After the Dremel

What’s it like to have brain surgery? I’ve never been asked that question directly, but many people I’ve talked with about it have implied the question. I can’t answer that question, because I slept through it. I can tell you the entire experience was much better than I anticipated. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. My biggest fear going into it was the pain that would follow. Well that, and what if my surgeon tinkered with something he wasn’t supposed to and altered me. That was the most pressing fear and then the pain.

Before the surgery, I was a headachey person. I got them regularly; once a month with my monthly affliction. I also got migraines a few times a year. They were never a red flag that something was wrong because I’ve always been a person who had headaches. I got them regularly when I was pregnant for both my kids, and my doctor explained that many women experience headaches with the change of their hormones on a monthly basis.

“Some women are more sensitive to monthly hormone fluxes, and you’re one of them,” he explained when I called him about a migraine I had when I was four months pregnant with my first child. Adding that the hormone changes in pregnancy are worse than the monthly changes.

Not the answer I wanted to hear as I could only take Tylenol. So, when people ask if I had headaches with my brain tumor, yes; frequent ones. Why didn’t I act on them? Because they’ve been part of me and weren’t a warning.

In light of my history with headaches, that is the symptom I was most worried about following my surgery. I was getting my egg cracked open and I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I didn’t have multiple or constant headaches post-op. Well, I can only call myself immensely blessed because I didn’t have a single headache post-op. In fact, I never took more than Extra Strength Tylenol afterward. I had an ache in my head, but not a headache; if that makes sense. My head would be sore, you know, how it feels after you hit it on the corner of the kitchen cabinet. That type of sore. It was nothing like the searing pain that was one of my regular headaches. For that, I was thankful.

What I struggled with the most afterward was the reality that I had brain surgery. I spent too much time in my head thinking about my head. It was weird to think someone drilled into my head. One of my friends came over and visited me after I got home.

“Hey, you look good. How you feeling?” she asked.

“I’m good. Tired, but I feel pretty good.”

“I think it’s so neat you had brain surgery. Do you think they took a video of your operation? I’d love to see it. Did they offer it to you?” She looked really enthusiastic about the process of seeing my head opened up.

The prospect turned my stomach. That’s something I would never want to see and I quickly changed the subject of our conversation. The idea of seeing me laid out like that was unsettling and I’d never want to see myself like that.

The idea of such an invasive surgery never sat well me and to this day doesn’t. What I have more of an issue with is how my head feels now. I have bumps and little indents up there and I have a permanent plate. I don’t like how it feels and I’ve struggled with it since I felt how different my head was the first day I was able to shampoo post-op. The fear of shampooing that first week quickly gave way to revulsion when I felt the anomalies that were now my new anatomy. I had to process that. I still avoid it as much as I can when I shampoo. It’s all good now, though; it’s different but it’s me. I lived through something extraordinary and I can write about it. Change is a part of living. Sometimes it’s thrust upon sometimes; sometimes we choose it, but it’s always there. How we choose to deal with it is what defines our character.

I wrote this poem last year. It sums up my struggles and coming to grip with the changes.

When Your Head Changes

Your head was Dremeled.

You awoke elated. “I’m alive”

Fingers and toes moved; you could speak. Joyful.

“Pain level?” “Low.” Relief.

Home. Satisfaction.  

“He got it all!” Catharsis.

Medication. Wired from one; exhausted from another. Shredded.

The staples are out; shampoo now. Craters. My head; the surface of the moon.

You felt the plate. Nausea.

“I am Humpty Dumpty.” Repulsion; melancholy.

“What is normal now?” Sob.

Exhaustion. Can’t sleep; you wrote miles of words

You wrote to ease the change. 

Days turn to weeks.

You descend from medication.

No brain swelling; stop one.

No seizures; stop another. You slept.

Healing. Time. Come to terms.

The tumor impact will sort itself out. In time. Impatience.

Weeks to months.

Hair grew back. Relief.

It grew from a crater. It can’t be tamed. Menaces.

“Does everyone see it?” Anxiety.

“Cover the craters!” Tears.  

Your self is altered. Forever.

More time.  

I am alive; a new me. An alteration of the former.

My surgery removed a tumor. Dispatched with force.

My surgery saved my life. My surgery changed me.

My head is weird! Smile.

My hair is odd. Cowlicks.

My new crown.

Timing is Everything

In yesterday’s blog I touched on something I’ve been thinking about a lot. What if the pandemic happened 10 or 20 years ago? Yesterday, I said if this was 2010 I would have lost my retail job and been at home with a sad 17-year-old son and an upset 15-year-old daughter. Their high school social lives would have been interrupted. I doubt there would have been any type of online learning for them, so they would have been bored and unhappy stuck at home 24/7. I don’t think my existence would have been as peaceable as it is now.

