“Those Eyes” by Christina Knowles

Scan 36 (2)She loved me with those eyes

Large and brown staring up at me

The wisdom of the ages implied

Whether to apologize

Or merely out of curiosity

It was always with love in those eyes

Her soft gaze intensified

Watching over me carefully

The wisdom of the ages implied

Always she sympathized

Laying her head on my knee

Loving me with those eyes

Patiently she sighed

Waiting on me dutifully

The wisdom of the ages implied

Short are the days love multiplies

She spent them on loyalty, joyfully

Loving me with those eyes

The wisdom of the ages implied

—Christina Knowles

Bad Neighbors by Christina Knowles

'Normally I'd be optimistic that we could work out a little problem like this.'

We’ve all had that neighbor, the neighbor that makes us want to immediately put our house on the market and move. I’ve lived next door to this neighbor for the past seven years. They let their weeds grow, they do stupid, weird things like instead of fixing the fence, they nail brand new boards to the broken down posts, adding more weight to something that already could not support the weight it had—even after we offered to go in with them, paying for half of it ourselves. They park rusted RVs that don’t run in their driveway for 6 months at a time. In the summer, they have parties in their backyard that start at 3 AM and go until about 7 AM—loud parties. But I can live with all of that without complaining. What bothers me is how they treat their dogs—and the fact, that I can never get a good night’s sleep in my own bed because of them.

They have several big dogs. At times there are up to five of them, but usually I only see two or three. I think the owner shares custody with her ex-husband, so they come and go. They have a large fenced backyard, but the dogs have to stay in about one quarter of the yard in a dog run. Within the dog run, there is a smaller caged area. I’m not sure what that is for, and thankfully, I’ve never seen any of the dogs in it. The dogs can run back and forth, but it looks really boring and not of adequate size for big dogs. In the dog run, there is a big plastic shed that takes up a lot of the space, and they do have a dog house for shelter. The ground is dirt, and there is no grass to roll in or trees for shade. In the summer, the people take them on a walk about once a week. I think the dogs are pretty bored and neglected, so I’m not blaming them, but at least one of them barks continuously all night.

My bedroom window is right next to their backyard—the side with the dog run. These dogs are out even on the coldest nights. Sub zero temperatures? They are out and bark even more, probably trying to stay warm.

At first, I politely went to their door to talk to them during the day. They did not answer, after clearly peaking through the window at me. Then I would ring the doorbell in the middle of the night in my bathrobe while the dogs were ferociously barking in the backyard. No answer, but the dogs would mysteriously disappear inside for about an hour. Then I escalated to ringing their doorbell over and over, ringing it perhaps twenty times in a row in the middle of the night. No answer. Next, I called the police, standing in my backyard, making the dispatcher listen to a chorus of five barking dogs at 4 AM. The police arrived, rang the door bell, the dogs mysteriously disappeared into the house. No answer—even for the cops. The police told me that since the barking had stopped, they couldn’t do anything about it. The dogs were released back into the yard twenty minutes after the police left and continued to bark all night. Next, I called the Humane Society when the dogs were barking all night in sub zero temperatures. They said if the dogs had a dog house, there was nothing they could do. I took to going over to their house as soon as my alarm went off in the morning at 4:45 AM to ring their doorbell twenty times whether their dogs were barking or not. This is what bad neighbors reduce you to—pathetic and childish retaliators, obsessed with revenge for lost sleep and neglected dogs. I didn’t like what I had become. Helpless anger has always been my most despised emotion.

I’ve had many suggestions; one that sounds great—shaming them publicly, which I guess I’m trying to do right now. The only problem is that I won’t reveal who they are or their address because I worry that if they end up getting harassed, then there may be legal ramifications for me—oh, the injustice! Also, giving out their address makes mine public by extrapolation. Despite my filling the internet with my personal business, I do appreciate some privacy. What to do, what to do?

