Thursday, January 31, 2013

That's a Hard Question

This morning was not one of my better parenting moments.  The two-hour delay at school made things start out fine, but the two year old throwing a colossal tantrum over not being able to wear pajamas to daycare resulted in my throwing my own adult tantrum as well. 

In the midst of these adult tantrums, I always seem to have an out of body experience.  It’s like I can see and hear myself behaving badly,  yet not be able to stop and calm down.  My rational brain kicks in, and seems to shout: “Okay Karah, it’s time to grow up.  Who is the two year old in this situation?”  And sometimes, it’s probably hard to tell.

At any rate, we eventually left the house.  Charlie won the battle.  He’s in jammies today—I’m not happy about it, mostly because I feel like I gave in to his ultra-tantrum.  However, when the temperature is -7, I thought it would be an even greater parenting flaw to let him leave the house in his skivvies.

As we pulled into the daycare driveway, I turned around an apologized to C.  I told him that I was sorry for being mad and using my loud voice.  I told him that I didn’t mean to scare him.  I also told him that I was just a little sad because it’s so fun to have a big boy but it’s hard when my big boy acts like a baby.  Then I looked at him and asked him if he’s a big boy or a baby.  He frowned, cocked his head a little, and stared at me.  I repeated the question.
He looked at me and said, “I’m thinking.” 
            “You’re thinking?” I asked?  “Don’t you know if you’re a big boy or a baby?”
He looked at me with his huge blue eyes and tear-streaked face and answered so sincerely, “That’s a hard question for me.”

And once again, my toddler, with his sweet sincerity and honesty stopped me in my tracks.  You’re right Charlie, it is a hard question.  You're torn between two worlds right now.  You're learning and practicing coping skills, but they don't come easily.  You're learning and practicing independent care skills, but they also don't come easily.  You want to do things on your own, yet you want me right there by your side.  I get it.  But I needed the reminder.  And you know what?  It’s a hard question for me too, buddy.  

Am I a selfless, caring, sacrificing mother and wife or am I a selfish, indulgent, spontaneous college student?  Somedays, I honestly don’t know. I can’t decide.  I kind of want to be both (but a more grown up and classy and tactful version of that college student)—having the freedom to make easy choices but yet allowing someone else the honor of making the hard ones.

As a grown up, I'm supposed to have decent coping skills but I still lose my temper.  I'm supposed to know the answers to things, but I find myself questioning and confused.  I'm supposed to be good at waiting and have skills in being patient, yet I find myself always anticipating that next phase.  Technically, I've been an adult for 17 years... but I still don't feel grown up.   Because being a grown up is hard.  It's filled with hard decisions that affect other lives.  It’s filled with logistical and financial challenges that affect other lives.  It’s filled with choices and gambles that affect our lives.  So when I think about that question, “Am I a child-like girl or a grown-up woman?” I honestly have to agree with Charlie and say, “That’s a really hard question for me.”     

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Moving on...

January has 31 days.  That's it.  Just under five weeks.  Only four weekends.  Only 744 hours.  Yet January 2013 has felt like a lifetime.  Several lifetimes.

The weather has been so unusually lovely that you can actually feel the sun warming your cheeks.The weather has been so harsh it literally takes your breath away when you step outside.   The weather has been so foggy that you cannot see more than 100 feet in front of you, and you just trust your knowledge that the road you're traveling really is leading you to where you're supposed to go.  The weather has set record high temperatures on the same day as record lows.

And our Spahnville world seems to have mirrored this January weather.  Our year started off ordinary enough, only to be dealt a sad hand.  Rays of sunshine filled moments, just like the sun actually peeked through the massive clouds for a day or two.  The breath was honestly stolen from my chest early on with one loss, just like the sub zero tempratures made me gasp for air upon walking outside.  When given news of another loss, somewhat more elusive and much more confusing, I felt like we were alone, traveling in the most dense fog imaginable; not having any proof that I'm on the right track, only trusting that I'm somehow going to emerge from the fog. And trusting that when that fog lifts, we'll be right where we're supposed to be--whatever track that is.  My emotions mirror these crazy Iowa forecasts, extreme highs and record lows.  I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for the gifts in my life, yet deeply sorrowful about those gifts I've lost.

Out of those 31 days, our Spahnville hearts have been heavy for all but a few.  But like the winter days, the darkness will eventually end.  The weather will warm.  The fog will lift.  And when it does, we will be ready for some happiness.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rays of Sunshine

So 2013 kinda started off with a little heartache in Spahnville and I know that the last few blog posts have been a bit depressing.  It honestly wasn't my intention to produce a tear-jerking post, but writing about the loss of Maddy just seemed to help me put my thoughts together a bit.  I have plenty more dog-related themes to write about (funny how when you lose something, it tends to take over your thoughts) but I wanted to shed a little sunshine on this blog to brighten things up for the moment.  And what better place to get sunshine than..... California?!

Shortly after my grandmother died last May, Mason & I decided that we really needed to introduce C to his paternal great-grandmother-- who happens to live just outside San Diego.  We booked the trip last fall--conveniently planning it for January.  (Although we didn't know it at the time, January also happens to be the off-season for tourists in San Diego, which meant that the zoo and Sea World were nearly isolated and totally line-free.)

