Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Open Letter to My Daddy

December 2010

Dearest Daddy,

This is something I wish I had written long before now. But I'm letting you know now, so at least that is something good.

You have always been a great role model. You taught me so many things just by your actions through the years. Your attitude has always been encouraging, even in the times when you may not have realized it. You were always there. You never drank or swore. You made lots of things seem like fun. You were the person I always wanted to spend time with. You played games with us. You sang beautifully. You were a
great Daddy! You still are!

You were always the person who seemed in control of himself. Indeed, on those rare times when you would loose your temper, it seemed like an event, rather than some day-to-day occurrence. It always seemed to me that you must've taken each bit of anger and disappointment and stuffed it away inside. And when you
could hold no more, POW! you erupted. I can only remember two or three eruptions over my whole life, though. You taught me something about self control and anger management, though you probably didn't realize it.

I remember that we were poor, but also that it really didn't matter much. We never went hungry or lacked for a roof over our heads. I DO remember surplus food and you telling me that if I was really hungry, I would eat the surplus government pork. Since I don't remember eating it, I guess I never was REALLY

I remember a time when our gas was turned off and it was early March. You made it seem like fun! I remember you letting us kids go under the dining room table as you draped blankets over it and warmed the air under the table with an electric space heater. It was an adventure and we had our very own warm 'tent'.

I remember that you often seemed to acquiesce to Mummy. Those times taught me the need for compromise. I remember that you sat with me all night when I was in terrible pain because of my teeth. I remember that you came to all my graduation ceremonies. I remember that you loved music. I remember playing games and cards as a family. I remember a time when a drunken relative made a hurtful comment to me and you came immediately to my defense. I remember us playing records and singing. I remember that family was important to you. I remember fun times.

I remember once when the electricity was turned off and we got to use Pap-Pap's old railroad lanterns to light our way to the bathroom. Another adventure! It may have been stressful to you, but you never let on. You made the whole episode seem like a great fun escapade!

You taught me that all people are equal and deserving. You instilled in me a desire for a relationship with God. You showed me that it is important to be who you are and to speak your mind at times and to hold your tongue at other times. (this is a lesson I am STILL learning)

Through your example, I learned that even death is a part of life. You showed me how to grieve and still survive, even when the lose is painful.

You aren't perfect, but you're close enough!

I know that through the years I have been a brat, an incorrigible, a trial and a pain in both your heart and your butt. I am sorry for the times when I caused you pain. I know that you have always been on my side even when I acted like you weren't. I am sorry for the times when I was thoughtless. I am sorry for causing you shame and for being so headstrong and stubborn.

Most of all, thank you for always allowing this prodigal to return to your family.

I love you, Daddy and I always will.

Your oldest "pain in the ass" *

* a direct quote from you, regarding children & parenting. :-)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Whatever happened to...

 Courtesy. Privacy. At the moment these two things come to mind.

I am sitting in my living room, with the windows closed. Yet I can hear my across- the-alley neighbor talking on his cell phone. Granted, I hear only his portion of the conversation, but really, should I have to hear ANY of it?  

This is not an odd occurrence.  Usually, several times weekly, I am privy to Mr. Cell Talker's conversations. Sometimes they are simple, even friendly. Other times they are laced with expletives that lead me to believe he's angry with the person on the other end.  

I know things which the Hippa Privacy Act dictate  I shouldn't know without his consent!  I suppose talking loudly in a public thoroughfare implies his consent to allow the sharing of these details, however I have NOT consented to be made aware of theses personal issues.

Last weekend as I was changing for bed, at 11:30PM, I could hear him ranting about some place that in his estimation was "a (expletive) palace!"  and how he'd "live in the (expletive) place!"  Those who know me well, know that I am not overly sensitive to coarse language. In fact it is an area I often struggle with. But why am I hearing this from a middle class man who has a home in which he could be having said conversation?  It's not like he's out there doing something!  It's dark. He's pacing in the alley! Go into your house, for goodness sake, or at least for my sake!

Not that Mr Across the Alley is the only offender around here.

I have heard folks across the street arguing with the cable company about their payments. Again, these people have a home, but choose to have these conversations outside, while walking back and forth in front of their house. I don't get it!

