Not a Bad Year

Mark and I squeezed in a bit of Christmas shopping last night ahead of our nightly visit to his dad in hospice. As we drove, I was feeling a bit reluctant. We had been to see Bob the night before and his breathing sounded so labored. He’d startled from his sleep a couple of times, waking with a fearful look on his face and grasping at the air before settling back against his pillows again. A nurse had come in the room to observe and listen, and her concern was evident. I was downright scared, having a hard time staying put in the room, afraid I was going to watch my father-in-law die in front of me and not knowing if I was strong enough to deal with it. When I mentioned this to Mark last night, saying I wasn’t sure I could go back, he insisted his dad was only snoring. But I know that to some degree, Mark (understandably) only sees and believes what he wants to where his dad is concerned these days.

Mark looked over from the driver’s seat as we headed to the hospice facility. He asked if I was going to be okay, and I said yes. I said I’d just walk out to the hospice’s great room if I didn’t think I could handle watching and hearing Bob struggle for breath again.

We were almost there, driving under the lights lining the dark highway, the bright lights of oncoming cars shining in our eyes. We were quiet for a moment and a series of thoughts flashed through my mind. We’ve both been doing some heavy thinking lately.

“It’s been a bad year,” I said to Mark, thinking not only of his dying father, but about my parents and their struggles with age and health. I was also thinking about our kids. Both Brad and Kacey experienced broken hearts this year, as each saw the end of a long-term relationship.

I’m grateful that Kacey appears to be moving on so remarkably well, but worries about Brad have been heavy on my mind, even though almost six months have passed since he broke the news to us. He didn’t suffer a mere break-up. His engagement ended. They’d been living together for several years and shared a dog. And when she moved out of the apartment, she left a lot behind. Their joint lease didn’t end until the end of last month, but she had yet to come claim her belongings and still had a key to the apartment. She would be graduating from her program this month and most likely moving to wherever it is she finds a job.

Brad expected her to come clean out her belongings by the end of the year. When I asked what he wanted for Christmas, he told me, “Tupperware. Pots and pans. Kitchen utensils.” He joked that we might buy him furniture. He was certain that he would soon be left without the necessities of daily living, because so much of what fills the apartment was hers. My biggest fear was that she would take the dog. Although Brad had made it clear he didn’t intend to give up the dog, she was just as insistent she would not either. Custody of Dacotah has been a big question all these months. Dacotah has been Brad’s constant companion and comfort as he’s begun to rebuild his life. I’ve worried endlessly that he would suffer even more heartbreak if he lost her too.

Mark and I have each tried to talk to Brad a few times in an attempt to help him protect himself as best as possible, not only with Dacotah, but in the division of their “stuff.” But he didn’t want to talk about it with us. His time with his family, he said, was a time to forget about all the hurt and pain. He’s an adult, and we knew it wasn’t really our business if he didn’t want to talk with us. Still, I wanted to protect my “boy” and make sure he could keep his dog. I could help him regain new belongings, but I knew I could never replace Dacotah if he lost her.

This week finally saw the day we’d all been so worried about, and all I can say is I am grateful to his ex. Brad called Mark yesterday and told him it was done. She took only her bare necessities and left the rest for Brad. She left her key on the counter and sent him a message saying everything else was his. Most importantly, she left Dacotah. I know she loved that dog every bit as much as Brad does, so I know it wasn’t easy in the least for her to walk away one last time. As much hurt as has come from this break-up, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to her for that last act of generosity.

All of those thoughts went through my head in the span of a few seconds as Mark and I made the short trip to see Bob. And I corrected myself out loud to Mark. “It hasn’t been a bad year. It’s just been a challenging year.”

“It’s been a good year,” he agreed. “With a lot of challenges.” He was right. If I count all of the blessings of the year, they would far outnumber the bad things.

A lot has been proven to us this year, to me especially. I’ve experienced a transformation of self within the last six months that brought with it an explosion of faith, hope and belief like I’ve never known before. This came almost out of nowhere, and I’m not entirely sure why it happened when it did and to the extreme degree that it did.

