Thursday, December 30, 2010

Saylor comes aboard

When I get back from my Texas trip at the end of January, this little guy will be joining our family. My friend Desiree is a frequent caretaker for Saylor, and as Des leaves for her new life in Portland, Saylor needed a new life of his own. Luther and I visited with him today and decided to invite him into our family, and Saylor's dad agreed to let us be the retirement home that will better match his needs.

Saylor is a Boston terrier about 14 years old, who lost his lower jaw to cancer several years ago and also has some spinal and neurological problems. Luther and I visited with him for awhile today, and that was enough for us. In truth, sparks didn't fly - partly because it will take me a while to learn to read his partial-face which is pretty expressionless. The whole situation reminds me very much of Piper, who was going to be a short-term medical project, and then became a precious part of our family for the 16 months we had. I made the decision because he's sort of a little train wreck and I can deal with that. We can wait for the love to grow.

And if you want to know more about oral cancers and how dogs live without their lower jaws, visit my friend Phyllis's article at Veterinary Partner...which happens to be illustrated with photos of my own little Courtney, who had the same surgery several years ago. (Saylor's amputation is much more extreme.) I am looking forward to getting his medical history, setting up a full re-evaluation, and asking Dr. Ron to take on another effort at making the best of this little life that we can.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The house begins to fill with hearts

Five of the holiday boarders are now here, with several more to come. It feels a little like the land of the lost tonight as everyone has some little angle to their story. Next week's arrivals will bring a little more life and laughter to what is right now a rather somber collection. The two tiny-littles have an ailing mom, recovering from surgery, and dad is gone for work for the next few weeks. One of the bigs is here until flight arrangements can be made for her to relocate out of state as her home has just broken. Another is recovering from ortho surgery while her mom is traveling. Luther still isn't talking about his backstory, but at least he appears to be over his intestinal distress.

And my love, Tess, is here and she is doing very, very badly. I long ago crossed over a professional line with this dog and have been in tears much of tonight, especially when she fought through her sedative-fog to drag herself off the nice ortho bed I'd set up for her, and struggle the 7-8 steps it took just to get to the bare floor at my feet instead. We don't deserve dogs. We really don't.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One miracle of the season

So this summer when I was housesitting for Tom and Annie, I was introduced to a cleaning product that changed my life. Now, understand...I thought I'd seen just about everything that's out there for cleaning of pet errors of the biological kind. As far as that goes, I think I've seen just about everything out there that IS a pet error of the biological kind. (Dear Santa, if that could just be a true statement I would be happy for every Christmas to come.)

Anyway. The stuff is Folex and it's probably at your neighborhood grocery. No frills stuff, in the cleaning section it'll be at the far left, lowest shelf where your eyes never look. Buy every container you see. When the apocalypse comes, I will have the hoard and I will hurt you if you try to take it away from me.
Now, as I said, I first encountered this in cleaning up the few accidents that happened during that summer housesit. But then the reality of Holly's death ended up all over their beautiful master bedroom carpet. This family has had the worst luck with housesitters, with tens of thousands of dollars of damage to their home in irresponsibility and destructiveness. This was not the impression I wanted to make my first time out. With tears of grief (and worry, and culpability, and more) I got out my little steam cleaner and gave the Folex an exceedingly grim test for something I thought possibly could not be fixed, at all. But with slow, careful effort, that whole scene was erased except from my memory.

Back at home this fall, I had my fave carpet guys come and do my little patch of house as usual. They weren't able to remove a couple of bad stains in Nana's bedroom and I'd never had any luck with them either despite some years of trying. Disappointed that the pros couldn't fix it, but again, maybe some things just can't be fixed. A month ago in making up the guest room for my brother's visit, Folex straight from the spray bottle got rid of all of it in under six seconds.

So today, I came home at lunch to find Luther had been quite ill. Although I block off my upstairs when I'm away so any guests don't wander around the house, I never do that when it's just Luther. So he chose the only carpet in the house to destroy.
Have I ever mentioned that I am a renter.
But at this point I am rather cocky. I am the owner of many bottles of Folex. Not to put too fine a point on it (and not to give you a wide angle shot which would be....really not nice):

That's part of the stain... and that's about 30 seconds later

DO NOT EVER TELL ME WHAT IS IN THIS STUFF. It's not labeled, I can't find an authoritative source on the formula, and Googling only brings up guesses. I want to believe in the magic.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Holiday bling

Luther got his holiday picture at our annual client portrait session at Dog Tired a few weeks ago. Handsome fellow.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Learning about Luther

This morning we made the drive out to Palmer for our first visit with The Holy Man. Luther had already had bloodwork and dental cleaning while in foster care, so today it was just about making an inventory and looking at his previous labs.

Dr. Ron gave him a good looking-at-and-listening-to. A hard thickness behind his jaws indicate a life of chronic ear problems, and we are doing an otic solution daily with the hope that Ron will be able to see eardrums when we go back in three weeks. (Digging in Luther's ears is the first time I've heard any sounds of discomfort from him.) He's missing some teeth and has a couple of pockets of concern in his mouth that may mean he loses a few more in the next six months. A few small growths that will come off whenever the first anesthesia opportunity arises. His heart and lungs are strong. His right shoulder bundle is massively developed, more than Ron has seen in a front-limb amputee (so much that it has deformed the upper arm bone), which indicates Luther was probably quite young when he lost the leg. The white marks all over his face and head are bite scars. From the level of lenticular sclerosis in his eyes, Ron puts Luther's age at older than we thought, probably 10+ years. Overall he was independently verified as a good old dog who's come through more than we know. As Ron's own path has been as a longtime devotee at the Church of the Labrador, Ron can finally count me among the converted, and blessed us both as we left today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All in a day

