Catching Up

Standard

Hi there. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. A lot has happened in the past year.

* Our oldest son and his family moved in with us.
* The six of us moved to a larger place, across town.
* I attempted NaNoWriMo and failed dismally.
* My parents built their dream house in the neighborhood we moved from.
* I injured my knee jumping off the stairs and running after grandkids.
* My mother died a month after moving to their new home and my father is now alone for the first time in forty-five years.
* I had knee surgery and reluctantly decided Olympic child hurdling is in my past.

I haven’t written anything other than for work since Mom died. Not a day has gone by during this time that I didn’t think about writing. I missed it terribly. For some reason, I just could not make myself sit down and write anything remotely coherent for a long time after Mom died. I felt I should spend all my time with family. I feel guilty for the times I knew she wanted to see me and I blew her off for something I wanted to do. I thought there would be plenty of time for that after they moved to our little town and settled in. I’d planned to take her to the library and introduce her to some of our local characters. I didn’t get to do any of that, and in fact, I cheated myself out of what time I did have with her. I needed to punish myself for that. However, the longer I go without writing, the more irritable I become. And that’s more of a punishment for those around me than for myself.

It’s been six months and two days. I could tell you the hours and minutes too, but I need to stop counting them. It’s time to let the words out.

The Little Old Man In The Brown Fur Coat

Standard

Monday afternoon, we lost a family member and much loved friend.

Bobby (aka Roberto) came into our lives somewhat unexpectedly.  We had a cat at the time, Clark, whom I’d taken to the vet for a checkup.  It occurred to me as I was leaving to ask the receptionist if she knew of anyone with a dachshund or doxie mix in need of a home.  My spouse and I had each grown up with one, and we felt it was time to bring a dog into our family.  Katie tipped her head to the side, crossed her arms, and examined me over the rims of her glasses for a moment.  I must have passed her scrutiny because she picked something up from under her desk and set it on the counter in front of me.  The something was an odd-looking little brown dog.  A doxie/beagle/Chihuahua mix, he was short for a beagle but tall for a dachshund, with a longish body.  He was brown all over with a darker patch on his back and stray black hairs here and there.  He looked like he was wearing too much eyeliner and had the daintiest little feet.

“How about Bobby?” she asked me.

Bobby cringed and quivered a little when I reached out to pet him.  Katie explained that he was currently being fostered by one of their vet techs.  Prior to that, he’d been abused and someone had actually thrown him over a wall into an animal shelter.  A local rescue group that Katie and the tech both volunteered with had retrieved him from that shelter and they were trying to find a permanent home for him.  Bob looked up at me and melted my heart with his big, brown eyes.  I agreed to take him home for a few days and see how we got along.  She handed me medications for his kennel cough and ear mites, gave Bob a little hug, and we were on our way.

There was a period of adjustment.  Raised voices of any sort – children bickering, one of us calling the boys in for dinner, sounds on the TV- these all stressed him terribly and caused Bobby to shake and belly-crawl.  He almost never barked.  When he needed to go outside, he’d sit in front of the door and patiently wait for it to open.  Very early into his time with us, he had an accident in front of the door.  When it was discovered, he cowered with a look of absolute terror.  He shook and he belly-crawled like he was begging for forgiveness.  Spouse scooped Bob up and told him it wasn’t his fault.  It was our fault for not paying attention and realizing he’d been asking to go out in his own way.  Bob didn’t look convinced at first, but over time, he stopped cowering.  Our boys were nine and four, and had been begging for a dog, so they were thrilled to have him.  He grew on us all quickly, in spite of a few faux pas early on.  Apparently, he had a taste for science fiction and ate a paperback copy of The Integral Trees by Larry Niven.  The only one who wasn’t entirely thrilled with Bobby was Clark.  They got along well enough in the house.  When the boys took Bob on walks, Clark would hide in the storm drain down the street and jump out at Bob to scare the bejezus out of him.  The boys found this startling as well.

There was a redbud tree in our yard with a low branch that started out about two feet off the ground and rose at a gradual slope to about six feet.  Bob liked to jump onto that branch and then walk out on it to see over the fence.  Several of our younger neighbors believed he “climbed” the tree.

