10 years

Today we've been married for ten years. In honor of our anniversary, we'd like to offer a list of our top ten reasons we've stayed together.

10. Complementary neuroses.
9. Shared love of a good food adventure.
8. Shared love of animals.
7. Intellectual and political sympatico.
6. Large library and menagerie of animals creates so many problems in dividing equitably that it's just easier to stay together.
5. Biffle has to stay because Alison pays all the bills.
4. Alison has to stay because she is incapable of cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, changing the sheets, or emptying the litter box, and rarely showers without a reminder.
3. We're actually pretty good at singing in harmony.
2. Alison loves Biffle's family, and he loves hers.
1. Stubbornness.

ten years ago.


ten years ago


and today...



On settling and settling in

I was in Tennessee for the past week visiting with the family. Two nights ago my mom was performing in an outdoor Memorial Day concert, so I went. The concert was put on by the community orchestra and community chorus, in an amphitheater just by my parents' house. It was nicely done, and a lot of people attended, even though it was a rainy evening. The conductor was a professor of music at Tennessee Tech, and he did the arrangements for several of the pieces that the group performed--like a medley of all the armed service hymns. The group performed accessible, popular songs for Memorial Day, and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it.

The thing that occurred to me while I watched was this: I grew up in Cookeville and attended Tennessee Tech--also in Cookeville--and in my years there I met a number of professors who weren't happy about living there. They took the job at Tech because it seemed like a good first job, but they tried desperately, year after year, to find a job elsewhere so that they could leave. This isn't a situation unique to Cookeville, of course; I have colleagues at the College of Charleston who are continually on the job market, trying to escape South Carolina. Those folks by and large seem pretty miserable.

Cookeville leaves a lot to be desired, especially if you're longing for an urban environment, but it also has things going for it. It's the kind of place where you can do a community theater production with your whole family, where you always run into people you know in Kroger's, where you can have a butter twist at the same donut shop your parents frequented when they were in college. And hey, it has an Indian restaurant now!

The folks who feel like they're settling by being in a place, and who are desperate to leave, often don't recognize the things there are to appreciate in a town like Cookeville, or a city like Charleston. It's easy to pick out the things that are wrong with any place you live (and believe me, Biffle and I have done our share of this when it comes to Charleston), but it seems to me that folks like the conductor of the Cookeville community orchestra are making a better choice. He's chosen to settle in, to use his music theory skills to create something for people to enjoy, to become part of the community.


A bit of lighter news

Today I was visiting with a friend and her five-year-old son. Her son was excited about Maybelle and wanted to be helpful.

"I know that babies drink milk," he said, "and we have milk!"

I thanked him but explained that Maybelle is too little to drink cow milk and drinks human milk instead. As luck had it, she was verging on fussy the whole time I was there, so I decided to strap her on and feed her. He was fascinated, of course, and asked, "How does she get the milk?"

"She sucks, like you suck on a straw, and the milk comes out."

He then leaned over and whispered something to his mother. She said, "No, honey, we can't try that."

A little while later, he was watching, and Maybelle did what she often does--popped off and looked around, leaving me in the wide open. He looked at me with concern and said, "She's made your privates really long."


Baxter Deez, January 1995-May 13, 2009

We had Baxter put to sleep this afternoon.

She was a remarkable dog. As my brother and sister-in-law pointed out, she was the dog who inspired other people to adopt dogs, the dog who was loved even by people who don't like dogs. And not just people--she was Friend to All Cats. She had a virtually infallible technique for getting cats to like her, which involved patience and avoiding eye contact while sidling closer and closer to them. She was much beloved by all the cats who've ever come through our household, including more than one rip-snorting feral cat.

She used to chase after squirrels at top speed, faster even than much lither breeds, and she loved swimming. Lakes were her favorites, but if you were on a walk and she saw a particularly deep puddle, she'd be happy to plop down in the middle of it and bury her snout halfway, like an alligator. She'd grab a long stick in the yard and run around with it, tearing her head violently from side to side, breaking its spine.

She was a smart dog, too--smart enough that we had to start spelling "walk" around her because if she heard the word mentioned even in a casual way, she'd get very excited. And then we had to stop spelling it, because she figured out what "W-A-L-K" meant. For some reason she never did understand what "taking a stroll" meant, though, so we stuck with that.

