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!)