Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Relatable, Simple, True

I began writing the Shiloh stories last night. One reason I've never accomplished this project in the past is that I never knew where to start. I saw the project as a series of completely separate stories all about the same dog. It occurred to me yesterday to simply begin at the beginning and let the stories tell themselves.

This reminds me of the advice Gilbert gives Anne to write what she knows--the people and places of Avonlea. I was given similar advice by two different mentors in my life; one my next door neighbor when I was a child and just discovered the writing bug; the other my high school English teacher when I came back to visit from college. Both times I was struggling to write something important or exciting. They both suggested that I write what I know, even if its simple. Adventure stories can be great, but there's something so relatable about everyday stories.

I have a magnet we bought at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, CT which reads: "My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine. Everybody drinks water." The most timeless stories are actually based on simple themes, things we all relate to. Even Shakespeare with all his monologues and eloquence was writing about the central themes of life--love, loss, the dynamics of family relationships. Twain, Dickens, Alcott were very clearly writing about ordinary life, be it industrialized England, the racially charged South, or war torn America. Jane Austen's books are about ordinary people doing ordinary things, mostly falling in love. But these books continue to sell wildly and are taught in every high school and college across the country. They're not adventure stories, not even Huckleberry Finn when you get down to it. They're stories about people doing things and experiecning things we all relate to.

The same is true for movies, if you really think about it. Without question The Fast and the Furious or The Italian Job were successful at the box office and continue to be fan favorites. But the root of the stories is not really about racing or theft. The stories are about relationships. And there's definitely a reason why a movie about a mischieveous dog named Marley brought all sorts of people to the theater. Grown men that don't cry at funerals left the theater teary-eyed. Because the story was so gosh darn relatable.

I think that's the key to writing. I have to say that I've experienced that phenomenon even here on this simple little blog. The posts viewed the most often, most likely read by the most people? My Shiloh post has taken the number one slot this week, bumping my oringial post on my infertility journey to number two. On the right hand side the most popular posts are listed, you can see for yourself what people are drawn to. Not my thoughts on life, God, spirituality, and definitely not my recipes! The posts in which I get real and honest, share my heart and a little bit of my soul. People appreciate that, I think. Something real in this synthetic, digital world.

As I write about Shiloh I want to keep this in mind. He was a simple little guy, didn't need too much to be happy. There's no need for me to try to make his stories something elaborate and meaningful. I think if I just write about Shiloh, the meaning will come through. Lewis wrote with this same thought process. He explained once that he never set out to teach Christian lessons in his books, he just wrote the stories. His Christian value system was so strong inside of him that it simply flowed out onto the page and into the stories he wrote. That may be what makes The Chronicles of Narnia so wonderful. They're distinctively not preachy, but the reader walks away feeling as if they've encountered Christ all the same.

I don't expect my Shiloh stories to carry that kind of weight or be that successful. But its my intention to keep them that honest and simple. If I write from my heart, the stories will tell themselves. No doubt to be worth reading there needs to be some style and crafting involved, but the stories themselves should remain relatable, simple, true. Just like him, my furry little friend.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Million Little Stories

I feel over-whelmed by the number of people that read my post about Shiloh. Or at least how many times it was looked at, I have no way of knowing how many individual people it is. I guess the premise presented in 'Marley & Me' is true--there's just something about animals that brings out the best in us and that brings us together. Although...I can guarantee you, I won't be watching 'Marley & Me' for a long time...or 'Where the Red Fern Grows'....or 'Homeward Bound'....or anything with a dog in it.

Some of you may know that I've been toying with the idea of writing a children's series of books about Shiloh for a few years now. I had to create a picture book for a class I took in college, and the obvious choice for me was to make Shiloh the main character. It was a big hit--100% for a grade and enthusiasm from the class. I've come up with a few ideas and fiddled around with plots, but I could never get anything the way I wanted it. And I never did find an illustrator...I can't draw worth beans.