Actually, I do know why. I’ve been looking for it for years and my eyes and heart are finally open. It doesn’t matter why or how. All of those years of struggling to find what it is I really believe – even whether I believe – are behind me. And now I know. I had to get past the idea that I had to believe and practice faith only in the way and in the places I’d been brought up to believe were the only options. And once I’d cleared that tremendous hurdle, it was all so clear.

Almost overnight, my sense of skepticism disappeared. The lack of self-confidence that I’ve carried around all of my life to some degree has almost melted away. The tightness of constant worry I’ve always felt in my chest? Gone. (Most days!) We’ve had some pretty tough experiences this year, but I feel like we’ve climbed to the top of a mountain. I no longer hope that my family is strong enough to handle adversity. I know it. My sense of doubt is quickly disintegrating. My ability to believe in other people comes so much more easily. Amazing how different people look when you believe in them instead of doubting them. I’m astounded too at how easy it now is to know that if I want something in my life, I only need to believe it’s possible. And I’m impressed every day, how often like-minded people cross my path.

Before we walked into Bob’s room last night, I said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t be afraid. And when we walked in, his breathing still sounded very labored. But he was sleeping, and somehow seemed more calm than the night before. We didn’t stay too long before we left to take Mark’s mom home and head back home ourselves. It’s always hard walking out of Bob’s room. I never know if he’ll be there for us to visit another day. He’s going to leave us soon, but I know he’s going to a better place. I know it! Bob told Mark the other day that he’d visited with his best friend Howie. Howie passed on a couple of years ago and I now know he’s let Bob know that he’ll be there to greet Bob and walk with him when Bob is ready to let go of this world. This whole experience is helping me to know that people in our lives will come and go, and we’ll be just fine.

Meanwhile, I am ever so much more grateful for the simple good things in life.

 

Spoiled Rotten Dog

The me ten years ago so would have yelled at the me today for allowing this to go on. This is not good for her health, not to mention the begging it is sure to encourage. I should remind Mark that when Lucy up-chucks by the back door, it will be his responsibility to clean it up.

Of course, I try to keep Kacey in the loop with the canine antics at our house. So I sent her the video. She wasn’t pleased.

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I told her I was only trying to protect her teeth. She called me a fun-sucker. Probably was true of the me back then. The me now is most definitely not a fun-sucker. It just gets a little easier to relax when the kids are all grown up and the only one left to spoil is a four-legged cutie.

Sling-Shotting and Flying

Fall poked its head in this week. The nights and morning have been downright chilly. Long sleeves and light jackets have reappeared, but I’m refusing to retire my sandals and flip-flops before the end of this month.

I had big plans for my Saturday. After having been on vacation through last weekend, I was looking forward to a day at home to restore order around the house, restock the groceries and get the laundry under control again. And then I was reminded of a saying. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I was anything but at home yesterday and my chores weren’t tackled nearly to the degree I’d hoped. My mom is having a rough time and I ended up trekking her to and from a couple of appointments, and made a trip to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription. And then because Mom was feeling so under the weather, I took my dad to his church for five o’clock mass where he was on deck to preach and then went back to pick him up later. It occurred to me that I might have just stayed and spent some time in church, but I didn’t. It’s been years since I regularly attended and I was grateful Dad didn’t ask about it. I’m sure it bothers him greatly, my drifting away from his faith, but I appreciate him respecting my choice by leaving it be.

I ran on the treadmill at the gym last week, finally conceding to the mornings that have grown steadily darker as the summer days wane. But this being Sunday, I was happy for the luxury of sleeping until the sun was already up, with no particular schedule to meet. I could run outside again. Lucy was thrilled, though she about drove me nuts as the hound portion of her mixed breeding kicked into high gear and she stopped to sniff the scents she’d been missing all week. Her four legs have this crazy ability to stop dead in her tracks without her toppling over. My gears need time to gradually slow before stopping. We must have been a sight, the two of us, with her pulling up short to investigate every single ever-loving smell. And me sling-shotting past her time and again. I think it’s time for Lucy to start having daily walks that are separate from my runs. I’m pretty sure this stop-and-start business is impeding any forward progress I hope to make in my running abilities.