A couple of years later, we built a new house.  It had a gas fireplace, and after we moved in, we turned it on and started to explain to the kids how to use it.  Bobby didn’t think fire in the house was a good idea at all.  He immediately put himself between us and the fireplace, barking and trying to herd us to the door.  Spouse showed him we could turn it off.  On…Off… On…Off.  He sat down and looked at us like he just couldn’t believe we would bring such danger into the house intentionally.

Clark refused to come into the new house, and eventually, he left us for another family with more room outside for him to roam (and fewer busy streets nearby).

One chilly afternoon in November of 2000, the boys were at Spouse’s office after school and found two  little black kittens, approximately four weeks old, all alone outside.  They caught one and brought her home to me.  I named her Magic.  The other kitten went to live with Spouse’s sister.  After an initial misunderstanding during which he tried to eat her, Bobby helped us raise Magic.  He bathed her and snuggled with her.  He ignored it when she stood in his food bowl, chewed on his ears, or stalked and attacked his tail.  He was a wonderful mother. He tried to teach her to catch mice, but the training never really took.  Bobby was our mouser when we needed one.  He’d lay his little kills out on the rug in front of the fireplace.  He’d proudly show them off to all of us, but only Spouse was allowed to dispose of the bodies.

During the summer of 2001, we came home on a Friday afternoon to find Bobby crying and unable to stand up.  We rushed him to the vet, where they took x-rays.  It turned out that old injuries from his early life were catching up with him.  He had some disc problems in his spine, and arthritis was forming in his hip.  He was put on anti-inflammatory meds.  Once he was up and around again, the vet advised us to get a younger dog to be a companion for him and help keep him active.  A month later, my oldest son and I were leaving the vet’s office after picking up a refill of Bob’s meds, when we saw a beautiful beagle mix.  I commented to Katie what a pretty dog she was.  Katie told us that Daisy was another rescue and needed a forever home too.  We hurried home and loaded the rest of the family, including Bob, into the car and went to the dog-wash adoption event where Katie told us Daisy would be later that day.  Bobby seemed to like her, and so Daisy joined our family and became HIS dog.  Magic was jealous of any attention Bob gave Daisy.  Her favorite game soon became “smack the Daisy”, wherein she would sneak up behind Daisy and smack her on the butt.  While Daisy was turning in circles trying to figure out what had just happened, Magic would melt into a shadow and watch the show.  Daisy had been abused too, and although she got past her belly-crawling and shaking within a couple of years with us, she was never interested in sitting on anyone’s lap.  We had to teach her how to play and let her know it was okay to sing.  We love “beagle-song”.  Her first family did not.

Some dogs are so much more than an average dog, and Bobby was one of those.  Bob always knew when someone was sad, injured, or ill.  He would take up residence on that person’s lap until they were better.  He was there for the boys during the heartbreaks of adolescence.  He was there for all of us when Spouse’s mother passed away.  He was just a quiet presence, radiating love and acceptance.  He always seemed to understand human emotions so well.  I’m not sure he ever really believed he was a dog. We thought of him as the little old man in the brown fur coat.  When Magic and Daisy would get more serious about their dislike for one another, Bob would stand quietly between them and keep them apart, ending the disagreement.  He did the same with the boys when they argued.

Time passed, we built another house and moved again.  Our boys grew older, graduated, and eventually moved out, leaving Bobby, Daisy, and Magic with only Spouse and me for company at home.

This year, on February 2, our Daisy slipped outside while I was carrying groceries in.  It had happened several times before.  She’d always run a couple laps around the house, maybe sneak into a nearby cow pasture and roll on something horrid.  Then she’d soon return home very proud of herself and very stinky.  This time, she was gone much longer than usual.  We drove around the neighborhood looking for her, calling her name and rattling treats, to no avail.  Expecting her to be waiting on the patio for us, we went home.  No Daisy.  We waited a little while longer, and finally, I heard her baying on the wrong side of the fence that separates our yard from the baseball field.  Spouse went out, opened the gate, and brought her home.  Sure enough, she reeked of something vile.  I hauled her into the bathtub and started to bathe her.  She stood there with a goofy houndish grin, so proud of herself and her new perfume.  Then, she sat down and started to make an odd noise.  It was sort of a growl and a whimper combined.  Soon afterward, she put her head down and was lying in the tub.  I’d never heard her sound like this, nor had she ever sat or lain down during a bath.  Spouse lifted Daisy out of the tub and wrapped her in a warm towel.  We tried to get her to stand up, but she couldn’t.  We called the vet, who rushed to his office to meet us.  She was gone before we got there.  He thought it was probably a heart attack.  I cried for weeks.

