Admiral Cooley struggles with incontinence.

We discovered his leaky bladder when it stormed heavily one night, and he popped his cork as the rain poured down. My husband noticed the puddle in the morning and cleaned him up, but, still, he looked a little embarrassed.

Now, we make sure to keep a tray under his resting spot each night. I’ve also spread out trash bags on the floor to catch possible overflow.

In the absence of other house guests or children, the only ones who would notice his trouble during the night are our cats, and they won’t tell. I can’t help noticing, though, that his normally pale face looks a little pink each morning after a hard rain. I’m guessing he knows he wasn’t built for this, and his instincts tell him to pretend like nothing is wrong. He’s not very good at pretending.

We brought the Admiral home about a month ago. There was something missing before that, a gap in the home, you know? We measured every space to make sure we’d have room for him and his luggage. Only the irresponsible would leap into such a hefty commitment without counting the cost. My husband found a calculator online that crunched every number before we decided to extend the invitation.

When we introduced him to our friends, the chemistry was immediate. At first, there was some confusion about why he lacked a mustache, but I quickly dismissed it as teasing and bought him a fake one to wear to parties. In retrospect, I wonder if the jokes wounded him more than he let on.

On the up side, the Admiral is stellar in the productivity department. When I step into a room after he’s been working, it’s like a completely different place. I guess you could call that a gift.

I’d rather have a cheerful, hardworking Admiral with an incontinence problem than no Admiral at all.

Who or what is the Admiral?
Sometimes, delays can lead to blessings. A small incident today illustrated that for me when I rediscovered Zach Vinson’s music.

I got up extra early so I could get a good spot at the 6 a.m. yoga class at the David D. Hunting YMCA. (I always call it that on first reference. ;) ) The Tuesday/Thursday morning instructor likes to set up the class horizontally, which has the unfortunate side effect of making latecomers, or even just on-time folks, have to set up their mats in the “front row,” while everyone who got there earlier gets the “good spots” with their backs facing the studio mirror.

My goal was to arrive early enough for a “good spot,” but I was delayed. Before pulling out of the garage this morning, I put my Y membership card on top of the armrest between the front seats in my car, thinking my elbow would keep it in place.

Wrong. A badly placed construction barrel forced me into a sudden sharp turn, and the card went sliding into the belly of the abyss, that too-skinny slot between the foundation of the armrest and the track of the driver’s seat.

“Great,” I thought. “Now when I get to the Y, I’m going to have to spend 10 minutes digging the card out of the abyss instead of getting my ‘good spot’ in the East Studio. And everyone will stare at me while I awkwardly set up my mat in the ‘front row’ and disrupt everyone’s on-their-way-to-being peaceful vibes.” Yadda, yadda.

But then, serendipity struck. After parking at the Y and checking the car’s insides from all sides to see where the card went, and not finding it, I realized I would have to move my haphazard stash of old CDs wedged between the seats, the armrest and the parking brake. (I know, super safe place to put them, right?) Once I did that, I could definitely see the card. But as I was pulling the CDs out, I lost my grip on a bunch of them and they all clattered into the backseat. I twisted around to retrieve them and saw one I haven’t thought about in a while, a little golden treasure of love and beauty:

Zach Vinson’s “Cracked Open.” I’m going to assume few people reading this will have heard Zach’s music, unless you went to CU or were lucky enough to discover him in the years since he moved to Nashville. Consider this an introduction. Zach is a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter who calls his music piano rock. It’s hard to say which half is stronger: his musical performance or his songwriting skills. I still can’t decide, even after knowing him personally for two years in college -- during which time I heard several live performances of original songs -- then listening to his music sporadically throughout the five years since.

If you talk to Zach, or read his lyrics, you’ll experience a relatable blend of reserve and self-deprecating wit, which then are mixed with some truly deep insights about himself and the world around him. Maybe I say this because, as a writer and an introvert myself, I relate strongly to the things Zach writes about, but my hunch is it’s more than that. In only his second album, he already was describing the human condition, with all its warts and foibles, but also with its beauty and grace. I don’t come across many songwriters who are doing that – writing from the heart, having the guts to point out facts about humanity that often are ugly. And then in the next verse, he turns to the beauty and also points to that.