Still, I enjoyed my time outside again. It’s funny how much changes even with even the gradual shift in the season. One thing I noticed all summer long is how few people I’d encounter around the neighborhood as I ran along the pedestrian-friendly asphalt paths. This morning we shared space with a surprising number of other runners, walkers and dogs. In summers past, I used to exchange good mornings with a regular stream of people, but not so these past few months. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the warmth. I can’t say heat because it really didn’t get all that hot here this summer, particularly in the early part of the days before the sun had fully risen. In fact, I was grateful all along for the kind of temperatures and air that made it easier on my lungs and allowed me to keep working toward improvement as a runner.

And there was wind today like I don’t remember feeling in some time. As Lucy and I moved west and then south along our usual route, it seemed fierce and I felt it rushing in my ears, even though I knew this was somewhat of an illusion. Experience told me that when I reached our halfway point and turned back the other direction toward home, it would turn into a gentler breeze. The walkers today sported long pants and fleece jackets. I’d dressed in capris and short sleeves, knowing I’d work up a sweat and I was grateful for the wind that kept me cooler.

Sky 1The sky today held a heavier hue, confirming the transition of seasons that’s beginning to take shape. I do love the fall months and can only hope that signs of winter remain at bay until it’s their turn. Already one morning this week, I awoke to the feeling of cold air on my nose, my arms clutching the blankets in a tight curl around my body. I succumbed to the warmth of my bed and snoozed the alarm clock beyond hope of working in any amount of exercise before getting ready for work. That is a bad habit I really hope to squelch over the winter months.

My back and my inner spirit were glad that I resisted the urge to hibernate this morning. Spending time outside, appreciating the scenery of my neighborhood, and getting my heart rate going always gives me a boost that tends to carry me through the rest of the day. And truth be told, I knew Lucy was revelling in the return to a routine she greatly loves, so I couldn’t be too upset as she stopped me mid-stride once again to investigate a spread of gorgeous purple coneflowers beneath an electrical tower along the way. I stopped to let her sniff to her heart’s content and took the chance to study the prickled brown center of one of the flowers, knowing soon enough they’ll be fading away for the season.

Sky 3Today is shaping up to be a gorgeous day, with a few remnants of summer and a glimpse of fall evenly sprinkled within. A high school acquaintance shared some inspiration on Faceb00k this morning and we exchanged a few comments as a result. He left me with encouragement to go forward and create, to fly, and to enjoy this beautiful day. I’m going to go do my best!

I Love Lucy Pie

I maxed out the photo storage on my iPhone, so last weekend I backed up pictures to my computer so I could delete them from my phone and make room for new ones. In the process of cleaning things up, I noticed I might be a little in love with my dog. I mean, who can blame me though, really? We took Lucy on a ride tonight and she experienced the Dairy Queen drive through. She was so cute! She tried to ask the girl at the window if they sold Frosty Paws there, but apparently they don’t speak dog at Dairy Queen. I was proud of Lucy for trying, none the less.

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Based on this collection of pictures, you might be tempted to believe that my dog is lazy and does nothing but sit on the furniture, sit on her people or sleep. Wrong. The iPhone camera simply can’t capture her energy without making her look like a fuzzy blur!

Summer Days

Quiet morning around here.

Kacey’s gone with Connor to his grandpa’s cabin up north, celebrating one last summer weekend on the lake.

Jake is still sleeping, having gone to the races at Cedar Lake with his buddies last night. He came home long after I’d fallen asleep.

