“Just because you are a little squirrelly, doesn’t mean you are nuts.”
The day has gotten away from me. Most days I keep this blog in mind, trying to plan for what I will write since I promised myself I would write something every day for a year. Most days I have an idea long before 10 p.m. Today, I was so busy I forgot about it completely until 10:40 p.m. I was up at 7:30, fed the new fur baby, did a training and play session with him to wear him out. Once he was secured in his pen, I threw some clothes on and drove Thing Two to school before shopping at Costco and then rushing home to let the fur baby out once again. Then I did some cleaning to welcome my mother-in-law back for her four-month stay in her home downstairs. Immediately following that, I ran to Walgreens (which ended up having too long of a line at the pharmacy for me to get through in time) and then drove back in the opposite direction to pick up Thing 2 from school. I escorted him home, dropped off one car that needed gas, got in another one and drove an hour to the airport to pick up Thing 1 who is visiting for the weekend to meet the new puppy and see his grandmother. After circling the airport a couple times waiting for him, he hopped in and we made the hour-long trip home for a quick dinner. Then we ran back out to Walgreens, which was still too busy, so we went grocery shopping and got gas for his car. When we got home, we exercised the fur baby again, and I finished up some holiday decorating. Now it is 11:08, and with puppy finally worn out, I am writing so that I might actually get to bed before midnight so I can wake up at 6:30 and face another busy day.
Fall is a good time for accomplishing tasks with winter on the horizon and quieter days at home ahead. Our fall is even busier this year because we are in transition, welcoming house guests and helping a high school senior get through his final year, cross-country season, and the college application process. Add a brand new puppy to the mix and you have the foundation for Crazy Town. This is what motherhood is. Still, I would rather be busy than bored when the weather is still warm. It’s a good time to be out and about, taking in the beauty this season of change both in the weather and in my life. I know someday the days will pass more slowly and life will become more routine. So, I am all about reveling in the busy-ness, while looking forward to the day when I can collapse on a sofa, watch the cold weather blow in while I leisurely sip my coffee in front of the fire, and enjoy all I have worked so hard to secure.
I really am a squirrel. I am just trying to get my nuts in order before winter arrives.
Writer’s note for my fellow arachnophobes: There are no spider photos contained herein. This is a safe space, unless you are afraid of large toads.
I love our new suburban home and neighborhood. When we left our house in the city to move into a house with open space behind it, close to two state parks that we adore, I felt I could breathe again. There was space and nature and wildlife. Every morning when I look out my bedroom window, I am grateful. There is only one thing about this neighborhood that I cannot abide. And that is, in the fall, there are spiders. Big spiders. Creepy, long-legged, sometimes even furry, spiders. I get the heebie-jeebies even typing the word. Shudder.
I am not afraid of most creatures. I have no problem with snakes, not even those that live around me and rattle. Mice and rats don’t freak me out. I will catch and release moths that make it into my home. I have picked up toads and had the poor frightened things pee in my hands and didn’t blink. I’ve saved a salamander or two from a window well, and removed a vole or two as well. Even black bear sightings don’t frighten me. But spiders? There is a place in hell for them. And don’t bother telling me how good they are at eating other bugs. Do. Not. Care. Anything with eight legs and eight eyes is straight out of hell.
Tonight as we made our way down the driveway for our evening walk with Ruby, Steve casually called out “Spider,” which instead of making me look away caused me immediately to look down and see the sizable wolf spider beastie on the ground to the left of me. And, even though I knew it was there, I still jumped in the air, squealed, shivered, and exclaimed, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph Christ!” I hadn’t even made it past the damn sidewalk. Spiders like that one are the reason why at this time of year at night I walk in the middle of the street. I try to avoid sidewalks adjacent to open space or fields or even lawns because the spiders who live there are the large ones that hunt. Wikipedia describes wolf spiders as “athletic.” Seriously? Satan spawn. I would literally rather risk getting hit by a car than be in the direct sight line of one of those devils.