I would have welcomed staying home with these two 20 years agao

However, if this was 20 years ago, I would have been in my glory. I loved having little kids. Being at home seven days a week with my 5 and 7 year olds would have been wonderful. I imagine I would have created a great schedule. Each morning would have included learning time and then arts and crafts. Since we had snow in March, there would have been outside time, followed by hot chocolate, and afternoon movies. Undoubtedly, there would have been baking a few days a week, and I know there would have been afternoons helping mom with housework and laundry. I would have been quite happy with life. An added bonus would have been that my parents would have been 20 years younger, and I wouldn’t have worried about them as much as I do now.

When my kids were young, I was the parent who was sad when summer vacation was over. My girlfriends used to have a first-day-of-school brunch complete with mimosas. I never wanted anything to do with that, being such a fan of summer vacation. I saw no sense in celebrating my kids’ return to school since I was so sad. We used to go to the lake at least once a week, the ocean sometimes twice a week. My parents had a pool, so we’d go over there quite frequently. They loved to visit Grammy and Grampy, so that was always a treat. Besides that, we liked to hike and ride our bikes. I made the most of my kids’ childhood, so I think a quarantine with them would have been welcome.

Watching them grow and being able to be so active in their lives was a blessing. I always felt bad for the parents who had a hard time with their little ones. It wasn’t until the teen years that I began to be able to empathize with those parents. When my kids began to pull away from me, I felt it. We were such a force and did everything together, I literally mourned the passing for their youth. As teens, when I asked them to go to the beach and they said they didn’t want to, I would retreat to my bedroom and cry. When they began to feel like the lake was gross and didn’t want to go there anymore, it was a blow to me.

Personally, I knew they had to pull away from me to become well-adjusted adults. It’s a requirement of youth for one to find autonomy and develop independence. As this happened, I felt small pieces of me die away. The little people who were so dependent on me and needed me and wanted me all the time needed to become their own people and develop their own likes and needs. It’s essential they did this, but it was difficult to be party to it.  

When the high school years came, and they started to drive and really find themselves, I noticed they began to come back around and really lean on Jeff and me again. I liked it because it affirmed to me they still needed us to some extent and they trusted us. But, then they had to leave for college. I had to let them each go again, and it was awful. Those first few weeks home without them was hard.

When Colby left, I at least still had Maddy at home. When Maddy left two years later, the emptiness in the house was overwhelming at times. After college, they each came home. Colby stayed for about a year but then found a job in Massachusetts and lives on his own now. Maddy still lives at home. I love that she’s quarantining with us.

This pandemic is very hard to process. It’s so evil and elegant. It’s causing death and taking a toll on the human spirit, but it’s also giving us the gift of time with people. We can’t be together in person, so we’re making time to reach out and connect. I’m making an effort to talk to family and friends on a regular basis. It’s essential for everyone’s well-being. Nobody wants to be alone. If this had happened 20 years ago, I’d be just as content as I am today. Perhaps more content because I’d have different neighbors, but that was yesterday’s story. My point is, everything happens in its own time for a reason. This is happening to us now, in this time in our lives. I contend many are questioning why it had to happen at all; I know I am. The fact remains that it’s here and we need to get through it. It’s more of strain on some than others, but if we can be there for those in need, give a little more, and connect more than we ever did, everyone stands to gain from this experience.

Walking on Jell-O

Initially, I loved my quarantine lifestyle. Being such an introvert, I felt as if I’d trained for it my entire life. My commute was reduced to a mere 100 steps from bedroom to kitchen; being able to be with my family from sunup to sundown was lovely, and working with little to no interruptions on a daily was the icing on the cake. Lately though, and I contend my feelings are probably driven a little bit by my dog passing, but I’ve begun to feel unsettled, feeling like my quiet Covid life has been turned upside-down and that I’m walking on a pool of Jell-O; supported but so very unstable. Let me explain.

First, Jeff and I live in a rural town on a lovely road of sixteen homes. Our driveway is very long and it ends with our house and the house next door which sits about 1,000 feet to the right of us. Our lots are wooded and our houses are close but not too close. However, lately I’ve been feeling like they live on top of us; like we share a wall, unable to escape them.

We’ve been in our home for 25 years and have always had a peaceful existence with our neighbors, and this is the first time I’ve felt so intruded upon. I have a multitude of issues with these people. One, they have a dog who believes our yard is his toilet! Since they moved in last August, they have made little to no attempt to keep him in their yard. He’s a young boxer and he needs room to run. I understand; you have a dog with a lot of energy, well then manage your dog. Fence your yard; take him for multiple walks a day; engage your dog and play fetch with him. Do they do any of this? No. They just let him run around. He peed on our herb boxes last year, ruining our entire crop of herbs. He pooped all over our yard. Last Thanksgiving, he tore open our garbage, which was in our garage. This spring he’s begun to dig up our lawn. You get the picture; he’s a bona fide nuisance.