She knew a lot of commands. She could "Go get Walter," "go get Alison," "go get your hedgehog," or do a down stay in front of a store or coffee shop indefinitely. People were often impressed--and rightly so--with how well behaved she was.

She was my companion when I couldn't sleep at night, my housemate when Biffle was in grad school, my bodyguard when we lived in sketchy parts of town. She was in our wedding. She would have been at Maybelle's birth if things had worked out like we planned.

She's been part of our family for fourteen years. For the last few years she's been able to do fewer and fewer of the things she loved, as she's gotten stiffer and more arthritic and lost muscle tone in her back legs. She's been taking expensive doggy Vioxx for the last several years, which has helped with the pain but hasn't eliminated it. She hasn't been able even to scratch her own ears for recent months, and Biffle and I have had to do that for her. She took a turn for the worse over the weekend, and it became clear to us that her quality of life was no good.

I realized today that I haven't been away from her more than a few weeks for fourteen years. I don't know what my life is going to be like without her.



Shortly after Maybelle was born, a colleague with kids and pets made the surprising claim that kids are much easier. "Kids get bigger and healthier, and chances are they're going to outlive you. With pets," she said, "you're always watching them die."

This has been on my mind this weekend as I hung out with the robustly healthy Maybelle and the elderly Baxter. Biffle and I got Baxter in January 1995, when she was a puppy, and she's been an integral part of our lives ever since. In recent years she's needed more and more medications and assistance to have a meaningful quality of life. She can't go for walks longer than around the block, she needs soft food to make up for the teeth she's had pulled, and because she can't hear particularly well, she only knows that people are at the door when Benya's barking clues her in.

In the foreseeable future, Biffle and I are going to have to start making tough decisions on Baxter's behalf. What kinds of pharmaceuticals are appropriate for an elderly dog? How much enjoyment is she getting from her life? And the biggest question...how much longer do we have?


Buy American

“Kids today are buying things made of pressed cardboard imported from Thailand instead of aged wood,” he said. 

“A lot of young people don’t want anything older than a pizza box. 

But you can’t sell that cheap chain-store junk at a yard sale in two or three years, while good furniture holds its value. Good is always good.”


Pride and joy

Today is Blog Against Disablism Day (really? We're calling it "disablism"?), so I wanted to offer a bit of what's on my mind lately as I think about the experience of being Maybelle's parent.

Smiling at DaddyWhen Maybelle was first born, the idea of Down syndrome was terrifying to me. I didn't know anyone with Down syndrome other than Maybelle, and I had no real information about it, just the clutter of familiar (and distressing) stereotypes. I had a recurring freak-out that lasted for the first month or so that she was alive--Biffle had to keep talking me down, reminding me that I can and do rise to any challenge, and that we would take the challenges with Maybelle as they came, together. Fortunately, he'd had his recurring freak-outs while I was pregnant, and once Maybelle was born he was blissfully in love with her and unconcerned about the future.

As is often the case for me, education was quite helpful. Reading recent literature and talking with parents of kids with DS and with Maybelle's early interventionists cleared out the stereotypes. It turns out that many of the things I worried about (She'll never live on her own! She won't be able to go to school! She'll have to work as a greeter at Walmart!*) aren't true anymore for people with DS.

Of course, her life will be a bit different from the lives of many typical kids. Immediately after she was born, one friend wrote in an email, "Many things she'll do will take longer than average to do, and those victories will be all the sweeter for it." At the time, I read that as such a sad thing--the idea of the victories being sweeter really struck me as bittersweet, like we would be continually resigning ourselves to her lessened status, continually having to try to be happy with what little she could accomplish.

I am very happy to report that, eight months in, Biffle and I are experiencing very little sadness and mostly tremendous pride and joy. "Lessened status" doesn't in any way describe Maybelle--and I would be enraged if anybody implied that it did. She has to work her little butt off to accomplish some things that just happen naturally for other babies (rolling over, for instance, or the recent innovation of learning to prop sit), but she does it, she continually works and learns and gets stronger. And the fact that it does take her a little longer, and require a bit more intention from everybody in the family than might be true for a typical kid, means that Biffle and I are very aware of her progress. My friend was right--watching her grow is incredibly sweet for us.

*That one was actually Biffle's fear. From the first I've had hopes that she'd be a bass player for a punk grrrl band. Or perhaps an activist for people with disabilities.