14 March 2021

Truman Wonderdog, famous skunk killer

Truman (Wonderdog) King

October (?) 2004–March 11, 2021

Australian Shepherd mix

Rescued June 2005

Truman Wonderdog, long-time companion of the Winfield (Illinois) Kings, was eased into the canine beyond following a series of recent seizures. Also known as “the comeback kid”—a nickname earned following the 2018 diagnosis of cancer and the late-onset seizures—Truman remained true to his personality to the very end.

His social media presence (Facebook set up and then forgotten by a King family member) gained him significant notoriety when in the space of one week he dispatched a family of skunks, one per day before his “minders” finally took measures to end the spree. The local CVS barely stocked sufficient peroxide for the aftermath(s) and got to know the Kings well. On a positive note, that summer Mr. Wonderdog had admirable highlights in his rich black and brown coat.

Popular among neighborhood children for his smooth coat and patience with children and small dogs, Truman’s differently colored eyes were a predictable conversation starter when meeting new people. His piercing blue right eye became symbolic of his determination, while the rich brown of his left eye spoke of the warmth and faithfulness which his family knew from him.

A tenacious memory and incorrigible prejudice resulted in a few permanent perceived enemies (apart from the skunks, for which he harbored a special loathing). He made snap decisions about people and their animals which, once made, were set for life.

On the bright side though, anyone who had ever spent a night at the King home was Truman’s “family” forever; recognized upon return regardless of how much time passed between stays. Grown family members were accorded special greetings—enthusiastic jumps, whining, and fawning—generally lasting about three minutes. Truman was never more content than when the house was full and every one of his people were in the same room, or at least within view.

Truman’s special “litter-mate,” Pat, was living in the ancestral home when Truman arrived as a rescue dog in June 2005. Their bond was set, evidenced by the professional-quality photos the human took and the extraordinary patience the dog exhibited—no one else was ever allowed to pick up Truman. Others of the King adults have more complicated stories about their Truman; better left to another time, perhaps.

Family, dinner guests, and long-stay house guests all experienced Mr. Wonderdog’s highly developed work ethic. Or rather, as was often observed, “They say the Aussie is a working breed, but Truman is in management.” This was never more evident than at the end of a meal, when casual table conversation was intolerable until the dishes were done to his satisfaction.

“Our dog,” and “the family pet”—but for Truman the alpha in this pack was Karen. She valued a dog greeting her upon her return to the house, and Truman rewarded that to the end. In his last months it was increasingly important for him to be as close to Karen as possible at all times.  He was commonly believed to be able to read her mind; ample evidence bore this out throughout his stay with the family, and (if anything) increased as his energy and health decreased.

Sixteen years is a long life for a dog of Truman’s size. The Kings concur that those years improved ours.

21 July 2020

Why are you running again - and so much?

"What we do for love."

"Keeping sane in a pandemic."

"Weight control."

"You know, I feel good when I run, and so far I have not had a running injury."

In the spring, 2019, my son Pat took up running -- casually, really, or so he thought -- and after a bit got it into his head that he wanted in on the "family business" of running the Big Sur Marathon. (Plenty of posts on this earlier in this space!) Pat would be the fourth in our family to enjoy this spectacular course, and I was all too happy to lace up my running shoes again to train and run with him.

So in December 2019 our Hal Higdon training began (18 weeks), with Pat running in Chicago, me in the 'burbs, and us about monthly together for our long Saturday run. Having trained for and run the Big Sur in 2010 and 2011, I knew what I was in for with winter training. Pat seemed well equipped for it, though he had to deal with some physical complications that I've not been troubled with.

The Covid-19 pandemic of course intervened, and the April 26 marathon was postponed to November. Pat took the opportunity (wisely) to recalibrate his running and take the longer view to preparing. I (unwisely, perhaps) did not want to "waste that training" (we were 2 long runs away from our tapering period). So I purposed to run the distance on the date, and managed to turn it into a fund-raising activity.

Then the Big Sur postponement date was cancelled. Now we were back to an April date (God willing and the US getting its pandemic act together) and another winter of training. Oh well! All good for Pat and his running issues. But I did not wish to give up my running fitness just to start from scratch again. So . . . I am now running three days per week, in a sequence of 12, 14, and 16 miles per week. 3 + 6 + 3, then 4 + 7 + 3, then 4 + 8 + 4; rinse and repeat. My first run (Tuesdays) include interval springs; the long day (Thursday) is meant to be at marathon pace; and Sundays, coming as they do after a typically long group bike ride on Saturday, is slow and easy.

