Dash departs

When a beloved companion suddenly departs, it only has one effect- a stunning blow one doesn’t know how to respond to. A day of not eating, a day of listless breathing which I attributed to flatulence or anything (not that he ever suffered from that) does not really prepare anyone, until all the signs do not become a writing on the wall. But that one day gave me all the warning and prepared me- to the extent I was ready for it, for all the signs were slowly appearing. Towards the evening I even got a big hole dug in the garden, for I knew it would be anytime now!

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Dash: 19th Dec 2004- 28th June 2019

 

When you love and live through so much together, your companions more so the canine ones, become such an invisible yet constant part of life one does not even look at them. What am I saying?! Of course this is not true. I looked out for him every single moment, more him than anyone else– because I could see his growing vulnerability, especially with the young dachshunds around growing stronger and bolder. I would ensure he was in the room with me wherever I went, especially with the heat now so intolerable. He would wait outside the door for fear of the younger dogs and I would just get up every time or usher him in before closing the door (i never fully close my doors even with the airconditioning). But this was only in the last year, and progressed as the youngsters grew older.

How long we go back

Dash had a long history with me. There are many dogs I adopted in life but having adopted a dachshund earlier, when I had an opportunity to get another home I did not think a moment about it, and promptly got him home. I still remember the long drive from Gurgaon to Faridabad; where I got him from a family who wanted to give him up due to some of their problems for that time. He was born in that home- his both parents were there too. On the day I went to get him he barked at me initially and I shook for a second thinking how would I take him back if he were to show an attitude? But he had a weakness for drives, and he promptly jumped into my car when I held his leash. And we drove away.

After awhile I think he figured that the drive got too long; it was almost 35 kms. And once he did and seeing a stranger at the wheel, he started howling! Now this was a lonely road and not much happening around, except for random people in their cars and bikes. But I felt embarrased seeing the people looking at the dog howling in the car. And this continued for at least ten kms, until we reached home. Once we reached home, the other three girls- Ginger, Nikki and Raga were waiting for me. They heard my car and started barking excitedly. Now Mr. Dash forgot all about his past life and decided that he had to deal with the adversaries at hand. All the howling stopped and here we were…starting a new life. I brought a small male dog into a home with three adult females- golden retriver, labrador and german shephard. He was four years old and by far the oldest for all my girls were younger to him.

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All the dogs in one shot

It was a short process of befriending the retrievers and a little longer with Raga- but in time we all became a happy family. But happy families have to do things, manage stuff and when the family is dominated by canine members, then the human usually ends up doing a lot of stuff!

And so i did- managing a home with four dogs taught me everything about life, everything that I needed to know about humans, relationships, discipline, the value of timeliness, routine and so much more- remaining organized, remaining unwavering, not questioning the work that needs to be done, not making too much noise when suffering, because I saw how placidly animals accepted their suffering, whatever it be.

A Goan adventure

But happy families with an adventurous human also treat life like an adventure- which it is meant to be! And we all experienced the crazy adventure of the Goan holiday where we lived in a village and a city- one year each, soaked ourselves in the Goan country and then happily returned home. But not before we captured some of our experiences on this blog, which of course is now defunct, but which still holds in place some of our fondest memories from Goa. And in this one you can see how Dash would strategically place himself and seek Nikki’s comforting companionship.

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Tolerating Dash, as he seeks the comfort of her company (Faridabad)

One can see the silent exchanges Nikki and Dash were having- they were quite a pair really.

Raga was the first of my girls to go, even though she was the youngest. That was in October 2017, then it was Nikki’s turn on 8th June 2018. And now it was Dash- 28th June 2019. In three consecutive years three of my babies have departed. Dash has shaken me just like Nikki, for there was no illness, no warning- perhaps another sagely demise like Nikki. One day of not eating, not showing much response – a certain delirium, and gone the next morning.

He was having some hiccups and coughing and everytime he did, he expelled either from his mouth or his bowels/bladdar. I kept him clean till the end, made sure his sheets were changed, bed was clean, the towel under his head, to prop him up to ease his breath, was clean too. That was the most I could do at this stage I felt.  My heart was very disturbed and I even postponed one of my music classes to the next morning, of the three I had, because I did not want to be away from him that long. I taught the other two classes because by then my sister was here, and she was by his side while I taught. By the time I came up from the music classes, she told me this was the final countdown.