Another neighbor often will walk outside his house and either sit on the front steps during his conversations, or else, like the before mentioned guy, pace the sidewalk.  I have been the unwilling recipient of knowledge about his 12 step program, his dinner plans and much more.

What ever happened to keeping one's personal business personal? When did it become acceptable to share with such abandon? Especially with folks who are simply  neighbors by accident of fate?

Do these people even realize that they are inadvertently sharing details of their lives with anyone in earshot? Are they so self absorbed that they think we find the minutia of their day to day existence fascinating?

Am I just becoming overly sensitive as I age? Am I the only person who finds this behavior annoying?

And since I mentioned annoying, when did it become acceptable to wear ones pajamas to the grocery store? I know I've ranted about this before to friends.  But I am seriously asking when it became acceptable to walk to the grocery store in an item of clothing that one would sleep in? I know we send pictures of people inappropriately attired as email jokes, but I see it all the time.  I live very close to Kuhn's Grocery and see woman and girls, mostly, on their way to the store in items that I recognize as sleepwear. 

There was a time, when I was growing up in Lawrenceville, that there was a woman who often strolled the main street in her pj's, with curlers in her hair. She was mentally ill. But even she wore a robe over her jammies!

Again, I ask, am I just getting old and becoming a fuddy duddy? Or have we allowed our casualness to cross the line into inappropriateness?


Yesterday Raymond and I drove to Hershey from Pittsburgh to attend an RV show.  While traveling along the PA Turnpike, we made a stop at one of the service areas.  I decided to get something to eat and was standing in line behind a group of six gentlemen who were discussing what they each would be ordering.

One of the guys said, "No, I don't want anything. I have all those cookies in the car."

Ever the busybody, I said, mockingly, "Young man! that is no kind of lunch! Cookies, indeed!"

He laughed and one of his buddies told me, "You tell him. He can't just eat cookies."

The fellow laughed and said to me, "They're really good cookies. Homemade. Chocolate chip."

My turn to laugh, as I asked, "can I ride with you guys?" And answered my own question by pulling out my car keys and saying, "Wait. I'm the driver, so that won't work."

We all went on to place our orders and I waited for Raymond to return from his personal sojourn. We got our sandwich and  fries and were headed out  through the parking lot to our car. I noticed a bronze colored mini van pull up to the edge of the parking area, but paid little attention to the occupants. 

The sun was shining, the air was clear and perfectly crisp. I was enjoying the conversation with Raymond. 

I had passed by the mini van and was headed to our car when I heard a horn beep. I looked around and saw someone motioning to me from the van window.  I ambled over to the van and one of the passengers leaned forward from the back seat toward the driver's window, with a ziplock bag in his hand. The bag was filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies! It was the guys from inside the rest stop. They had stopped to offer Raymond and me cookies.  I took one and thanked them for their kindness. They told me to take one from my husband, too, but I explained that he doesn't eat cookies, which they accepted without question.

Then they drove away and beeped good bye.

I was stunned by such kindness. 

Since Raymond had missed the interaction while I was standing online, I explained what had happened.  He told me I should've taken one for him and I could've had two.

Somehow that just didn't seem like the right thing to do. 

I know sharing their cookies isn't on a par with saving the world, or even a portion of it, but it went a long way toward improving how I looked at my fellow travelers and touched me deeply.

Have you ever experienced a seemingly disproportionate reaction to some stranger's act of kindness?  

And even though the context may not fit, it made me think of Hebrews 13:2.

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." (NASV)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Off To School

As you may know, I care for two little munchkins three days per week.  The older child, Nicky, is  nearly 3.5 years old and I have been one of his caregivers since he was six months.  He is not the first child I have cared for over the span of my life, but I dare say he is one of the most challenging. He is also the one that I have grown to love in a way I never anticipated. 

Last year he attended a preschool program at the local Jewish Community Center two mornings weekly for two and a half hours. In the beginning, he was less than happy about going. He adjusted pretty quickly, though and was sad when his parents decided not to sign him up for another year, at the beginning of the summer. I was glad to have him home with me and his baby sister all summer. Although, I knew that the plan was to enroll him in some other program in September.

There was some anxiety on the part of some the adults (Mom, Nana, me)  that Nicky would react badly to the "new" school, since he has spent a good bit of time talking about Judy and Naomi, from his previous school.