Bobby looked for Daisy for the first several days.  Then he started sleeping more and more.  His eighteenth birthday (estimated) had passed shortly after Daisy left us, and we knew that his time must be running short. We have grandsons now.  The youngest is almost two, and he doesn’t really understand how gentle one must be when petting a dog so advanced in age. Bob had lost some of his tolerance, and he’d even nipped at the baby a few times.  His vision and hearing had decreased over the last couple of years. Sometimes he’d catch a glimpse of Magic and launch into a startled barking frenzy. We started leaving a night light on for him. He lost control of his bladder sometimes, so we put his bed in the kitchen and closed him in there at night.  He took this as a serious affront, and we felt terrible for hurting his feelings.  Soon after that, he started looking at us with such an overwhelming tiredness in his eyes.

One afternoon last month, we noticed him thumping his tail in his sleep.  We wondered if Daisy had come to lead him away, but he woke up a few minutes later.  We thought maybe if we gave him “permission”, he’d just go to sleep and not wake up.  We sat with him and told him he’d been the best dog we’d ever known, that he’d helped raise our boys into incredible young men and he’d raised that scrawny little kitten into a fat, cranky, cat. We told him that if he was tired and ready to go, we’d miss him but we’d be okay on our own.  And we’d try to keep Magic out of trouble too.  He gave us a look that said, “Yeah, right.  You’re the same fools who thought bringing fire into the house was a good idea.”

Finally, last Monday, we admitted to ourselves that he was having more bad days than good.  He’d mostly stopped eating as well and was losing weight.  The meds for his arthritis weren’t working as well as they used to, and he walked stiffly. We knew that we were being selfish keeping him here with us when his body was obviously so tired and ready to rest.  We took him in to see the vet one last time.  He didn’t resist when the catheter was inserted into his leg.  He looked confused for a moment as the drug hit his system, and then he put his head down on my arm and relaxed.  I could almost see the pain leave his body.

I hope wherever he is that Daisy is with him.  I hope that there are plenty of rabbits to chase, and no cats jumping out of storm drains to scare him. We’ll always love the little old man in the brown fur coat, and we miss him terribly.

04-17-08_175920130610_161707

20130610_154435-2

Holidays, to each their own month!

Standard
Pumpkins

Image by DrBacchus via Flickr

Halloween lasts the entire month of October for me and culminates on October 31 in a glassy-eyed sugar rush. I love everything about it. Leaves of orange, red, and gold twirling to the ground on a crisp autumn breeze. Homemade apple butter. Caramel corn. Pumpkin festivals. Carving jack-o-lanterns. Ghost stories. Scary movies.  Haunted houses. Zombie paintball. Corn mazes. Trick-or-treating. Hayrides. As a child I had no idea what delights Halloween held. My parents were… well… paranoid, and always convinced that around every corner lurked someone whose sole mission in life was to kill or kidnap me. I discovered Halloween with my own children. I began trick-or-treating at age nineteen and continued until I was thirty. Sometimes, it’s good to be short.

Thanksgiving is pumpkin pie (which I loathe), turkey, and family, and a house full of way too many kids and dogs, but somehow it always works. This year I have to work and will stay home with the Geriatric Beagle Brigade instead of boarding them, while the rest of the family goes to Grandma’s.

I love Christmas.  Visiting Santa Claus. Snowflakes. Watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas (NOT the Jim Carey version) and our other traditional Can’t Have Christmas Without ‘Em movies. Singing Christmas carols in the car (badly). Transiberian Orchestra. Leaving cookies and Kahlua under the tree for Santa – doesn’t everyone do that?? Kisses under mistletoe. Wrestling with unruly strings of Christmas lights. Getting together with family we don’t see often enough…remembering why we don’t visit them the rest of the year. Reciting Twas the Night Before Christmas, which I’ve had memorized since second grade. And the two best things about Christmas for me – joy in a child’s eyes and (drumroll!) Christmas enchiladas.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Notice that I gave them each a paragraph of their own. They should be separate. They each deserve their own month. I don’t want to shop for a new broom and pointy hat with Christmas stockings two aisles away. It just feels
wrong.