Living in surrender

Between us we have seen so many dogs, from our earliest years that we can tell. I called someone and got ready for the next stage of life. It is a strange eerie thing that while someone you love still lives, you get ready for their burial. But I now think that this is the greatest acceptance of the inevitability of the circle of life’s circularity, that what is…will pass out of being, into non-being. If we were to only accept this wisdom and live in awareness of our short time, no matter how long it appears today, perhaps we would develop some insight into what we do, how we think, how we worry/fret/suffer or whatever else it be.

So these were the dogs because of who I chose to not go to the US for my PhD, and I am so glad I chose not to. The exact feeling in my heart was that my dogs were ageing and at a time when they were ageing and needing my tending to, could I just leave them with anyone and hand over my responsibility to another? Would I not suffer to remember them at a time when they would be ill and they would be dying? As though prophetic, this is exactly what happened. While the PhD still goes on, the dogs passed away- one in each year, as I mentioned earlier. In July this year, 2019, I complete three years of PhD research and three of my dogs have departed. It was them, my greatest companions because of who I am doing this PhD…and I think at least today I have the comfort that I kept my vows to them. If they have been faithful and loving to me, so have I tried, in learning from them the greatest of my life lessons, imbibing the values of dedication, commitment and contentment, regardless of what/who you have, or do not.

Now here is a collage of photos with Dash in each of them, the rest may or may not be there. I am unlikely to be there in most as I would be the one behind the camera, capturing vignettes of my life, my loved ones, my adventures.

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But I do not write this note in despair…neither should anyone who reads it construe it thus. It is meant in honor, in love and in gratitude for lives shared and loved deeply, for companions who endure every season of life and for the circle that continues as younger dogs live on a reminder that even when we will go there will be others holding fort…so let us do the best we can, while we can.

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Why gardening heals and other reflections at the end of first quarter, 2019

This year is super- busy, and despite wanting to I have not been able to take time out to write a single blog post on this blog. But foreseeing the months ahead, and in all likelihood I would not be able to come back here again I want to wind off the winter, and welcome the year ahead with reflections, rounding off open loops and coming into the zone where a lot of work is getting nicely aligned, in a serene manner. I cannot hasten anything, because it is all seamlessly connected- whether the manner an article is written, dogs’ food is cooked, thesis takes a step further or a child learns a new bandish.

The whole winter, starting Nov 2018, almost till mid-March 2019, there has been a lot of gardening activity. For someone like me, who has no time to step out of my home, partially because I am so invested in what I do, and partly because the whole world comes to me right here- via the internet, the metro and whatnot, gardening is really the thing that brings me back into a zone of deep serenity. Add to it the gentle, loving presence of dogs- the world becomes loving and capable of sending echoes back. But of course it all asks for tremendous efforts– animals, gardens or anything else. Equally as much as effort, one requires resilience- else when plants will die, wither away, perish, not sprout or get infested, one will lose heart and give up. Mother Nature does not relent- there is no mercy in nature. Something is weak, it will be killed- it is as brutal as that. So either you protect the weak or you discard the weak- no point breaking your heart over something you have no control over.

So first of all this bit about the gardening, which took in a lot of investment this year, and I thought it was important for my soul, for my inner equilibrium to step out on all sides of my home and be surrounded by greenery, bird songs, sight of birds, flowers, trees and everything I can create in the arid dryness of this really harsh place, a dusty industrial uppity town, where people ooze attitude and arrogance- starting right from my neighbourhood. Fortunately it has happened, and will continue with the effort we have put in- me and Ram Rattan.

It is not just the financial effort from me, but also the ideas, the arrangements, the planning, the failures and the bouncing back. So many of my seeds did not sprout at all, I told Ram to simply go and buy the plants as saplings after bearing the losses and seeing the failures. the losses were of Larkspurs, poppies, nasturtium (due to hailstorm a full standing bed was finished), dog flowers and possibly more. So it was a matter of tightening my belts and instead of weeping over the loss, plan the next move before the end of the season. So these are the outcomes of that double effort. Like they say, there is more to it than meets the eye- and this is the full picture now- the huge efforts must be shared, and the spirit of those involved, so that one can see that every little thing carries a whole trail of stories behind it, it is not as simple as it looks.