I checked in with Brad yesterday to see what his weekend plans were. He told me hunting season opens this weekend. Just last weekend he was here with us. Now I have hunting season to contend with if I want to see my oldest son over the next few months. But hunting season is Brad’s happy place. I wouldn’t deny him this time each year.

The past week felt like a long one. Things at work are hectic. Good, but sometimes overwhelmingly busy. One of my work friends was out all week on vacation and I realized how much she and I tend to bounce our stresses off of one another. I really felt the impact of her absence this week. On more than one occasion, I found myself looking ahead to the end of the day, wishing the hours would pass by more quickly. Not only the hours, I wished entire days would sail by so the weekend could be here sooner. And by five o’clock on Friday, I saw how easy it is to just wish time away. Soon a whole week is gone. A whole summer. Months and years.

In just seven days, my baby heads back for another year of college and the house will be too quiet again. Soon the sun won’t burn so hot.  Leaves will begin to change and fall from their branches. The taste of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers will become just a memory. The grass won’t need to be mowed so frequently, and then the plush greens will change to brittle browns. My jean jacket will come out of the front closet again.

I love fall and I look forward to fresh apples, the reds, golds and burnt orange hues in the trees. I can almost smell cookies and sweet breads baking in the kitchen again. We’ll leave the windows cracked at night and sleep with a cool breeze drifting in through the screens. These are some of my favorite things. But they’ll get here soon enough. I don’t want to miss what’s right in front of me because my eyes are already looking ahead to what’s next.

So when Lucy’s cold, wet nose swiped across my face early this morning telling me she was ready to go out for our morning trek, I didn’t roll over in favor of another hour of sleep. I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and laced up my new running shoes. We went out into the still quiet morning and greeted the hazy summer sky. We filled our lungs with the sticky summer air. We stretched our muscles as I took in the summer scenery, listened to the songs of birds, welcomed the sweat running down my face and back, and counted my blessings . Lucy tried to chase a black squirrel while I did my best to rein her in and keep my shoulder in its socket.

Upon our return home, it felt so good to come back into the air-conditioned house and gulp down a big glass of icy cold water. As I did, I noticed again the crazy sun flowers in the back garden.

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How quickly they’ve grown, starting out only from seeds tossed into an empty space in the garden as an afterthought. The tallest ones seem to be competing with the nearby pine trees to see which can reach higher into the sky. But like all of the plants in our garden, they’ll reach their peak and eventually begin to fade away. They reminded me to embrace the here and now. In spite of the fact that the laziest of days are behind us, there is still plenty of summer left to enjoy before it fades away into fall and then winter. I’m gonna squeeze every last drop out of it.

Grateful for Summer

Twice this past week, I’ve heard someone complain about the summer we’re having. I guess it’s not measuring up to expectations. In fact, just yesterday, my friend and coworker said, “We’ve been cheated out of summer.”

I thought, “We have? No we haven’t!”

It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. My friend has a cabin on a lake up north where she and her husband spend their time every other weekend. It seems that while we may have had some beautiful, sunny, warm days, they haven’t typically happened on the weekends. Since I haven’t spent much time on a lake these past couple of months, I guess I haven’t noticed.

What I’ve noticed is that I don’t have a chill in my bones. I don’t have to put on extra layers before going outside the house. I don’t have to warm up my car before I’m willing to get in and drive it. In fact, I really love the wave of heat that hits me when I get in the car after work, a welcome change of temperature from the chill of the office air conditioning.

I can let Lucy run around the back yard for as long as she likes without worrying that her paws will get frostbite. I can take her for runs out on the path behind our house. Instead of worrying about the cold, I need to be careful not to take her out when the heat may be too much for her. Between her morning run and chasing squirrels in the back yard, she often wears herself out by the end of the day.