And before you wonder if we’ve talked to them, we have, several times. When they first moved in and we found him on our deck, scratching at our door to come in, we gave them a pass. New house; the dog was learning. Every time they came to fetch him, we got an apology and an assurance they would keep him tied up. When it continued, we got an assurance they were going to put in an Invisible Fence in (the one that’s in the ground and the dog wears a collar to keep him in the boundaries of the fence); that hasn’t happened yet. When Jeff talked to the neighbors last weekend, he was told they were in the planning phases of how they want to layout said Invisible Fence. It’s ridiculous. I don’t want to start a war, but the daily intrusion of that dog coming into my yard, especially now that my dog is gone, makes me so unhappy.

The neighbors cats just passing through.

Second, they also have cats. The cats aren’t too bad, except they do pass through our yard on a regular. I’m more worried about this year after the garden is in. I don’t need them turning our garden into their litter box. Their big brother already does that.

And third, as a value added to my discourse, they now own three ATVs that they ride around almost daily in their backyard, which is adjacent to our backyard. It’s lovely! They tear around, engines whining. Sometimes they make a longer journey and ride down the driveway we share that runs across the entire frontage of my house. It’s especially nice when I’m trying to work on my screen porch and I’m on a video conference call and they hop on their ATVs and the dog chases them around, barking. Bliss! *insert crying face emoji here.

My screen porch has always been a peaceful place for me. I love it three seasons of the year, but now I can’t. I either had a nosey boxer coming up onto my deck and looking in the windows as he passes by to relive himself, or ATVs buzzing around. My life has become upside down. Get me out of this Stranger Things episode.

What this has done has made both Jeff and I feel like we need to leave. We’ve always talked about moving. Being skiers, we want to be closer to the snow, so for years we’ve talked about moving up North. However, I’m not ready to leave yet. My kids aren’t settled. I really wanted to stay in their childhood until they have their lives in order. Colby is considering a move in the next couple years and Maddy still lives with us. Thinking about leaving them, because we’re being forced out, only makes me feel more anguished than I already am. I wanted to stay put, where I’ve always happy and comfortable. At the moment though, I’m not happy or comfortable. Living next door those people makes me feel violated.

To compound everything, my work will be changing drastically in the next year. I work for a college, and there is so much uncertainty with the virus and what will happen in the fall. Personally, I can’t imagine our campus not opening, but the C.D.C. may have other plans. If that happens, the students will be learning online again. I have a campus-based job, so I’m not sure what will happen to my role. Besides that, we are making sweeping changes to the curriculum in the next year and the proposed changes leave me feeling uncertain. On one hand, I’m excited to be part of the proposed changes and see the end product, on the other hand, I’m not sure how I fit into the big picture.

Having just earned my Master’s degree, I’d like to teach online. I’m also trying to get published. I’m not sure I will be hired to teach online if I don’t have any publishing credentials. This feels more like a catch-22. I will apply to teach, but I’m afraid I’ll be turned down. More uncertainty; more Jell-O.

I understand that things could be worse for me right now. If this was 10 years ago, I’d be out of a job and stuck at home with two very moody teenagers. However, I’d have nice neighbors. Now more than ever, I hate that they left. I’ve grown so much in 10 years. I’ve capitalized on my writing skills; I have a blog; I’m establishing my online presence, and I will be a teacher at some point this year. I count my blessings, but I can’t shake this unstable feeling in me right now. I can’t escape it.  

I miss him!

One more factor that’s adding to my instability. It’s odd, but follow me here. I miss commercials. I never thought I would utter/write those words, but I do. What I used to think were a nuisance or an interruption of my program, I miss. I miss the Bud Light Knight; I miss regular car commercials; I miss any commercial that doesn’t talk about us all being in this together. I want to watch T.V. so I can escape the weird reality we live in, but the commercials only serve as a reminder that my life is out of control. I want to watch a commercial and burst out laughing or look at Jeff and say, “That was bizarre.” I miss that. The bottom line is, there is no more familiarity. I don’t feel anything concrete in my life at the moment; I just have a lot of Jell-O and the sensation is making me feel so wobbly.

Quarantine is Puzzling

I have never been a huge fan of puzzles. I find them slow, and they can become quite frustrating. Although, there was a time I did. When I was a kid, we had them in my elementary school. When I had free time, I’d get a 25-piece one and make it really fast. Then, I would keep doing the same one over and over to see how fast I could do it. That was second or third grad. I remember this because I thought it was fun and it kept my busy mind occupied. That was when I thought I liked puzzles.

Fast forward to having my own kids, and I remembered how much I liked doing small puzzles when I was a kid, so I got them some. They really enjoyed them. As they got older, they asked for bigger ones. This is when I realized I didn’t like doing them. The bigger the puzzle, the harder it was. Naturally, I mean that’s the point of a puzzle; it’s supposed to be a challenge. The kids would do them, and I’d try to help but become irritated. Not wanting to discourage their love of puzzles, I changed gears and took on the role of cheerleader. I began to watch and encourage them. I’m the mom; I’m supposed to support and teach, not do it for them. That was my reason for not helping.