 

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I have kept busy with my dissertation, research papers, singing classes, counseling and managing this little house-  a lot of balancing for certain, and being on my toes constantly- fairly tired at times. But this much work is only possible if one builds in certain elements of  discipline. But thanks to the sheer volume of the work, that has also happened.

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I have also managed to start walking the dogs regularly now- it is a great relief personally and better for everyone; though i really want to train them as well, knowing how sweet and responsive they are, as well as intelligent in general. Rhythm is sitting in this picture with papa watching her. I sometimes tether her, because she straightaway jumps into the flower beds and starts digging quickly, true to her breed instinct. This is the only time papa visited this entire season. I think he was very happy to see the garden and the profusion of flowers around.

And now in this collage ahead, i share the vegetables I grew this year- which is certainly a lot more than last year and hopefully I will do more of the same in the months ahead

 

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A bit about the dogs- Ginger is really suffering with her skin issues, but I have done everything possible under the sun for her and she is eating fine, sleeping a lot more naturally due to her age, and always by my side. Dash is older than her, but fortunately a little better than her, possibly because he did not start as a weak pup, like she did. The deepest lessons come from my animals and the plants around- just because my beautiful girl Ginger is so frail, and in poor health, I can only love her more, respond to her barks for demanding food whenever she does and make sure she is comfortable, her ears (which ooze pus out, due to blockage of ear canals) cleaned regularly, and her hair also kept trim (bought a trimmer for that recently). This is the best I can do, in addition to all the omega three oils, food, vit.B (to both seniors) and whatever else is possible in their food, including curd, milk – for whoever wants whatever.

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Dash, the senior most among the dogs, now into his 15th year

If a dog’s love doesn’t diminish for me when s/he is old, how can mine? Similarly my parents, similarly all the other people in my life- seasons change, but that does not change how you feel about the ones you love. This is the eternal flow of life and we are all crisscrossing across time and leaving one another richer for the experiences, if we choose to see it that way. Else we all have the freedom to feel cheated, feel betrayed, wronged, or whatever…there is no end. The river of life goes on, regardless of our response to it, for this is a great cosmic game, and we are so little- we can only bow in wonderment, wipe our tears of joy, of sadness- gather ourselves and smile back to the universe in gratitude. Thank you Mother Earth for all this love

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Ginger, March 2019. I don’t have a chain around her, this was only because I bathed her that moment and let her dry for a few minutes in the sun

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Ginger in 2012, while Dash passes by

As 2018 slips away into eternity

Yeah right! Eternity. No matter what, we will never be able to return back to it- unless of course we choose to return to the experiences, the people encountered along the way, the knowledge gathered and the friendships forged.

Couple of days ago I wrote a little blog post about my research and writing in 2018- it has been a year of gaining tremendous clarity about many many issues, in and around mental health mostly. And then in the same vein I could say that my networks expanded in mental health in almost a 360-degree way. From social scientists doing fantastic work in Sociology, to therapists doing phenomenal work in recovery in mental illness and of course the work done by people who have lived through mental illness and now work in the scholarly/activist domains- these become three sets of practically unconnected people, though there are minor overlaps there. What I am saying is that I got to know people, in person all over the globe in these three domains- social sciences, therapy and the survivor/emancipatory network. 

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Photo by Louis. K on Unsplash 

Now I think about it, its a BOOM moment, when suddenly sparks flew in all directions and lit them up- illuminating pathways which must have been there all along, but suddenly became visible. All in mental ‘health’. It is amazing that so many people are working in mental health in such contrasting and different ways- it is a miracle I got to see and experience so many sides of it. I have to thank my Phd work in a small way, though these things are not really linked to my research. It is all in the wider field of mental ‘illness’; a great expansion of perspective/s! In that sense, it’s been a great year.

Perhaps in most other ways, another year, like the rest of them. Some losses, the most significant being Nikki, my labrador- there won’t be another like her. My utter-est sweetheart!