After M spent an entire morning dealing with the lovely American Airlines (who so politely cancelled one of our flights without any notice-- thus sticking us with a near 6 hour layover in Chicago---um, no thank you) we finally rearranged our entire flight itinerary with shorter layovers.  However, the new schedule meant that we departed from Des Moines, a two hour drive for a 6:00 am flight.  (We opted out of staying in a hotel because, well, those of you with little kids know that littles require a ton of $hit to pack/ unpack/ load/ unload and they don't really sleep well in hotels anyway.  Seemed like a lot of extra work for not really any extra sleep)  We were wishing that when we popped C into his carseat at 2:30 am he would just fall right back asleep.  But seriously, that would've been too easy right!?  (My mom used to say, "If wishes were fishes, the sea would be full." Ah, how true.) Our little cherub sat bright eyed during the entire ride to Des Moines.  He looked out the window, hummed quietly, even talked about going on the airplane.

Wednesday, January 16
So fast forward about eight hours.  We made it through two flights with a tiny little layover and were on the ground at standing at the car rental counter before 11:00 California time.  (Keep in mind that this was 1:00 our time, so all three of us had been awake for about 11 hours at this point.)  Our fingers were crossed that we would be able to check into our hotel early but again, "if wishes were fishes...".  Since three totally exhausted people had about 4 hours to kill in a city they barely knew, they decided to get some lunch and explore a bit.

The weather was gorgeous so we walked down the street from our hotel and lunched at the first restaurant we saw, "Red Sails Inn Restaurant".  They had a beautiful patio out back, which overlooked a jam-packed yacht marina.  Definitely not Iowa, folks.
Hey cute Sailor!
Charlie looks thrilled, doesn't he? 
 After lunch, we drove around town and grabbed some groceries for the remaining few days.  C finally fell asleep during our drive, so we decided to meander through the Gaslamp District and downtown San Diego for as long as possible.  Although C wasn't in the happiest of moods upon awaking, he was up for checking out the Children's Museum for awhile.  When the museum closed at 4:00, we headed to our hotel and situated ourselves.  The hotel (Humphrey's Inn & Suites) was gorgeous (I'd highly recommend it!) and our room overlooked their own private marina.

The view from our bedroom patio door.  
Since we were soooo sleep deprived, we ordered pizza for supper and hung out in our suite for the evening.  Our little night owl kept right up with us, and finally fell asleep nearly 20 hours after first waking up.

Thursday, January 17
C surprised us and slept incredibly well-- didn't even wake up until close to 7:30 on Thursday morning.  After telling him about visiting the zoo and Sea World the previous day, he had been asking, "When we go see the am-inals?" non-stop.  The drive to Balboa Park was only about 15 minutes from our suite, and C loved driving up the steep hill on Laurel street.  Once at the zoo, C was mesmerized for the next six hours.

First family vacation photo--thank you kind strangers! 
I turned the corner and caught them dancing-- cameras just don't do justice to this type of memory. 
"I love this Pola Bear"
"That one's really huge!"
Too busy looking out to take a picture. 
Perhaps the highlight of the trip for C:  "The mama giraffe peed and the daddy giraffe ate her pee!" (Thank you Mason for the Biology lesson about why animals do this.  I'm sure C will now be ahead of the curve in 10th grade.)
Zonked.  Sleeping with his new friend, "Little Binga".  
That night, we headed down to SeaPort Village to eat.  I really wanted to eat seafood, so we ate at a huge restaurant right next to the USS Midway, called "The Fish Market".  Had M & I been alone, we would have opted for the 2nd floor "fine dining experience", but considering that this was a family vacation, we chose the more casual first level-- still with great views and amazing food.  The three of us were stuffed and brought home plenty of leftovers to tide us through the next supper.

Friday, January 18 (Sea World Day!)
After seeing the am-inals at the zoo, C kept talking about the whales and dolphins.  Fortunately, he was in luck because we were planning on visiting Sea World the following day.  My parents took us to Sea World Orlando when we were kids and I remember wanting to be a Marine Biologist for the next several years (only until I did a 4-H project at the Vet's office in 7th grade and passed out three times and realized that maybe animal medicine wasn't going to be for me).

We arrived at Sea World shortly after it opened, and as we walked through the gates we saw "Shamu" walking out to greet people. We just happened to be standing in the exact spot where he took pictures with people--what luck!  Of course, C doesn't care to have his pic taken.  We did anyway-- a mama's gotta scrapbook, right?

As I mentioned earlier, there were people at the park but it certainly was not busy.  We were able to view Shamu up close and personal with no crowds.  I'm pretty sure the three of us were totally awestruck watching the 6000lb whale gracefully swim by us.

After watching Shamu, we headed across the walkway to the dolphin pool.  We heard a lot of laughing and splashing going on and noticed that the dolphins were eagerly playing with the onlookers.  They were racing around the little pool, "talking" to the visitors, and randomly jumping out of the water.  With so few people there, we had a chance to get close enough to touch them-- though we kept our hands to ourselves.  I know I've mentioned this before in this blog, but it always amazes me how much joy can come from watching your child experience something so joyful.

Silly Face!
C was in a great mood and quite the trooper throughout the day, but it was pretty clear that exhaustion was setting in.  He was just so awe struck by every activity that he seemed to power through his irritability.  He even made it through the Shamu show and the Sea Lion show (which was, probably more entertaining for us).