On November first, the day after Halloween, my neighbors got out their Christmas lights, their creepy skeletal robotic reindeer, and a giant, leering, inflatable Santa Claus. They’re breathing down our necks with Christmas before we’ve even had our turkey and green bean casserole. It’s just plain rude.

I want to enjoy each holiday as it comes, I want to slow down and savor them all. They’re each different and spectacular in their own ways, with their own memories and traditions. I don’t want to miss a moment.

42

Standard
Its been a while since I was really psyched about a birthday, but I’m going to be 42 tomorrow.  If that isn’t cause for celebration, I don’t know what is.  How often do you get the opportunity to be the answer to life, the universe, and everything?
Douglas Adams has long been a favorite author of mine and in stressful times, I’ve found solace in the hilarious wit of his five-book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy.
42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Lif...

Image via Wikipedia

I love that my 42nd birthday falls on a Thursday.  My house (and planet) have never been razed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, but  much like Arthur Dent, I’ve never quite gotten the hang of Thursdays.  Hang on to your towels and don’t panic, hoopy froods.  This Thursday will be a good one.

Words

Standard

Consider the magic words hold and the power they wield over us. Creepy, spooky, shrieking, creaking, howling – they frighten us. Love, romance, hug, friendship, tenderness– they enfold us in their gossamer threads and comfort us. Words have the power to mesmerize us, hypnotize us.

We can revel in beauty or flinch from horror.

We can make new words of our own. Thank you for showing me this Mr. Carroll, you old Jabberwocky, you. Words can tumble over us like a rushing waterfall. They can be sprinkled around us like leaves falling on a crisp autumn day.

It’s amazing how we can mold meaningless letters into words and sculpt those words into thoughts and emotions. We can express our dreams, our hopes, and our darkest fears.

Words are the chill in the air between two who once were close; the sparks of a new love.

Some words are cold, jagged on the tongue and bitter – racism, greed, hatred. They can curdle blood and chill bones. Other words are fluffy and sweet, cotton candy of the mind that melt the heart – the first time your grandchild says he loves you (“wub ooo, Nonnie”).

At their best, words are gifts, waiting for bestowment upon those around us, unfettered by price tags.

A Suburban Fox Hunt

Standard

One chilly Friday afternoon in April, my young son (then age ten) brought our dogs back from a walk around the neighborhood in a frenzy of baying.  I met him at the door and asked what all the brouhaha was about.  “Oh, “he said, “there’s a fox outside.”

 I stepped out around the garage and looked in the direction he was pointing, and sure enough, there was a grey fox walking unsteady laps around my neighbor’s house.  I began looking for the animal control phone number.  Before I found it, Spouse and the neighbor called to alert me that there was a fox in the neighborhood, and they thought maybe it was sick.  I told them I was trying to find someone to come and take it away. 

 Spouse immediately took charge of the situation.  Spouse and Neighbor Joe climbed in Spouse’s truck together and kept the fox under surveillance during its laps, which had expanded now to include three houses; Joe’s, ours, and the house between, where The People Who Never Spoke to Anyone lived.  Said surveillance included staying in telephone contact with me and barking coordinates describing the fox’s location based on neighborhood landmarks every two minutes.  Neighbor Chris appeared with his crossbow and offered to exterminate the offending fox, but Spouse and Joe convinced him that capture and rabies testing was a better alternative.  Another neighbor appeared on her front porch, with a video camera.

 I was in the house with a child who was in an all-out tantrum because I wouldn’t let him outside to watch the fox.  He finally busied himself by running from window to window trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive animal. 

 Somehow, my cat sensed that this distraction might provide the cover she’d always hoped for to rid herself of the beagle infestation in our home.  I saw her leap out from behind a sofa and land on the head of my most recently acquired dog.  I had no sooner entered the fray and dislodged Magic’s claws from Daisy’s ear when I was summoned.  “Mom, Mom!  Hurry!  It’s under my window!”  I pushed the cat into the laundry room and dashed into younger son’s room where we both smashed our faces to the glass trying to look directly down, under the window.  The fox was indeed there, and it was having a seizure.  Obviously it was really sick.  Or we looked horrifying with our faces pressed against the window and we scared the bejezus out of it.