The original idea was to have Shiloh and Piper be main characters, as they were in the original story. But Piper died from lymphoma this spring, and now Shiloh is gone due to cancer (we think of the spleen...stupid spleen). For those of you that don't know, Piper is my brother's beagle. Adam and Melanie adopted Piper just a few months after we adopted Shiloh, she was about 4 months younger than him. For a short while Adam lived with Curtis so we had two dogs and two guys smushed in a tiny apartment in Bowling Green. But Shiloh and Piper loved playing together. Their first Christmas was a hilarity. We were all at my mom's house and watched them run back and forth across the house over and over and over again. They were running so hard on their little puppy legs that they actually shifted the rug my mom's dining room table was on. They were so small then that they both fit into a little green doggy bed.

Anyway...I digress...the original story was illustrated with photos cut out and glued onto fabric or paper backgrounds. Like I said, I can't draw worth I used felt and fabric scraps to make the backgrounds, and cut out pictures of Piper and Shiloh to go into the scenes. The children in the story were pictures of my brother and I when we were little. I always liked the idea of having their world be animated but the dogs be photos. Now...even with probably close to 1,000 pictures of Shiloh...I know I'd never have enough shots to tell the stories.

But for some reason I really want to get back to writing the Shiloh stories. I think I want to pay tribute to him somehow. There's a million little stories to the Christmas one above, or how he always tried to jump out of the bathtub, or how when he was a puppy he wiggled up to sit behind my head, perched on my shoulders. I always wanted to write a story about his accident and his bad leg, and how although it slowed him down he wasn't really all that different from other dogs. He did so many funny little things that I think I want to capture more permanently than in my memory which will eventually go fuzzy.

I don't know that anyone would ever publish it but even if its just for me and my family, its enough to remember him. I look at the little grave we made for him and I think to myself, its just not enough. I realize it makes no difference to him, it never would have, he was a dog that never thought much of books. But he gave me so much in his short life. I didn't know that he was sick, dying really, so I didn't get to spoil him in his last few weeks. I regret that so much, even though I know there's no way I could've known. The symptoms didn't present until it was way past too late. But I can do this now. I can do this for him, for me, for Curtis. I can remember and I can write.

I'm going to try to not be overly depressing and dwell on him in the next few days and weeks. But it's hard. I didn't sleep well last night. I think night two and day two are proving harder than the first. It's sinking in and Bode's starting to figure things out. If by nothing else than watching me cry all the time, bless his furry heart. I started crying this morning when I didn't have to put food in two bowls and Bode came up to me. His ears were down which is normal for a dog that is worried/scared, but then he popped them straight up and looked right in my eyes like he was ready to listen. So I do what we all do with dogs and poured my heart out to him, and what did he do? He put his paw on my leg and leaned up to lick my face. Just what Shiloh used to do. And Bode has never acted this way before. He never reacted to my being upset until now. I guess Shiloh had time to teach Bode a thing or two about taking care of his people before he had to leave us.

Okay,  not being very successful at not being depressing...sorry about that. I'll have more to write as I process through things. I've learned a lot about God through this, in a way. I'm not quite ready to share that story but I will soon. I'm still working it all out with Him and there's more to it than Shiloh.

Anyway...for each of you that read my post about Shiloh and have reached out to comfort me from across the web...thank you. I've treasured each word and felt it as a warm hug. I know some of you aren't even dog lovers but you know how much I adored him, so thank you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

When we adopted Shiloh we were very young and hadn't been dating long. He became the glue for our lives. I used to say that we were like macaroni & cheese...I was the macaroni, Curtis was the cheese, and Shiloh was the milk...the thing that made it all work and come together. Shiloh hated fighting and loud voices, so he stopped several arguments by hiding behind the couch. Whatever we were upset about wasn't worth upsetting the dog. He made us laugh all the time, and not a day went by that we didn't get a smile because of him.