Last week, he started his new preschool. It's a three day per week program at a local church for 4 hours each day. He even has to bring a lunch. 

So it was that on his third day of school, last week, I stood in the doorway as he walked off with his Mom, to get in her car and be dropped at school.  He kissed me good bye and trotted off like he'd been doing this for years, instead of DAYS!  As he climbed into his car seat and his Mom was buckling him in, he very nonchalantly waved to me.  I lost it!  I immediately teared up and excused myself from the activities, mentioning to his Mom that I had to go inside because I was going to cry. She said, "You're worse than me!"

He just seemed to have grown up overnight!  And I'm crying now as I type this. it doesn't seem that long ago that I held him on my chest and rocked him in the afternoons so that he would sleep longer than thirty minutes.

At one PM his sister and I were waiting in the hall at the school to pick him up.  As he left the classroom and saw us, he ran to me and threw his arms around my legs with abandon and said, quite loudly, "JeanMarie! You came!!!"  I almost cried again. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Learning, Still

Having been at home on vacation for the past ten days gave me a lot to think about.  My big plans included starting to purge unnecessary items from our home in preparation for our planned lifestyle changes next autumn. Best laid plans and all that... It was in the 90s, our house is not air conditioned. Those two facts lead to a lot of book reading & computer playing in the only room with AC, our bedroom. Not accomplishing my goal for the week sent me into a minor depression, complete with feelings of unworthiness and inferiority. 

Then we got a reprieve from the scorching temperatures.  So far I have made a small dent in the plan to rid ourselves of unneeded stuff and new homes have been found for many, already.  

Depression, lifted. Self esteem, improved. Self worth, in the positive column.

Add to that, the fact that I spoke with my employer yesterday and also with one of my little charges. Until I had that telephone interaction with them, I had allowed my depressed brain to tell me that I wasn't important to them and that they probably didn't miss me, or even like me. After talking with them, all those negative thoughts evaporated as if they had never been. I was looking forward to going to work and looking forward to spending time with Nicky and Anamaria. I even began wondering, once again, how I will leave them next Fall, when Raymond and I start our adventure.

The lessons I am learning from this experience are ones I probably should have 'gotten' a long time ago. But, as they say, "Better late, than never."  I'm learning to be easier on myself. I'm learning that I do need a connection to people. I'm learning to be flexible in my plans. I'm learning that spending time editing photos can count as work, as much as cleaning the attic. And I'm learning that sometimes I need to pick up the phone, no matter my aversion to it.

Brings to mind something Larry Osley, my twelfth grade American Democracy teacher told me, "You're a late bloomer".  Bet he didn't think I'd be this late!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Heat, Humidity and All That Jazz

I am on vacation this week. I had grand plans to start ridding our lives of unneeded stuff this week. Starting in the attic and working my way down through as many rooms as possible, in the time I have, purging unwanted, useless and unnecessary items. All in preparation of our anticipated departure from the city next fall. (This may seem early to begin this process, but we have loads of stuff and it always takes Raymond awhile to get onboard. Therefore an early start is necessary for maintaining sanity and our marriage) 

The grand plan took a minor hit over the weekend when I was feeling kind of sick and managed to sleep away a major portion of Saturday into Sunday. The good news was that all that rest and vitamin c intake, seemed to do the trick, physically. But into each well laid plan must seep the continuing drama of heat, humidity and 90 degree temps! What in the name of mercy is going on? It's too hot to visit the attic, let alone work in it! 

Yesterday, I managed to get laundry done and vacuum the downstairs before the heat of the day became oppressive. Since we have AC only in our bedroom, we attempt to cool the house down the old fashioned way. During the day, we keep windows closed, as well as blinds and drapes. We have ceiling fans in the living room and the sunporch and a pedestal fan in the dining room just to keep air circulating. Late in the evening, when the temperature is supposed to begin to drop, we open windows, and turn on two window fans, one in the attic and one on the second floor. We allow these two fans to pull air through the house by having them exhaust air to the outside and thereby pull cooler air in through the open windows. In theory this works.  It has worked well in practice, too, over many hot summers. This year, not so much! I mean, by 6AM the house does feel somewhat cooler, but then the heat and humidity arrive en force and the whole cycle starts all over again! 