 I realized we were now thirty minutes into Fox Watch and had acquired three more vehicles of Fox Spotters, including my older son. I called Animal Control to see if someone had been dispatched.  Yes, they’d sent someone, and she had just radioed in that she had picked up our fox. I told them I was watching it have a seizure in my front yard, and no, there was no one from Animal Control there.  They asked for my address again and said they’d send her over to talk to me.  I hung up, shaking my head and returned to the window. 

 The fox was gone, but there was a pizza delivery driver in the cul-de-sac, talking to Spouse and Joe.  The People Who Do Not Speak to Anyone had ordered pizza and, as they were prone to do when there was excitement in the neighborhood, they were peeking out through their living room window blinds.  Spouse called me to inform me about Pizza Boy risking life and limb delivering food to the weirdos next door.  I heard Pizza Boy exclaim, “I’m not afraid of a fox!” and Spouse apprised us all that after much conversation with Joe, they felt the fox might be rabid.  Pizza Boy ran for his car and sped away. 

 And then, Joe and Spouse hatched a plan.  They had our garage door opener and thought that perhaps they could “herd” the fox into MY garage with the truck and trap it.  I might have gotten a bit shrill when they suggested this to me.  Being in the house, I couldn’t see what they were doing and only heard commentary of the event over the phone.

Joe:  Okay, the garage door is open.

Spouse:  all right.  I’m going to ease the truck up there and OH…there!  He’s in the garage.  Quick!

                (Sound of garage door rumbling down)

Joe: Dammit! I closed the door on his head!

Spouse:  Raise the door!  Crap!  Is it dead?

Joe:  No, but it’s having another seizure.

ME:  STOP IT!  YOU ARE NOT USING MY GARAGE FOR A RABID ANIMAL HOLDING CELL!

 And then, miraculously, the Animal Control truck appeared.  The fox stumbled away behind the house between ours and Joe’s.  Child #2 and I finally ventured outside.  The Animal Control officer showed us the “fox” she’d picked up two blocks away.  It was a yellow Chow, and she told us that often, people mistake a regular dog for a fox.  We were all silent and looked at her.  The diseased fox staggered over to see what we were doing standing out in the middle of the street. We pointed to it and informed her that this was the fox we’d called about.  “Oh, I think that IS a fox,” she said, snapping her gum and looking all of twelve years old.  We were not impressed with her zoological knowledge.   She retrieved the Noose on a Stick from her vehicle and walked closer to the probably rabid fox.  The fox looked at her, and then took a couple of steps forward and surrendered. It stood on her foot and poked its head through the noose.  She led it to the truck, pushed it into a cage next to the Chow, and took it away.

 

Cast of Characters

Standard

If you’re new here, you might be wondering about the odd names my family members have.  Their real names are quite ordinary and boring.  And because I love them and don’t want to completely alienate them by airing their dirty laundry on the Internet, I’ve given them all fictitious names.  Except for the pets.  I’m not as worried about alienating them. 

Here’s the rundown:

Spouse or BK – my spouse

Sasquatch or Sassy – our oldest son, age 24.  Sassy is 6’4” of pure drama.  Married to Goldilocks, and father of Moose (age 2) and Bean (age 3 weeks).

Yeti or UncleWookie – our younger son, age 19. Yeti is a normal-sized human, however, he began shaving at the age of 12.  By 14, he had a full beard.  Now, at 19, he’s less likely than I am to be carded buying alcohol. 

Prohibition Shirley – my mother.  Prohibition Shirley lives in a world of absolutes. If you have a bottle of wine in your possession, you’re a wino; a bottle of rum makes you a rummy, etc.  Likewise if you own any rental property, regardless of how it’s maintained, you are a slumlord. 

Mr. Wizard – my dad.  Mr. Wizard has an answer for everything, whether you asked a question or not.  He loves to share his facts (things he made up) with you.  As an added bonus, he’s starting to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s, so you get to hear the same *facts* several times in each visit.  And, squirrels are trying to kill him.  Seriously.

Derf – my father-out-of-law.  His name is Fred, but since he tends to often do things” back-asswards,” his wife started calling him Derf.