Blue Highways

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Since the moment those deep soulful eyes first met mine, I knew the 6 year old corgi resting before epitomized grace.

And I sensed her grace would help lead me through the journey I was on.

Much like a spirit animal, I thought.

I’d brought my husband Richard along for the long ride to meet Maddie.

“We’re going to drive north and we’ll just take a look,” I’d told Richard earlier that morning eight years ago as I hurriedly entered the interstate to beat the heavy rush hour traffic.

But I doubt he was even listening.

Richard’s early onset dementia had also been rapidly accelerating, as was my stress. And my mother’s dementia seemed to be on the same fast track.

When we arrived at the animal shelter four hours later Maddie spotted us, sporting a smile. She soon rolled to her back, begging for a belly scratch.

I quickly felt my stress melt in spite of the chilly weather.

Maddie had been a former working dog.

“She’s was from a very questionable backyard breeder,” the volunteer told me frowning.

Living on a back porch in the frigid winter months producing litter after litter must have been miserable, I remember thinking.

Yet looking back it seemed Maddie did learn resilience, and fine tuned her nurturing skills while there.

Maybe I have as well through all she’s shared with me over the years.

Today my caregiving responsibilities are gone with the death of my husband and my mom a few years go. I’ve retired from being a caregiver, at least for now.

Maddie and I have become seniors ourselves though she’s outpacing me some in that race.

My girl’s 98 in dog years, and is totally lame.

She’s getting tired, but is still happy most days.

“You need to start thinking about Maddie’s end of life, and her quality of life,” the vet told me recently.

“I am,” I replied with a look of resignation as I walked out.

I was in desperate need of a good cry.

It quickly became my purpose that day to see the controversial movie, “A Dog’s Purpose”.

In the film I knew there was a well loved corgi portrayed who passed away.

My sobbing started as soon as that corgi appeared on screen.

And my tears were quickly creating a waterfall.

They blocked my vision as I stumbled out of my seat, past the buttered popcorn, and then blindly entered the mens’ room in search of more Kleenex.

I apologized profusely to the three gentlemen in there who were staring at me.

Now that my tears are finely gone, I’m watching for more signs that it’s time for Maddie to move on.

This morning she smiled up at me when she spotted me, just as she has so often.

I’ve been blessed to witness plenty of those warm smiles on the sometimes bumpy journey we’ve shared together.

Yet I’m also starting to pay attention to what Maddie has to say as well.

Unfortunately there are no carefully drafted end of life wishes for our aging canine friends.

“Are you ready to go girl?” I ask Maddie if she’s looking a bit down sometimes at night.

I’m not hearing an answer, at least yet.

Author Jon Katz has written in his book ‘Talking to Animals’, “If we listen, they can tell us.”

One day soon I know that Maddie will.

And I’ll be there to help her along, no matter what path she decides to take.

I only hope she can run again like the wind.

I ought to give Iowa a try


It isn’t easy for me to make major life decisions, but I sure can be spontaneous when the mood hits.

And it did this morning.

After a change in my Sunday plans, I thought ‘road trip’.

And I was also thinking I ought to give Iowa a try.

Specifically Des Moines.

Just like the line in the old movie “The Music Man”.

After all, one of my favorite authors, Jon Katz, is speaking in Des Moines tomorrow. And his talented fiber artist wife, Maria Wulf, will be joining him.

I am what they call Iowa stubborn.

And Iowa is only one state away.

Translated, that’s just a quick four hour drive.

That is, if you don’t count the other four hours back.

No problem I thought. I can handle this.

Sure, I can multi-task quickly enough to pull this together.

And I won’t have to board my dogs since it’s just a day trip.

I can even take Greta, my 16 year old chi-doxie 6 pounder along for company. She rode shotgun for 10 years with her previous truck driver owner. That girl can direct me down I-35 south in her sleep.

She’s a regular GPS poster child.

In spite of the 8 hours down and back, I’ll just drink plenty of extra coffee to stay wake.

And even though I’ve never been in the city limits of Des Moines, I know the folks down there are fantastic.

I used to wait on them on their shopping trips north while selling shoes part time back in college.

The ladies of Des Moines had exquisite taste in leather, and since I was on commission, they in turn bought me plenty of faux leather text books.

So anyway, I was getting excited this afternoon multi-tasking while making plans and pruning bushes in my flip flops.

And although I cut my left foot while dropping the pruner on my toes, my instantly transformed vampire style dogs cleaned up the big mess. And I found it only took three extra large bandages to apply pressure and cover the wound.

Nothing was going to stop my plans.

Next, I sat down and wrote out an agenda while paying my bills.

Up at 5am.

Leave at 6am.

Church at 7am.

Hit the road at 8am.

Drive and arrive in Des Moines at 1pm.

Get lost sight seeing in downtown Des Moines for an hour, driving in circles until 1:59pm.

Arrive at 2:00pm, right on time for the talk.

2:00-3:00-Enthusiastically listen to talk.

3:00 to 3:15pm-Wave long good byes to author and his wife.

3:15-8:15pm-Drive the interstate back home.

8:15-12:00pm-Walk and feed the other dogs. (And take care of all those chores I meant to get done Friday at work that I brought home).

“Done,” I told Greta. “We’re all set”.

But then I heard on the news it will be hot Sunday and I have no where to keep Greta cool during the talk.

She looked sad as I told her she’d have to stay behind.

While continuing on with my multi-tasking, I prepared to write out my last bill.

The car payment.

But inside the coupon book I noticed the long forgotten safety recall notice for my sedan.


If I crossed the border into Iowa, the Des Moines ladies would escort me out of town just like the nice ladies of Hoosick Falls, NY did two years ago. I created some jaw dropping safety issues while driving lost in circles around their lovely town.

So I guess the recall’s finally put the brakes on this Sunday’s road trip.

My new road map for tomorrow is to leave a voice mail at the car dealership, another at the doctor’s office about a tetanus shot, while watching my old favorite musical with Greta.

But I know that another day soon we’ll give Iowa a try.

As it seem Greta is just as ‘Iowa stubborn’ as I am.