I do not function well in heat. Never have. But this year seems unbearable to me. I mean, if I lived in Key West, I might expect this heat & humidity on the last day of August! But I live in a supposed "temperate zone"!

So far, I've wasted four of my eleven days off. OK, maybe "wasted" is too strong a word. Lists have been made. I spent time with Vinny today and also did some photo editing. But the purging has yet to begin. Tomorrow AM is a scheduled trip to Raymond's doctor, followed by lunch with Jen, Kira & Luke and visiting with them as well. Perhaps by the end of the week more normal temperatures will reign and I will be able to begin divesting our home of some of it's extraneous stuff! 

But I can guarantee that I am not entering the attic until we have nighttime lows in the low 60s!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Where I Stand

It occurred to me this AM that not everyone who knows me knows of the life transforming event that took place several years ago.  What made me begin to ruminate on this was a casual comment by an internet friend in response to my comment that "God is good" and "Prayer is powerful".  I realized that her comment was not meant to inflame, nor to critisize, but it did cause me to discern a need to explain my faith, at least a little.

This is my story, in part.  Go back with me to springtime, 1994.

It was the Saturday before Easter and Raymond's parents and siblings, their spouses and children were gathering at his parent's home in Conneaut Lake, PA. Due to having no dogsitter available for Jake and Blue, the plan was for me to drive Raymond up and return home for a quiet weekend alone with the dogs. Raymond would get a ride home on Sunday afternoon from his brother. For loads of reasons, I was thrilled by this plan. Looking forward to quiet time and planning to attend an Easter sunrise service in the local park, I throughly enjoyed the ride home, singing along with the radio and anticipating peace and quiet.

On my way down Mairdale, a street that runs along a local park, I stopped to watch a herd of deer browsing and felt thankful to have happened upon the sight in the city! Maybe I could get used to living on the North Side. 

I spent an uneventful evening reading and playing with the dogs, who had lots of energy after being in the car for over 3 hours for the drive up to and back from the lake. I ate what I felt like eating, watched TV, and was generally thrilled with my plans for peace and quiet. 

During this period in my life, I was also searching. I 'knew' there had to be more to life than working, paying bills and living in a place I hated, even though I wasn't sure what 'it' was. Part of my search was the need for something deeper, and I thought, something spiritual. Since I was a fallen away Catholic, I thought that perhaps, attending a sunrise service, out in nature, on Easter Sunday morning might be a place to begin.  So, I went to bed, full of anticipation, setting my alarm for 5:30AM.

When I arose the next morning, I was no longer filled with anticipation. Rather, I was deep in despair, for no apparent reason.  I do not remember coming downstairs to the living room, but I do remember that I had begun to cry.  Actually, I began to sob uncontrollably. Did I feed the dogs? Did I make coffee? I do not remember. I do remember, at one point, looking at the clock and realizing I had been crying for hours!  The thought formed in my head that this was how my life would be...tears, sobbing, emotional pain that I couldn't escape from.  There seemed, in my mind, to be but one solution. I should kill myself. No drama in making the decision, it just seemed like the next logical thing. Can't stop hurting, then simply end your life. It all seemed so matter of fact.

Then, I looked down at Jake and Blue who were laying at my feet. These were dogs I loved like they were my children. They went everywhere we went.  Plus, I was their caregiver. Not that Raymond didn't love them, too. He did. But, I was home with them since leaving my job at a nursing home. Raymond loved them, but he never remembered to fill the water bowl. I was the one who fed them and made sure Jake got his thyroid meds twice daily and they both got their heartworm preventative and gave Blue her Bendryl when her allergies kicked in in late September.  Raymond would never remember everything! My dogs would suffer if I wasn't there to care for them.  

OK, the answer came to me in a flash, a micro-second! "I'll kill the dogs, too." Again, no drama. Simple, Matter-of-fact. Like it was the next logical step. 

Even as the thought occurred to me, I heard a voice say, "YOU"LL DO WHAT????!!!!!"

Those simple words were enough to snap me back to the moment and make me realize how deep into the depths of despair I had fallen. How could I even think such a thought? 

I have no memory of exactly what I did next, but in the morning, I called my PCP and made an appointment for that afternoon.