I am declaring today an unqualified success. I treated my body well and felt relatively well despite the hip that has recently begun to shriek "Replace me!" I made good decisions and got several small errands and tasks done that felt like sweeping up a lot of debris. My staff did a really good job of managing 64 dogs and working together. I made a significant gesture of financial generosity to someone who deserves it, checking off one box of many still owed in the pay-it-forward column. I learned that Kari has saved every greeting card I've ever given her. I heard my eldest brother tell me "I love you so much for being there" and then he changed it to "I love you so much for being." I felt gratitude that I am blessed with two brothers who say things like that more frequently and openly than I have a right to expect. I didn't have to work to put a smile on my face today. I have a good old dog lying on my porch. I worked only eight hours today and came home with enough energy to get the yard mowed and ready for winter. I made a delicious healthy dinner. And it's only 7:30 pm and I still have some energy. I feel capable and serene and a humble recipient of grace. I feel ready for tomorrow.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

On this morning's post office run

Two big bull moose and me without a good camera. Big guy on the right was trying to mind his own business. Bigger guy on the left had worked his way across the bog pretty intently, not going to let this situation stand. I left before the ruckus started!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Just three inches

That was the difference between life and death yesterday morning for a big stray dog that I came so close to catching. Just as he turned his head away, I made the grab and missed, he bolted, and was killed in traffic about 45 min later. Kari had gone out to check on a reported sighting and found the body; a passerby helped her load it up to go to animal control where a family contact was made. That failure is going to stick with me awhile. I'm so sorry I couldn't save you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Songs my mother taught me

There exist very few photos of my mother and me together. So much of my adulthood, years might go between times that we saw each other. One photo (for which I have just spent two fruitless hours searching) is of the memorable Christmas Eve that I surprised her by showing up in the living room at Kelly & Bev's, and I really love that picture that Bev snapped in the moment.

But I have thousands of moments in music to remember her by. I don't actually know many songs of contemporary worship. My history is full of old time hymns, and when I page through memory's songbook, I hear my mother at the piano and her high tenor in our family harmonies.

I find comfort in the old tunes and the plain words of belief, before boutique religion made such things obsolete. I have only to sing a few lines before the tears flow, and the connection to my mother is alive again.

Precious Memories
by J.B.F. Wright, 1925

Precious memories, unseen angels
Sent from somewhere to my soul
How they linger, ever near me
And the sacred past unfold.

Precious memories, how they linger
How they ever flood my soul
In the stillness of the midnight
Precious, sacred scenes unfold.

In the stillness of the midnight
Echoes from the past I hear
Old-time singing, gladness bringing
From that lovely land somewhere.

As I travel on life's pathway
Know not what the years may hold
As I ponder, hope grows fonder
Precious memories flood my soul.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Memorials from Holly's ashes

I'm heading out shortly to meet with a local lampworking artist, Elise Strauss, to create glass beads from Holly's ashes. I found her at her Etsy store online, and then realized when I checked her main website that she was right here in Anchorage. That felt like I was being led in the right direction, but when I learned she's a full-on dog person (agility competitor), I knew Holly was guiding me to the right place. If you look at the Etsy store, you can see an example of the large glass beads; I'm thinking that's similar to what we will be doing for Holly's dad Gary and brother Beau as it has a beautiful but masculine look.

My own piece (a bracelet similar to this picture) is already underway at Art from Ashes. I am eager to see the results, but so far very pleased with the personal feel of the contacts I've had with them (caring, but also smart and funny), and the professional and sensitive way they handle the remains.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Is there a translator in the house?

The evolution of this bruise seems to be turning into kanji characters? I'm a little afraid to know what they might mean...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A prayer for Homeless Animals Day

God, creator and upholder of all creatures, make your peaceful presence known in this time.

We acknowledge, with distress and determination, our awareness of the plight of homeless animals in our nation. With shame we confess our guilt for allowing creatures of Yours, entrusted to our care, to be considered with such indifference and by such harsh and horrible ways. We recall before You, in this company, and with all others who share in this vigil, all companion animals who are forgotten, homeless, hurt, and vanquished.

God of Light, we bear in mind those animals who having once enjoyed the warmth of untold human companionship, have had their love and loyalty betrayed. We remember the untold millions of dogs and cats who, through human greed, ignorance, and irresponsible inaction, have been brought into life only to be destroyed. We recognize the terrible suffering of future generations of unwanted animals which will occur unless we change our attitudes and actions.

God of Mercy, we pray for the sanctuaries and shelters where loving workers care for these creatures during the last hours of their lives. Grant unto them the gift of continued compassion. Grant unto all abandoned animals the peace and protection which they did not know here.

God of Truth, strengthen all humane educators and laborers of the human ethic. Give them enduring courage, determination, and hope as they seek to end the suffering of your creatures. Touch and instruct our human hearts so that none of your beloved creatures shall be abused or destroyed.

God, Creator and upholder of all creatures, inspire us that we may, with optimism, shed light on the tragedy of dog and cat overpopulation in our country. Lead us from darkness to light, from death to new life.


