Stepping onto the soapbox

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Too much, lately, mortality has crept into my consciousness. It happens as we age, and sometimes that means taking a stark look at the world around us.

When we are young, we feel invulnerable, as well we should. We are surrounded by nurturing families, if we are fortunate enough, and we have the capacity in youth to bounce back quickly from our assorted scrapes and bruises. As we age, those bruises take longer to recover from, and the promises of the future become less all encompassing. These days, children are robbed of some of that invulnerability as they see peers gunned down in the streets and even in school. That theft of their optimism and hope is tragic. When I was young, the Viet Nam war took away optimism and faith in the future, but now the thief has come way too close to every home, much closer than a faceless war machine. It’s hard to know these days how to keep our children and grandchildren safe.

We cannot depend on our democracy to keep us safe. Our beacon for the world has dimmed. We seem to have forgotten that our participatory form of government requires our participation more than once every two years, more than just making marks on a ballot. We have to be engaged, active in the decisions that affect us all.

We can complain all we want about the old white men in Washington, but WE are the ones who put them there, rather than finding and supporting new voices and ideas that match our own.

Of course we’re angry! We have been divided into us and them, and that’s just wrong. How do we make the world better for the generations to come if we don’t look for common ground? How do we help our neighbors, our communities and our country if we are focused solely on protecting our own little piece of the pie? How do we encourage peace and prosperity if we feel like someone else’s basic human rights somehow take away from our own?

This has been a difficult summer and fall. And I’m just as guilty as the next guy of hunkering down and trying not to get too badly bruised by what’s going on around me. We live in interesting times, and it’s scary. But it has always been at least a little scary. Change happens, and it’s unsettling.

But it shouldn’t be stealing the invulnerability of our children and grandchildren. They need to know that we, ALL of us, are working to make this a better, safer, more humane world for them and their children and grandchildren. That’s our job. And it’s time we stepped up and did it.

Vote. Volunteer. Participate. Foster the change for the better that you want. Tell the people you elected (even if you didn’t vote for them, they’re still supposed to represent you) what your concerns are and what ideas you have to make things better.

We have all been coasting for too long, hoping that somehow we can avoid crashing if we close our eyes and pray, but we forget to use the steering wheel.

If we work together, and it will take active, hard work, if we realize that this is not a zero-sum game, we can change our futures. We can give children back their invulnerability. We can even reduce our own bruises. And we can all have a better future.

/off soapbox

Changes

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Over the past couple of years, the one constant has been change. That’s actually normal, but it hasn’t felt like it has been possible to achieve any ‘new normal’ in that time.

Two beloved dogs have died. I retired. I have watched my mother retreat into a body and mind that have both failed her.

Now that I am spending more time at home, I’m beginning the process to quit deferring all of that deferred maintenance on the house. And trying to clear the stacks of debris that accumulated all those years that too much work and all of those dogs allowed me to ignore the paper and miscellany that kept propagating mysteriously all over the house. And working my way through the books that have waited so patiently for attention.

But uncontrolled change keeps popping up, too. One of my dogs is not aging well. The other two, while healthy and active, are also reaching ages where concerns and expectations are different. Each day is precious.

Sometime in the next week or so, I will become a grandmother. I am thrilled beyond measure, which makes it hard not to harass my son for constant updates. Or hover. They will need to find their new normal with as few external pressures as possible. I just hope that this new family knows how much each of them is loved. Beyond measure.

May all new normals be filled with joy and hope and love and laughter.