As we skirted our way around the spider and walked up the block in the middle of the road, I noticed my heart was racing, my arms crossed tightly over my chest. My eyes were focused downward, looking for the next big, old, disgusting, furry, eight-eyed, eight-legged beastie I might encounter. On the next block up, we spotted a sizable toad we named Jabba. A bit beyond that, we saw a black cat a distance and I heard Steve call out to it, “Don’t you do it,” and it ran across the street in front of us anyway. Other than that, my downward gaze in the middle of the street spied only one large locust. I walked along mumbling about how I just need to make it to October 31st. We usually don’t see them much after that. I made it back home again without another incident. But now I am wondering if I will dream about spiders tonight because that is usually what happens when I encounter one with a body that would take up the majority of my palm if I held it, which I never would because ewwwwww. Shudder again.
I have never been a fan of the fade of summer into fall, but these spider sightings have me ready to put on a sweater, pull on my boots, and get a pumpkin spice latte. As for the spider I saw tonight, well, for him I want to be like Al Capone in The Untouchables when he finds out Elliot Ness has intercepted his bootlegged booze shipment from Canada. I want to stand in the street and tell anyone who will listen that, “I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!”
Okay. Fine. Maybe that’s a wee bit dramatic. But let it be known that as they start to die off in the colder weather that lies ahead, every time I glimpse one of their folded-up carcasses on the ground, I will think about that speech, go gangster, and mentally urinate on their lifeless bodies to send a message to the other spiders who might still be lurking around waiting to ambush me at the bottom of my driveway. You’re next.
“You don’t need to take all of the steps. Only the next one.”
For thirteen years, we’ve lived with a beautiful, anxious, determined, crazy, personality-plus border collie. We have adored her 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time we were wondering what planet she came from and pondering how to deal with her quirks. Dogs are something else. They are furry animals. Animals. And you let them live in your home and sleep in your bedroom. You buy them food and put them on ropes and walk them around outside. You travel with them. They become part of your people family, but they are still animals at the end of the day. Short-lived animals at that. It took us about ten years to understand our border collie, and now we’re on the precipice of losing our sweet baby girl. It’s been a rewarding (and now heartbreaking) journey.
We’ve never had one day in our home without a dog, so when we learned Ruby is losing kidney function we decided it was time to get a second dog that at some point will become our only dog. This is how Ruby came to us. Buddy was our senior dog who began having seizures and other problems. We saw his suffering and knew he wasn’t long for this world, so we selfishly got a puppy to ease our sadness around his transition. A funny thing happened when Ruby came along, though. Buddy (who Luke said was “on death’s doorstep”) suddenly perked up. He initially wasn’t thrilled to have Ruby around, but soon enough they settled into an arrangement. As time went on, Buddy became a bit more active. He played. It’s as if he saw the new dog and said to us, “Hey, hey, hey. I see what you’re doing here. Not so fast. I’m not done yet.” Luke said Buddy “must have drank from the Holy Grail” because he lived a year beyond the seizure we thought would be his end. I suppose now we are thinking that a new puppy might also give Ruby a new leash on life in her final months.
So today we did a thing. We made a commitment to purchase our next, greatest furry family member. Not a replacement for Ruby, as there will never be another dog like her, but a successor. We will be getting a BHT (black-headed tri-color) Corgi from an AKC breeder in Utah before the end of September. When we pick him up, he will be 8 weeks old. He will have been socialized with his five littermates and the breeder’s children, other dogs and pets, and farm animals. He will be cute but he will not look like the dog he will eventually become. He will be an energetic, active, ball of shedding fluff that will keep us awake at night for a while and keep us on our toes for years. We don’t know who this new family member will be or what role he will fill in our family unit, but we know he will bring new life into our home and shake us up. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting as hell. It’a a big commitment, but our kids are grown and we’re ready to experience some youthful energy again.