Reverend Dr. Marc A. Wessels
Executive Director
International Network for Religion and Animals

Thursday, August 19, 2010

This theory needs a name

My line of work is fraught with injuries, but I'm still in awe of the inerrant ability of a dog to target the very softest spots on a woman's body to create the most painful bruises, like

But what I really want to understand is how Dog #2 knows to come along two days later andright on that very spot.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

She goes on little cat feet

Our little pal and regular home-medical project Mary Love will probably be leaving us in the next few days, from end-stage kidney failure. Though I feel sad, it's with a sense of gratitude for a pretty remarkable accomplishment... When Keith asked me in mid-January 2008 to help with giving fluids at home, neither of us had any idea that we would still be doing it two years and seven months later. It isn't a difficult task per se, but has required a big commitment in coordinating our schedules and so many demands. If we'd known at the beginning that through all the other insanities of life, we could keep this going without fail, I might not have believed it. It's been good for me to stop everything, take those few quiet minutes with Keith holding her, and just concentrate fully on this one small life and how it gets along in the world.

Keith has always said two things to others about this process. One is that "Mary Love wouldn't be alive if it weren't for Peg." He says this more with accusation than with gratitude. (Which, if you knew this cat, is also sort of understandable.) The other, every time I slide a needle in without a hint of a flinch from the cat (or from Keith), he says "If I ever need dialysis, I want you behind the needle." I don't recommend this.

Most satisfying about this process is that it has never felt pointless or without hope. It has translated to a great quality of life and a long extension of that life, and I just can't feel sad about that. She is one of the cutest little cats too, but of course last night when I tried to capture a final photo, all I could get from her was the stinkeye!

Monday, August 16, 2010

A small realization

With both my mother and my dear little girl dead now, it occurs to me that I now have the option of going somewhere, for the first time in years. There is still a lot attaching me here and a number of things that need to be resolved in other areas of life, so this isn't an imminent development. And I still have the impression that my next dog may arrive in my life in October or November. But still, as I'm finding the sand in my bucket running out faster than I can spade it in, I am trying on for size the concept of some small escape as an action and not a wish only.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Backtracking... Thoughts about blogging, and Holly, and Jude

One of the real down sides of trying to resurrect this blog is the big shift in how I process my own feelings in recent years. In the past, sharing the deep stuff came as easily as sharing the small moments. Maybe not everything and maybe not to a worldwide audience, but at least to a few. I could process and process and process and the words would flow evocatively.

Over the last four years I find I have changed more than I thought possible. Besides becoming a person who withdraws from others when hurt, I've withdrawn from myself too. And I also find that is completely okay with me. I've hit some places where just too much is wrong and there just aren't words for it any more. I am very okay being a person who can be totally emotionally present for others, but keep that a one-way street much of the time, or at least keep the traffic my direction well controlled. My heart was very open to giving, but mistrustful about allowing anything in return. I feel safer in silence. Alongside this evolution has been a stronger sense about what God asks of me in this world, and it never involves putting my own feelings first.

However, all of this is a disadvantage in trying to resume writing as an honest practice too. I realized this weekend that a compromise may lie in revisiting previous events, where the processing is largely done and some perspective has already occurred. Holly's arrival in my life unlocked some doors that had been pretty slammed shut, with the deaths of Hunter and Piper, the decline of my mom's health and the constant stress of worry about her care. Holly brought joy and resiliency and a willingness to open my heart to receive again.

And that brings me to Jude. Some months ago as Holly's dad, a former client, began making plans to move to the Calgary area, memories of my time there with Jude were very front of mind. I would often think with a smile of how Jude would have delighted to add Holly to her long list of beloved seniors. As Holly's relocation plan progressed, I began to feel something stirring as it clicked for me that her target, a small community south of Calgary, was the very one where Jude had relocated and where she died.

On May 3 in this blog, I wrote about my awakening feelings... "But the tide is ebbing and I am being pulled with its shift. And, not surprisingly, all of it is under the influence of one dog. This weekend was the first time in 18 months that I allowed it to take me deeply into the undertow. It was a meaningful baptism."

The previous Friday evening, I had taken Holly to see her dad before he left Anchorage for the final time. (All of this was before her cancer diagnosis and change in plans.) The next morning, the sun was really bright, I had a million things to do, but I sat down and started writing because I felt sad inside. I thought it was from sadness over watching the pain of that parting and thinking of my own loss in Holly's impending departure, but it turned out to be years of unresolved grief over Jude's death. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Then I edited and rewrote, and found words more perfect for what I was feeling, and cried harder than I have cried over anything in years. Under the tears I found the bright love that I carried for Jude and that I carry still, and the life-changing impact that her presence, like Holly's, had brought to my life.

I didn't experience this as a series of small coincidences (client has senior dog, client moves to town where friend died under strange circumstances, friend was champion of senior dog rescue). I experienced it as a series of doors unlocking quietly, and suddenly all of Jude's wonderful passion and heart was connected to mine again.

What I wrote that day is just for her. I hope that before too many more years go by, that I will go there one autumn day to visit Jude again, retrace some of the steps we took there together, and share all that I found buried in my heart for her that morning. To abandon the lingering burden of senseless loss in her death, and instead to look on our years of friendship with a sense of true healing and celebration is one of the greatest gifts that I have received, because of Holly.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Tonight's checklist:

Love suffers long and is kind.
Love does not envy.
Love does not parade itself.
Love does not behave rudely.
Love does not seek its own.
Love is not provoked.
Love thinks no evil.
Love does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the truth.
Love bears all things.
Love believes all things.
Love hopes all things.
Love endures all things.
Love never fails.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

My little girl died this morning

There will be lots of words said about Holly, and lots of tears from those who loved her. None of it will capture what I am putting away in my heart today.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Amazing grace in a bottle

I love the body products by Philosophy and have been using the "amazing grace" shampoo for a long time. Actually, I've been refilling this bottle with all sorts of other products because I really like reading these words off the label each morning. Pretty cliche, but I feel better when I read this...

amazing grace philosophy: life is a classroom. we are both student and teacher. each day is a test. and each day we receive a passing or failing grade in one particular subject: grace. grace is compassion, gratitude, surrender, faith, forgiveness, good manners, reverence, and the list goes on. it's something money can't buy and credentials rarely produce. being the smartest, the prettiest, the most talented, the richest, or even the poorest, can't help. being a humble person can, and being a helpful person can guide you through your days with grace and gratitude.