Everywhere we took Shiloh people told us he looked like Lassie, and then asked about his leg. The kids at my program fell in love with him through the stories I told. One year for Halloween I dressed up as Shiloh, which the kids absolutely loved. Shiloh seemed to think it was a little strange.

I know that he had a good life, but his life was hard in its own way. We spoiled him rotten, he probably had over a hundred toys. Shiloh got lots of treats, and was allowed on all the furniture (he even had his own chair or two...or three), and we both encouraged him to get on the bed with us in the morning. But his leg made life hard, and his food allergies exacerbated the pain. He had a sensitive stomach so we cleaned up a lot of messed and he felt lousy often. But he was loved.

Everyone that met Shiloh loved him. Little kids, old people, he was just gentle and loving. He loved to play, even with his bad leg. There was nothing he loved more than chasing his basketball around the yard or following Curtis on the lawnmower, barking at it at full volume. Unless it was riding in cars.

He did perk up on the car ride today to the vet. He tried to look out windows and climb up front like his normal self. I wish now that I had taken him on a lot more car rides and given him a lot more treats, and spent more time scratching his belly. But the fact is, we loved him to bits and pieces, and he knew it. What else could we have done? Nothing.

We acted as soon as we knew he was sick. It was just too late, and there's nothing more we could've done or should've done. There will always be a void in my heart, a little furry spot just for him. It won't be the same not hearing his skipping step across our floor to great me, or to get his stinky breath kisses in the morning. I'll miss his ruffing at everything that drove by our house.

I know that some people think its silly or even sacrilegious to say that dogs go to heaven, but I think they do. God made Shiloh. God saved his leg. God took him home today. I don't know why we didn't have more time with him, why we didn't know about the cancer sooner and could've done something, but we didn't. But he's in heaven now, on four good legs, chasing Piper around and around.

I learned a lot from that furry little guy. About myself, about life, about caring for another creature. I am a better person for having raised Shiloh. He taught me about forgiveness and adventure and enjoying the small things. He could take a boring car ride into town and make it into a major event. I don't know how many times I would feel alone and unworthy of God' love when Shiloh would come in and lay his head on my lap, or nudge my hand. He had an uncanny way of knowing when I needed a good cry and some thick fur.

Dogs do this to us. They come scampering into our lives and steal our hearts. They look at us with those loving, loyal brown eyes and sucker us in. But dogs can't live forever, not even the ones that survive getting hit by cars. In this fallen world of broken hearts we lose everything we love eventually. It's a depressing fact but one that turns us to eternity. The only thing that never fades and never changes. In his own furry way, Shiloh pointed me to God's goodness, mercy, and love over and over. Maybe some people think I'm crazy, but I believe God isn't limited and doesn't think using a dog to communicate His meanings to us is beneath Him.

Shiloh Aslan Berry was a good boy who loved riding in cars, taking naps on Sunday afternoons, drinking cereal milk, and barking at the lawn mower. His favorite toys were stuffed animals, most notably a teddy bear named Opus he'd had since the day we brought him home. Shiloh was known to sit at the table like a person from time to time, and saw no reason why he shouldn't drink from a glass or eat from a plate. His favorite milkshake flavor was strawberry and frosty paws flavor was peanut butter. There was only one other dog he really liked playing with, and a few others he tolerated. Shiloh thought he was the boss and that the world started with his birth and would end with his death. I'll miss him forever but I believe someday, when I get to go home, he'll be there waiting for me. Wait for me, Ruff.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ruffy Stockings

So this is the year of crafts for Christmas, I am determined. So whilst sitting on my rear and watching tv I decided to get started! I wanted to make stockings for Shiloh and Bode this year but I wasn't sure what pattern to use. My mom has a really cute scottie dog pattern she uses for dog stockings, I found a cute one that's shaped like a dog's leg and has a paw print on the bottom, or I was thinking of using a traditional stocking shape with paw print fabric.