So, without further ado, meet our future family member, Loki.
Today was D Day. That is shorthand for Departure Day. Today was the day Joe and I began our trek back to Whitman College so he can begin his first full year. It’s a 16-plus hour drive that we break down into two travel days. Today we headed to Boise. It is my third time this year making this 1,100-mile trek. But I love road trips, and time with Thing 1 is at the top of my list of favorite things.
I won’t lie. I cried a little last night. It’s the weirdest sensation to be so happy for someone and excited to hear how their college experience and life unfolds and at the same time be sad for your loss of their daily presence. I could not be any prouder of or happier for Joe. And I am proud of any action I took that helped him achieve his goal of being college ready and getting accepted to a quality, respected institution of higher learning. But, I will miss him tons.
The other day, during another short pre-departure cry, I told my husband that sometimes parenting hurts so much that I think maybe it would have been easier if I’d never had children. But that is just silly because my sons have been the single greatest joy of my life. I would have missed out on all that love, laughter, and learning if I hadn’t been their mother. They are everything to me, and I would not take back one single moment of the life I have led because of them. Not even the ones that made me cry.
Today during the drive I recalled this story. When Joe was about 7, he had a plethora of Webkinz stuffies. One day he came to me with his stuffed rhinoceros. He pointed out a tiny hole in one of the seams on his furry, light blue body. He was visibly sad. I told him I could fix that small hole and he would be fine. Joe, reflecting on how the hole came about, said “I think I must have loved him too much.” As I was discussing this story with Joe and got weepy again. I told him that this is hard because I guess I love him too much. He told me it is all good and I don’t need to cry because he’s not really going anywhere.
This time, I guess, it was his turn to sew up a hole in the thing he loves.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” ~Josh Billings
Our family pet, a beautiful, smooth coat Border Collie is thirteen. We recently learned, not surprisingly because she is 13, that she is in kidney failure. We’ve got her on a special diet and have been doing all the recommended things to make sure she is healthy for as long as she can be, but we know that she is not long for this world. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s part of the great journey each living being undertakes. While losing any pet is devastating, this particular situation is even more difficult because we’ve had this puppers since the boys were 8 and 6. Our girl has grown up alongside our boys, and soon she will be leaving us the way the boys are now that they are grown. I’m grieving her already, the same way I’m grieving seeing our sons grow up and move on. It’s a bit much to pile on one momma’s heart.
Ruby is what my friend Kari calls our “heart dog.” A heart dog is the best dog you’ve ever had. It’s the one that, above all the others, was your favorite. She is very much a typical Border Collie. She is energetic, She is independent and keeps to herself until she is ready to be loved on. And she is wicked smart. When we weren’t training her, she was training us. When she was younger and we had to leave for a while, we would try to put her either outside or in her dog crate. She quickly figured out what the normal course of events were when we were leaving and she would decide for herself where she wanted to stay while we were gone. Once she had made up her mind, we were stuck with her decision. Still, I’ve never considered her stubborn. She’s simply a strong, independent woman who knows her own mind and won’t be cajoled into doing something she’s not interested in. Like I said, typical Border Collie.
As much as it breaks my heart that Ruby is in her final year and as much as I wish we could keep her forever, I know it’s time to start looking for our next pet before Ruby crosses the rainbow bridge. Steve and I have never been without a dog, not for one day since we met in 1993. So, we have been considering what comes next for us. Previously, we owned labs and lab mixes, but we have fallen in love with herding dogs. We are finished with sporting dogs who love to be wet, have no interest in toy breeds who want to be in your lap and sleep in your bed, and are not ready to take on a terrier. Hounds can be smelly and they like to run off after things. We don’t want any dog bred to have a smooshed face and breathing problems, so no pugs, French bulldogs, or Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. And we don’t want any dog that needs haircuts, so that eliminates anything with “oodle” in its name. We’re currently going back and forth between another Border Collie (since I no longer have young children to worry about, I have plenty of time to train, amuse, and exercise a smart, active dog) and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. We’ve thought about a rescue and have rescued in the past, but we’re specifically wanting a puppy, and puppy rescues are hard to come by.