Rinse and repeat.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I may have shot myself in the ecclesiastical foot

If I had ever suspected that God might grant me precisely what I was praying for, I would have taken a little more care in stating the request.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Doctor's orders

So Holly and I both went to our respective doctors today. Trying a different steroid with Holly to see whether it may (a) help her symptoms and (b) possibly point us toward another area of diagnosis (ruling out Addison's disease on top of everything else). She liked the ice cream cone on the way home better than the IM shot at the clinic. Her Inimitable Self also bit Dr. Ron when he gave her a cookie. Holly has gained 2 lbs and I felt really good about that as a QOL indicator. She has been stumbling and falling SO much lately and also constant night-wandering from dementia too. The last few nights I've given her tramadol to get her to relax and get some sleep and that seems to be working very well for us.

I did pretty well with my doctor too; I like that Dr. Mike is just like Dr. Ron in terms of being smart but practical, aware that my wallet doesn't have any health insurance cards in it, and always possessed of good general advice that can be employed on the spot. Bloodwork for me was long (years) overdue so that got taken care of, and I felt good about the visit overall and his assessment of what I need to do over the next 12-18 months to repair the damage of the last few years.

Until I got home later and checked email, and found a note from the doc that some of the bloodwork was back and not looking great. Will have to wait a week or so for further results, but most likely outcome is that my lupus is no longer in remission. I have known for a good long while that everything was not all right, but with the focus on taking care of Mom and without medical coverage, I made the conscious choice to set it aside. So now maybe some answers will come, and maybe they won't be the worst answers either. I have lived with lupus before and I hope I can do it again, and despite the possibilities that life will entirely change, that might actually be much better an outcome than the second possibility the doctor is pursuing.

There was a time when I would have angsted myself over just the wait for answers, let alone the outcome. But instead just pulled in supports; Kari had actually called me about something else just as I had opened that email so there was a friend right there in the moment. Once we were done talking, I called family members briefly - it was good to hear Beverly's voice lifting me up in prayer, and to hear Matthew say "I've got your back" before he hung up the phone.

I will not fear the future when God is already there.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Manners first!

Solstice (the 16 year old Lab) is with us again this weekend along with four other guests plus Holly as host. The weather is cool, but not so much that I can't leave the dining room door open onto the back deck, so the dogs can come and go on their own. Well, except for Soli, who does go out, but barks to be let in each and every time she returns.... despite the fact that the door is still open. "Excuse me, may I come in?" and she will NOT come in of her own accord even if she can see me beckoning from within. She waits (not necessarily patiently, as the barks become more insistent if I delay) until I come to the door and "allow" her in.

Their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor

What happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Most of us know about the few more famous who went on to lead our new country. Learn a bit about the others who paid a terrible price, in today's essay by Michael Gallagher. While you're at it, reread the Declaration itself. Most of us remember the beginning and the end, but it's the parts in the middle - often swept over by the broad phrase "taxation without representation" - that tell the story of the true anguish that led us to fight our own original country, knowing that the price of it was nothing less than death.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Reasons not to leave the TV on

I fell asleep on the couch last night cuddling a sturdy little Frenchie and listening to the raspy sounds of four old dogs dreaming. Around 1:15 am I was wakened by throaty growls which turned out to be a pack of demon dogs in the Resident Evil movie. I've never played the games or seen the movies, and trying to sort out truth from television was difficult out of a sound sleep made sounder by a few glasses of sake earlier... I do not know why I was so bothered by a bunch of ridiculous Dobermans evidently basted in barbecue sauce, but it took me forever to get back to sleep!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Holly's downs and ups

Holly is touching my soul every day as she navigates in the world with a body that is shutting down. Her resiliency of spirit is ennobling to me. Stairs have been a battle she's slowly losing. When she first started to stumble on the stairs, she'd pick herself up and go again. These days I've blocked most of her access because of her constant falls, but this weekend we are housesitting and Holly always tries to make it up the steep main stairs in that home. Usually I'm right there to support her, but this morning I had another mobility-challenged dog in my arms when Holly tried to follow me. I couldn't get to her fast enough as she got most of the way - just far enough that I could see her face before it faded - and tumbled backward, bumping and turning in a slow-motion barrel roll all the way to the bottom. I rushed to her; she couldn't get up on her own but looked me calmly in the eye and said I AM CLIMBING THE STAIRS NOW. And together we did. She is unharmed and undaunted.

May I accept my aging self even half as matter-of-factly as she does, and with the same forward determination to live the life I'm given. And never give up at the bottom of the stairs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rock and roll

It would have been inappropriate to take a photo of this, but in the Something You Don't See Every Day Department, Senior Division, I offer the white-haired gentleman riding his power scooter down the sidewalk in my neighborhood. Not one of those freewheeling synchronized team spinners like you see in the television ads. He was going at the approximate pace of a turtle, if the turtle was really tired. As I came up the street behind him, I was thinking that it's pretty amazing that those things could be made to go that slowly in drive at all. But as I rounded the corner and passed him, I just found it funnier 'n heck that he had his iPod buds in.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Nana's piano bag

Anyone who knew Nana knows what this is, and can guess what I was doing with it this afternoon. I can't say much about this piece of my grief. A friend this week tapped this important part of my loss, by sharing a memory in music for his own mother.