My only weapon has ever been words, specifically the written word. I am going to write them a letter, detailing their crimes, and how these have affected my life. Specifically sleep! The lack of, by the way, my doctor has blamed for a recent stress angina I suffered. I should sue them! But, I will just make my case in written form, appealing to their common decency and educating them on the need for warm shelter for the other victims of their crimes—the poor dogs, who obviously are not content suffering through the winter in their stark, freezing, and boring dog pen. I wonder if they will care. Will they even read it? Perhaps, if I leave it on their doorstep on Christmas Eve with a plate of cookies, after ringing the doorbell thirty or forty times, of course.—Christina Knowles

Cartoon by Carpenter, Dave

Grateful by Christina Knowles

garden_of_the_gods_by_jawahunter003-d4p9tfg
by jawahunter003

It’s that time of year, hopefully not the only time of year, when we take stock of all the good things in our lives and express our gratitude. Well, this year has been a difficult one, and it would probably be a lot easier to list all of the things that went wrong, but that makes engaging in this type of positive reflection even more important. Realizing how good I really have it is most critical when it seems like everything is going wrong. So here are a few things for which I’m very thankful.

  1. My husband. I am lucky to have married a kind and gentle man, who is genuinely a good and ethical person.Randy and me He’s compassionate and sincere. My husband is a true artist, a musician, who feels deeply, sees deeply, and thinks deeply. He also makes me laugh every day. When I feel lost and alone, he’s there to let me know that he’s always on my side. He’s loyal and understanding, and he never expects me to be anything other than what I am. He doesn’t need to be in charge or have everything his way. He respects my independence with no macho bullshit, and his easy-going personality makes our home a peaceful refuge from the harsh world.
  2. Family. My brothers and sisters are very close.

    We don’t agree on everything, but we always love each other. They are the kind of people you can always count on to drop everything and be there when you need them. My sisters and I get together often for movie nights and scrapbooking days. We are so different from one another, but it never matters when we are laughing and talking, sharing stories from our individual lives.

  3. Health and well-being of those I love.morganfamily I am thankful that my children are healthy and are passionately pursuing things they love. ValerieI’m thankful for the medical science that has given my grandson the opportunity for a vibrant and happy life, and I’m thankful that my other grandson is full of joy and enthusiasm for life.

4. Home. I appreciate my cozy home. ChristmasWith all of its needed repairs and upkeep, my home is a beautiful refuge for me, and I love coming home to it every day. I love spending time with my husband and dog in front of a cozy fire on a cold day and planting flowers in our jungle of a yard in the summer. I love puttering around in my art studio, writing on my computer, or curling up in our family-room-converted-to-library, reading a book. It’s pure peace and relaxation.

5. Friends. I am thankful for my close friends, old and new. FriendsSome I see all the time, and some I see a few times a year, but I love them all. I am grateful that my friends do not engage in typical “friend drama.” They are mature and above that nonsense. Old friendsThey are trustworthy. I can tell my friends anything and everything, and I do. My secrets are safe with them. I am safe with them. I can be myself without any pretense, and I am still loved and accepted. They make me laugh and think. They are silly, bold, caring, intellectual, and fun. I am lucky to have them.

6. Employment. This has been a good year at work, at all of my jobs. English DepartmentTeaching high school is wonderful if you do it right. This year I’ve set boundaries with how much work I will do at home. I work my butt off all day, stay late if necessary, and barely touch it when I go home. My students are sweet, smart, and amazing, and they make it rewarding. I have a great team this year in the English department too. We really enjoy each other, and the wide-range of personalities has made lunch and meetings a lot of fun. My administration is the best I’ve ever had. They respect us and are reasonable, and they’re just good, real people.

Moonlighting at the college, teaching writing has been really fun. I enjoy the diverse interaction, the freedom, and the academic atmosphere. The extra money is good too. Of course, writing is my passion, and I am thankful for this blog, where I am free to express myself. Writing my blog is so fulfilling and freeing. Writing makes me understand myself and the world better. This year I’ve written tons of poetry and am working on a new suspense thriller as well. I have also enjoyed creating the cover for my new book. Signs of Life jpegThis is the first time I have ever taken a design from concept to completion all by myself. It was challenging and fun. I can’t wait to do it again.

7. Dog. I am grateful that I come home each day to a sweet little guy named Chacho.IMG_1456 He fits in with us so well. He’s laid-back and gentle. His personality is quite human. Chacho is sensitive and gets his feelings hurt easily if he is slighted in some way, but he forgives easily as well. He is independent and doesn’t need a lot, but he does need love, some cuddling, yummy food, walks around the neighborhood, and trips to the dog park. Chacho deserves all this and more. He is so easy to take care of—he never chews up our things, he doesn’t have accidents in the house, he makes us laugh and smile, and he loves us.