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Wondering what to do

I am quite thrilled about the forthcoming publications and the progresses I am making in the dissertation. I am not thrilled about the dissertation necessarily, but the fact that it is moving at all 😦

And since this year has been a very introverted year, with limited mobility outside of home, most work has happened within the four walls only, except for the visit to Greece. I am not writing any further for now, but I hope to in the new year, for this year is already over and what has to be done in the next one, should be spelled out or chronicled then. Adieu 2018.

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Each of these people is working in mental health, except the Finnish, young woman in front of me- who was finishing off her Phd in Education. This is a predominantly Finnish group, barring one lady each from Paraguay, and Australia, and another young person, whose face is hidden who is Greek. As of course me- Indian!

A life beautiful, and a death serene

Two months >>>>>>>>>>  Eleven years and eight months

29 October 2006 ——>>> 8th June 2018

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This was not a post whose time had come, neither Nikki’s to leave.

But unexpectedly, after just a day of being unwell, which I attributed to fever, she passed away quietly. Just the night before I had sat up with her from 12 am to 1 am, thinking she is a little unwell- for the whole previous day she had not eaten. And then checking her for some fever I put a wet towel between her inner thighs. She was breathing heavily and uneasily, yet settled down to breathe calmly in awhile. I too slept after that. I turned on the lights to check her once or twice in the course of the night and I could see her breathing.

When I woke up in the morning, I quickly jumped out of bed to see how she was, and she was just immobile, silent, mouth a little open and serenely lying on her side. I touched her inner thigh- it was a little warm, the last of the heat cooling down. But I wanted to believe it was still life, possibly I was mistaken. I shook her stiffened arm a little, gently of course because I could see it was stiff already. Yes, it was stiff for sure. My beautiful girl had passed away- just so quietly, without a word, without letting me know in any way that this may be the end. One day of fasting is not such a big warning after all-dogs do stop eating when they are unwell, unlike us human.

It’s all a flashback now- the day I went to take her from a (ridiculous) breeder, and how me and Ginger had driven those 25-odd kilometers to Noida. How upset Ginger had been to meet a new puppy, she was herself only a pup too. Nikki happily came over to me, as though we had been parted for a long time and she was waiting for me. She eagerly jumped into my car and Ginger- who was already in the car, was terribly upset. To settle the two pups I gave them chew sticks to nibble on, soft ones, while I would manage the drive. But Ginger refused to eat out of protest and Nikki was only too happy to! And by the time we reached home, Nikki had happily messed up in the car- so imagine that I had to hide the pup and take her home and then clean up my car as well 🙂 And I kept her hidden for several days, but that is another story.

And so much more comes back to mind, how Raga came into our lives and the play of the pups, our move to Faridabad, and then Dash joined us after a year. Goodness, we lived a good life- moved to Goa in 2014. All of us, me and the four dogs, went to Goa by road- a four day road trip. What an adventure! And what adventures we had in Goa too- walking in the villages streets, chasing hens and fowl, and pigs! Having the barbeques and the walk to the river next door, by the pond where lotuses grew in the summer.

Oh my goodness, we had a beautiful life and there are beautiful memories. And we even kept a little blog about our life in Goa, brings a smile to my face. Really this is a life worth celebrating and death only the hermits get, as we all say in a calm serene way, without experiencing much suffering- other than what is due to one’s age, without causing much grief.

May I die as peacefully as my Nikki- gently slipping away into the arms of eternity in my sleep as those around me, if there be any, also lie in their dreamy stupors.

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This was the front of our home in Chandor Village, Goa; where Nikki and Dash were in a serious conversation about the state of affairs

Four months into the year>>>

From the last time that I wrote on this blog, feeling happy and excited about the new things happening, today I am about to register something of a mixed lot of experiences. And they are all, as one would expect, in my case-

  1. First, Rhythm came into heat- a little over seven months old that she is! I was having a premonition it could be anytime now,  but not so soon (ouch!!!). Couple of times I had broached the subject of spaying with the vet too, but he said, let’s wait until the pups are nine months. So now, they are just a little over seven and here am I- a pup in heat and two male dogs of her size around- certainly no enviable situation for a PhD-er! This Phd is really an eventful one- so much keeps happening with a fair degree of regularity. The boat is always rocked 😦

2. I went and had my first ‘class’/learning session with my new guru- when he was here in Delhi briefly, staying at the India International Center, not the best locations to conduct a class…but at least a beginning was made. When I heard the minute nuances of his voice, my heart just quivered in fear- god, can I even do it, and how will I? Fortunately I will only be meeting him in several months now- which means I have all the time for my own riyaaz and internalizing whatever he showed me that day . But since it is really quite foundational, meaning a significant shift in my singing style, I cannot hurry this up- it will be very slow, the change.