Of course the music has always been the thread that held us together, or as together as we were willing to be held. But today, hearing from my own fingertips the sounds I most associate with my mother, from a time that started beyond my memory, sounds that have never not been there for me... is a feeling that I have no words to relate.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The DVD stack, part 2

We finally have a winner - I took Crazy Heart out of the stack last night. Bad Blake can park his guitar in my closet any time.

StrengthsFinder, and a big 'aha' moment

Earlier this year at a staff inservice day, we set up all the training modules to be facilitated by our clients - a nice twist to have the parents invest their professional expertise in us. We had sectionals on body mechanics and injury prevention, fire safety and evacuation planning, and even lunch was from a client who owns a great bistro downtown.

Most valuable and mind-changing for me - and that I have used every day since - was the main presentation based on the Gallup tool StrengthsFinder 2.0, a followup to the books Now, Discover Your Strengths and Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath. I've been working most of my life in fields that employ various personal assessment tools. Many of them yield useful results but can be clunky to interpret. Even something as valuable as the ubiquitous Myers-Briggs can be difficult to apply in normal conversation without just sounding jargonesque, and certainly not intuitive to anyone who hasn't already taken that test. The StrengthsFinder approach is totally refreshing for me. As was our speaker (Dog Tired parent and good buddy Desiree), who encouraged us to abandon the whole idea of fixing our deficiencies and to just run with our strengths. So direct and freeing and obvious when you think about it.

The strengths test produces a simple list of five qualities that make up our top strengths, and seeing the relationships among those qualities in ourselves and others is where the discoveries are made. You can go deeply into the concepts, but you can also apply the surface descriptions in immediately useful ways.

We all had some preconceived ideas of our results, and mine were enough of a surprise in some areas that I was initially skeptical. This test showed me proceeding much more from intellect than from emotion, and I was frankly disappointed to test as more brainy and less heartfelt than I perceive myself. And everyone who knows me predicted that Responsibility would be my #1 by far, it didn't even make my list. My list in alphabetical order was Achiever, Developer, Input, Intellection, and Learner. (My ongoing quibble with this tool is that it offends my word-loving essence not to have parallel descriptors - pick a part of speech and stick with it already!)

The results for me have been nothing short of profound in understanding myself in relationship to other people, and constantly productive in understanding others around me. The descriptors are easy to remember and easy to understand about each other (five adjectives, that's it), and easy to see why we have affinity with some people and why other qualities may lead us into discord.

The overwhelmingly dominant quality for me was Developer - someone who sees the potential in people and loves to draw that out. As someone who has always loved to teach and whose great joy in the work world is in helping others to flourish, it totally makes sense that this area is also where I experience frustration and disappointment in others. Now in those moments, I find myself thinking immediately of that person's top-5 list and I can quickly see what issues are not about what someone does, but who that someone is.

It also led to the biggest 'aha' moment I've ever had in the post mortem years of my failed romantic er love er marital er living with men who didn't give a shit about me er, domestic relationships. As The Wailin' Jennys sing, "I've fallen many times in love, and every time it's been with the wrong man." But this strengths exercise did more for my perspective on this than any of the painful contemplations of the last 30 years. First, no one I've been involved with has been a devolved idiot. (Lying, cheating rat bastards some of them, but always attractive, engaging, intelligent, capable rat bastards.) Second, I have not fallen in love with someone's potential because I thought I'd be the special one to unlock it, but more with a hopeful vision of what that person had at their core that could truly shine. Third, none of them actually chose that potential or chose to keep me either - which seems self-evident and I am all the happier for escaping it, however long my misplaced loyalty kept me trying.

All of this has felt so extremely clarifying for me in understanding how I look at people in work, friendship, and love. Useful every day.

One of the fun things we did in this was to create a pictorial of our strengths. Drawn to words as I am, mine is a word picture. But I pushed myself to complete it very quickly and without thinking - exactly what the StrengthsFinder test itself requires - and because I didn't overthink and let intuition lead, I've since found myself reviewing and rediscovering small things about myself based on the items I chose in that speed-round type of project. A more easily viewable photo of this is on Facebook; if you aren't a member there, you can use this public link to see it.

New to the series is Well-BeingFinder, and I'll be looking forward to trying it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Death takes a holiday

Two moments that place the sanctity of life and death in perspective when it's part of the cogs of business...

(1) The day my mother died, I handed the funeral director my credit card to cover the expenses. It was declined -- courtesy of the vigilant fraud department at Household Bank. As Michele said at an impromptu wake that night, "You know, if someone actually steals my credit card and tries to use it to pay for a funeral, could you just... let them? I'm willing to cover it." The take-away message here is that if you need to swipe someone's credit card to pay for a bootleg funeral, the folks at Capital One won't stand in your way.