8. Colorado. GogI am so thankful that I get to live in one of the most beautiful and pristine places in the world. Colorado has so much of what I love—great weather, snow, snow, snow, but it’s hardly ever bitterly cold. We get wonderful fluffy snowstorms, and then the snow melts, and we have mild temperatures again. It never gets too hot in the summer. Colorado has gorgeous mountains and clear, clean air. Colorado Springs is in the foothills of Pikes Peak, and we are surrounded by forests, jutting red rocks, crystal clear lakes, and snow-covered mountains. Garden of the godsThere’s a reason why so many Christmas movies are set in Colorado. We have bike trails, dog parks, river-rafting, skiing, and the cozy little tourist towns everyone loves—the kind that seem like they came right out of a Hallmark movie. We have hippies, hipsters, and cowboys, and we usually get along together. I love my Colorado.

9. Community groups. I am grateful for community groups like the Pikes Peak Atheists and Freethinkers of Colorado Springs. These groups organize charity work, fundraisers, toy and clothing drives, and generally are there to help people who need it in our community without any ulterior motives. They are humanists who desire to create a better world, to increase the well-being of humans (and often animals). They are also a fun and intellectual group. We have lots of get-togethers and social activities as well. They are a wonderful support group for non-believers who live in a very religious city.PPA I am really thankful I found them and that they’ve been so kind to me.

10. Progress. I am thankful that even though the world seems like a crazy and dangerous place oftentimes, we are making progress in so many ways. As a people, we are becoming more open-minded, critically thinking, and accepting of diversity and human rights than ever before. We have made wonderful advances scientifically, morally, and intellectually. Perhaps, this contrast between progressive ideals and religious dogma is one reason why some of these tensions are escalating. Some people don’t want to see progress, but progress will win, and for that, I am thankful.

Human-Rights
accessinfo.org

So, as I suspected, reflecting on the things for which I am grateful has made me realize that things are not so bad. Sure, life is difficult, and bad things happen. Sometimes just getting through the day is hard. The world is filled with tragedy and unexpected hardships. Surviving it takes a lot of energy, but there is a reason we keep at it. There are always things that make it all worthwhile. Things that make it more than bearable. Things that are downright beautiful.—Christina Knowles

“Old Dogs” by Christina Knowles

Old Dog
Photo: petbucket.com

Old dogs

Gray around the temples and chin

Walk with a limp

A stiff gait

But still try to chase squirrels up gnarled oaks

Old dogs

Still enjoy slow strolls down friendly streets

Sniffing everyone they meet

Greeting neighbors and young pups

Even though they don’t smell much anymore

Old dogs

Reminisce about their youth

Days when you threw the ball in the park

And they could run like the wind and you tired long before them

Old dogs

Are more interested in tummy rubs and loving scratches behind the ears

Than in begging for treats

Or playing tug-of-war with an old rope

But they’ll still gather the energy to play

If it will make you happy

Old dogs

Embarrass easily

When the mailman sneaks up on them unnoticed

They look around to make sure you didn’t see them

Letting down their guard

Old dogs

Try hard to do their duties

Even if you tell them that it’s time

Time for them to be cared for now

Old dogs

Will muster up excitement when you come in the door

After a long hard day

They won’t let you think for a moment

That you weren’t missed

Old dogs

Fall asleep next to you and don’t wake up when you leave the room

When they do wake, they struggle to their feet

Joints stiff, and go searching for you

Old dogs

Are wiser than young dogs

They know the value of a life-long friendship

They don’t care about slippers anymore

Just companionship and loyalty

Old dogs

Can’t hear or see very well

Except with their hearts

They are selfless souls

Growing more pure with each passing year

Old dogs

Feel shame if they can’t keep up with you

Until they see their own heart shining back at them

And then they know

They’ve taught you what you needed to learn

Their work is done

Because when old dogs

Take a piece of your heart

With them when they go

You’re still better off for having known them

Because with an old dog

Your heart grows larger through each and every

Old dog you’ve ever loved.