The kids are grown, it’s a few decades later and the whole of society finds themselves quarantined. To date, since the quarantine began, my family has completed four puzzles. Maddy is the engine behind our puzzling. She really enjoys them and encourages our help.

The first one we did, and it’s because Maddy broke it open and started it, was of mine and Jeff’s faces. He got it for his 50th birthday from some dear friends. We found this one quite difficult. It was only 500 pieces but the picture had a lot of varying shades of white and black which made it challenging.

The next one we decided to tackle was one I ordered on Amazon before they all sold out. Loved this one; it was Christmas stamps. This one was 1000 pieces. This print was fun because the stamps were all unique and you could go through the pieces and find little sections of the puzzle to build independent of the larger puzzle. I made the green and white Christmas tree; the blue and white snowman, and the gingerbread house. At the end, the family pitched in to finish.

While we were working on the Christmas puzzle, I ordered a couple vintage scene puzzles: a general store and a tea setting in a garden. We got the general store done but it nearly killed us. There were distinct areas of the scene: the store front, a flag, truck, and signs that were fairly easy to assemble. The tree! It took us three days to finish it. The leaves were all the same variations of the same three colors and it was hard to tell which direction the leaves should be placed within the picture. We took a break after this one.

Getting the easy parts done
That tree! 😫 My sister called me when she was stuck on the tree. I thought she was going to disown me.

I traded puzzles with my sister after this one. I gave her the accursed general store and she gave me a 2,000 piece Pixar characters scene. It was fun and took about two weeks. During assembly, it took up our entire dinner table so we had to eat at the island for two weeks while we completed it.

Getting 2,000 pieces sorted while assembling the border

Maddy and Colby were instrumental in completing it. They dove in after Summer was laid to rest; it was a nice distraction.

In progress.

Colby did tell us today he still loves puzzles. Maddy has decided to swear them off after the quarantine is lifted. I’m on the fence. I’ll never be a do-a-puzzle-alone person, but I have discovered I don’t mind being the DH and helping out the team where I can.

Voila! The family thought we knew all the Pixar movies. Turns out, we didn’t. There were many faces on here we didn’t know. What about you? Any you don’t recognize?

Three Days Later

Three days later and I’m still trying to figure out how a tiny 10lb dog took up so much space in my life. At her porkiest, she did get to be 12lbs; that’s when we called her Sausage Roll. My point is, she was so small yet brought large quantities of joy and filled spaces in my life I didn’t know were vacant. Now that she’s gone, the space she left behind is fathomless.

I’ve also been trying to figure out, looking back on it now, how I ever got angry at her. When we first got her, and she refused to be crate trained, it made me anxious; so incredibly anxious. I had no idea what we were going to do with her when we had to leave her alone if we didn’t have a safe place for her to stay in our house. She couldn’t have the run of it; she wasn’t house broken yet.

All anxiety stems from a feeling of losing control, and at that moment in time in her puppy hood, I felt out of control because she wasn’t conforming to the rules I read in the puppy handbooks. The guidelines that stated that dogs loved crates because it gave them a sense of security and a place of their own weren’t applying. She didn’t like the safe space we were trying to give her. She hated it and I felt like I had no options for her without a crate, having no plan B.

Feeling like her safe place was a prison made her anxious. When I came home every afternoon and she was worked up, frothing, and covered in poop, I was angry because I was afraid too. Now, when I look back on it, I feel so bad that I couldn’t muster understanding and sympathy for her. She was probably feeling the same way I was, out of control, except she expressed it in a different way. I never scolded her, but I didn’t comfort her either. I just dutifully washed that little fur ball covered in poop and then went about the rest of my night, making supper, and keeping an eye on her so she wouldn’t mess in the house.

When I got home and saw her so upset, I wished I walked in and crouched down and said, “Oh, look at you. Poor little thing. What’s wrong? I wish you could tell me what you need. Let’s clean you up.”

Instead she got, “UGH, what a mess. Why don’t you like your crate? It’s supposed to be good for all of us. Now I have to wash you again! What a mess.” Then naturally I would gag.

I do remember in the course of washing her I would soften, and after she was cleaned the kids and I would sit with her. She was wrapped in a towel and we’d cuddle her. I just wish I could have been softer and more understanding with her from the start.

All that attitude!

About six years ago she tore her ACL. She was being crazy again. Besides celebrating us when we got home, she was always enthusiastic to go out in the morning. When I opened the slider in the morning, she would go tearing out on the deck and hurl herself down the stairs to the yard, especially if she saw a squirrel or chipmunk. One morning in March, she saw a chipmunk on the deck and launched herself out the door. The deck was icy and her back leg went off at a weird angle as she tried to go down the stairs chasing her quarry. She limped for a couple days after but seemed fine. We were scheduled to leave for Banff the following weekend and left her with Jeff’s father in Maine. When we got back she could barely walk.