He loved the sky tower, which rose up 400 ft above the park and gave us a great outlook of the surrounding area.  He loved the shark aquarium, which allows people to walk through a “tunnel” where the sharks and fish swim all around you.  He loved the penguins and especially loved the sea turtles.  We were all losing energy but decided to go for one last ride on the Bayside Skyride across Mission Bay.  Again, there was no line so we hopped on and enjoyed a solo ride across the beautiful calm bay.  It was gorgeous and serene, an amazing way to end a day at Sea World.

Someone fell asleep in the car and didn’t move a muscle when we lay him down in bed with his new friend (who had the "pointy thing on his back").

After C’s short nap, we threw on our suits and headed down to the pool.  The water was pretty chilly but we enjoyed a quick dip in the pool before C’s teeth started chattering too much.  

That night, we went down to SeaPort Village, hoping to find a pedi-cab to cruise around in, but never saw one (usually they are parked everywhere!).  Like most things, this ended up working out fine as it gave us the chance to tour around on foot, check out some shops and street performers, eat a little ice cream, and ride the historic carousel. (Best Charlie quote from the night: C: "If I be good I get chocolate ice cream?" Me: "Yep"  C: "But if I be naughty I have to eat white?") 

Stealing kisses in public
He was he got chocolate. 
Saturday, January 19—Meeting Great Grandma!
We woke up Saturday morning with enough time to stroll the walking trail alongside the bay.  It was another beautiful day and several other people had the same idea.  (Charlie quote: "It's beautiful outside Mommy!") We checked out an art show, petted friendly pups eagerly taking their people on walks, and watched hopeful fishermen cast their lines into the bay.   We wrapped up our walk and hopped in the car to head over to M’s aunt’s house in Santee.  

Our drive was uneventful and we arrived pretty much on time!  (Those of you with littles know how much of a victory this alone is—especially while on vacation)  M’s grandmother was so excited to meet Charlie, and he warmed up to her within seconds.  She happily watched him play on the floor with his new toys from his Great Aunt Bobbie.  We chatted while C played and the time slipped by incredibly fast.
Four generations-- wish we had Grandma Carol in this picture! 
M’s grandma took us out to eat at an amazing authentic Mexican restaurant (I wanted to eat seafood and Mexican while in San Diego—mission accomplished!)  We had planned on heading back to Bobbie’s house after lunch, but it was pretty clear that C was ready for a nap.  After three full days of crazy fun-filled days, his energy reserve was definitely draining quickly.  In fact, he was asleep before we even hit the highway back to SD.  

That afternoon, we tried to swim again but the water seemed much cooler.  So, M hopped in and took orders from his son in an effort to entertain us.  (“Swim there Daddy!”  “Jump in Daddy!”  “Go on your back Daddy!”  “Go upside down Daddy!”  “Put your feet out of the water Daddy!”)  We clapped and cheered after each “trick” and I felt wave after wave of love watching my husband (who isn’t the biggest water lover) willingly swim and bob around in a less than warm swimming pool.  The things you do for your kids, right? 

Once the sun dipped down, we headed back to our room to start to get things organized for our return trip.  We ate leftovers and packed up the things that we could.  Although we all were tired, we headed back downtown one last time—and found a pedicab waiting just for us.  The driver took us on a 30 minute ride (which we didn’t really ask for—and cost a bit more than we imagined) past the ships and boats parked in the bay.  When we passed the Midway, C pointed and yelled, “It’s Amazing Mom!”   It was perhaps, one of the cuter phrases he mentioned on the trip.

We had such a fun little night on the town, the atmosphere was light and happy and the three of us were soaking up the moment.  As we headed to bed that night, I think we were all ready to be back home, despite having had a great trip.  C had been asking, "When we go to our other house?  I want to go to my real house. I want to see Keira." (daycare friend) so it was pretty obvious that he was ready for some 'real life' too.  Our flights back on Sunday were uneventful and rather smooth.  Although it was an extremely long day of travel, Charlie did great (thank you O'Hare for providing a giant play area-- you literally saved our day!) and happily surprised our fellow passengers with his good behavior.  

When my head hit my pillow in our own bed that night, my thoughts drifted to the trip. I experienced waves of gratitude for having the resources to be able to take such a trip, for having a loving husband who made the trip not only fun but more relaxing for me, for having a happy and healthy little boy who can experience travel like this with no complications.  I think traveling is such an important thing for children to experience and while it's definitely challenging for parents, I'm so glad that we took the plunge and experienced San Diego together.  It definitely was a trip that won't soon be forgotten.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

And so Hard to Lose

Well friends, it's 4:00 in the morning, and I'm sitting here in a very quiet house, with heavy eyelids and an even heavier heart.  Yet I can't sleep a wink.  You see, the problem is we have too much room at the foot of our bed.  I can move my legs in any direction I want, and only bump into Mason-- not the warm 80 pound heater that usually snores softly near the footboard.

As you facebook readers are well aware, we said goodbye to our sweet beloved Maddy this afternoon and in the words of my husband, "while I knew this day would come, I had no idea it would be this hard."  My heart is aching, my head is throbbing, and the tears just keep coming.  All this over a dog?  Absolutely.

You who knew Maddy knew what a sweet dog she was.  Her legacy is definitely her incredibly huge heart and caring/ loving personality.  She loved her people-- that was clear in the kisses she showered us with from the time she was a puppy.  In fact, her incessant licking sometimes irritated us because we could hardly pet her without her licking our hands and if she was especially lucky, our faces.