(2) I've been waiting three weeks for a death certificate. The funeral home tells me that the Hospice people are backed up on signing paperwork. I am kindly disposed toward that, they're busy people. Yesterday when I called them directly, I learned that the medical director is on vacation. Which I'm also kindly disposed to, I'm sure that's a tough job. But it does seem to me that when you are in a business where all of your clients die, a contingency plan for producing death certificates wouldn't be a far-fetched idea. Just a suggestion.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Holly and Holly

It took me a little while to get hold of a photo, but last Saturday we (Kari, Holly and I) went downtown for a pet blessing service. The very first dog we met was a cute little Golden girl, full of attitude, who hit it off with Holly immediately. Turns out this little one is named Holly too. Here they are at ages 6 months and 16-almost-17 years. Thanks to our friend Ina for a great shot... and I predict years of interesting times ahead for Holly's little namesake!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Nana came home today

She'll be here with me until some later time when we gather in the little valley to add her to the loved ones there. I looked at the box sitting in the passenger seat and suddenly remembered the day that she couldn't reach the center console cup holder and so just "tossed" her cup of blistering hot coffee in hopes of it landing in the right spot. (I know it was blistering because that's what happened to my accelerator leg in Anchorage city traffic.) Oh that Nana.

The spot, of course, was easy to choose. She's on the piano for now. Looking around the room, I gathered two other little boxes near to hers. I'm sure if she could, she'd appreciate having her morning cuddle pal Hunter right next to her. I know for a fact she'd appreciate that Piper has finally shut up.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The DVD stack

I need to stop buying DVDs because of the pile I'm creating. In the fictional world where I ever sit and watch one, here are my choices. (The list is alphabetized; the stack is not.) None of these are movies I saw in the theatre either. What should be at the top of the stack?

The Boys are Back
Crazy Heart Won the draw on 6/19/10
Hachi: A Dog's Tale
The Hurt Locker
The Lovely Bones
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Sherlock Holmes
The Stoning of Soraya M.
2012 (I tried this for ten minutes and couldn't get hooked)
Wonderful World
Up in the Air
The Vampire's Assistant
Where The Wild Things Are

In memory of Lucy, 6/15/04 - 6/4/10

Lucy was not just a client for me. She stayed with me in my home many times and was a most treasured one in my heart. Here's a shortened version of the Dog Tired tribute.

Lucy joined Dog Tired in February 2009. A beautiful charcoal-grey Goldendoodle, she suffered from a seizure disorder that had already taken part of her eyesight and motor control. Lucy had a wonderful attitude despite never being able to compensate for her physical impairments. She'd walk into door frames HARD, distressing the staff but Lucy just moved on, unconcerned. She'd get stuck walking in circles, but always with a big smile on her face. She had a puppy's innocent nature. It wasn't hard to fall in love with Lucy.

Among the several dogs we have with seizure disorders, Lucy's were the worst in severity and lasting effects. Her doctors struggled to find a protocol that would offer Lucy a good quality of life. But it was Lucy herself who showed us that quality of life comes from the inside, no matter the outward circumstances. She was funny and sweet and brave, and a really good kitchen thief too... if the loot was tempting enough, Lucy would manage to walk straight as an arrow for it.

Some months ago, Lucy had a devastating seizure like the one that originally robbed her of so much of her abilities. We thought this might finally take her from us. She slept through long days at daycare, interacting little with dogs or staff. And Lucy's best friends rallied around her, touching our hearts as one by one they showed their concern and figured out how to reach their old pal. Lucy slowly came back to us.

Last week Lucy missed school due to some tummy troubles. It quickly became evident that something else was seriously wrong, and over several days she lapsed into longer periods of collapse and coma. Friday morning, her mom Cindy brought her by for a final farewell. She lifted her head a little for her favorite teacher Miss Peg, but was otherwise deeply quiet. A beautiful light has gone out for us.

Lucy did not have a lot of years in her life, but the life in her years was inestimable. She will be missed by her daycare friends Meeka, Tess, and Holly, and by all of us who were touched by her special soul.

Walk tall and enjoy the view, sweet Lucy...

Friday, June 04, 2010

I don't know what to do with my Saturdays

For the last few years, each Saturday has been a conundrum for me... a huge backlog of chores and commitments, the lowest point of the energy drain after a 60 hour work week... and the prelude to Sunday as the last-chance catchup, grabbing some uninterrupted hours at work in prep for the coming week. I've been working 7 days a week for years. When my mom lived at home it was 7 days a week and close to 20 hours a day and still never being productive or effective enough.

Now I'm not sure what to do. Usually I wake up at 5 as I do each day, take care of whatever pups are staying with me, drink some coffee and wrap my poor brain around a crossword, all the while thinking I need to hurry, need to hurry because I need to spend some quality time (if not quantity time) with my mom. Today I just feel a bit blown by the crosswinds. It's only a small part of the week but feels like a big void of directionlessness now.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Overheard this morning at daycare

Kari and I live most of our lives in each other's back pockets, and I guess when you do that you eventually end up with these kinds of meaningful conversations:

Me: (hiking up shirt) Check out what happened to this (injury) overnight. Isn't it the most perfectly shaped bruise you've ever seen from a dog? It's like a picture off the Hubble telescope or something...

Kari: (expletive) Wow, (whipping out camera), that's something we have to take a picture of! Because you can't take a picture of that one yourself.

Me: Actually I did but it took me a lot of tries to get it...


God, what happened to the two articulate and intelligent women we used to be? Oh, I remember - we got the crap beat out of us by dogs! (but we have the pictures to prove it!)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mom's obituary and guest book

Her obituary is in today's Anchorage Daily News. Since our family is so scattered, we would especially appreciate your signing the online guest book at Legacy as one way to bring us all together.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Notes from Nana

I packed up my mother's room at her assisted living home today. I'd gone through her own room here some time ago, but the things today were the stuff of immediacy, in which she was breathing only a few days ago.

Three things in particular caught my attention today...

First, a birthday card, written a few months ago but which never made its way to me through her forgetful states. But the sentiment had unusual clarity: "To my beautiful dreamer daughter, always wise beyond your years, who worries me one day and inspires me the next. It's never been ordinary; it's always been wonderful, and today and always you are loved."