Today, the example that struck me most as evidence of this songwriting gift is “We’ve Got Our Kinks,” track 7 on “Cracked Open.”

My better deeds sit in the freezer
I want them with me in my tomb
My sis can’t think straight and so I tease her
It’s been that way straight from the womb
But we’re hard to read
I’ve been too hard to please

We’ve got our kinks
We don’t think that it’s easy
To judge where we’ve been
Or just when we’ll get where we’re going
But that has not stopped me

I wrote down who will be in heaven
I’m probably wrong more than right
Ever since I was six or seven
Been labeling souls at first sight

Selah selah shut my mouth, look around
Grace in the worms and the snakes on the ground

And if you’re more into the technical beauty of his piano performance, you might also want to check out track 3, “So Much to Blame.”

After rediscovering Zach's music today, I realized something. It's perfect for people who are late for yoga.
My husband and I booked a fun-filled yet also very socially demanding weekend celebrating our nation's 238th birthday -- so I'm thankful our visits took place in two heavenly spots.

My family and I enjoy time on the yacht on July 4. From
left, me, Adam, Marissa, Landon, Hannah and Mom.
(Photo credit: Niala Baksh)
We spent the Fourth of July on my parents' yacht, which they purchased last year and are keeping moored in Grand Haven each summer. The boat gatherings -- wherein we take joyrides down the channel, around Spring Lake or out to Lake Michigan, plus we eat, drink and make merry -- are full of storytelling, exuberant laughter and frequent game-play, and are becoming a new Watson tradition. Every now and then while on the water, I pause to marvel at the beauty around us. I'm thankful Adam and I live only 45 minutes away from the gold-and-blue coast.

Saturday the 6th was the Hendershot family reunion -- Adam's mom's side of the family -- which has been an Independence Weekend tradition for I don't know how long. Adam's aunt and uncle, Holly and Rick Jensen, host the gathering in Kalamazoo. They live in a beautiful neighborhood where the homes are large, lush and elegant; the Jensens' place in particular is a slice of paradise. 

Aunt Holly, a retired veterinarian, and Uncle Rick, a pathologist at MPI Research, nurture a love of the natural world and have cultivated a backyard that is a refuge for all living things, from their well-trained and affectionate bloodhounds to their family members and guests.

Uncle Rick and Aunt Holly's scientific precision especially are on display in the garden. They have designed a place that would be the envy of any master gardener: a yard in deep shade bordered by thick, tall trees, with plants and flowers of seemingly every shape and size. The flowers climb up trellises near the house, thrive in planters around the deck, mingle with shrubs edging the walk, and pause only to give space to an expanse of thick, verdant grass on which the badminton and corn hole games are situated for use during the reunion.

Beyond the grass, a gate opens on another oasis only rivaled for beauty by Mary Lennox's "secret garden" -- bed upon bed of plants of all kinds beckon the nature-lover to stroll, to kneel down, to consider, to drink in the sights and scents in near-holy awe.

The amount of space the Jensens devote to green things is more than a little staggering, given the time commitment required for planting, pruning, weeding, watering and replanting each growing season.

A frog sits near the pond in the arboretum. (Photo credit: Adam Forrest)
Some elements in the backyard seem ageless fixtures, such as "The Pit," a rather ominous nickname the family has given their poolhouse-turned-arboretum. It's a screened-in, rectangular structure with wooden steps leading down to a landscaped area, complete with patio, swing, two hammocks and several benches, plus a frog-and-fish pond with a mini waterfall, framed by tiny shrubs. The rushing water exudes a hypnotic peace. Much like on the Island of the Star in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," nobles could sit down to cups upon its benches and fall into centuries of enchanted rest.

After my busy weekend, that place of deep tranquility and solitude beckoned to me and restored my soul.

In today's sermon, the second in a series on the Book of Proverbs, the speaker opened his message with an analogy about cultivation -- specifically pruning one's character in order to achieve growth -- and my thoughts drifted back to Uncle Rick and Aunt Holly's gardens. How lifegiving they are, I thought, to both the guests and the gardeners.

I found so much to be blessed by while in that Eden. I'm reminded that "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights" (James 1:17), and "He leads me besides the still waters. He restores my soul." (Psalm 23:1b-2a).

What about you? What places on Earth restore your soul?