We always joked that Maddy would have been a terrible watch dog, for anyone who came to the door was immediately greeted with a wagging tail, a good sniff-out, and some stolen kisses.  (Then she was told to lay down and quit bothering the poor human at the door).  We also joked that while they say dogs are loyal, we were pretty sure Maddy would have taken off with anyone who promised her a trip to the trail or anything covered in peanut butter.

She had a few favorite places on Earth.  At the top of the list would be our little nature trail, only about a half mile from our house.  In her younger years, we'd easily walk to the trail head, but as her hips bothered her more and more, we later opted for the short car ride.  While the car ride only took seconds, Maddy pranced around the back of the vehicle whining madly in anticipation of our destination.  When the hatch of the van was finally opened, she literally sprang from the vehicle and tore off down the trail-- only to suddenly stop and investigate a new smell.  Her other favorite place had to be Mason's family cottage in Northern Wisconsin.  Every time we made the 8 hour trek, she would perk up about 30 minutes prior to our arrival.  Her tail would begin to wag and she'd start sniffing the air-- making sure we had really just traveled to where she was hoping.  Once there, the smells must have overwhelmed her because she never could get enough exploring and was constantly begging to go back outside.

Our Maddy was such a gentle soul.  Of course, she had the energy of a pup for her first few years, but she never was hostile or aggressive and rarely barked.  Her defenses were always up when she was on a leash but we never once saw her nip or snap at another person or animal.  Like most dogs, she would often choose to spend her evenings lying on the floor while we watched tv, or as she grew older, she chose to hang out on our bed more and more often.  We loved cuddling, and before Charlie was born, we cuddled up on the couch all the time together.  After we bought new furniture, she wasn't allowed to sit up there and cuddle with us-- and I'll always feel like this traumatized her just a little.

And no matter where we were in Spahnville, Maddy was near.  She was our door greeter, our bakery tester, our insta-vacuum.  She was our bed heater, our exercise partner, and our silent conversationalist-- somehow communicating with us and tapping into our moods so easily.  She was a huge presence in this house.

And now, this house feels so incredibly empty.  When we came home this afternoon, the quiet was almost unbearable.  And even though I knew she was gone, something drove me to run downstairs and check the couch, her chair, her rug-- just in case.  I then headed up to our bedroom, glancing quickly under the kitchen table as I passed by, with the slightest of hopes that I'd find her lying on our bed and start thumping that labrador tail as soon as I entered.  Of course I knew that I would find the room exactly as we had left it, but that didn't stop me from hoping.

I feel a physical pang in my chest, thinking about the times I ran into our room to grab something, only to ignore her tail wags or hopeful eyes looking up at me.  Or the number of walks I didn't give her, or the times I procrastinated filling up her water bowl because I was too busy or too lazy to do it right then.  I ache when I recall the times I yelled at her in frustration for her over-eagerness prior to walks or her constant begging when I needed to get something made in the kitchen.

I'm trying so hard to remind myself that she had a good life, probably even a great life.  She was warm and well fed and never ever unwanted.  Her people loved her like one of their own-- until they had their own and realized that maybe she wasn't quite a human.  She was a part of the family, not just a Christmas morning gift or spur of the moment idea.  She walked with us, played with us, traveled, hiked, swam, ate, and slept with us.  And now my memories of her are all twisted up in this messy knot of pain and love and happiness and regret and satisfaction and torment and peace.

We knew it was time last night.  After having that little ray of sunshine on Tuesday, she regressed a little each day.  Her food bowl and water bowls sat untouched and her physical pain seemed to be harder and harder for her to deny.  She had taken to lying quietly in the snow when she was let out the back door, (when usually she repeatedly tapped on the door to be let back in).  We tried to pet her and nuzzle into her, but she would pull away-- the familiar "Lab Lean" (where she would slowly and gradually lean into you until she was basically sitting in your lap) was gone.  She panted heavily and never seemed to get comfortable.  When she refused to eat people food, we knew.  (What lab turns down yogurt or peanut butter or toast?) When she started refusing to take the pills Mason had picked up, we knew she was letting us "know".  Forcing our sweet girl to take medicine that didn't really help heal her, but was only keeping us from saying goodbye to her was not fair.

The two of us lie quietly in bed and made the decision to call the vet in the morning.  We both shed tears as we thought about saying goodbye to she little puppy that helped create this beautiful Spahnville family.  When our vet told Mason that panting is a sign of pain and distress, we knew (we know) that we had made the right decision.  But unfortunately, knowing you made a right decision does not filter down and shut the heart ache off.

I somehow made it though four hours of work before coming home to my pup, one last time.  When I went downstairs, she hopped off the couch and trotted toward me-- familiar lick and sniff-- before heading past me to be let outside.  All was good for a few seconds, and then the sickness hit her again while she was outside and I saw my sick puppy instead of my healthy girl.  I asked her if she wanted to take a trip to the trail-- just the two of us-- just like old times.  She cocked her head to the side, as if contemplating the question.  She didn't perk her ears up, didn't stand up, didn't really move, just waited for me to repeat the question a few more times.  When I started to put on my boots, she jolted into awareness of the offer and waited patiently at the door (again, not something our healthy girl would do).  We drove to the trail in silence-- no prancing, no whining.  Just both of us quietly looking out the window-- like this is a nice normal thing to do at 1:00 on a warm winter day.