Mulder old
Mulder Pitman Knowles (1993-2008)

—Christina Knowles

 

The Dog That Taught Me How to Live Again by Christina Knowles

Mulder flowersEveryone knows I’m a dog lover, but not many know that I owe a big part of who I am to one special dog. I’ve tried putting these feelings into words so many times and have given up every time, but it is long overdue, so here goes. Mulder Pitman-Knowles passed away in May of 2008 at the age of fifteen, and broke my heart in a way I didn’t know was possible. I put off writing this memoir to honor her because I was afraid, afraid to feel the emotions again, the grief, the gut-wrenching loss. You may, but I hope you don’t, think that that is an over-dramatic reaction to the death of a pet, but Mulder was not a pet. She was my friend, and I loved her as much as any other friend I’ve ever had. I know some people won’t understand what she was to me, but those of you who have had the privilege of loving and being loved by at least one extraordinary animal, will know what I mean.

You see, Mulder unexpectedly changed my life. She saved me, really.Mulder window

I adopted Mulder in 1994 from the Humane Society, or rather, she adopted me. The week before, I took my kids there to look at the animals, and we saw an adorable little male beagle. He was sweet and friendly, but he was a stray, not owner-surrendered, so I had to put my name on a list and wait five days to see if the owner came for him. When I called to check five days later, they said I could come and pick him up. I was so excited and had already picked out his name, Mulder, after the main character on my favorite TV show, The X-Files. In nervous anticipation, I followed as a staff member led me in to the dog holding area, but she couldn’t find the male beagle. She told me that the one I wanted must have mistakenly been given to someone else. I was terribly disappointed, but just then I saw the most beautiful beagle I had ever seen. The staff member told me she was a female who had been owner-surrendered because she was “un-trainable” and hated cats. The cat part turned out to be true. I didn’t care what her previous family said; I knew this was supposed to be my Mulder. She immediately came to me and laid her head on my bent knee and gazed at me with her huge soulful eyes. It was like we connected instantly. There was an intelligence and wisdom in those eyes, and I knew she was meant for me.

Scan 36I was a little anxious when I took her home because my ex-husband (current at the time) did not want a dog in the house. We had a golden retriever, Clancy, that he wanted basically for hunting, but he insisted that the dog be kept in a small dog run because Clancy had a thing for digging holes. It broke my heart, and every day I would let him out all day until my ex came home from work, but then one day, a man I hired to paint the house fell in love with Clancy. Every time this painter took a break, he would chase Clancy, then roll in the grass, wrestling him. This went on for a week, and on the last day, I asked the man if he wanted to take Clancy for his own. He had ten acres in the forest, and he was thrilled at the offer. He promised to never lock him up. I cried my eyes out as I said goodbye to my golden retriever that day, but I knew I did the right thing. I couldn’t live long without a dog, and I never wanted to put another dog through what Clancy experienced, so I talked my ex into letting me get a small dog that we could keep in the house. My ex agreed to let Mulder live in the house as long she didn’t do anything wrong-ever; however, he insisted on locking her in a kennel at night or whenever we left the house.

I don’t know why her previous family thought she was un-trainable because Mulder was house-trained within a week; she learned to sit, lie down, and stay in the first week as well. Right away she was “my” dog. She followed me everywhere. We ran three miles every morning, rain or shine; she did whatever I said, but listened to others only when she wanted to. She curled up on my lap every evening, and she knew exactly what she could do when my ex wasn’t around. When he wasn’t home, which was most of the time, she could sleep on the furniture or the bed, and she had free run of the house. As soon as she heard the door open in the evening, and he walked in, she would jump off the couch and take her place on her pillow. He never knew because she was so good. She never chewed up anything that wasn’t hers. She wouldn’t even touch a toy until I told her it was hers to play with.Scan 34

During those years, Mulder was my solace. My ex-husband was manipulative, controlling, angry, and intolerant. Nothing I did was correct, but Mulder thought everything I did was right. She accepted me with no make-up on, wearing old sweatpants, and she was okay with whatever I wanted to do—going for a run, snuggling on the couch while I read, sitting on my lap watching TV. She was good with my kids too. I remember one year my daughter wanted to make a calendar of Mulder pictures. She dressed Mulder up in a different costume for every season and took pictures of her. Mulder was not happy, but she didn’t complain once.