I am throwing this out into the universe. Does anyone have a dog breed we should consider that you can sell us on? Tell us about your favorite dog breed. Why are they the best? Please don’t bother suggesting a cat. My husband is highly allergic. I can’t have him and a cat, and I still want him around.
We will never be able to replace Ruby. She will forever be our heart dog. But, we’re open to finding a close second.
Every night we take a walk with our thirteen year old border collie, Ruby. I like to think it’s the high point of her day. Often the walk is just Steve and I, but sometimes we can cajole the boys into coming along. Tonight we got to enjoy their banter. Luke was world building, designing a college. He calls these imaginings “thought experiments.” Joe was, of course, bickering with him about some of his ideas, and I had to jump in and tell Joe that he doesn’t get to tell Luke his ideas are misguided. I’ve been telling him that for as long as Luke has been his brother.
We often walk the same route. We look for the toads that appear after dark. Tonight we saw a tiny one and a big boy we decided to name Chonk. The moon was full and small clouds glided in front of it intermittently. At one point, the moon had a cloud handlebar mustache.
When the world is crazy, these walks are my zen. Ruby has done her best to keep us going out into the world, even and especially during a pandemic. For thirteen years, she has been our constant keeper. She reminds us how lucky we are to be a family, to have each other, to have someone looking out for us.
Times are changing, though. Joe goes back to college soon. Luke is applying for colleges now too. And, sadly, our beautiful puppy girl is nearing her unfair end. Our days on this earth are the same as the clouds floating over the moon tonight. They’re sailing by, indecipherable from one another, here and then gone.
I said these walks are the high point of Ruby’s day, but they’re actually the high point of mine. They remind me of all the good things still left after childhood’s end.
We have two sons who were born three weeks less than two years apart. We have been fortunate. Our sons have been best buddies from Luke’s arrival. I don’t know how. People used to ask how often they fought. The answer was almost never. They like the many of the same things, but they are not alike in personality so they balance each other out. This is not to say that they don’t bicker, debate, tease, or torture one another. It’s just that it’s never been mean spirited. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They look out for each other. They love each other even when they are acting like jerks.
They are 20 and 18 now, which means they are legally grown. And yet their conversations often sound like the ones they’ve had forever. They love to argue about nothing. They have argued about nothing for as long as they’ve been brothers. Tonight in the car on the way home from In-n-Out, they were arguing about burger toppings. Luke, the purest, said the best burger was the basic one, just meat and bun. Joe’s burger choice, Luke said, was too complicated. Joe thought this stance was insane. A burger with pickles is NOT complicated. So, he began hazing Luke about a burger without pickles. The guys despise anything made with vinegar, but for some reason Joe’s vinegar aversion stops at pickles. Luke finds them disgusting. But, Joe has ADHD and that gives him a superhuman focus when he is invested. He was invested in arguing about pickles.
“What is wrong with pickles?” he prodded.
“I don’t want your vinegar cucumber chips,” Luke snapped.
And they were off. Bickering about nothing after a previous argument that was also about nothing…again.
Joe goes back in college in Washington in two weeks. Although I chided them in the car about their constant arguments about nothing, I will miss hearing them. Don’t tell my sons, but those arguments make my heart smile even as they make my mouth grumble. I think it’s because I know that no matter how old they get or how their lives change and grow, they will continue to get together, make each other laugh, drive us crazy, and squabble passionately about pointless things. That’s just what they do. It’s a gift.
I don’t know that Luke will ever like pickles, though. This argument might come up again.
“All good things are wild and free.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was raised to be an apologist, so forgive me if I apologize for the short but sweet post tonight. I do try to take time to write, but sometimes you have to take time to live.