3. A few days later in a phone conversation he told me to drop my Phd and join him on his concert tours. I think it is a great honor to be said this by a senior guru, to a shisya. However, I shared with him that firstly i cannot play the tanpura on stage due to my spine and secondly the Phd is something I want to put behind me, before plunging myself full scale into music- which is really the case. On the other hand, I wish I could just dump the Phd- it is painful, as one would expect it to be, more so in India- where everything is against a Phd-researcher!

4. On another front, quora offered me a (free) subscription to the New York Times as a recognition of the fact that I have been volunteering and helping people who use quora, and made me a ‘top writer’. I never do anything for the sake of recognition, but this was completely unexpected. Not that I have time to read the NYT either, but it is interesting to see that this happened.

5. Students in music are all making progress and yet I had to drop one child from the fold who was taking a lot of breaks, without giving any reason. Often in India parents take the arts lightly (ignorantly?) and most cannot understand that classical music is not like other forms of music, you cannot just begin anywhere and catch up with the group. There is a system one is following and a structure being created here- to think musically and from the ground upward. I had to lay him off in a strange way- it was sad, but a necessary move that had to be planned out. On another front, I am glad and surprised to see the ladies who have joined newly, being so enthusiastic about learning musical notation- it is a great thing  because it inculcates a musical seriousness and discipline. Ok so this is about the students.

6. And last of all, the journal article- which i finally sent with great effort. Responding to the peer review comments this time was very tough, because the field of mental health from an emancipatory and peer perspective is still a new area of study and the intersectionality one has to keep referring back to is quite complex. But simultaneously I am getting to work with many families at present and that makes the whole picture  a representative and well-informed picture at many levels.

Analyzing so much in research makes it relatively easy for me to understand what obstacles people face in their recoveries. How I wish I would have a little more help at home to manage the dogs, so I can just sit down and work on my dissertation. I m somewhat lagging in my commitment that I had made to my university.

The month of May also seems packed with teaching, counseling and of course the ten day break, that hopefully I will be writing the next blog-post about.. In the meanwhile let me just manage to shoo the dogs away from Rhythm, who is confused, as is Flow- about why Dash is interested in Rhythm. Who can explain to Flowie, that Dash is a neutered dog and  you are the real risk to your sister! you donkey!IMG_20180325_211214614

2017 ending…

Wow, its amazing that this year too is coming to an end. Of course every year has to- but the huge amount of changes that have happened in this one, makes it somewhat different in many ways. The change in my family is the foremost thing- I cannot look back at this year, in the times ahead, and not remember who left us all- my darling Raga

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Hello, I am your doggie

– who pulled along all the way until October, though given her condition and the progressive deterioration I saw, I would not have given her this much time myself. The mystery of the human-canine connection runs so deep, and how we connect with our canine beloveds. I cannot still forget the day I got Raga home as a puppy and then to see her entire life-cycle coming a full circle in front of me, brings a deep sadness and equanimity at the same time. This is the eternal law of the universe- matter coming into creation and transformation, and the role of consciousness, its interaction with that matter and the transformation of them both. Matter (me and my dog) both change, our connection with each other changes and we move from one stage of love- the puppy days to the senior days. The nature of care and concern changes significantly. Raga taught me all that. To the extent, that after her passage when Nikki became ill, and was suddenly immobilized for a few weeks, I was totally able to handle her and the effect of that, since she needed so much more care than Raga (being so much heavier than Raga).

If Raga’s passage was a moment of truth for me, it had to be acknowledged at many levels: including that, for me to handle big breeds of dogs in the times ahead, may become tricky if I had the sort of health issues I have been dealing with in 2016-17. Soon after when the decision to bring in the pups was taken, this was very much a part of the decision. In fact long ago I had decided to go for Dachshunds by and large, and Labrador too. But seeing Nikki’s health issues now, I think I would have to reconsider  even that. The small size of the Dachshund is ideally suited for a person like me- who manages her dogs alone.