 

Choosing joy

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It has been just a little more than a year since we lost my Dad. There are still the occasional waves of sadness and loss, but mostly there are smiles and gratitude.
Smiles because of the love and care he lavished on his family. He was not particularly demonstrative, but we always knew he was there for us and that he would help us learn and grow. And we always knew that he loved us.
And he loved dogs, especially our dogs – first the dogs we got when I was three, and then the dogs his daughters acquired over the years. Even on those days he was confused or in pain, his face would light up when one of us was there with a dog or two.
I miss him terribly, and I always will, but he also taught me the importance of joy, in the big things, certainly, but especially in the little things.
The sound or a tennis ball hitting square in the middle of the strings,
The sight of a moose calmly walking through the woods (as long as we were out of range),
The lovely patterns of the petals of a rose opening to the morning sun,
The grace of a dog running with abandon just for the sake of running. With joy.
My father rarely spoke of any hardships or troubles or sadness. He chose to focus on the good things in this world and making as much as he could possible for as many people as he could – especially for his family.
He chose joy.
There is still sometimes a tear or two as I indulge in these memories, but more important is that I remember the love and the joy, not the sadness.
He taught us well.
I choose joy.

Calm

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It always amazes me the difference it makes to spend time with lots and lots of dogs – and the people who love them.
Having just spent a week at a National Specialty show, I find that I am calmer, happier, and far less reactive.
Granted, the dogs I spent time with are happy-go-lucky people lovers, calm and elegant dogs with remarkable spirits.
That they are willing to share so much of their spirit with us, mere humans that we are, is what is truly amazing.
Perhaps the reason they are so short-lived is related to the parable of the boy saying goodbye to the family dog, refusing to lament that he is losing a dear friend:
The vet who was there to euthanize the dog was trying to comfort the family when the child said, “I know why animals don’t live as long as people.
“We are all put on the earth to learn to love and make others happy. Animals are born knowing how to do that, so they don’t have to stay here as long.”
They give us love and joy, asking so little of us in return.
They are treasures, blessings to our lives, if we will only just stop to see it.

Thanksgiving – a hard year, and yet…

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This is going to be a very odd Thanksgiving.

A year ago my sweet Sophia was diagnosed with cancer and I lost her less than three weeks later.

In July we moved our parents into an assisted living facility near two of my sisters and both Mom and Dad promptly ended up in the emergency room. The move meant leaving the house where they had lived almost 60 years, the only home I had ever known until I left for college.

Though both parents bounced back from the stresses of moving, in October Dad died, and I’m not sure that I have really gotten through even the first few steps of grieving.

In March I welcomed Hagar into my home. He’s settling in, finally, still a goofball, still a challenge at times, but a sweet, silly Berner boy.

And I remain thankful, even in the midst of grief and stresses and a complete lack of time and organizational fortitude, for how incredibly lucky I have been.

I got to spend more than 57 years with the support and love of two of the best parents anyone could hope for. They have challenged me, helped me, guided me and given me a foundation in life that I have been privileged to pass on to my own children.

I have three of the most remarkable sisters on the planet. We often disagree about the little stuff, but we all understand the importance of family and being constructive and being there for each other. I don’t think any of us could have gotten through the difficulties of this past year without each other.

I have sons of whom I am unapologetically proud. They forgave my mistakes in childrearing and embraced the lessons passed on through me from my parents, and have become thoughtful, considerate, wonderful young men. I’m not sure exactly what I did right, but I’m so glad I did.

And then there was Sophia.

As I approach the anniversary of her death, I feel her loss more strongly than ever. She was my beautiful silk scarf, a little exotic, a little fragile, definitely exquisite in her grace and joy in life. We had a bond that was born of struggle, as we worked through her pain aggression, her food allergies, her hip and elbow dysplasia and finally her cancer.

She taught me patience, determination, forgiveness, and faith. She approached each day, even when I knew she was in pain, with such courage and strength that I was in awe. She knew how to stretch the envelope – whether helping convince my vet that a raw diet was not some sort of fringe cult behavior, or helping me learn about canine health, positive reinforcement, and not leaving eyeglasses or Pringles cans or First Editions of books out where a curious puppy could get to them. After all, exploration is the the start of knowledge!

Even with four other dogs in the house when I lost her, and then the addition of Hagar, I miss her more than I can begin to say. As a friend wrote when she lost her own Berner, as much as she appreciated how lucky she was and as much as she appreciated the outpouring of sympathy and support, she just wanted her girl back. I still wish I could give her one more, ten more, 100 more hugs, hand her a few more turkey necks, cajole her a few more times to come back inside so we could go to bed.