Second, a notation written on the back of a photograph of Danika. Danika herself has written a lovely tribute on her Nana's passing, and Nana's spidery hand recounts some of the same memories: "I babysat her from birth until about 7 years old. We went out for breakfast on Sunday mornings and Danika always had french toast. We raised a backporch garden, popped snapdragons, played with Baby, and more. I made her lots of cute costumes and outfits. I love her dearly!"

Lastly, a tablet full of assorted notes and scribbles, typical of my mother as her sense of what was important to write down declined along with her ability to remember it. Among pages of facts, non-facts, and random undiscernables, one began in emphatic capitals: "MY potato salad recipe!"

I know exactly what began the fit of pique over this page. Several weeks ago there was a dinner-table debate among the home's ladies - none of the ladies being in full command of their faculties but in abundant command of their opinions, the "correct" way to make potato salad was hotly argued, and Nana evidently decided later to take out her frustration on the ubiquitous yellow legal pad always at her side, to win her argument in writing where none could dispute it.

(However, I have to say: Demented or not, Nana was also totally right on this one. No one has ever made a better potato salad.)

The recipe began with the potatoes and other constituents one would reasonably expect - I didn't even read that part, as the secret of Nana's was in the delicious dressing. And just at the point in the recipe where that alchemy occurs, both the ink in the pen, and her capacity to notice, ran out. Evident scratching continues deliberately down the page, losing to the ages what could be the most important five lines in human history.

I am consoling myself with two things: (a) my brother Kelly probably knows how to make this potato salad or even a better one, and (2) it's more likely that she had lapsed onto another topic entirely by the time she got to the dressing. Oh that Nana.
And a PS: One of my favorite instances of Nana's compulsive writing-on-everything (and I mean everything) has resided in my desk drawer for several years. This container holds a razor scraper and blades. As you can see. But just in case the transparent box isn't enough of a warning:

Brainshock, part 2

I cannot editorialize this in any way better than simply reporting what happened:

I logged into Facebook this morning to keep working on setting up the environment.

Minutes later, my laptop jumped out of my hands and committed suicide by hitting the floor. Hard.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I spent 10 minutes setting up on Facebook and I don't know how any of you people do this with regularity. It's so horrible I had to run away!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I didn't come to Alaska for the heat

Have to divert to some minor matters today, as four years of tension finally breaks and I am more tired than I can remember being in awhile. It was almost 80F in the shade of my back deck this afternoon, and is probably over that now. In the sun it's worse. Laugh if you will but I am not amused. Contributing to the mountain of evidence that I share a good bit of DNA with a lobster, here's my arm after just 20 minutes driving across town. The freckles are tan anyway.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Goodbye to my mama

Margaret Elaine Burrell Gallatin
August 20, 1926 - May 26, 2010

Goodbye to my mama, my uncles and aunts

One after another they went to lie down
In the green pastures, beside the still waters
And make no sound

Their arms had held me for so many years
Their beautiful voices no longer I'll hear
They're in Jesus' arms and he's talking to them
In the rapturous New Jerusalem

And I know they're at peace in a land of delight
But I miss my mama tonight

Possible strategies for managing social media

(1) Friend only those people whose dogs I like

(2) Friend only those people who are liked by my dog

(3) Take this alternate approach instead

Monday, May 24, 2010

A personal strategy for social media

When I said the other day that I would never be a FaceSpaceTwit, I annoyed a few people. (Maybe I actually offended them and they were kind enough to portray it as annoyance.) I'm sorry about that.

As I was googling my brother Matthew to find out what he was speaking at in Tennessee this weekend (since his website didn't tell me that part - nudge, nudge) I found a tweet from Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers, saying they were about to hear Matthew speak. And then later that they'd had dinner with Matthew and some deep theological and philosophical talk. Michael said he'd learned a lot. (I've learned a lot from Matthew too, despite the precious few times we've had dinner together in the last 25 years.)

Not knowing anything about the evidently popular Michael Hyatt, I followed up on his blog and found an interesting article that addressed much of my avoidance of the popular social media. I realized what's been bugging me has not been, as Hyatt says, the media outlets themselves. Now this is a person in public life who really has things to manage. In comparison, I am one step away from the hermitage. What use have I for an inundation of minutiae when my real friends require no more than my two hands to count and only my heart to 'friend' them?

I realized in reading this article that having a strategy was the part I was missing all along. I want my hands on the wheel and my foot on the throttle. So I think you will see me on Facebook soon....or, if I can figure out the right blend of participation and invisibility, maybe you won't. I'm off to strategize it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Holly meets The Holy Man

But for an occasional casual contact, Dr. Ron has been a largely absent figure since Piper and Hunter died the first week of October 2008. All I could think as I sat in the waiting room, looking out at the flowerbeds nourished by Gryphon's ashes, was that it is really good to have a dog again. Having 65 of them every day is just not the same thing. To be more precise, it is really good to finally be ready to have a dog again. But having this kind of safety net for Holly is a true gift from God. Here she is at first communion.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Those comments from Danika

Rather than bury my responses in the comment block, I'm calling her out right here:

Ya know, if you ever had responded in the affirmative to any of my (1) job offers, (2) plane ticket offers, or (3) free college housing offers, you'd have met Holly long before now.

And as to theme parties, yes, my cohorts at Dog Tired did in fact use a Twilight theme for my birthday in March. There was a long moment of indecision as the ice cream cake disappeared from the Edward and/or Jacob plates, and three of us began to weigh the option of licking the frosting.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

False advertising

I go to this store at least once a week, and I have yet to see any of these guys.