As I sat on the exam table, telling my story, sobbing, yet again, the pain of actually thinking how  close I had come to ending not just my own life, but that of innocent creatures who loved me and depended on me was overwhelming.  My doctor, a kind, gentle man looked me in the eye and said, " I want to put you on Prozac."  There must've been a look of horror on my face, because he quickly added, "Please, let's try it for a month. If it doesn't help by a month's time, we'll try something else."  My look of horror must not have been subsiding, because his next question to me was, " Would it make you feel any better if I told you I've taken it and it helped me?"

I started the medication that day.

About three weeks later, Raymond commented on how I seem to have "changed".  I remember that my reply to him was, "This must be how normal people feel all the time." He asked me what I meant by that. The only way I could explain it was by comparing then and now, before Prozac and after. Before, I felt like I was at the bottom of a well. I knew there was light somewhere in the distance above me, but it was so far away, I couldn't even really see it. And the wells sides were so slick, that I couldn't climb out. I was stuck at the bottom, unable to climb, even if I tried.  But, now, three weeks later, I was in the light! The medication had somehow managed to lift me from the depths of that slick sided well where I had periodically found myself trapped. 

In thinking about that day of dark despair, I am convinced that there really was a voice that day. I think there was a spiritual battle going on in my living room. I think the voice I heard was that of my creator.  I had become so entwined in my emotional pain that the enemy used that to his advantage. My Lord and Savior knew me so well, that he knew exactly how to shock me back to reality, simply by saying, "YOU'LL DO WHAT?????!!!!!!"

I wish I could tell you that's when I came to faith in Christ. But it wasn't. For several more years, I searched. But I know that the voice was the beginning. And I am forever grateful for a God who loves us each where we are, but, as Max Lucado says, "Loves us too much to let us stay there."

So, my dear internet friend, yes, I know that drugs are good, but believe me when I tell you, so is God! 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lists, lists and more lists

The plan is for us to leave Pittsburgh in September 2011.  Between now and then there are so many tasks that need to be accomplished, that I am in need of multiple lists. The big things that need to happen include, but are not limited to: downsizing all our possessions; digitizing all photos, music and important paperwork; re-homing our chinchilla; buying an RV and selling our house.

The downsizing has been ongoing for the better part of at least a year.  Some things that we simply cannot bear to part with, will be stored for a little while in my brother's attic.  For me, that includes many of my lighthouses and Labrador retriever items, while for Raymond, it means a bookcase made by his Dad especially for him along with some books and three orange crates full of vinyl LPs.  I think, in time, we will both be ready to leave these items behind as well, but the time is not now. One of the great things about RV living is that the motor home includes most everything you're going to need as far as furnishing, so there's no need to keep that love seat, or dining room table.   

The process of digitizing has also begun, but at a woefully slow rate. One hindrance to the process is that before scanning our pictures to the portable hard drive, we must first sort through the numerous boxes and rid ourselves of crappy, or ugly, or, as in the case of my sunsets & sunrises, multiples. Most music that we already own has been transferred to our iPods, with the exception of many of those LPs that Raymond won't part with. We have the technology available to transfer them to our hard drive, but it is an extremely time consuming process. Plus, since many of those albums are in less than perfect condition, they bring along hisses & pops that you won't get if you simply download them from iTunes.

Buying the RV has proven to be a challenging task.  We thought we knew what we wanted until we began to actively look. After many, many false starts, we think we have found the RV of our dreams, but time will tell. We hope to visit the RV show in Hershey this fall to finalize our plans.

Re-homing CC, our chinchilla, is going to be a heartrending undertaking. It requires the admission that perhaps our adoption of her was more hasty than we thought. She needs to be re-homed because she deserves a more appropriate home than we are currently providing. In addition, the motor home we will purchase simply will not have enough room to accommodate a cage of the size and weight of hers. That said, even if we weren't moving into an RV, she still deserves a more chinchilla friendly environment. 