Sleepy Lucy

During lunch breaks at work, every day unless it’s raining, I go outside with a few coworkers. There’s a pretty, peaceful pond right outside our doors and it’s surrounded by an asphalt path. We walk the mile around it, sometimes twice, and get to breathe the fresh air, share space with Monarch butterflies, watch little mice and toads scurry in and out of the tall grass that borders the path. We see turtles sunning themselves on logs in the water and watch flocks of geese float lazily around the middle of the pond. We are graced with the beauty of pretty wildflowers, dragonflies and bumble bees. We blow off steam, laugh, and have serious conversations beginning with questions like, “I wonder if there’s an online poop translator.” (A large poo was seen on our path for two days in a row. We debated whether it was left by an irresponsible dog owner, or something wild.)

I don’t think we’ve been cheated out of summer. No, we haven’t had long stretches of ninety degree days. If we did, someone would be complaining about that too. We’ve had a steady pattern of rain, enough to make it so we don’t have to run sprinklers to keep the grass alive. The trees are lush and flowers gardens are full and colorful.

See these?

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Those are my sunflowers, planted from seed as an afterthought in a back corner of our gardens, next to the shed and our back fence. They’re growing so tall, they’ve risen above the roof of the shed. So I would guess they are somewhere around ten feet tall? Look at how they’re all reaching for the sun! (They’re so tall, and in such a position that I can’t quite get a picture of one of the flowers head-on. Maybe when the flowers get a little bigger and heavier, they’ll drop their faces low enough for me to see them.)

Here’s a look at one from last night, facing west, as the sun was getting ready to go down. Do these seem like sunflowers that have been cheated out of summer? I don’t think so.

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While we may not have had great “water weather” so far, the past winter is still way too vivid in my mind. I’ll take this kind of summer over that any day of the week! I am not complaining!

Rain and Shine

Yesterday morning arrived with rain, rain and more rain. And thunder. Lucy really doesn’t like the thunder. I woke up to find her on the bed, plastered against me. She was willing to venture out of bed when she heard me ask if she wanted to eat. Of course she wanted to eat! But going outside for what has become our regular morning run? Out of the question.

(That was alright with me, too. I wasn’t too fond of the idea of going out and trying to run in the pouring rain anyway.)

I spent a good part of the morning sitting in my pajamas on the living room floor, with Lucy planted solidly in my lap. I wrapped her up in a beach towel that was lying around, used previously to dry Lucy’s fur after a romp outside in a much lighter rainfall. She seemed to like being wrapped up and being in my lap. So we sat and listened to the rain patter against the windows and the thunder rumble in the skies. We sat until my legs went numb. Eventually, Kacey brought out her fleece blanket, which Lucy also loves. She laid it out so that Lucy could stretch out on it, but Lucy seemed to still want the safety of my lap.

On alert for another clap of thunder

On alert for another clap of thunder

Relaxing only slightly

Relaxing only slightly

Eventually I was allowed to extract myself and go about my business. Lucy stayed curled within the safety of her towel and the blanket for the duration of the thunderstorm.

The heavy rain eased up eventually, but the skies continued to drizzle off and on throughout the day. I had a graduation party to attend, for my friend and coworker, Shannon’s daughter, Emily. Thankfully, Shannon and her husband have a double-deep, double-wide garage and so the guests were all able to take shelter from the rain at the party tables set up inside. Many of my former coworkers, some retired, some laid off a few years ago, were there. We had a big hug-fest and caught up on each others’ lives. It was a great time in spite of the rain.

This morning, wouldn’t you know it, the sun shone brightly from a clear, blue sky. I always feel a little bit bad for those whose graduation parties get rained on. But it’s the risk you take when planning an outdoor party this time of year. And in the case of Emily’s party, the gray skies and rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits one bit.

Personally, I can’t complain about the rain. We went a little gangbusters with our vegetable gardens and potted plants this year. A good rain means I don’t have to wander around the yard with a watering can or garden hose, trying to make sure all my plants stay hydrated. A quick look around today proved that my veggies and flowers are grateful for yesterday’s rains.

Not only are the plants happy, but the rain brought the temperatures down just enough to be perfectly comfortable. Not too warm. Not too cool. I’m in my seasonal happy place!