Because, although running does help keep my weight down, and it does relieve some pandemic stress, and I am doing it for love of a child . . . Cycling is still my sport!



04 January 2018

A Brief and Fascinating Review of the Symphony



Tired and angry at yet another outrageously loud and inappropriate advert between movements of some extended work, a year or so ago I bit the bullet and signed up for Spotify Premium. Best money I’ve ever spent on myself.

The benefit of that arguably self-indulgent expense has been proven many times. In the past two months, though, I have been thankful for a couple of Spotify playlists in particular. Weekly and monthly playlists show up in the many “Genres & Moods” categories. I always look at what’s on offer in the Classical Category. (For a brief post on the 150 Psalms playlist, see my other blog.) In November I was intrigued to find “Symphonies: Where to Start.”

I assumed it would be a “greatest hits” playlist of cherry-picked movements from the usual suspects. Boy, was I wrong!

It turned out to be a carefully chosen historical survey of the symphony, beginning where standard music histories begin (Sammartini, Stamitz) and continuing up into the 21st century. Along the way, there are in fact “usual suspects” (Mozart 41, Beethoven 3, Berlioz Fantastique, to name just three). But I was delighted to hear music by composers I did not previously know. To hear symphonies I had only read about. To be surprised with symphonies by composers whom I do not associate with the form. Much of this is probably just my ignorance or incomplete education.

Over the course of three weeks, I heard all sixty of the proffered symphonies. Note, I do not say listened to, but heard. For a few I can say I sat still quietly and listened. Most of them simply played within earshot—albeit intentionally. Many of them quite loudly.

It was quite an education, with many delights, and a few challenges. I expect to use this list, and encourage students to explore it, for my music history class this semester. I don’t know how long these curated playlists are available on Spotify. But let me encourage this adventure on anyone even modestly interested in and drawn to the symphony.

14 October 2017

What I feel has come and gone before


To say I’m in a better place is nothing like saying “I’m cured,” or “Look, Ma, no blues!” Rather, let’s just say I’m coping; I’m handling some things better; I’m learning how to deal. Indeed, as I write this I am fighting discouragement about a persistent, pernicious issue that surfaced and has rankled for about a week now.

Do you, like I, dig the word “pernicious”?

And yet!

Signs of health and hope . . .  in no particular order of appearance or importance.

I am much more willing to try and fail in public.

I almost never assume (for example) that when I see choristers talking or laughing, they are being critical of my directing.

Last winter I led a whole hour of a "Music Man" rehearsal in which I expected a pianist who wasn’t there—and I did not walk away mortified. (And to be fair, the reason the pianist was late was because I had not closed the communications loop. Yes, I was responsible—and I owned that—but it previously would have destroyed me to be so publicly inept in so many ways.)

For decades I have rushed out the door in the morning, only to come back for something important that I had left behind . . . and been so frustrated and angry with myself that Karen was left worrying that was my state of mind all day. (It almost never was.) Of course I still rush out without things—car keys, for example, or lunch—but the surge of self-recrimination and idiocy is now almost absent. (Now it’s just a charming absent-mindedness?)

Earlier this fall Karen overheard me making a work call from home. Later she commented on how much different I was on that call. To use her words: self-assured, non apologetic, clear and engaged. (I am a life-long telephobe.) That’s a huge change.

I have begun to think more along the lines of “what do I want to do?” rather than “what should I do?” Naturally there are things I should do that trump what I want to do, but even to think in terms of what I want to do is a new thing for me.

I am finally learning to stop comparing myself to others whose gifts I may admire more than my own. Isn’t it freeing to know that it’s OK to be different from the many impressive people in your life?

My interior monologue is now a dialogue—sometimes an argument—between me and Depression (who, it turns out, had been dominating that monologue). I much less frequently let D. speak out loud for me.

At the last church I served, many people assumed I was “Dr. King.” Yeah, it’s that kind of church. I stopped correcting people, and my pastoral colleagues couldn’t have cared less who had what degree(s). But as time went on I began to feel that in that position I wasn’t . . . enough: intelligent, eloquent, talented, sophisticated enough. That was OK until I felt that maybe according to my colleagues I also wasn’t young enough or cool enough. (Don’t overlook that word “maybe”—see what depression might have been doing to me?) So now I find myself working with traditional college students in an academic setting. God help me if the “not enoughs” of this paragraph kick back in. Actually, God helps me not really care about those measures.

God, Karen, a good therapist, and yes I suppose too a small dose of a mild anti-depressant.

And that’s all I’ll say about this.