice the new trees the groundskeepers plant to replace the ones destroyed in the storms, the flowers and shrubs added by relatives around headstones. They find the evidence of deer, of raccoons, of owls; of the struggle for life and death that goes on in the animal side of things there. We’ve found dead moles, mice, birds and an inside-out rat, picked clean by crows.

 

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I cannot keep a straight face while walking behind two Puggle butts. Jack walks on an extreme diagonal, as if he is in desperate need of an alignment. If he ever requires a wheel, I fear he’ll only move in circles.

The dogs lead me to the change of seasons through all the small signs. I find the first of spring in the new shoots of grass that Casey likes to eat, the crocuses bursting through the ground that Jack has to investigate; I notice the buds on the tree branches as they both stare at the trunk, mystified at a squirrel that magically disappeared by going up.

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We visit the graves of the ones who touched our family: The boy who died on the high school baseball field. The kid who committed suicide, though some say it was an accident. The mother who very intentionally jumped off a bridge. The 20-year old girl who lost out to a brain tumor.

I’ll stop at a grave I don’t know and wonder about the person there. I wonder how they died, and how they lived. I wish peace for their families; I know it is harder to come by for some than others.

One thing I’ve learned from walking on the dead is that nobody gets enough time.  The cemetery is full of people who probably would have given anything for one more day or a chance to make a different decision had they known what was on the other side, and what they were leaving behind.

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More so than in yoga, or while meditating, the only time I truly appreciate the present moment as it happens is on these walks. Because we are present, Team Puggle and I. We are warming in the sun, we are having our floppy ears blown straight out by the wind, we are smelling all kinds of unbelievable smells.

The definition of reverence is a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe. Walking my dogs in the cemetery is the most reverent thing I do all day.

I guess this whole business of living and dying can be plenty disgusting if you think of it that way, but I don’t. It’s just life. All the gross things that come out of a body have to be tended to, canine and human alike. Is a dog taking a whiz in graveyard dirt any more disgusting than what happens to a body when it expires?

No one here gets out alive.

That’s how I dare walk a dog in a cemetery.

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 Every day above ground is a good day.

 

 

 

 

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One Squirrel Sunday

Hey. It’s One and Done Sunday. One picture, and five links that are worth your time.

Here’s a shot I got of the Puggles sharing a sunbeam.

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It has nothing to do with any of the links; I just think they’re cute.

Easter confounds me. It’s never been a strong holiday in our thrown-together family and for some reason, it’s up to me to make it happen. I’m 0 for 7 so far on Easter. I blame the Easter Bunny. Specifically, I blame the Easter Bunny in my latest post over on Family Circle’s Momster Blog: Holiday Tradtions in Blended Families: Easter Edition.

You guys! I got a dead squirrel sculpture named after me! Kimberly Witham, an artist who makes these awesome Martha-Stewart-esque scenes with roadkill, does the most fasicinating condensed taxidermy video I’ve ever seen. Of a squirrel named Randolph. Now in Technicolor on Roadside Resurrections.

Hey Moms (also Dads, sisters, brothers, step parents, grandparents, babysitters, etc). Have you had to go buy a girl her first bra yet? Have you discovered that pretty much the only things available are completely age-inappropriate pushup bras that don’t fit her right anyway? Megan Grassel, a teenager, had that experience last year when she took her kid sister to buy her first bra. Then Megan did something about it. She Kickstarted a company called Yellowberry. Here’s a writeup about them on Lingerie Talk. I was thrilled to find that they’re completely sold out on their website right now. Thank you, Megan! This so needed to happen.

Be Fed Again is great blog detailing the restoration projects of an old farmhouse that some friends of mine live in. Brooke also includes some recipes that are pretty great. This entry is about a simple way she refurbished the kids’ bathroom, for about $70. I’m actually considering this project because it doesn’t seem like too much more work than repeatedly shutting the door to that bathroom and denying its existence. Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes on Be Fed Again.

Do you know Audra Mae? I just got turned on to her second album, Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound. Click here to preview it on iTunes.

Happy Sunday.

 

 

That’s Hot.

#4: What are you eating?

Me: Mac & cheese. Spicy mac and cheese!

#5: Why do you make everything spicy?

Me: Because it’s good.

I pointed to #4: You’re going to like this someday.

#4: Why do you say that?

Me: Because you already crossed the line. You like crushed red pepper on your pizza.

#4: But that’s GOOD.

Me: That’s my point. Crushed red pepper on pizza is the gateway spice.

#4: Gateway spice?

Me: Yeah. You start with a little red pepper on your pizza and pretty soon you’re guzzling bottles of Sriracha and snorting chili powder down in back alleys.

Blank stares from both of them.

Me: This is probably not an age-appropriate conversation, is it?

#5: What is wrong with you?

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Here is quite possibly the best thing to ever come out of the midwest: My stepmom’s recipe for Ro-tel Mac & Cheese.

WARNING: Do not attempt to make a “healthy” version of this. It’s pointless and will only piss you off. No soy cheese, no fat-free milk, no gluten-free pasta. Just don’t. If those are your dietary restrictions, just eat the Ro-tel out of the can because it will make you happier.

Before attempting this recipe, keep in mind two things:

  • If you send someone under the age of 24 out for a box of elbow macaroni, they will likely return to you with a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese (that’s Kraft Dinner to my Canadian friends).
  • Ro-tel is arbitrarily placed in grocery stores. One of my grocery stores puts it in with the tomatoes, one stocks it with the taco stuff. In case you’ve never heard of it, it’s tomatoes with chilis. Mmm. Spicy.

RO-TEL MAC & CHEESE

1- 1lb box elbow macaroni

3 c milk

1/4 lb butter

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

4 Tbsp cornstarch

1/4 c milk

12 oz shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese, divided usage

2 cans Original Ro-tel diced tomatoes with chilis

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside.

3. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the 3 cups of milk, butter, salt and pepper until hot but not boiling.

4. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of milk with the cornstarch and stir until dissolved.

5. Slowly add this to the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly with a which.

6. When mixture has thickened, remove from heat and stir in 2 cups of cheese until melted.

7. Pour pasta into a large mixing bowl and add the cheese mixture and Rotel.

8. Mix well until macaroni is coated.

9. Pour into a greased 9×13 baking dish or 3-quart casserole and top with remining cheese.

10. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden brown on top.

It’s better the second day and perfect as a midnight snack.  You’re gonna thank me for this.

What’s your favorite comfort food?