As she hopped down from the van, I left my phone in my pocket and vowed not to take any photos.  I wanted to just watch her-- to be in the moment with the dog that truly had brought so much joy to my life.  I watched her smell, explore, roll.  I watched her splash.  I watched her walk in soggy mud-- drenching her soft coat in mud and sand and dirt.  For the first time ever, I didn't scold her about getting into something-- just let her enjoy this moment.  We walked further than we have in a long time, ignoring the possibility of irritating her hips-- after all, she would be 100% pain free in less than an hour.  And even though I felt happy to be giving her this long walk, I could see her struggling.  Her energy was lacking and her body was shaking.  Like any good lab, she powered through it, but it was clear that she was not the healthy girl that would have spent days out there if given the chance.

It was time.  Her body was slowly being eaten from the inside by the cancer.  It was likely that her stomach was covered in ulcers-- thus the lack of eating and trouble keeping food down.  It was probable that her kidneys and liver were going to stop functioning soon.  It was her time.

But it wasn't our time for her to go!  Damnit!  I want her here.  I want her to be lying on the floor as I type this.  I want her on my bed, on my couch, on our floor.  I want her to beg for food, to shed all over the place, to loudly pass by Charlie's room right as he falls asleep.  I just want her back.  I want to hug her, to kiss her, to nuzzle into that amazing coat she had.  I want to whisper to her that things will be all right, that we love her more than anyone could possibly love a dog.

And, I need to be thankful for the fact that I had the chance to do that.  When we said goodbye to her today, the vet gave us some time after giving her the anesthetic.  She was so peaceful, breathing slowly and steadily. No panting.  No drooling.  No shaking.  Just our sleepy girl, feeling no pain.  Mason and I cradled her head, whispered our goodbyes, assured her that we'll never ever forget her, told her that we loved her.  And told her that we loved her again.  And then, with tears running down our faces, we hugged each other as we let go of a huge piece of our family.

I'm told by some that this hole in my heart will heal.  I'm told by others that it will never completely heal, but will fade a bit with time.  I logically know that both of these are probably true.  I know that I'll have good days and difficult days to come.  I know that the good will eventually outweigh the difficult.  Thank you to so many of you who have reached out to us during this time.  It truly means the world to both of us.

(Pictures from our "Celebration of Life" party we had for Maddy on Tuesday)

In memory of you, sweet girl.
April 2003-January 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


After three days of being on an emotional roller-coaster about the upcoming decision we need to make regarding Maddy, we had a glimmer of light yesterday.

Monday was a terrible day for her.  The vet had warned us that the cancer had probably already spread to her organs and once it affected her kidneys and stomach she would have some problems with eating and controlling her bladder/bowels.  Mason and I had decided long ago that if our pet ever lies on the bed whining in pain, or becomes too sick to control their functioning, we're making "the appointment." So on Monday, when Maddy hadn't eaten anything for almost three days and had vomited in several places, we thought we were surely closing in on that date.

At one point, Mason called up to me from the basement, "You need to get her outside!" and I ushered Maddy quickly out the door.  She had gotten sick in the basement and had momentarily lost a little bowel control.  Now, I have friends who have dogs that poop on the floor when they're mad or if they haven't been out in four hours, but Maddy hasn't had an accident like that since she was a tiny puppy.  And when that happened on Monday night, she looked at me like all of her dignity had been stripped away.

When I opened the door for her to come back inside, she slowly crept toward me and then, rather than coming inside, she just lay down on the snowy deck.  She looked at me with those adorable brown eyes (you know the ones-- the ones that made us fall in love with her in the first place) and just put her head in my hands.  It was one of the more sadder moments in my life.  I asked her to come inside, reassuring her that she wasn't in trouble, that she's just a very sick pup.  Still, she resisted and chose to quietly lie on the deck in the still, peaceful, night air.  She eventually moved down to the grass and stayed there until I bundled up and went out a few minutes later.

I won't bore you with the details of "our" conversation, but as I sat in the snow with my sick baby, I told her all the things that have been running through my mind the past three days.  I told her that she was the best dog anyone could ever have (even though she's the only dog I've ever had), I told her that she taught me so much--about so many things, I reminded her of so many happy times we spent together.  I apologized to her for losing my temper when she rolled in nasty dead animal or when she ate my favorite underwear.  I swore to her that I'd be with her until the end and that Mason & I would  keep her as comfortable as possible as long as she let us know when it was time.

And then, as if she understood everything I just said, she laid her head in my hands and closed her eyes.  In some ways, I wish that had been her moment-- it was so peaceful and quiet and serene.  We sat like that for what seemed like hours, until Mason opened the door and mentioned something.  Eventually, both Maddy and I made our way inside to spend what I was certain was one of our last nights together.

But yesterday, our vet gave us a prescription to help with her stomach pain and vomiting, and asked us to increase her allergy medicine to help with the irritation of the tumors.  And by yesterday afternoon, she was beginning to liven up a little.  The three of us took her out to the nature trail, perhaps her favorite spot on Earth next to our Wisconsin cottage.  We had a little "celebration of life" party for her and she seemed in good spirits.  That night, she even sat under the table at supper and begged for food like the good ol' days.