He loved to walk her, and when he watched her he would take her out on long walks a couple times a day and this aggravated her already damaged knee. She needed surgery to repair the ligament. Her recovery required her to not have the run of the house anymore because she wasn’t allowed to jump on furniture or go up and down stairs. Knowing she couldn’t be crated, we opted to keep her in our bathroom like we did with her when she was a puppy, knowing our bathroom gave her comfort. Well, after a few day of this, it caused her anxiety. She began to become anxious again at being confined, and Jeff or I would come home and find her in a lather; poop scattered all over our bathroom and on her because she had walked through it. It was like a toxic waste dump behind that baby gate. The smell was horrific; we couldn’t wash her because she had a cast on her leg, and neither of us knew what to do. We were both angry and frustrated at this.

We bleached the bathroom each day this happened, and after a couple more days of coming home to the mess and her stress, I called the vet. He said we could give her the run of the house and suggested we take all the cushions off of all our furniture and gate her downstairs. By taking the cushions down, she could walk onto the couch she liked to lay on, and it would give her comfort. It worked. She was great when we got home and able to greet us at the door.

Looking back on that time now, I feel bad. Jeff and I talked about it and we both felt terrible. She didn’t do it on purpose, but we were short with her. None of her annoying behavior ever had a motivation to it. She was an animal who felt fear and acted on it. I wish I could have responded with more grace in those situations. I know, you can’t go back, and it serves no purpose to dwell in the past. I understand that, but after a loved one passes I think one always does inventory of a shared life. I know our family did right by her, but there were moments that could have been handled differently.

My redemption came in the last year when her decline was noticeable. I had already beaten myself up about the pervious shortcomings. When she was begging to repeatedly go out, or she messed in the house, I did have grace for her. When Jeff or Maddy got annoyed with her revolving door at night, I reminded them she wouldn’t be here forever. When she messed; I had more patience. She had a bad accident last summer that involved a yoga mat that wasn’t put away; she looked crestfallen when I found it. I just reassured her it was OK and cleaned the mess. I think she understood I had grown; she also knew she couldn’t help it and I knew.

I don’t have regrets, only reminders of how patience can serve one better in times of distress. Understanding why a situation is happened will help to diffuse it and elevate everyone involved. I woke Wednesday morning, my first morning without her, and I was thinking about all the times I scolded her or was short with her and then I heard a voice in my head saying, “All is forgiven.” It was a male voice, so I know it wasn’t Summer. I like to think it was divine intervention, and it made me feel better and allowed me to let go. Now that I’ve written this down, it will be out of head and I hopefully won’t think about it anymore.

A little epilogue here:

Since Tuesday, we have all been visited by “Summer” in different places. Jeff saw a Bichon in the grocery store Wednesday morning. Later that day, Maddy was out and saw a car with a Bichon drive past her. She said the dog had a little jacket on like Sum used to wear.
My visit came on the Peloton. When one rides a Pelton, there is a little news feed that comes up on the side of your screen. Since we’re all stuck inside, riders who are riding the same ride will virtually high-five each other. One of my virtual friends was named 4YouICan and her photo was a Bichon, and the dog looked just like my little dog. There I was, sweating, panting, laughing, and crying. It was ridiculous but so sweet all at once. Thanks for letting us know you’re OK little friend.

Love You Forever Little One

My final picture of her. That smile let me know she was ready would be OK.

It is now 24 hours since you left us Little Dog. Your given name was Summer, but nobody called you that unless you were in trouble. Instead, you were lovingly called: Littlest; Little Dog; Sum-Sum; Summertime; Little One; Little Friend; Beast; and Snowball. Bob could never figure out why a family that was so devoted to winter and skiing would name their dog Summer, so Snowball it was. You were white after all, so it made sense. Regardless of what you were called, you answered to any name; loving every soul who entered our home.  

After today, again, I will have survived another bad day, and this one has been one of my hardest. The emotional toll of losing you has been so much more than I anticipated. The void that is left with your departure is endless; I can’t see the bottom but I know I will find it one day. The emptiness will begin to fill with the memoires of our years with you.   

Like one of my children, I loved you with all my heart. And, like one of my children you tested my patience. I know you didn’t mean to, but you still had needs that always didn’t align with my timeline. You needed to go out when I was busy, or you wanted my attention when I was distracted, under foot when I was trying to carry laundry upstairs, or you couldn’t wait for me to get home and messed in the house. It’s what kids did, and like a parent, I met your needs whether I liked it or not.

Sometimes, I do you feel you messed in the house because you were angry at dad and I for leaving you. I’d hear you bark at us when we left; you were never a barker, so I always joked with dad that you were telling us off for leaving you. Like one of our kids, you had a mind of your own. Sometimes, after we got home from dinner, visiting friends, or shopping, you would have left us a present; always on the carpet in the office. I wondered why you never went on the hardwood in the kitchen or the linoleum in the foyer, but you didn’t. That’s when I suspected you knew what you were doing.

