Going to the Dogs

The following is an article I submitted for publication. The theme was a big change that occurred in the writer's life. I never heard back from the people I submitted it to and it's been several months, so I decided to pop it here. Enjoy.

This may sound a bit kooky, but one of the big changes that happened in my life was overcoming my fear of dogs. I remember when it started. We had a neighbor who kept, what was to my 5 year old eyes, a massive dog of indeterminate breed. My mom pitied it and so from time to time she’d feed it scraps. One day I went with her, and the dog, overjoyed at the possibility of a snack broke through whatever was keeping it staked and pulled a Dino Flintstone on me.

“I’m going to die of rabies,” I told my pediatrician solemnly.

I had recently seen Old Yeller and what stuck was not the bittersweet story of a boy and his dog, but the idea that any time, when you least expect it, dogs can turn on you.

“Uh-huh,” he said.

He was used to my precocious babbling and to my mother’s nervous streak. This was the woman who brought me in every time I sniffled. Of course she’d want a scrape checked out (never mind that the scrape was caused by my tripping on the sidewalk – the dog itself didn’t harm me beyond subjecting me to its breath). The doctor assured us nothing was broken, I didn’t have rabies and that was that.

Except it wasn’t. From then on, the sight of any dog got me screaming. The sound of jingling keys sounded so much like dog tags to me that I’d actually flinch if I heard them. I didn’t learn to ride a bike because I was petrified I wouldn’t be able to pedal fast enough to escape any dogs that might be nearby.

“I have a phobia,” I later told my pediatrician.


I don’t know if he ever talked to my parents about dealing with it, but nothing really was done. I coped by becoming an indoors child, only going out if one of my parents was near me. By college I was OK if the dog was tiny and on a leash. But I’d still make an excuse to be elsewhere, fast.

College was where I met my husband, a terrific guy and an unapologetic dog lover. We discussed everything before getting married, our thoughts on religion, kids, finances – but we never discussed dogs. I should have realized this was going to be an issue. He’d get the same misty look over a puppy that some people get over babies. No dog would go un-scratched in his presence. So when he started asking about dogs, I let him know I’d rather have a root canal during labor. Not one to give up easily he’d bring it up regularly, wise enough to drop it if I was getting too twitchy, but always looking for a way to bring it up if he could.

“So…corgis are cute,” he said casually after watching an anime series featuring one.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

Well, they were kind of cute, with their little legs and fox-like appearance. I told him I might consider a corgi. But just because I thought they were cute as a cartoon didn’t mean I’d be OK with them in actuality. I reminded him I’d still be nervous. It didn’t matter. He took the small bone I threw him and began Campaign Corgi in earnest.

One day we happened to be driving by a dog rescue. He pleaded with me to go in to look. I told him that unless there was an actual corgi in there, I was going to turn around and go back to the car. So of course, there in a cage with a giant St Bernard, was a wee corgi puppy. Triumphantly, my husband walked over to the man coordinating things and asked to see the corgi. I’m still not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow they got me to sit down and put that tiny corgi in my lap. I remember still being nervous. The dog was trembling too, right up until the moment she was on my lap. And then she looked and me, I looked at her and we both stopped shaking.

In the almost 13 I’ve had Faye, she’s taught me a lot of things. One, I’m actually something of a nature lover when not terrified. I can’t imagine not being outside at least a little every day. Two, I’m a really dog person! Three, it’s sad when fear keeps you from being everything you could become. Four, love has a way of breaking fear.


So once a year the hubby, the kids and I pack up our stuff and head up to the mountains to spend a long weekend up with his side of the family. I guess I'm pretty lucky that I get along fairly well with them, at least most of the time. I'm pretty open about who I am with them; I've never really hidden the fact I'm Pagan from them. And they accept it, although there is good-natured joking all around. Yesterday morning, when I emerged fresh from the shower with the water vapor from my sopping wet curls very visibly rising up away from my head, cameras got taken out accompanied by cries of "Wow, proof she's a witch!".

They aren't terribly subtle folks. They can be a bit loud and a bit opinionated. But they can also can be very supportive. When 2 of my nieces decided to try the zip lines, they all turned out en mass, whooping and cheering them on as they climbed up and zipped across the to the other side of of the pond. Somewhere, out in the Atlantic, baby dolphins may have heard them and been encouraged to rise to the surface to get their first puff of air. My nieces, reared all their lives in this boisterous environment, drank in the adulation.

I'm not sure if I actually said anything or if my husband noticed the look of skepticism mixed with curiosity on my face. Unlike the rest of his family, he knows there are times where a quiet sentence said at the right time trumps a legion of cheering. He just looked at me and said, "You know, for someone who seems to like to link herself to kestrels and other sorts of airy creatures, this is probably as close to flying as you are going to get."

I hate it when he's right.