Then, I had an amazing idea! At work I'm constantly doodling Shiloh and Bode faces for the kids. They love those guys. I thought to myself, why couldn't I make stockings shaped like their heads?? And when I didn't have a comeback for myself, I figured I would try it to see what happened. I have to say, they turned out super cute and it was so mind-numbingly easy I couldn't believe it.

First, I sketched the shape of their heads. Then I pinned it to a piece of felt--brown for Shiloh, dark gray for Bode--and cut around the pattern. Next, I had cut out a stripe for Shiloh--crooked just like his in real life. And I made a white patch by Bode's mouth which I added gray buttons to for his spots. I cut out 1 red tongue and 2 pink triangles for each dog. I found brownish black buttons for their noses, and big googly eyes. Using tacky glue I attached all the pieces.

As the faces I dried I set to work on the back. I cut the head pattern out on white felt and red snowflake fabric. I glued the felt piece and the snowflake piece together. I used the white felt to give the stocking some more strength.

I pinned the face to the back, trimmed off any uneven spots, and used white floss to blanket stitch the face to the back. When that was finished I used some velvet red ric-rac to make the hanger. I glued it to the back at the tips of the ears and used 2 white buttons to cover the raw edge.

All in all, I think the project took a little over 2 hours. Pretty easy and super cute! Compare to the pictures on the sidebar to see how much the stockings look like them! It was hard to get Bode's spotty white patch around his mouth just right but its pretty close. I'm so excited for Christmas to come and fill them with bones!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Changing of Seasons

I've never been an Autumn enthusiast. It may go back to this one time when I jumped in a pile of leaves and landed in a pile of dog poop. Totally traumatizing. But this year I've been downright anxious to be able to flip the calendar to September, thereby making summer officially over. I even changed my blog background early to ring in Autumn's approach. (Don't you just love the owl? I'm really digging this owl trend for Fall this year)

We've got a surprise pumpkin patch growing around our flagpole so I'm looking forward to carving pumpkins this year and roasting the seeds. I want to make some Thanksgiving decorations for the house. I'm so excited for apple cider and doughnuts. We have a bonfire planned for the youth group.

And I have to confess, I'm already preparing for Christmas. I know, I'm as bad as Wal-mart trotting out the Christmas things with the back-to-school supplies. But this year I am bound and determined to make some gifts. Last year I was full of plans and good intentions but very little materialized. By starting in September I should be able to get a few things completed at least. At the top of the list are stockings for Curtis, me, Shiloh, and Bode. I think Bode will enjoy Christmas and I want to have a special New Year's Celebration since we adopted him last New Year's. Last night I pulled out all of my Christmas fabric and anything else red or green. I envisioned turning it into all sorts of things--wreaths, stockings, yo-yos, garland, ornaments. I can't wait to get started. I'm sure I will share some of my crafting adventures on here!

I think this summer was hard for me. In fact, I know it was. Stress crept in from all sides and I'm very ready to put summer 2011 in the books. I love the changing of the seasons. Each new season with its change of shoes and coats invites a change of mind and perspective. As the temperatures cool and the scenery changes I'm invited to change, too. I don't have a favorite season, I love the beginning of them all and I find that I am always ready to see them end.

Perhaps this is true about the seasons of life, as well. It's exciting to begin a new stage of life, but the readiness to move on seems to come just as the change is necessary. I feel like I'm just here on the edge of a life change, fidgeting and jumping so ready for the next season of my life. But I can't rush that anymore than I can rush the coming of Fall or Winter. Each must come in its time.

But in the meanwhile I can celebrate the changing of leaves from green to reds and oranges. I can relish the dropping temperatures and strain my eyes for the glimpse of that first precious snowflake. I can drink up all the sounds, smells, and flavors of Autumn and the promises of Winter. And eventually my season will change, and oh, how thrilling it will be.
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