All is right with the world when you get to spend time with people you love. My sister is in town from Connecticut with her family, and we took them out for a late afternoon of paddle boarding on a nearby lake. Afterward, there were some non-competitive corn hole games, followed by some long walks. Sometimes you get caught up in the busy business of life and you forget the simple pleasures. I am guilty of this too often.
I’m grateful I took time today to be present with people I love, to get out into nature and feel the cool water on my feet while I paddled across a windswept lake, and to remember what it’s like to be free, to be comfortable, to be loved just as you are. I should remember to do these things more often.
Emphasis on the word border. I know my job. I herd. I round the family up. I make sure no one gets left behind and that we all proceed according to a plan. I keep us moving. When I am not herding, I like my space. I am affectionate, just on my own terms. I am reserved around strangers. I am smart, adaptable, energetic, and driven. I know what I want and what I don’t want. And I’m not doing any tricks or jumping through any hoops unless it aligns with my own agenda.
Our dog, Ruby, is also a border collie. I can tell you everything you need to know about Ruby (and, by proxy, me) in a few anecdotes. At Puppy Kindergarten, Ruby would practice the new trick we were working on 3-4 times for a treat. Then she would walk away and curl up in the corner with her back to me as if to say, “I got where you are going with this. I’m done with your reindeer games.” Ruby likes her space. If she is on her bed in the living room and I come and sit down on a chair next to her, she will get up and go to her bed in the other room. We used to try to leave Ruby in the yard when we would go out. Sometimes she would oblige. Sometimes she would walk to her kennel, curl up inside, and obstinately refuse to come out. Eventually, she trained us to ask if she wanted to be inside or out because it became clear she would only do what she wanted. Ruby is my spirit animal.
My husband, Steve, is a Labrador retriever.
He is all the things that have made Labradors the most popular dog breed in the United States since 1991. He is cheerful, affectionate, and active. He loves to be around people and is eager to please. He looks forward enthusiastically to all things, meals, walks, sports, and social activities, in particular. You never have to go looking for Steve. He is right there when you turn around, always. And, much to my delight, he does retrieve things including groceries and my morning latte. He is amiable, sweet tempered, easy going, and happy to a fault. Everyone loves Steve. He is inherently lovable.
Our first dog, Machiah, was a Labrador. I can tell you everything you need to know about Machiah (and, by proxy, Steve) in a few anecdotes. Machiah hated to be alone. She would let loose with the most pathetic, heartbreaking howl when we left the house with her behind in it. Machiah never missed a meal. In fact, an hour before mealtime she began reminding us that mealtime was on the horizon. She ate like she’d never see another bite of food, and then she ate things that weren’t her food or even food at all (including, but not limited to, a lampshade, a bike seat, tissues, and bottles of contact solution). Machiah, in her older years, would rest in the grass in our backyard and let our two year old use her as a pillow. She just wanted to be close to you with her heart of gold. Sometimes I wholeheartedly believe that Machiah lives on in Steve from beyond the Rainbow Bridge.
I write all of this both as an homage to our dogs, past and present, but as a way to explain to you what life locked down in our house right now is like. Picture that exuberant Labrador, full of energy and excitement and love and affection, following that border collie around in 1300 square feet, 24/7. Imagine that border collie slowly realizing there is no place to which she can escape. That is where we are, folks.
In the early hours of the morning, our family got smaller. My dear, 88-year-old father-in-law passed away peacefully at home with his nuclear family close by. It was three weeks to the day the oncologist told him he had perhaps one to six months left. But Jim was always a little impatient and ready to get on to the next thing, so he left us sooner rather than later. He was not one to dawdle and he hated to be late.
I first met him at a restaurant for a family dinner when my husband and I had only been dating a few weeks. That night is largely a blur to me except for the memory of Jim sitting next to Steve at the table. At one point, I looked over and saw he had his arm around the back of Steve’s chair and was leaning in close to talk to him. I knew then that Steve was a keeper. With a loving, engaged, affectionate father like that, how could he not be?