Experiencing Tuesday was like a breath of fresh air.  I know this journey is not over yet, but I needed a little reprieve from it at the moment.  I'm fully aware of the fact that heartache and pain lies ahead, but seeing this little glimmer of light made me remember Maddy  the way I really want to.  My other stress lies in the fact that we're taking a 5 day trip to California in a week.  Knowing that Maddy is so sick, and evaluating her health on a daily basis makes me super nervous to leave.  We've decided that if she becomes really ill right before the trip, we'll make the appointment before we leave.  But assuming that this prescription keeps her feeling better, we'd ultimately like to wait to make that decision.

Very few things on this Earth seem to have good timing at the moment we are experiencing them.  But usually, when we reflect back on moments, we notice that the timing wasn't that bad.  I know that we'll somehow get through this time, and regardless of what happens and when that happens, we'll eventually look back and realize that the timing somehow worked out.  In the meantime, we're back to "one day at a time", and hoping for a few more little glimmers to get us through this transition.  Thanks to all of you who have sent kind words and messages, -- they mean more that you can imagine!

"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole." 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

So Easy to Love...

I'm going to try to make this brief, or I'll be in tears for the rest of the day.

On Friday morning, M called me at work to confirm the worst suspicion we had about our Maddy's current health.  This is the e-mail I sent out to my "Maddy-friends and family":

Recently, we've noticed that Maddy's "personality" has shifted a bit.  She has wanted to spend her time on our bed or downstairs, when she used to always be wherever we were.  She also has developed several tumors over the past few years but they've always been benign fatty deposits-- very typical of labs.  Within the past month or so, she has developed several tiny little tumors and shortly before Christmas, they started to multiply really quickly.  They seem to really irritate her skin and bother her.  

Mason took her in to confirm what we kind of already were suspecting and the vet got back to us this morning.  She had consulted with Iowa State and diagnosed Maddy with a mast cells cancer.  This is a really aggressive cancer that moves very quickly.  Our options are pretty limited--  we could try to treat her with chemo but it's super expensive, very stressful, and doesn't even have a high success rate.  We could also remove the tumors, but they are likely to return in other spots and the chances of her surviving surgery at this point are not really promising either.  So, it looks like we're just going to keep her on pain meds and monitor her on a day to day basis.  

Maddy has been with us since we picked her out of the litter when she was 9 weeks old in the spring of 2003.  We have no idea if she is going to be with us for a matter of days or months, but regardless, we're going to try to make her remaining days happy.   I know she's had an awesome life, probably better than some of the kids that I work with, but it doesn't make the idea of a "Maddy-less" house any easier to think about.  Mason and I aren't really prayerful folks, but if you are and wouldn't mind sending out a little request that her last days/ weeks/ months be happy and pain-free, that would be awesome.  

I wanted to mention this change that we're starting to experience, but know that as soon as I start thinking about our home without Maddy, I'm paralyzed with grief.  And she's still with us!  It's crazy and doesn't make sense.  I keep telling myself, "She's just a dog, she's not a person" but anyone who has ever loved a dog, knows that those words are just not true.  I honestly don't think I've ever met a kinder soul than Maddy (even though she's probably not the brightest brain I've ever known).  She's been with me through some major transitions and she's spent so much one on one time with just me.  We've logged miles upon miles on the trails and hours upon hours on the couch together.  I have ten years worth of Maddy memories and they just keep flashing through my head on this cruel automatic replay that won't turn off.  Chances are that Maddy will only be with us for a few more weeks, maybe a month.  Her spirits are still high and her tail is still full of wags.  I've promised to walk her every day that I'm physically able for the rest of her life--so I'd better get outside on this beautiful sunny winter day.  

Making time for kisses during a snowball fight

Walks down Denton Road-- our favorite retreat in Wisconsin

My best girl.  

13 in '13

I consider checking off 7 of my 12 goals in 2012 a total success and I know I wouldn't have accomplished them had I not written them down.  (Did you know that writing down your goals in a spot for others to see immediately improves your chances of completing them by over 90%?)  So, after a bit of thought, I've come up with my list for 2013.

This year, I again want to focus on doing things for me, but I also want to work on a few other things, and also spend some time on the relationships in my life.  Specifically, I want to: learn something new, continue something I made progress on, create something new, organize or refurbish something, connect with someone, train my body/ get in shape for events, help those in need, be healthy, and enjoy the spare time I have.  And based on those large categories, here's what I've come up with:

1.  Learn Something New.  I'd like to learn how to paint with watercolors-- more than what I learned in kindergarten.

2.  Continue something I made progress on.  Scrapbook-- I made a lot of progress on C's traditional scrapbook by working on it once a month.  Plus, it gave me a much needed creative outlet so I plan to continue this as well.

3.  Create something new.  For the year 2013, I want to start a digital scrapbook of our daily life.  I'll leave the traditional scrapbooking to big trips or events.

4.  Organize something.  Videos.  Starting in 2013, I'd like to download our short videos once a month and burn them to a dvd.  Sounds simple enough.  Right?

5.  Connect with Someone.  Send Birthday Cards. I'm terrible about sending b-day cards.  Horrible, actually.  I'd like to do better about sending cards to my immediate family members and nieces and nephews.  And ideally, they'll arrive on time.