I was never a daredevil as a kid. A huge part of that was my mother's doing, who was doing helicopter parenting before it was "in". I had very little trust in my body to respond in any sort of coordinated, physical way until a lot later in life, and even then, there has to be music involved or I'm pretty much a klutz. That seemed like a really long climb to the top of just the little zip line. And I wasn't sure I was ready to throw myself off a perfectly good platform, even if I had seen kindergarteners and senior citizens doing it and surviving just moments before. But the hubby knew pretty much the only argument that would make me even consider it. So I quietly said, "Fine, but this is the deal. Just you gets to see, no giant horde of relatives." He nodded.

I'm still not entirely able to verbalize exactly why I didn't want everyone there. A decent part of it involves my pride to be sure. I knew I wasn't going to be anywhere as slick as my triathlete brother-in-law or even my giddy nieces when I went on. I didn't want an audience for that. There is also something that just personally makes me feel kind of twitchy about over-zealous cheering over something small children can do without too much of a fuss over it. I carefully planned out the perfect time to go - there was actually no one waiting ahead of me to go on when I went over - and after saying a quick prayer to offer up this small act of fear conquering to honor my deities, I began the climb up. The climbing really did stink, and all my old baggage about being the smallest and weakest kid in my gym class hit me every time I raised another sweaty hand to pull myself up just a bit further or I raised another shaking leg to another foothold and push myself up. I was very, very far from smooth or even just calm when I got to the top of that platform. The camp councilor was supremely patient with me even though it took me a minute to convince myself the equipment could bear my weight (which is silly - I'm fairly petite). I finally was convinced everything was OK and motioned for her to let go.

It was one of the most awesome experiences of my life. The second time I did it (I pretty much ran back to get on line when I was done) was even better than the first. The next day I tried the big zip line and that climb was really bad - but it was a long trip on the zip line and that made it totally worth it, even though I reek of Icy Hot this morning. I've told my husband that next vacation we need to have access to a zip line, and that I want to hit the local rock gym so that climb won't be quite as awful. The hubby was right - it was just like flying. And everyone deserves a chance to fly, right?

Elders in Odd Places

So I got inspired by a blog post from the fabulous Magaly who in turn was inspired by an equally fabulous post from fellow Stew Chef, Adelina. I could go on (and on and on) about how certain experiences I've had in the Pagan community were a big let down for me and how jaded I've become at the idea of Pagans holding hands and singing Kumbaya (at least at the idea of it happening for more than a minute without some
sort of in-fighting breaking out). But I do try not to dwell on those things. In fact, I really, really was drawn to this idea in Adelina's post: do not convince yourself that the Elders you meet who will teach you about your Craft will only be those who practice your Craft. It made me look back at some elders who made a big impact on how I follow my path today who are definitely not Pagan.

First, there was this wonderful priest in the Catholic parish I grew up in. He was a bit unusual for a priest in that he had been married first and after his wife passed away, he took up the priesthood. I rather liked the idea of that at the time; I thought someday I might do the same - marry first and when my husband died become a nun. That idea definitely fell by the wayside (I'd make a horrid nun for one, plus I've found you can lead a very spiritual life while being part of a couple and a parent - though it's certainly more challenging this way) but one thing that stuck was that priest's joy in his path. It formed the seed for my later thought process that spirituality must contain joy, otherwise what was the point of it all?

Second, there was a sweet older woman who was a seasoned lay Eucharistic minister when I first became one. Her belief that magic was an essential part and parcel of this world was infectious. Now, she saw it a bit differently than I've come to see it - she felt that the Magi kneeling before the infant Jesus was an allegory for the idea that magic exists but ultimately kneels to Jesus - but to find a normal adult who felt that magic existed, well, that was a big revelation and inspiration to me.

Thirdly, speaking of revelations, I need to acknowledge the Catholic school teacher who said the fateful words that got me started on this path, "Our Mother Who Art In Heaven".  The idea to question what was traditionally thought of as holy, to rethink assumptions about the nature of Deity - it was nurtured and encouraged in that Catholic school classroom first.

Fourthly, and most recently, I was inspired by the previous rabbi at the Reform Jewish congregation my husband and I belong to. The rabbi never tried to convert me (though he admittedly was quite glad my kids were getting a Jewish education) and, like the priest at that Catholic parish I grew up in, seemed to really embody the idea of joy in his path. He also planted the idea of taking a disciplined approach to observances. If some observance wasn't useful or helpful in my desire to reach a spiritual goal, discard it. But if it added meaning, by all means, keep it close.

Last is my oldest and dearest inspiration, my father. My dad often would talk to me seriously about spiritual things. I learned about compassion, justice and critical thinking while growing up. There are quite a few fine details of faith we disagree on. But, when my dad waxed poetic about the beauty he finds in nature a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded that we still have some things in common after all.

My song for this post was a no-brainer. One of my favorite saints was St Francis of Assisi. I especially loved the hymns made from his writings. They were one of the first I committed to memory. The following hymn, sung by Sinead O'Connor, was always one of my favorites. Even though there are several lines in it that really don't work for me, I still find it comforting to listen to from time to time, and yes, I draw inspiration from it as well.