The biggest thing on any of our lists is the selling of our house. We have lived here for over 20 years, but have never been "real" homeowners.  By that, I mean that when Raymond worked nights at UPS, he had neither the time, nor the energy to keep up with such a large house.  As for me, because I never wanted to live in this house at all, I fear I became a bit passive-aggressive where the house was concerned.  I spent too many years simply hating the house.  Then, when I was a stay at home wife, I had the delusion that watching all those home improvement shows on HGTV, PBS, et al, somehow gave me skills that I didn't really possess. And lastly, there's the bad trait that many in my family have...we never finish what we start. There. I said it. They say that admitting your failures is the first step toward recovery, right?  Anyway, the house is far less than perfect, actually far less than good. Our neighborhood is still in a downward spiral (see previous post) and I can't imagine that anyone is actively seeking to move into it. That scares me more than anything else about the whole process; who might buy our house?  I'm praying that God will send just the right person, at just the right time. 

Now that I've committed this to paper, I suppose I had better get started on those lists...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Continuing Urban Adventures

Perhaps urban living is becoming too much of an adventure. This past weekend shots were fired just outside our house.  Nobody was injured - this time!  I heard one of the responding police officers refer to it as "like the shoot out at the OK Corral".  The people involved are, by general standards, kids.  I am not certain of their ages, but it is safe to say they are under 25, and maybe a good deal under.
It is a frightening experience to hear young people arguing outside your open window and threaten one another. It becomes frightening on an entirely different level when, after the threat, you hear several gunshots in rapid succession.   

My neighbor's car was hit by one of the gunshots. Another hit the garage of the business next door to her.  This woman is a quiet neighbor with little kids who, thankfully,  were not at home when the incident took place.  If they had been, innocent children may have been wounded or killed because her kids are often playing in front of their house, or riding their bikes in the area that was the line of fire.

I am not scared; I am angry and astounded at these latest events.  When did  it become the norm for arguments to be settled  with guns?  I heard these kids outside my window yelling at one another. Much of their conversation was unintelligible to me.  But, it certainly didn't sound like the kind of fight that would lead to shots being fired. To be honest, it sounded like the kind of thing that might end up with a punch or two being thrown. The last quote I heard before the gunfire was, "Come on, _____, don't make me hurt you."  It never entered my mind that this kid planned to "hurt" the other with a gun!  That's the part that astonishes me.

The part that makes me angry is that they have guns at all!  How easy is it for a young person to get a gun?  Apparently very easy!  And how is it possible to have so little regard for life that an argument escalates to gun violence?  I am angry that people no longer feel safe to sit on their front porches. I am angry that the Mom little kids across the street will think twice before allowing her kids to play in front of their own house now.  I am angry that  this is happening and that we all feel ill equipped to deal with it, because it is so far outside of our experience.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

One step at a time

One step forward, two steps back, as the song says, "you never get anywhere like that".  That's the way I'm feeling right now.  

We have been planning for the future.  We have set dates by which we would like to be on the road, full timing in an RV.  We thought we had finally made a choice as to the type of RV and an approximate idea as to our budget. Then, we read some more articles and ordered more books.  Now we're back at the question of Class A or Class C? 

More storage in a Class A?  But if we get rid of our stuff, will we really need extra storage space? 

The idea of the bed over the cab in the Class C is appealing to both of us.  It seems like the perfect "extra" space where one or the other of us can get away to read quietly or listen to their iPod.  

Perhaps I'm being too rigid in my thinking. Perhaps I need to relax a little and stop being so focused on making the 'correct' choices.  I spent nine years in therapy trying to undo a lifetime of black or white thinking and sometimes it seems as if I learned very little in those nine years! 

Some of the current angst is brought on by an ad in our local Craigslist.  It is a 31', 2001 Class C with 40000 miles, being offered for a very reasonable price. My panic is being caused by 1) my fear that we will miss the RV that is meant for us and by my inability to act and 2) my worry that we will love it, but will be unable to secure the required financing. Fear and worry the two biggest bugaboos to my decision making process! How I wish I were one of those spontaneous folks who just go with the flow and make adjustment as they go. 

So why am I so locked into the mindset that every choice has to be the right one?  Why not call Mr Angelo, make an appointment to go see and drive the local RV?  One step at a time ... If it seems correct for us, then the next step will be to visit our bank ... Maybe by seeing and driving this Class C we'll also know whether a class C is right for us. 

OK, I think I'm feeling a little step at a time.