6.  Connect with Someone.  Write letters.   I liked this task last year and think I can do better in 2013.  I especially want to write my grandmother more often as she'll be 90 this month and I'm sure the mail is always appreciated.

7.  Train for something.  I loved doing the triathlons last year and would love to complete another one this year.  But I've kind of lost sight of 5k's and how much I enjoy participating in them. This year, I'd like to complete 3 5K races. (Red Flannel, Run Like a Mother, and Snow Shuffle)

8. Help someone in need. Volunteer.  For something.  I need to make this specific but I haven't really decided how or in what capacity.  Plus, volunteering at this moment in my life is also a logistical difficulty and so I'd like to volunteer or help in a place where Charlie can come with me.  (this makes it difficult--any ideas?)

9. Be healthy. Plan Meals/ Make freeze ahead meals.  I stumbled across this website: and I want to order at least one month's worth of recipes.  I love cooking but I hate meal planning.  And I hate the cruel and grouchy ogre I am when I'm in the middle of racking my brain for another weeks' worth of meals.  So perhaps this would help?  They tell you what to make, what to buy, and you cook all your meals in one day and freeze them.  Sounds enticing....

10. Be healthy.  Plan and prepare healthier versions of snacks for C.  More fruits and veggies, less fruit snacks and chips.

11. Enjoy spare time/ Connect with others. Plan new activities to enjoy with C.  This will require some preparation on my part, but if I get in gear, I should be able to make a list for each month.  Then we can do one "new" experience or craft each week.

12.  Enjoy spare time/ Connect with others.  Rent 12 movies to watch with M.  We used to watch tons of movies/ tv shows but ended up canceling our Netflix because we rarely watched anymore (again, life changed after C!).  But because it's hard for us to do an actual date night every month, I want to try to at least do a movie night with him.

13.  Enjoy spare time.  Read 20 books.  I read 27 in 2012, but sometimes I felt like I "had" to be reading, just because I needed to reach my goal of 25.  I think 20 is a more reasonable goal, and better pace for me to finish comfortably.

Of course, I have a few other "to do" types of things that I really want to accomplish this year (finally set up C's college account, get our wills updated, organize the storage room, tackle the front yard work,  always have an organized junk drawer, etc. etc.) but I'm going to try to not get hung up on them if they are on my list at this time next year.  Wish me luck!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Goodbye 2012

So 2012 has come and gone and before I list some goals I have for 2013, I'll reflect on the goals I set for last year.  I'm not really one for "Resolutions" but I do like having goals.  (I'm honestly not really sure of what the difference is though) I don't do well with telling myself to drink more water or lose some weight, because I tend to get hung up on the fact that I've failed after one day.  And often, I get these thoughts in my head about things I want to do or accomplish, only to never actually start them.  By creating my 12 in '12 list, it gave me a map of what I really wanted to do during the year last year.

After 2010 and 2011, I really wanted to focus on me.  I know that probably sounds selfish, but during the first two years of C's life, I really sort of lost sight of me.  I rarely did things that I had enjoyed before C was born and as a result, felt really off-kilter.  So as I created my 2012 list, I wanted to include things that involved hobbies, health, our home, and recreation/ relaxation (isn't it bad that relaxing has to be a goal?).  Here's how they turned out:

1.  Scrapbook regularly -- YEP!  I have met with a group of ladies in Aplington on the 2nd Friday of most months to do some scrappin'.  Of course, I'm not caught up with anything but it's given me some time for myself and has reminded me of how important it is to for me to have a little crafty outlet. 

2.  Train for a race.  YEP!  Thanks to my friend, Carrie, I trained for and completed a sprint triathlon in June.  It made me remember how much I love them, so I trained all summer for another one which I completed in September.  

3.  Organize my iphoto library/ old photos.  Um, Sort of.  It's getting closer and now that we have a new laptop I have much more memory storage so this will go on my list of things to do in 2013 as well.  

4.  Work on my children's book illustrations.  Nope. Not even close. 

5.  Learn how to knit a Christmas stocking YEP! and NOPE.  (I learned how, but failed to finish the actual thing)

6.  Help someone in need.  Oooh, kinda.  I really needed to be more specific with this one.  I helped out but not in a giant way.  I will tweak this for 2013.

7.  Take a vacation.  YEP! We traveled to Arizona as a family of three and M & I got to enjoy spring break up at the cottage and a weekend in the twin cities by ourselves.  It wasn't Jamaica, but it was time alone and much needed. 

8.  Learn how to use my dslr camera and Photoshop.  YEP!  So glad I took the class-- it's amazing to think I had absolutely no knowledge of my camera this time last year.  

9.  Spruce up the guest bedroom.  NOPE.  Again, not even close.

10.  Write more letters.  YEP!  I'm pleased that I wrote almost a letter a month.  I don't think I quite did 12 letters, but I"m pretty sure I wrote around ten. 

11.  Play weekly golf in the summer.  NOPE.  I tried, really I did, but things just didn't work out.  However, I did play more golf than the summer before which makes me happy.  And, the three of us spent plenty of time on the golf course and I don't see that changing in the future!  