The Mug Project

Today's post is in response to Sam Curtin's (over at Chronicles of an Anthropology Nerd ) plea for folks to send her pictures of their mugs. Poor thing doesn't know quite what she's getting in for with me.

That's the bulk (but by no means all) of my mug collection. Once upon a time, when we first moved into this house and that little odds-n-ends basket underneath that rack was neat and barely filled, those mugs hung in a semblance of order instead of in the chaos you see above. Fourteen years later, as mugs got added and kids moved mugs and hooks to suit their preference, well, you can see the result.

Do we use all these mugs? The terrifying answer is yes. It's no secret I'm something of a tea snob drinker. But the hubby has his coffee addiction to manage and my children love their hot chocolate as well as tea sweetened with a generous amount of honey. In the winter time, when we are all reaching for our favorite hot beverage we can go through these fast! It goes even faster if we have company. The motto of this house is that although guests may walk in, they usually need to roll or waddle out. My husband especially takes great delight in stuffing guests full of good food and drink, and I have a plethora of tea, gentle herbal to high test caffeinated, supermarket brand to mail order specialty, so there is no excuse for a guest not to grab from our motley assortment and enjoy a cuppa. It's not unusual in the winter time to have my whole top rack of my dishwasher filled with nothing but mugs (and have perhaps a few mugs on the bottom rack too).

If you look carefully at the picture, you'll see the majority of them are animation themed mugs. I've loved cartoons my whole life. We have Warner Brothers characters Fiesta ware (back from when the WB stores used to carry them). We have animation cels as art in our house. I have several fat coffee table books on the history of animation that I've read through several times. My college answering machine message was me singing a bastardized version of the Tiny Toons Adventures theme song.

I'm a bit obvious with my obsessions.

Moving on - yes, each member of the house has "their" mug - one only they use. First up is my work mug and my favorite home mug.

The Bugs Bunny mug is my cup of choice for home. My dad was the one who instilled my love of cartoons. We'd watch the old Bugs Bunny cartoons together and both crack up over them. He could quote them pretty well too, especially when I was feeling pouty or moody. The Tinkerbell mug, which is my go-to work mug, was a gift from one of my best and oldest friends (I henceforth dub her Oolong). Oolong brought it back from a trip to Disneyworld. My wee stature has been a joke for awhile among my group of friends, and I've been referred to as pixie or fairy every now and again (well, not by those who know faerie lore, but that's another story). She saw this mug and thought of me. It graces my cubicle desk and has made many a meeting much more enjoyable. I'm normally a tea drinker, but sometimes, there's something about being in my office that makes me crave coffee.

This is the back of my work mug. 

Some mornings, I need much larger than my faithful Bugs Bunny mug. This behemoth usually sits to the side and hides my chocolate stash. But on morning when the flow charts are big and the changes are many, I turn to it. This is part of a set of mugs that was a wedding gift from a friend of mine I don't really hear from too often anymore, but I still think of her when I see them.

Note the size comparison to one of my "normal" sized mugs

Next up are my family's favorites. The large tan one is my husband's favorite. He got it from an African import store near a place we vacation at every now and again. The shop is gone now, and the company that originally made the mug now specializes in bead making not mugs, but it's still a nice reminder of one of his favorite places in the world. Plus it holds a generous amount of coffee. The Spiderman mug is my son's. It was a holiday gift to him from a very understanding aunt. Although we're blessed with a close and doting (sometimes too doting) extended family, this one aunt in particular really seems to "get" my son. This mug came with special gourmet hot chocolate she knew he liked. He still reaches for this one, even though that hot chocolate mix was used up a long time ago. The Sailor Moon mug is my daughter's. It was a "just because" gift from her dad to her. While she tends to think that my hubby is the stricter one between the two of us, she hasn't noticed that he has a tendency to spoil her rotten. When she asks me for a sweet, I usually point her to the fruit. When she asks him, they go out for gelato.  Sailor Moon is one of her big obsessions. Like my dad and I with the old Warner Brothers cartoons, it's TV we like to watch together. My husband really doesn't care for Sailor Moon too much (he prefers shonen over shojo anime), but he knew she would love it. She takes her hot chocolate from it regularly.

 The last mug is from the same company that made my husband's mug. I actually use it in ritual, in place of a traditional chalice. Part of the reasoning behind this is the color scheme. To me, the soothing blues and greens really felt perfect to represent the Divine Feminine concept favored by so many Pagans. Also, the fact that it was made by a mother, trying to earn a living wage to support her family (the whole story behind the company is in the link I pasted earlier in this post), made it seem even more appropriate to use as a symbol in my rituals.

So there you have it. My mugs. The song I'm going with for this post is Cups by Anna Kendrick. Yes, I know this is a post about mugs not cups, but my daughter loves this song, so that's what I'm going with.