I imagined you said to yourself after you finished telling us off for leaving, “I’ll show them. They hate it when I poop in the house. Well, here goes,” and you’d saunter into the office and do your business. As you walked away from your handy work, I imagine you were probably thinking, “Hope it’s a soft, stinky one. Mommy hates those!” Anyway, I doubt you were that nefarious, but I laugh thinking you knew more than you were letting on.

For now, as each day goes by, I will remember your sweetness. How you endeared yourself to me. It’s a good thing you were so cute, because when you did act up and caused me grief, because you were one of my kids, you would look at me with pleading eyes, with that mischievous little smile, and my heart would melt; impatience or anger would wane. I’d pick you up and snuggle my face into the crown of you head, “Oh, littlest. You’re such a pain.” Then you would wriggle out of my arms begging to go out again, probably for the 14th time that night.

Again, it’s a good thing you were cute because you were the first dog I ever met, or have met since, who didn’t like a crate. Our dog before you wasn’t crate trained, and he chewed up our house, furniture, and belongings. I did a lot of research on crates before we got you and learned the benefits of them for dogs and humans, so naturally when we brought you home, we tried to crate you.

You hated it! You cried that first night. We weren’t alarmed though. Many books said pups need a night or two to adjust. We moved you upstairs into Maddy’s room. That didn’t work, so we brought you into our room. By the morning, nobody had slept and you messed yourself and were covered in your filth. After two more nights of this, we relented and brought you to bed with us. Problem solved. You loved snuggling with dad and me.

It didn’t help us during the day though. When we left you and came home, you were covered in your own mess, frothing at the mouth, and so stressed. It made us stressed and me sad to see you like that. You were bathed more in the first 10 days home with us then you were in your entire 16 years on this earth.

To help you, we tried making your crate smaller with a divider, making it larger, covering it, leaving music on, or leaving music and a light on. Nothing! There was no satisfying you in that crate. Finally, we bought a baby gate and gated you in our bathroom. Success! You jumped in our laundry basket that first day and slept. You just wanted to be around our scent and not penned in. What a funny little dog.  

As the years went by, you left us in increments. Your enthusiasm for crowds changed; your desire for walks lessened; your ability to go for walks waned; the length of time you stayed outside shortened. These small, noticeable changes were preparing us. However, the most noticeable change, besides your gait, was your greeting.  

As a yearling, after we could trust you with the run of the house, you’d greet us at the door with such gusto. When we got home, you would run up and say hi, then you would turn and race with all your might to the living room, slide stop in front of the T.V., peel around and run back to us, slide to a stop, crash, stand up, and do it all over again. You’d run back and forth at least 5 to 6 times, doing a funny little soft panting bark, until you were satisfied we were properly greeted.

Between 6 and 7 years old, your greeting became a little more dignified. You were always at the door, tail wagging, panting, and whining with great delight at our arrival. After a proper run around our legs, and an attempt at tripping, you’d sit and wait for a pick up, pat, and snuggle. The last few years, if you went upstairs during the day, you couldn’t make it down again, so you’d stand at the top and whine until we rescued you. The last couple months, you waited for us in the living room for us to greet you when we got home. You left us by degrees, preparing us for a time when there would be no more greetings.

Now you’re gone, and the consolation is you’re whole again. You can hear and see. My biggest joy is seated in knowing you can walk again, because that final day your backend finally gave out. Your dignity was gone because you lost your faculties. The arthritis is gone; there is no more medication, and you can greet all the new arrivals in Heaven with the gusto you lavished on us for years. Enjoy your return to youth my little love. I look forward to seeing you again. You were one in a million little friend. If love could have sustained you, I contend our love for you would have protected you from the infirm you suffered and you would have been our companion until our last days. Love is powerful; alas, it is powerless against death, but you are at peace. Until we meet again. XO-XO-XO  

To know the spirit of our little beast, if you haven’t done so already, please read Our Would-be Mouser. It will make you laugh.

Chairlift Phobia

As I touched on in my post about learning to ski, I have a chairlift phobia. It began at King Pine week two of my skiing career. For those who missed that post, it was my first time on a chair and I didn’t know how to disembark. When we got to the summit, I just stood right up and fell over backwards, hitting my head on the ramp.  

The following week at Pats Peak was a train wreck. If you haven’t read that post, you should, here’s the link. It’s hilarious. I will sum it up: multiple falls off the same poorly designed chairlift. It wasn’t the fault of the chairlift; I do realize it was user error. But, I feel like the design of the chairlift contributed to my user error. I finally learned basic chairlift use week four in a private lesson at Waterville Valley. After week four, my memoires are a bit fuzzy regarding chairlift usage, so I feel like all went well until about two years later.  