The girl is mine, the doggone girl is mine

I am feeling relief and trepidation both. Holly decided to make a change in her future plans. She is of emancipation age in the state of Alaska, after all, and has the right to self-determination. She has also been showing me some neurological symptoms recently. Yesterday she was diagnosed with a brain lesion, and her doctor said there will be no travel for her to join her family in Canada.

Her dad Gary and I had to make some very large decisions in the space of a few minutes and with a couple thousand miles between us. And so now Holly owns us both, and her home is with me.

Gary has had her since she was eight weeks old and I have no right to this dog whatsoever. I feel like I stole something precious, or reached through the phone and did surgery on him without anesthesia. I can't imagine how he must feel to take this act of faith now. I am challenged (and determined) to make sure he never looks back on this with regret and that his heart will heal faster because what he did was selfless.

I also think it strangely coincidental (or not) that just around the time that I lost both my dogs, one to old age (Piper) and one to cancers of the brain and skull (Hunter, a few days later), Holly began her stays with me off and on. It seems to have uniquely positioned me to parent a very old dog with brain cancer. However, Holly is still way more functional than most dogs 5 years her junior, so I am not really considering this a short-term obligation.

Enough. Holly's 17th birthday is June 14 and we have a party to plan.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Holly and the paparazzi

My houseguest Holly has a patented paparazzi-dagger-stare. She made an exception today for portrait artist extraordinaire David Jensen of Alaska Pet-ography. He's the guy who takes all those amazing portraits that help us get homeless animals adopted. And he's just a really good buddy to let us interrupt him on this beautiful weekend and graciously make tons of time for us.

Holly has been an emotional catalyst for a lot of what's going on with me lately and is mainly the one responsible for bringing this blog back to life. (Just so you know who to blame.) You'll learn more about that in time. She's staying with me while her family is getting settled in their new Calgary home and will be embarking on that big adventure herself before long.

Meanwhile, enjoy the portraits, video compilation and commentary by David, who was quite charmed by Holly's independent spirit. I would not say Holly endeavored to make this process go smoothly in any way whatsoever, which only goes to prove that David, you really are the very best!

on Mother's Day

Margaret Elaine Burrell Gallatin was born on August 20, 1926 in Ridgeley, West Virginia. She was mother to four children, three of whom are living today. She has been living here in Anchorage for the last few years, and much of this blog's absence the last few years has to do with her journey and mine. About 10 days ago Mom returned into the care of Hospice. But that is not the story I want to tell today. And it's not even mine, but one told more beautifully by my eldest brother. And the photo isn't a recent one, but it's what I want to remember when I hear these words. Love you, mom.

How Your Eyes Still Dance
Music and lyrics by Matthew Gallatin

You had no shelter from ill winds that blew
So how did the grain of your heart run so true?
And how did you manage to drink bitter tears
And grow only sweeter as grey grew the years?

How your bright eyes dance, Marguerita...
You sashay and swing on light silver wings
And trip gaily through their laughter-warmed blue
How your eyes still dance...

So many loves sadly taken away,
See all the stones where the mourning wreaths lay;
But every grave with its measure of pain
Touched by your memories, grows roses again.

How your bright eyes dance, Marguerita...
You sashay and swing on light silver wings
And trip gaily through their laughter-warmed blue
How your eyes still dance...

There's music that lingers and rises above
The heartache, the sadness, the tears and the love;
And all these fair tunes that are cast on the wind
Meet with your smile and you're dancing again!

How your bright eyes dance, Marguerita...
You sashay and swing on light silver wings
And trip gaily through their laughter-warmed blue
How your eyes still dance...
How your eyes still dance.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Join my movement

I'm calling it Defenders Of Old Dogs. Partly because they really need it and partly so we can all greet each other with "Dood....."

Friday, May 07, 2010


No, not that one.
A couple weeks ago Kari and I were at the Alaska Women's Show and were approached by folks from The Avatar Compassion Project. (I walked away musing whether we looked like the kind of people who could use some how-to on compassion, but then decided instead that we looked like the kind of people you could depend on to carry out the instructions.) The challenge of the project is to hand to strangers a total of 1 million compassion cards by October 17, 2010.

The card itself contains an exercise from Harry Palmer's book Resurfacing, and it spoke to me right now because I've had several conversations with people in grief lately. I often regret that our culture has abandoned the tradition of the mourning band, because it let everyone know who among us was in a vulnerable state of sorrow. Now we are surrounded by them invisibly so that our thoughtlessness adds to their burden, as we are also invisible in that state ourselves.

Monday, May 03, 2010

I don't know where to start

As a linear thinker it feels right to me to connect, even in an abbreviated way, some narrative thread of the epic that’s occurred. Cliff’s done it with Shakespeare after all.

But the highlights haven’t been high and they haven’t been light.

I could simply hail the boat from this point, so far downriver now, and begin to describe the change in the scenery.

But I am so changed too. I have become someone who can articulate about all kinds of feelings and thoughts, except the most important ones and particularly about my own pain. I am no longer a sharer in that sense. With anyone. I have no aspiration to be different. The planet is down to just a few inhabitants and the cave is really down to just me.

I am never going to be a FaceSpaceTwit, that much is certain.

But the tide is ebbing and I am being pulled with its shift. And, not surprisingly, all of it is under the influence of one dog. This weekend was the first time in 18 months that I allowed it to take me deeply into the undertow. It was a meaningful baptism.

So I am stirring the sand here a bit, feeling that something is meant to be said now but guarding all that is in me to say.