But she isn’t coming back. And it hurts.

I still feel so lucky to have shared almost eight years with her. I know that few people have the kind of relationship with their dog that I had with her. I still see her, hear her, sense her presence in times of both quiet and chaos. I know that she, like my parents, my sisters, my kids, will always be a part of me, a part of who I am and what I do, and for all of them, I give thanks.

Thank you for being here, for sharing so much with me, for helping me be a better person. Were it not for the love, there would be no grief.

 

What a shame

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So it was well past time to clean up the in box, so I ran quickly through a lot of news alerts and saw a rather interesting phenomenon.

Those who don’t like the animal protection laws (basic welfare, folks, we’re not talking about treating dogs like people) either scream that the existing laws shoulda just been enforced or they try the old, tired argument that there aren’t enough laws to protect children so why are we worrying about animals.

Well, guess what! We can protect both! What a concept!

There is no need whatsoever for anyone to keep several hundred dogs, breed the females every cycle and ship the puppies to pet stores or across the country through internet sales. Someone with several hundred dogs is unlikely to be keeping up with the latest regarding the health issues for their breed(s) and probably won’t endanger their profit margin by actually conducting health testing and breeding only the best of their dogs.

Gee, it would cost more to make (and keep) healthy puppies! Yeah, and it would cost the consumer LESS in the long run to buy healthy puppies – dogs without dysplasia, allergies, heart murmers, PRA, kidney problems, breathing difficulties – the list goes on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned the costs of treating dogs for cancer.

Just think, if a commercial kennel (oh, sorry, they like to call themselves “professional breeders.” Thanks, but I’d rather get my dogs from someone who breeds to create the best possible, and healthiest, examples of the breed because they are breeding for the love of the dogs rather than the love of the money. Look up the root of the word ‘amateur.’) spent an extra $200 for some simple health tests on a breeding female, and  was able to get three litters of six from her, that extra cost was just over $10 per puppy.  But I guess that would be too much to ask of someone asking hundreds of dollars for each pup.

Lord knows the commercial kennels don’t want to share the costs of the inspections that need to be done, but it seems only fair. Heck, states and municipalities could consider assessing a fee for each puppy sold or brokered to help fund the local shelters. They’re helping create the mess, they can help clean it up.

Then we get to that argument about the children. Yes, there are children living in conditions that are deplorable. They should be helped. They should be safe and cared for and educated. Child welfare laws are a wholly separate issue from animal welfare laws, unless, of course, you’re breeding for profit.

But the so-called self-anointed ‘professionals’ would decide that the lawmakers were trampling on their property rights again. With the animals or with the children. A living being is not the same thing as a refrigerator. Special care and consideration is due to those entrusted to us.

Dominion is not strictly ownership – is it also benevolent *care.* But there you go again – that care might cost a few extra bucks per dog.

What a shame.

Age? Really?

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I keep trying to figure out what ‘old’ means.

When I was a child, anyone over 20 was old.

When I was in my teens, I couldn’t trust anyone over 30.

When I went to college, my world was made up mostly of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

This week one of my nieces celebrates her 40th birthday and one of my sisters celebrates her 60th. My sons are in their 30s. My parents are in their 90s.

I try to imagine retiring. Even early retirement is at least five years away, realistically retirement is on the other side of several mountains.

But I don’t *feel* old. I may tire more easily and sleep less soundly, but there are still several lifetimes’ worth of things I want to do.

My dogs certainly keep me active, which I’m sure helps…

I am surrounded by college students and lots of other people younger than I – I sometimes wonder who they see when they look at me. Some old fart who gets in the way? Or someone with some experience and expertise who can teach them something and smooth their transition to the next phase of their lives?

Maybe I should spend more time in front of the mirror, but there isn’t time for that and, aside from making sure I won’t scare children and horses, I’m ready to face the world in whatever shape today has given me.

What scares me is seeing some people in their 30s and 40s who seem old to me – not by virtue of wisdom but because they seem exhausted and disengaged from life. They seem to have lost sight of how much fun, how rewarding and challenging and lovely life can be. I worry about them.