In 2017, Rhythm and Floe became part of the family, as did the cockatiels- who I call Chintu,

Mintu, Dolly and Molly. Not that they care about their names. But I do, even if I cannot make out one from the other. True to my human nature, and our (foolish)  anthropomorphic sensibility we want to see every form of life with human parameters- names included.

IMG_20170918_161557606_HDRI changed the garden in very major ways, but sadly the back lawn does not get much sun any more thanks to the construction by the next door people! It has robbed me of the joy of setting up a new garden- even though very doggedly I have been planting the winter annuals, every few weeks. Three times I have make the efforts already. It is a big learning to not bring in real small saplings any more. My greens are now beginning to show a little. I have lettuce coming up, and coriander, but the beetroots will not grow here, while the spinach has been planted a second time, tomato plants are also standing up now. Overall, my plans to have a neat little kitchen garden have been thwarted.

The school of music- SwarGanga has been born and is a part of the Hansadhwani- which is not the foundation any longer, but a social enterprise headed by a single entrepreneur. Therefore it has become feasible for me to legitimately bring together the contrasting strands of knowledge into my one head, and even succeeded in putting a website in place. I started in earnest in March and the students came in April. At the time of the year closing, I have eight-nine students in all, with varying levels of payment (including one who learns for free, and three who pay a fraction of the amount of the fee, as paid by their peers). Teaching about eight-nine hours a week of music- most of which is new stuff is interesting and challenging simultaneously. My own learning continues as well, and i am also looking out for a new guru, who if I can get an opportunity to learn with, would be a great blessing.

Academically the going is not bad- i have gathered the data for one part of my work (the narratives) and I am also through with the transcription of a majority of them. One of my papers got selected and has currently gone for peer review in a Ethics based journal and in another domain an international conference has accepted my abstract and has invited me to contribute to its proceedings. So though I am extending the scope into the Global Mental Health agenda a little prematurely, but nevertheless it is a worthwhile venture, because in any case I had to work on that for my Phd too at a later stage.

All in all, on all counts there has been a lot of progress, which I had not foreseen, earlier. I am also invited to lecture in at least two different universities in India itself (none being my own!), my networks are getting to be more meaningful and not ‘friendships’ of school/college or social media alone. I have kept away from the social media in a very concerted effort andIMG_20171123_160908774 (1) I really think it was a great decision. It has been much better to invite people in person and spend time with them- and I have done that wherever there has been a scope for it.

My relationships with the children in my family, of my own generation have got a little better because I suppose the children too have grown up by now and they can make out one aunt from another. In November and December my brother and a cousin have been visiting from the US and Australia respectively and seeing them with their families, including small and big children is a great source of happiness (and relief that I do not have my own!!). Its been a time of ageing and renewal (the small pups and the children being the new blood among us).

On the family front, papa has recovered from a major cardiac surgery, and though weakened somewhat he is still very spirited and active- which is very important I think. Mummy is managing steadily and I find her  frail at times, but all my life I have seen her so strong and active that it is difficult to associate her with the idea of weakness- I always think my mom is young!

I do see a lot more work in 2018- including in research, in music, in other areas too- and I look forward to it. I will turn 46 next April. I am almost into my middle age. And of course ‘the middle’ has also begun to show 🙂 So I think the best option is to embrace the turn of the clock joyfully and be energized by some of the wiser people in the family, who lead long, relatively healthy and balanced lives. even though the sun may vanish I will keep sowing new gardens, for who knows what plant can grow well in the shade 🙂

And as always, Chrysanthemums will come well ahead of other flowers…

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Chrysanthemums- December 2017

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Chrysanthemums- December 2017

‘Senior’, teenager!

By doggy standards, Dash is a senior- after all he is 13 today. But by human ones, he is a teenager- the start of a new phase of life. Both ways- it is the start of a new phase for him, no doubt about that.IMG_20171121_114517196

When you live in a household where dogs outnumber humans, the one that learns more from the other species is not always the dog; it can also be their human. So these are my days as I watch these two pups sweep away the lethargy and ennui of our geriatric household into a younger, buoyant and playful energy. Just look at the senior dorg Dash running in the lawn with Floe and Rhythm, in the picture above or this little brat, sitting on top of aunt Nikki-

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