Raymond isn't feeling well.  He hasn't eaten or had any beer all day.  Normally his having consumed no beer would be a good thing, if only it didn't indicate that he's feeling physically unwell.  He has a strange eating schedule when times are good, but the fact that he had no desire to eat at dinner time was odd. That's when he brought it to my attention that not only hadn't he eaten all day, but he hadn't had any beer either.  This is extremely out of character. 

Only one thing makes Raymond stop drinking and that one thing is a bout of pancreatitis.

He hasn't had one in over two years. Maybe this is a reality check.  We have both stopped thinking about his pancreas. Well, I have anyway. 

The fact is that according to our PCP, Raymond should not drink at all and should give up slathering his food with mayo and should NEVER eat another hot dog. Raymond continues to do all those things.  The man has never met a fatty meat that he didn't like!  And for the past two years, his pancreas has gone along with the program. 

I'm a little bit worried.  I haven't suggested an ER trip yet.  

During the last bout, the ER visit was an incredible waste of time.  Apparently his body has become so adept at adjusting for the irregularities in these times, that his blood work appeared relatively normal and the ER doctor wouldn't admit him or prescribe any intensive pain relievers.  Our PCP had predicted that this would happen over time. We are blessed that she knows Raymond so well, because she gave him a prescription for a few major painkillers knowing that he would only take them as needed.  Those pills got him through his last attack two years ago.  Between several days on a bland diet and the pain pills, he made it without having to be hospitalized.

He just took 1/2 of one of those two year old painkillers.  It's his last one.  Here's praying it works. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010


No, not the theory of, something so much more random.  I was awakened at 6 AM by the wind whipping through our bedroom window.  Thinking that this was the start of the cold blustery weather promised by local meteorologists, I hauled myself out of bed and made the rounds through the house, closing open windows and turning off fans.  At one window, I leaned out into the weather and thought that the breeze wasn't too cold, yet.  I even briefly, (very, very briefly) considered that it might be the perfect time to take Greyla for a walk. But, the thought that struck me and caused the title of this ramble, was that if I were in Corolla, NC, I wold think that this weather was perfect for walking on the beach, or spotting the wild horses. 

The temperature was about 60F, and the winds were gusting fiercely at times. My perfect beach walking weather!  The same conditions occur here in Pittsburgh and I feel the need to close myself inside.  What peculiarity in my constitution makes me think that the exact same weather conditions are perfect if I'm nearer to the ocean and 530 miles south? 

Makes me think of the bumper stickers that read: "A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work".  A bad weather day is better in NC than in PA!  But, in NC, I don't even think of it as bad weather!  Then why oh why am I still here in PA? 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Loss and Balance


A friend and her friend's posts on FaceBook recently got me thinking about how we deal with loss, especially as it impacts us with regard to our pets and animals we love.  So, if some of this seems familiar, you may have read it on FaceBook.

My friend has a flock of chickens and loves them each individually.  More times than she would like recently she has found herself in the unenviable position of having to cull a sick hatchling. She has also had to have some very sick chickens put down. All of this is very painful and has her questioning her "toughness".  She has gotten some wonderful support from people who love her, but none of that makes it any easier when she finds herself in an untenable position. 

It got me to wondering about how we cope with the loss of beloved animals in our lives.  Do we toughen up?  Do we simply learn to accept the grieving process?  Do we actually become "better" at grieving?  Lacking a scientific study, although I'm sure there are some available, I decided to look inward to how I've survived the death of four dogs of my own, a cat of ours, and the loss of several dogs belonging to others with whom I bonded in some special way.

I have found it extremely difficult to achieve that balance of toughness and the total abandonment to love my critters and still survive their deaths. 

When my first dog, Blue died I was in shock for a month and then came the tears and pain. She had been the first dog Raymond and I had together and she traveled everywhere with us. She was 14 when she began to exhibit serious health issues and died not long after being diagnosed with both a liver tumor and renal failure. I worked in a Veterinary Clinic at the time and because of demands at work and the Christmas holiday season, I buried my feelings for the first month.  Then, I found myself at a Veterinary Convention at a seminar on "The Human-Animal Bond and Grief".  The speaker was excellent, but half way through her presentation, I had a total emotional collapse and found it difficult to stop sobbing. Though we also had two other dogs at the time, Jake and Baxter, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had somehow let Blue down.  Jake was more honest to his emotions. Blue had been 3 when we added Jake to our family.  She was less than impressed, but he idolized her.  She eventually learned to tolerate Jake, but for him, Blue was always the leader and his buddy. When she died, Jake was present and circled her body, sniffing her and licking. He then went into what I can only describe as a depressive period.  He lost interest in food and toys; spent many hours sleeping; spent less time with his dog friends in play activities. After three months we began visiting shelters because it was clear that Jake "needed" a black dog to help him get over Blue.  That was when we adopted Katie.