Maybe they should get a dog.

Routine/Mandatory circumcision?

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You have got to be kidding.

But no, apparently the CDC is preparing a proposal that would make it mandatory for all boys born in the US.

Frankly, I am so stunned I can’t find words for all that is wrong with this idea.

http://www.examiner.com/x-16813-Legal-News-Examiner~y2009m8d24-Circumcision-to-become-mandatory-in-the-United-States

http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/features_momsatwork/2009/08/us-circumcision-hiv-aids-routine-universal.html

Deep breath…

Okay, the NY Times article that apparently started the fuss doesn’t go quite as far as mandatory – but does use words like ‘intervention’ and ‘promoting routine circumcision.’

This is a case in which benefits need not only outweigh the risks, there had better be a clearly demonstrable reason.

This is just so wrong…

Family changes

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My sisters and I have had to overtly acknowledge some things recently that – while we have known them intellectually – we have always kept the emotional reality at arm’s length.

Our parents are mortal.

We will never again live, as a family, in our old house.

We may visit a few times over the next few months, but mostly to remove the few remaining possessions we have kept there.

Our parents are in their 90s. They are strong, proud, stubborn individuals who find a great deal of their strength in each other and in the family they have created together. They worked hard to raise their children properly, during some times when raising a watermelon would have been difficult.

Based on what I see of the next generation, they managed to pass a fair amount of wisdom along (maybe it skips a generation).

But things change and in our efforts to keep them safe and healthy and comfortable, it seemed wisest to move them from that house into an assisted-living apartment near where two siblings live and where my parents can get the care and assistance they need.

And they both ended up in the emergency room.

They have recovered from the rigors of the move and are settling into a routine. They have some of their own things there (furniture, pictures, dishes and the like) and they are adapting.

But the crises of the past week, even though over, brought us face to face with mortality and loss. So, naturally, each of us bottled it up as long as we could.

It is so easy to focus on the next task – in part because there are so many that demand our attention. But each of us needs to set aside some time to say goodbye to our old home and to the youthful faith that our parents would always be there for us.

They won’t. They would if they could, but they can’t.

They raised us to be strong, self-reliant, fair, and stoic. If you were going to cry, you’d better have damned good reason.

I think we do.

I suspect that my siblings and I will each weep alone once or twice over the next few weeks.

And when we all walk into the house that no longer is home to our parents, I suspect that we will all weep together.

As a family.

Family fortune

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There really are times I can’t believe how lucky I am.

I had a reasonably normal childhood, raised by parents who loved me and my sisters, we all seem to have developed into kind and thoughtful and generous adults and even our kids have turned into wonderful adults!

And we all love dogs!

I don’t know what it is that allows some individuals to have ‘normal’ lives and others have lives filled with tragedy or high drama or despair or pain. I don’t think anyone’s life is actually easy, you just don’t live very long without *some* challenges. But perhaps it is similar to the reactions of dogs (you knew that was coming, didn’t you!) – a self-confident dog will remain calm though alert and will not escalate a situation unless necessary. A shy or fearful dog will over-react or under-react, often with dire consequences that will just reinforce that dog’s sense that the situation required a stronger response.

Perhaps it is also because we have always known that no matter what else might happen, our family would always be there for us, that has allowed us to approach our lives with a confidence and calm (okay, *after* our teen-age years) that we have been able to pass along to our children. I know that when I was raising my sons I always knew that it was important for them to know I was there and would always be there for them, no matter what. I think they know they have my unqualified support and love, just as I have always known (at least as a child and then as an adult, let’s just forget my teens) my parents would be there to stand behind me and beside me and to help me get back up if I stumbled.

Yeah, I’ve been known to make some pretty stupid decisions, but I also always knew that even when I did make a mistake, I could find a way to fix it – or at least make some repairs and continue on life’s adventures.

I wish everyone could know the kind of support and love I have known and that I have tried to pass along as best I could.

It was the best gift our parents could give us, and we have been wrapped in that gift as long as I can remember.