We went to Sunapee Mountain late 2003 with some friends, Rod and Kat. They were quite instrumental in helping Jeff and I learn how to dress like skiers, carry our gear like skiers, and overall how to behave like a skier. They were veterans and were happy to share their knowledge us, and Kat was that female skier I admired and aspired to be.

That day, I was worried more about skiing from the summit and less about chairlifts. I was thinking to myself as we were getting ready in the main lodge and finally asked Kat, “Are you sure I can ski from the top? This mountain is pretty big.”

Kat smiled reassuringly at me, “There’s an easy green trail right from the top. You can handle it. You’ll do fine.”

As we rode the lift together, both Rod and Kat looked at my skis, and Kat commented, “Those skis are way too long for you. Rodney, don’t we have some Salomons at the shop that would be a better for her?”

Rod looked at my skis and then at me, “Yeah, they’d be better than those. Can’t believe you were able to learn to ski on those.”

“They were free,” I responded. “And, I’d never skied, so I guess I didn’t know any differently.”

Since then, I feel as if I’ve become a connoisseur of skis. I know what I like and don’t like. I know I don’t like the skis I was on when I broke my rib last winter, but I haven’t written them off entirely yet. I’ll report back on those next year.

Anyway, as we got to the top, we successfully disembarked from the lift and slowly made our way to the top of the green trail, which was a ghastly long way for the lift. It seemed like a cruel joke that the easy trial took so much effort to get to.

Here’s the problem, most skiers know how to glide their skis like a hockey skater. It facilitates easier movement on flat terrain. As a very new skier, I hadn’t mastered that skill yet, so I basically had to try to advance myself across the peak with my poles and implementing a really weird shuffle. It took a bit to reach my destination. As it turns out, Kat’s scouting report was correct, and the green trail was pretty easy, worth the hike. There was a bit of a headwall in the middle, meaning it got a bit steep, but I managed it.

The next trip up the lift didn’t go so well. Remember, this blog is about my chairlift phobia. We went to get off the lift, and I was between Jeff and Rod. Rod got up and bumped me, then I lost my balance and fell into Jeff. We both toppled over on the ramp, crumpling to the ground in a tangled heap.

Rod skied away, unaware. Kat came over and helped get us on our feet. Little sidebar here: getting up from the ground with skis on is nearly impossible. Your ankles can’t bend and you have long boards stuck to your feet. Jeff untangled himself, but I was in harm’s way still near the end of the chairlift ramp, so I had to get up quickly. This required me to pop off my skis, which Kat did. Jeff hoisted me up by my arms, and I quickly reached down and grabbed my skis. Rod finally turned around and realized we had fallen. He laughed.

“Yeah, keep laughing buddy! It’s all your fault,” I thought to myself. The rest of the day, I rode the outside of the chair away from Rod.

It was a couple years later before I had another major chairlift snafu. It happened at Pats Peak; I was finally beginning to feel good about the place, and then …

We were there for our event, skiing with the kids, and our friends Amber, Derek, and a few other members of the Barnes family. We had been riding the lift the locals call “The Race Double.” It’s a quarter of the way up the mountain, and although all lifts at Pats lead to the one and only peak, this lift facilitates accessibility to the double black diamond and single black diamond trails. The double black is the race trail, hence the chair name, “The Race Double.”

Anyway, the seats on the double chair were very narrow. Amber and I were together and were chatting as we scooted over to the platform to get on the chair. Amber was on the inside and didn’t push over far enough. Neither of us noticed, and when the chair came I looked over my left shoulder and went to sit, but instead of the seat I felt the arm of the chair hit me in the backside, launching me up in the air and unceremoniously dumping me into the snowbank at the front of the chairlift platform. That hurt!

 From above me I heard, “Jude!” as Jeff looked down on me from two chairs in front. The lift had stopped; the lifty came and picked me up, “You alright?”

“Yeah, more stunned than anything,” as I tried to laugh it off. One ski had already fallen off and he pulled off my other so I could stand. He helped me up and we walked back to the platform. I sheepishly put my skis back on; the people who had come to wait for the next chair conceded their place in line to me, and I bravely mounted the next chair for the peak.

I was truly sore the next day, neck and back both hurting. My left hip hurt from falling on it; my left knee was sore from my right ski hitting it in the fall. My spirit wasn’t hurt though. After that little mishap, we skied the rest of the day until we needed to stop to get ready for après. I was a bit wearier of that chair, but I was undeterred.

After that day, I only had minor jostles and skis clipping as I got off chairs for a while. I actually started playing defense and would push people who locked skis with me, causing them to fall. I began to notice these mishaps generally happened when I sat in the middle, so I designed a new etiquette for myself, beginning to only ride lifts from the outside position.  