Jim loved to tell a story. At parties, he’d be in the center of a crowd holding court. Sometimes he would tell the same story again, but he’d tell it with gusto as if it was the first time you were hearing it. Not too long ago, he began a familiar tale and we must have given him a collective facial groan because he immediately said, “I know you’ve heard this before but I don’t care. I love telling this story.” And so he did. It was the story of the day my husband was born in a hospital in Geneva, Switzerland. He got to the point in the story where events in the labor room were gaining momentum and he recounted again the nurse saying to the doctor viens vite and then he reminded us again (although we already knew) that viens vite means come quickly. Jim shared dozens of stories with us over the years. And having traveled to more than 100 countries in his life, he was a man with myriad stories to tell. Every painting in the house he shared with my mother-in-law, every piece of decor he’d hauled or sent home from other countries had meaning. He surrounded himself with tokens and trinkets relating to memories.
He loved to buy mementos and gifts almost as much as he loved opening them himself. I’ve never seen a grown man relish gift opening the way Jim did. Christmas will never be the same without him. Each year on his birthday, he requested homemade butterscotch pie, and my mother-in-law would dutifully oblige to create the dessert she says requires every pan in the kitchen. I decided today that henceforth we shall continue to celebrate Jim’s birthday on April 17th with butterscotch pie. Steve and I will also be carrying on Jim and Marlene’s tradition of grog, toasting with a drink at 5 p.m., because it’s important to celebrate every day with the people you love.
It’s hard to overstate the impact Jim had on my life. After a successful career at Caterpillar, climbing up in the ranks to land as Vice Chairman back in the 1980s, Jim enjoyed sharing what he loved with people he loved. He put not only his two children through undergraduate and graduate school, he also paid for graduate school for his children’s spouses. That wasn’t enough, though, so when our sons were born he created educational trusts for them, which have allowed them to attend private schools for children with learning disabilities that Steve and I might likely not have otherwise been able to afford. Jim shared his love of travel with us too by taking us on incredible vacations to England, Norway, Alaska, the Galapagos Island, and the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Then, as if all his generosity hadn’t been enough, he and my mother-in-law flew the six of us to Tanzania last December for a glamping safari because they wanted to hear our stories even if they couldn’t be there to share in them themselves. Because of his generosity, I was able to stop working when our oldest was born and to stay home to raise our sons, to be there for them for whatever they needed, from occupational therapy to dyslexia tutoring. So much of what our little family of four has and is comes as a result of Jim’s kindness.
His show of love and affection didn’t, however, just arrive through financial means. He was loving and supportive always in all ways. He regularly read my blog and when he came upon one he really appreciated or that really spoke to him, he would send me an email. After one post I wrote detailing the struggle I was having trying to decide if or how to celebrate my fiftieth birthday, he sent me this message:
You are being too hard on yourself. Have a birthday party and pay attention to your therapist. You are loaded with good qualities.
My father-in-law gave without expecting anything in return. He never offered unsolicited advice. He never said an unkind word to me or my sons. He was a tall man with a heart that must have taken up 5 feet in his 6 foot frame. He lived his life his way, which was never halfway. I admired that and often dreamed of being able to emulate it.
On the occasion of Jim’s 80th birthday, I wrote him a letter and told him how much he meant to me, how he had changed me and my life, and how grateful I was to be part of his family. It wasn’t much, but it was all I could offer to the man who ostensibly gave me a life greater than I ever dreamed I would have. It breaks my heart to know I won’t hear another one of his stories or get another one of his hugs at the end of the day but, dammit, I am one lucky lady to have been part of his final inner circle.
We’ll see you again someday, Jim. You might have to wait a bit, though, because we want to make it to 88 too. We’re not ready to viens vite.