When Jake died, I was inconsolable and still cry because I miss him. He was my heart dog. He lived with us from puppyhood until leukemia took him from us in 1999. He was 14 when he died. He was "my dog", although he was lovely to everyone he ever met,  human, canine, feline and rodent. I learned many lessons from Jake, both in his life and in his death. I learned that I can be loved unconditionally by a creature with paws and fur and forgiven when I mess up. But, the pain of losing him caused me to harden my heart a little.  Just a few weeks after Jake's death, my husband was turning 50 and expressed the wish for " a black female Lab". As fate would have it clients at the Vet Hospital where I worked had a litter and there were several black females. Thus, Greyla came to live with us, as "my husband's dog", as I was quick to point out to EVERYONE! I just couldn't open myself up to love her with total abandon. It was too soon after Jake. It has taken me nearly 11 years to recognize the fact that she is, in fact, my dog. Not that she and Raymond don't have a special bond, but down deep, she's really Mommy's girl.   

Baxter was a rescue and lived with us for six years and though I was comforted by the fact that he was well loved in those six years, losing him was painful. He came to us as an answer to my desire for a third dog.  We had Blue and Jake who were thirteen and ten, respectively when Baxter arrived. He was six. He was so happy to have a home and yard and people who took him everywhere they went, that he was thrilled to be low man on the doggie totem pole. And though he finally got his weight up into a normal range for a Lab, he always thought he was a lap dog, which was fine with me. It was very hard to lose him when he was 12 due to a brain tumor. He had quirks which we were never able to correct or even understand, but he was a love. We were almost always a three dog household when Baxter was with us, so maybe that insulated me somewhat from some of the pain I felt at losing Blue and Jake. Or maybe I had already begun to close myself off. I do know that when Baxter died, and we were suddenly a two dog household, it didn't enter my heart or mind to add another. We had our two black girls, that was enough.

In January 2009, we sent Katie across the bridge to reunite with Jake, Baxter and her many doggie friends who had preceded her in death. With Katie, I found that I had walled away a portion of myself as protection, so that when she died, I realized how detached I had been from her, emotionally. I loved her, but I never fully let her into my heart, in spite of the fact that she lived with us for over 12 years and, as with our other dogs, she had traveled everywhere  with us. It was only in letting her go that I realized how much she and I both missed. Perhaps that's when I began to really let Greyla in more completely. 

We have also had a cat. When you work in a Vet Clinic, it seems inevitable that even if you are not a self professed "cat person", you will end up being charged with the welfare of a cat sooner or later. The cat that became ours was a three week old abandoned kitten. Since the placeI worked at was only open in the evening and on week ends, it was determined that I should take the kitten home with me, since we had no other cats and wouldn't have to worry about isolating her.  My plan was to wean her and find her a good home.  Then, I brought her home. My husband fell in love! My oldest dog, Blue, attempted to nurse the kitten! My other dog, Jake, guarded the entrance to the sunporch where we kept her litter box and basket!  Spike became part of the family for the next ten years. She died in an unfortunate accident while we were away on vacation.  And I shed no tears for Spike when she died, which is sad and embarrassing to admit. Am I that hard-hearted?

I have shed tears for cats, though, as well as for rats (the pet variety) and loads of dogs whom I have known in one capacity or another, and some that I have never met, but have only read about.  And I have shed tears for my friend who loves her chickens, gives them all names and finds herself dying a little when she must make hard decisions about the flock.

It has been suggested that perhaps we learn some balance in our loving-grieving cycle as we go through life. It has taken me a long time to really let Greyla into my heart, as I have previously mentioned. But, at least I finally have. Though I fear when her time comes I will again be inconsolable. 

Balance? I can't seem to find it.