Despite my best efforts to avoid collisions, I had a few more. My next two chairlift kerfuffle’s happened at Jay Peak a few years apart. About seven years ago I was getting off the Jet Triple; I had stupidly put myself in the middle and got knocked over by Rod, again. Based on my life plan of always wanting to ride on the outside of chairs, I don’t know how I allowed myself to be sandwiched in the middle, but there I was. As we were getting off, Rod clipped my right ski and I got pushed off balance. I don’t know how I didn’t take out Kat but she avoided me as I fell awkwardly, my left leg twisted under me, coming down hard on my left side. I did ski the rest of the day, but the next day I felt like I had whiplash. After a few days of living with it, I did go to the doctor to get checked out. Muscles relaxants and rest were prescribed.  

My second Jay chairlift fall was epic, if I do say so! It happened in 2017. The wind was howling that day; typical Jay day, and I was actually on the outside of the chair where I belonged. We got to the top, and as I was getting ready to ski off the ramp, I felt Jeff fall into me and we locked skis. I tried to stay balanced but he fell into me again because out chairmates fell into him. I flew through the air to my left and landed Superman style with my skis crossed behind me, my knees bent. Jeff came over and tried to pick me up, but the more he lifted me, the tighter my crossed skis became behind me and my knees began to scream, which made me holler.

“Stop, stop, stop!” I tried to look up at Jeff, but my neck was already tightening up.

“What?” He growled at me.

By now our other friends had gathered around us, and another friend had grabbed my other arm and was trying to help Jeff hoist me up.

“Stop! My knees. Will someone please unclip my skis?” I couldn’t rollover either, because my crossed skis were acting like a break on either side of me when I rolled.

Someone unclipped my skis and I bounded up. I gently stretched my neck and looked around at the faces of my all concerned friends.

“I’m ok. My neck is just tight. Let’s ski!”  

I had another fender bender that same year at Ragged. Until that day, I hadn’t adopted a chairlift etiquette for high-speed chairs because they slowdown for riders to disembark. That day, we stood up and John lost his balance and clipped my ski, which knocked me onto my right hip. I basically sat really hard on my right hip, which bothered me for the rest of the season. So, lesson learned. I will not sit anywhere but on the end now, ever. I want the outside so badly, I’ve been known to allow a single skier who tries to join our group to go ahead so they won’t take my coveted outside position. I’m serious about this now. It’s life or death out there on the chair. The slopes are easy compared to getting there!

Ooommm

So, I’ve started meditating. Well, I actually started last year, but I’ve been practicing off and on, here and there, starting and stopping, a few days on, a day off, a few days on again, for about nine months. Obviously, I hadn’t established a routine yet, until now.

The first time I meditated was last May after I attended a one-day mindfulness retreat/seminar sponsored by SNHU. Since my craniotomy, as I’ve written about in this blog, I’ve been noticing mental slipups. Last year was a very distracting year, so I thought this seminar was exactly what I needed. As it turns out, it was. I took four great workshops, and at each workshop, we meditated.

I learned that meditation, like yoga, is a practice. You need to keep doing it to train your mind how to let go and focus, or in the case of mediation, lose your focus of the outside world and distractions, and train yourself to focus inside. It’s quite tricky.

As a populous, we are always bombarded by outside stimuli, what I call static, and it can make it difficult to shut down. Static to me is that noise always on in the background; a neighbor’s dog barking; a lawnmower; that song on repeat in your head; the T.V.; the hum of the refrigerator. You get it; our environments are full of static. This constant din in our worlds can sometimes make it difficult to focus on the task at hand. Other times, it can just make it difficult to quiet the mind.

Raise your hand. When your head hits the pillow, how many of you can’t turn off your brain? As soon as I’m horizontal my brain begins to talk to me. The usual suspects that make up my dialogue consist of a sundry list of replays from my day such as, something stupid I did or said that day; the latest blog post I’m working on; how I failed someone that day (usually Jeff or Maddy); a mean response I made to Jeff when he asked me an innocent question. On other days, if I’m really wide awake, I’ll start strolling down memory lane and think of my failures as a mom, such as, every time I didn’t read the kids a second story before bed, or I didn’t laydown with Colby or Maddy when one of them asked me at bedtime, or I was impatient with one of them and snapped at them and made them cry; you get it. My night just fills with regrets and I become more sleepless. I don’t know why it happens; it just does.

Anyway, because my mind always looks like a three-year-old’s coloring page, I finally decided it was time to get serious and meditate before bed. Finally, train my mind to quiet and sleep. After my mindfulness seminar, I had downloaded Headspace. The basic app is free, and it’s good. It’s the one I had been using. Last August when we got our Peloton, I discovered the Peloton App has meditation on it. I was perusing it a few weeks ago and found the Power of Sleep Program; it’s a fourteen-day program. You listen to one module each night, consisting of different guided mediation techniques. I just finished the fourteen days last night. I feel like it helped because I’m definitely falling asleep quicker. I still don’t sleep through the night, but I’m going to start meditating at least once during the day and continue my new habit at night. I’ll keep you posted and let you know if I’m noticing a difference in a month.

Now, if only Jeff would stop falling asleep during my mediation and distract me with his snoring. First world problems. Right?