12.  Take the 2012 goodreads reading challenge again!  YEP!  I read 20 books in 2011 and made a goal of 25 in 2012.  At times, I thought I'd never get to 25, but I ended up reading 27 by the end of December.  (I'll post the list eventually)  

So overall, fully accomplishing 7 out of 12 goals makes me happy.  And kind of accomplishing 2 of the goals is cool too.  I revisited this list throughout the year, and tried to tend to some of the things on it.  It helped remind me of the things I wanted to accomplish during the year.  So tonight, I'm hoping to put together something similar for 2013.  13 in '13 perhaps?  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Merry! Merry! (Part 3 of 3)

So my little C had been sooooo excited to go to his cousins "Savalin's House" and "Meelia's House" on the 29th.  Even though we had been going strong since Christmas Eve, he still had energy left in his bank that he was ready to spend on his cousins.  Of course, it helped that he slept the entire way to Dubuque-- which made him ready to rock when we arrived at M's brother's house.  (After his requisite ten minute warm-up period)

After that,  he and Sullivan were pretty much attached at the hip for the entire night.  It was fun for me to watch them together-- everything Sullivan did was mimicked by Charlie.  They played, they ran, they jumped, they air-hockeyed, they ran some more.  Amelia got in on some of the action, but the boys kind of tended to themselves, marching around the kitchen, sticking out their bellies, chasing through the living room, and jumping off the furniture.

As I watched them, I thought of my own cousins-- especially families that frequently visited my grandparents (because then we saw them too!) and the memories I have of playing with them.  I remember roller skating down my grandparents long hallway with my cousins, playing ping pong in the basement with my cousins, and being treated like a  "little sister" to some older boy cousins that had no little sister of their own.  As I reflected, it dawned on me that these are memories Sullivan will probably have for years, and soon C will be able to remember these moments too.  And while we reprimanded them for jumping off the couches, I know that those will be the kinds of things they remember the most.

After a bit of energy had been expended, we ordered pizza-- the perfect meal to have on a movie night.  The pizzas arrived, and were quickly gobbled up--with only a piece or two spared.  Perhaps the best part of ordering pizza is the lack of cleanup required-- which meant we could move right on to the good stuff-- presents!

He really is a happy elf, I swear. 
Of course, with three kids involved, the gifts were opened in record speed-- and everyone seemed pleased with the contents of each package.  The kids played a bit while the grownups got settled for the big movie event: The Polar Express.

M's brother and sister-in-law have a home theater in their basement.  It's complete with theater lighting, floor shakers, a row of actual movie theater chairs, and a more comfortable row of leather La-Z-Boy recliners (Guess where I sat?) I missed the beginning of the movie, but I'm told that C climbed into his movie chair only to have it fold up on him.  After the initial sadness about his chair-- and being given a pillow to avoid future foldings, he was a happy camper.  I had no idea how long C would last for the movie-- it could have been five minutes or the entire thing.  (I was kind of guessing it would fall somewhere in between) But he surprised me and was glued to the screen for the entire movie.  In some ways, I think that he had a better attention span than his 7 year old cousin! I sat behind C and could watch his interest in the story about a little boy on a Christmas train adventure.  It was pretty clear that he was mesmerized by the whole thing.  At several points during the movie, Sullivan reached over and tousled C's hair or gave him a hug or even a few kisses on the cheek.  It was super sweet and made me remember what this season is all about.

While we watched the movie, M joined his brother for a plane ride (Jeff recently received his pilot's license and has been doing quite a bit of flying).  I opted for a ride another day-- but the pics and video that M took so make me a bit more intrigued about climbing aboard.

The Instrument Panel of the small plane
Lights over Sundown Ski Area
Unfortunately, the movie was over by 8:00, which meant that C wouldn't be falling asleep for another 3 1/2 hours.  (Yes, you read that correctly-- this mama was not happy by an hour into bedtime but I've already explained that.) We had a nice and relaxing pre-bedtime moment, which was followed by the disaster that is starting to be known as "falling asleep".  However, like it tends to, sleep eventually came and we all rested until the sun came up.

The next morning, we dined on pancakes and banana bread (two favorites in our house) before packing up our things.  We still had a gift for M's other brother's family and planned on dropping it off on our way out of town.  However, schedules allowed them to pop over for a minute to exchange gifts before they had to get on with their day.  It was nice to be able to see the other cousins as we don't get together as often.  We left shortly after they did, and grabbed a bite to eat on the way out of town.

By that time, it was clear that C's energy bank was completely depleted.  I think he had over extended himself.  Tiny things were setting him off and his usual coping mechanisms were not working at all.  At one point, he put his head on my shoulder and cried, "I wanna go home! I wanna go to my house!" Our plan was to head to Des Moines for New Year's Eve, but it was clear that we were due home.  I called my friend to cancel postpone our celebratory plans and promised to reconnect when things had settled down a bit.

As predicted, C zonked out in the van minutes after hitting the highway, and his mother was asleep not long after that.  As I dozed off, I thought about the miles we covered over the past week, the faces we saw, and the fun we had.  I'm not complaining about the amazing gifts I received, but I'm with most adults in acknowledging that the best part of the season is being with those we love most.

After arriving back at 201, we had a nice evening at home and prepared for the worst as bedtime approached.  Much to our excitement, our cherub only took about 30 minutes to fall asleep-- and was sleeping two hours earlier than the nights before (9:30!!).  We're not hoping for any miracles but another 9:30/10:00 bedtime would be a great way to ring in the new year! 2012 ended on a sweet note, and I have a feeling 2013 has some good thing in store too.  Stay tuned....