Scan 37 Scan 37 Scan 38

In 2004 I left my ex-husband and filed for divorce. By this time, I was pretty beat down from seventeen years of being screamed at, seventeen years of being told to change who I was, seventeen years of being controlled like a child, used, humiliated, and devalued. I was tired of walking on eggshells just to make sure he didn’t get upset. He was okay with the kids. I was always the target of his anger.  I told him I wanted fifty-fifty custody of the children because I knew he would never give me full custody without a fight, and I couldn’t afford a lawyer. I told him he could have virtually everything we owned if I could just have Mulder. I was so afraid that he would try to keep full custody of the kids or take Mulder away from me just to get back at me. He didn’t want the divorce, but he agreed.Scan 35

I bought a townhouse with a little yard for Mulder, and we moved in before I even bought any furniture. The custody agreement ended up being one week on, one week off, so every other week, it was just Mulder and I. Mulder was never locked in a kennel again, but had free rein throughout the house and was allowed on all the furniture. It was then, these times alone with Mulder, that she made me realize what kind of life I wanted, the person I wanted to be, and how to live and love the way we are meant to. She loved me unconditionally, she never expected me to be anything other than what I was, she listened to me quietly, she comforted me when I cried, she never judged me, she never screamed at me, or told me to change. She showed me how peaceful and calm a home could be, how to look forward to coming home, how to love without selfish expectations, how to accept people exactly as they are. She healed me and made me strong. She looked up to me and found me worthy. She made me realize I never had to settle for less than unreserved love and acceptance ever again.

When I met my soul-mate, Randy, Mulder’s approval was paramount. Mulder loved Randy instantly, and Randy loved her. Mulder accepted Randy into our home with surprising ease. Because of this, I knew he must be a good person. Randy and I lived there with Mulder for two years, blissfully happy. I remember when Randy first moved in after we married, he asked if he should put up his slippers, so Mulder wouldn’t chew them up. I was so insulted that he would assume she would do that! I told him Mulder never chewed up anything that wasn’t her own personal property.Scan 40

She did get into mischief once in a while though. She was an avid rabbit hunter, and she was fast. More than once, I found her eating her kill, much to my dismay. She also learned how to open the cupboard where we kept her treats. One time she pulled them out and dumped them on the kitchen floor and ate her fill. I came home to the remnants of broken treats on the floor. And Mulder loved Christmas, particularly the stockings. She got excited when we hung them and even knew which one was hers. I’m not making this up. Ask my husband. She would be so excited on Christmas morning when her stocking was full. She’d go straight to it and jump at it. But one year, a week before Christmas, while we were gone, Mulder found her bag of treats and toys in the closet, the ones that were to go in her stocking. She obviously knew they were meant for her because they were dog treats and toys. Anyway, she dragged the whole bag out of the closet and halfway down the stairs when, apparently, guilt overwhelmed her, and she abandoned the entire bag on the stairs and hid in the bedroom. We came home, found the bag on the stairs, contents spilling out, but no Mulder to be seen. I called and called her, and finally she slowly emerged, head hung low, and tail down, completely ashamed of herself. Of course, I just thought it was adorable and wasn’t upset at all, but she so wanted to please me and couldn’t stand disappointing me. She just couldn’t contain her Christmas anticipation. I’m the same way. That is one of my fondest memories of her.Scan 39Scan 41

It was because of Mulder that I was ready for someone like Randy in my life, someone kind, easygoing, loving, and honest. So many times I’ve seen people enter into the same type of relationships over and over because they haven’t worked out their issues or figured out what they want, what they need. Mulder taught me I was enough. If I was to let someone into my life, it would be only because they added something, but that I was just fine by myself, and I knew when I fell in love with Randy that, just like with Mulder, I never had to be anyone but me ever again. I would be loved and accepted just the way I was, and I could be that way for someone else in return. There never had to be any yelling, name-calling, any manipulation. No lies and attempts to control, only complete honesty and respect. Mulder showed me I deserved that and how wonderful and peaceful life could be. She taught me how to live again.

That sounds like a lot to learn from a dog, but then Mulder wasn’t just any dog. She was my friend, she loved me, and I loved her. I had loved her before, a lot, but after I left my ex and moved out on my own, we bonded so extensively, probably because of the trauma I had been through, and because she was the only one there for me. I’m glad she was the one there for me. I miss her all the time. I will be forever grateful to her, and I will cherish her memory in my heart always. I love you, Mulder, and thank you.—Christina Knowles Mulderold

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