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

Quiet, sort of

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This has been an odd six months. My mother’s death has left me more adrift than I had realized. And it is odd to have only two dogs.

There was so much joy at our family Christmas celebrations, it was almost like being in bubbles of love. Watching my granddaughter and her cousins (second cousins, third, whatever) playing and reveling in their big happy family kept all of us laughing. Home is definitely where the heart is, and my family is my heart.

My soul is the dogs. For several years I have been mulling over the best way to tell their stories. I may have found the hook to draw readers in, I need to let it percolate a bit yet. This summer will see hours at the keyboard, recollecting the joy each of them has given me. Even if no one ever reads it, I have to commit these memories to paper for my own well being, as I would not forgive myself if I failed to write each of them a proper memorial. As well as a memorial to all those dogs we could not save, they deserve more than a little recognition.

But for now, the sun is shining, there are chores and errands and two remarkable dogs to feed and brush and play with and laugh with. Just as I cherish time with my human family, so do I refuse to take for granted my time with these dogs. One is 13, the other 8. I’m a very lucky woman.

Seismic shifts

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On June 20, I held the door for my mother one last time as the funeral home personnel wheeled her body out of her assisted living facility.

She was 98 years old. My sisters and I had celebrated with her just two months before. She barely acknowledged our presence, but it mattered to us that we were there to honor her. She had been on Hospice Care and off a couple of times, but we knew that there would not be an amazing rebound this time.

She was born in Chicago, before the Great Depression. Her father held a number of jobs, including with Selig Studios when they were based in Chicago. When the studio was getting ready to move, he was invited to go with them, but his ties to Chicago were too strong. My mother’s best friend was her older sister, who still lives on the North Shore. Mom and Dad married in 1944, and my oldest sister was born while Dad was in the Navy in Hawaii. For about a year, Mom lived with her mother-in-law, which is testament to Mom’s strength and patience. My grandmother was a force of nature.

Eventually, there were four daughters. My parents made sure we had every opportunity: dance lessons, art lessons, voice lessons, tennis lessons. And we couldn’t get our drivers’ licenses until we proved we could change a tire. Mom helped us learn to bake, although cooking for the family was a privilege she held for herself. She survived our teen years, and saw us all off to college and our new adventures. She did it all with a grace and beauty that was incomparable. She served on several charitable Boards, but family always came first.

They moved into a lovely house when I was just a few weeks old, and lived there 57 years. We tried to make sure they could stay there as long as possible, but finally it was time to move them into assisted living. Dad died within a few months, Mom did well for a few years but gradually disappeared farther and farther into herself. She continued to love music and birds and flowers, and pictures of her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The evening of the day Mom died, I closed my eyes to try to shut out the world and process the day. And I saw them, clear as day, dancing, laughing, Mom in a long gown, Dad in his dress uniform, eyes only for each other.

Together again.

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.

 

Cleaning up old drafts

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As I get ready to retire, I am finding a few nuggets stored here and there so I wouldn’t lose them – which often means I don’t see them for years.

After losing Minco this Spring, these few paragraphs are words that I live with a lot. I am finding our new normal, our new balance – one which I will be tossing like 52-card pick-up when suddenly the dogs have me home way more than they’re used to. I think we’ll manage.

The draft that I found, just a few years ago:

 

A friend reminded me a few years ago, that no matter how philosophical or positive or anything else we are, we just want them BACK!

I don’t think they do really leave us. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt Sophia with me, and more recently Faith, too. And though my eyes may fill, that sense of their presence cannot help but bring a smile, too. I remember a catch phrase I used for years with them both, “How did I get so lucky?” And I feel them with me and I hear that phrase again, in my voice, talking to them, hugging them tight to my heart.

We want them back.

They’re still here.

I know she is with you, a paw resting on your shoulder.

Woven into your heart, part of your very soul, one with the air you breath.

Loss of a guardian

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MincoStandI had to say goodbye to Minco yesterday. The tumor on his ankle had become too painful to manage, and his other rear leg could not have supported his weight for much longer.

He was not quite 12 1/2 – so I suppose I should count myself lucky for having had so much time with him, and having learned so much from him. He taught me a lot about ear infections and how to avoid poultry and flaxseed, how to manage resource guarding and an independent thinker.

I had given up trying to teach him to sit, he was simply not interested. But he was watching as I worked with my English Shepherd, and he saw that she was getting REWARDED for sitting down! He kept coming over to try to get in on the treats (without doing the work) and in exasperation I told him to “plant that butt!” And he did. And he got his reward. And he had a perfect sit from then on, the only problem was that I had to repeat that original instruction. We did finally winnow it down to just “plant.”
Minco overcame the loss of vision in one eye, a multitude of urinary crystals, a tumor in his spleen and then Babesiosis a couple of years later. His back end never completely regained strength after the Babesiosis, and he stopped jumping onto the bed about 8 months ago. But he never tired of letting me know if I was moving a half-step slow when it was time to eat. I have never heard a dog scold as effectively as he did. But he also stopped putting his from paws on my shoulders to look me square in the eye to tell me really important stuff.

He was always looking out for me – if I was outside too long he would come get me, or he would watch from the doorway to make sure I didn’t get in trouble. He would always elicit gasps when we walked into the vet’s office, with people exclaiming not over his size, but telling each other, and me, what a beautiful dog he was.
Although he wasn’t a National Anatolian Shepherd Rescue Network dog, Carleen and the group provided a lot of support and patience once I figured out his likely heritage. Thank you for the knowledge you shared. I hope that I have helped pass some of that knowledge along to others who have found themselves in possession of these marvelous dogs.
RIP sweet Minco. I will see your beautiful cheetah run in my dreams.

Beginnings 2014

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It’s hard to grasp the concept of new beginnings with three dogs older than ten years and the “baby” turning five years in two weeks.
I’m still caught in that oh-so-human trap of remembering too much and planning and anticipating even more.
My dogs keep trying to teach me to live in the now. The past is over, it had some useful lessons to teach but it is gone and cannot be changed. The future hasn’t happened and may never happen and wouldn’t it be silly to ignore the joy right in front of my nose!
I’m working on it, really I am.
And I enter the new year with the hope that I will get better at living each day with as much joy as I can muster.
The dogs will help me, I know they will.

They’re much smarter than I am about these things.