Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lunch with a Friend

My friend took me to lunch today. We didn’t dine at a fine restaurant; we ate in his car. He didn’t spring for gourmet food; we ordered from Sonic. It was a great lunch of tater tots and drippy chili dogs and ice cold Route 44’s. We shared Memorial Day weekend events and family updates. He told me about his bad back and I told him how Hubby was progressing in his recovery from the aneurism. We traded dog stories.

My friend is 30 years younger than I am. He lives in a world very different from mine. We cross gender, generational, and ethnic boundaries, yet we share a sense of joy in life, a love of silly jokes, and the belief that one’s family is important above all else. When we are together we are comfortable and safe.

It was a simple thing – lunch at Sonic with a friend. And it meant the world. He was in the vicinity and he had a few moments so he called and he came by and he shared a brief time in his day. I was uplifted by his voice, his presence, his caring. These are the memories that see us through the tough times and give us the courage to face life’s challenges. Sometimes we need a helping hand from a friend. I’m grateful I have a caring, thoughtful one in my corner.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Still Kicking

Memorial Day 2006 -- Our weekend has been exceedingly quiet. Hubby continues to recover from his big medical adventure which began the day after Easter. He’s gaining strength slowly, much slower than he would like, but we assume that’s to be expected after a 10 day hospitalization and brain surgery followed by five days in the ICU.

In past years I’ve visited the family cemeteries to lay wreaths on the graves. Hubby’s family is mostly buried on the East Coast; certainly none are within traveling distance over a three day weekend. My maternal grandmother, grandfather, great aunt, and father are all buried together in the family plot just a couple of miles from my door. My maternal great grandmother and great grandfather are buried together in a different cemetery but still close to home. My paternal grandparents are together in small university town less than an hour’s drive from here. The dogs we’ve lost have been cremated and their ashes sit on my computer desk.

Somehow spending the day in cemeteries just seemed a bit too close to home this year. What with hubby’s illness and my crossing the age line into decrepitude, it just didn’t seem like a good idea to visit with the dead. We need no siren calls right now.

Anyway it rained. Cemeteries during thunder storms can be real downers.

So we stayed home for most of the weekend, other than grocery shopping and going to church on Sunday morning. Hubby whipped up some strawberry shortcake yesterday which sure hit the spot. We are trying out low salt recipes made in our crockpots. Yes, we have more than one. I’ve always collected recipes; I’ve just never really cooked. The week leading up to Memorial Day found us eating out twice, both times exceeding Hubby’s salt limit, so I figured I’d better lay in some homemade frozen dinners that are healthy to eat and better for his blood pressure that is steadfastly resisting the cocktail of medications being taken.

It’s just not time for us to visit cemeteries, either briefly or long term.

Friday, May 26, 2006

For My Friend Betty Boop

They found her wandering the neighborhood, they took her in, and there she made her home, well fed, safe, and much loved. Each year she took a bit more of their hearts. They named her Betty Boop. They had other animals, especially cats, and, in fact, I always thought of them as “cat people.” Betty, mostly border collie and also part mutt was almost always the first one to greet you when you entered their home and the last to wave you goodbye with her tail.

She didn’t have great dog stature. She was medium in height and weight and nothing really extra special in looks. She was mostly white in color with some black around the edges. She was pretty well behaved for a doggie that had managed to wrap her owners around her four paws early on. She did beg at the table and she would scarf up the appetizer treats when they were left unsupervised on the coffee table. She enjoyed meeting people but she was never overly aggressive about it.

I only met Betty about 15 times but she made a good impression on me. I knew her heart was kind and her soul gentle. I knew she gave great love to her little family.

Last week Betty died. Hers was an untimely death for she was still young at heart and spirit. Her human mom wrote “she had been suffering from allergies -- and staph infections from scratching them. Apparently, the staph spread through her entire body -- she died from septicemia.”

Those bald words belie a broken heart, of course. People who have never experienced a “heart dog” do not understand the pain of losing such a beloved animal. They will think to themselves, “well, it’s not like you lost a child or even a person.” These are the people who can never understand what the loss of such a pet is like. They may actually say to you on the loss of a pet, “Well, you can always get another one.”

A variation of this extremely insensitive remark is “She lived a long life; you should be grateful.” People who have the privilege of loving an animal know that no matter how long their companions live, they never live long enough.

I imagine Betty’s family will be looking for another dog in need of a good home, one who has been abandoned and is feeling lost and very alone. Betty is putting her pawprint on such a dog right now, whispering to the lost mutt that a good family is coming, just keep the faith.

We’ll celebrate the new dog’s arrival. Mixed in that celebration will be tears for Betty Boop, not for her life but for at her memory. They will be tears of joy and pain.

Run free, Betty Boop. Enjoy the wind. Remember how much you were loved. Send us a rainbow or a butterfly once in a while to remind us of the beauty of your heart. We let you go with reluctance but we are so grateful for the time you were here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Happy Birthday Feet

Since my Achilles tendon went belly-up, I’ve been forced to wear "my grandmother’s shoes." They are ugly. They are plain. They are big boats, made even bigger by my size 10 foot. They frequently lace up and have round toes and huge soles to cushion tender soles. Even worse, they cost a fortune. It’s really adding insult to injury when you have to pay over $100 for truly ugly shoes. Mine cost $200 and up. Yes, $200 for butt-ugly shoes.

Even though I complain about these shoes, and there are only two brands I can wear comfortably, I’m grateful that these shoes exist and that I can find them in my size. The Drews are for diabetic and problem feet. They are made with extra depth and cushion my foot with every step. My toes are never cramped. I’m not diabetic but my feet need the width in the toe and support for the arches these shoes provide. Even before I got plantar fasciitis my feet hurt. The balls of my feet always burned in high heels and I tend to walk with my big toe pointed up (instead of down) so pointy toed shoes create blisters. In the Drews I no longer have trouble with the soles of my feet or my toes, and here you can see why:

All the Drews look pretty much alike. I have both the lace-ups and the Velcro closings and I have them in different colors (brown, blue, tan, and black) but no way can these be called stylish shoes.

The other brand shoe I can wear is Finn Comfort. These are all European handmade and cost twice what Drews do. I own this shoe in black, red, and green (and a couple of other styles but they pretty much look like this):

The Finn Comfort shoes exercise my arches and help strengthen the problem areas. They are a mite more stylish than the Drews but at work I can’t wear them a lot because I spend time walking around on gravel and in mud. The sandals don’t support my ankles the same as the Drews so I tend to tip over in them.

My shoes have become the metaphor for how I feel about my life. One minute I was tripping around in black patent Mary Jane Ferragamos and feeling all cute and sassy and young knowing I could conquer the world.

Today is my 60th birthday. Like my shoe style, I’ve suddenly crossed the line into fuddy-duddy. I’m plodding along, trading style for comfort (and glad that I can). I still covet pretty shoes but I’m smart enough now not to wear them. My feet are happy but I still feel the need to excuse my choice of footwear.

I’m really not so old I’d actually buy the grandmotherly shoes if I had a choice in the matter so don’t assume when you meet me that you can tell what kind of person I am by my shoes. The Drews and the Finns merely reflect the condition and not the attitude.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Should I be happy with the status quo? Or do I long for change? Am I thankful to be alive and have my little family surrounding me? Or have health issues overwhelmed us? Are we grateful that we have enough money to own our home and drive a car that's paid for? Or is the fact that we still have to work to support our most basic needs, which includes driving a car that is 14 years old, beyond sad, especially when we're 71 and 60 years old?

Life's big and little events have been causing some major reflection on the part of our little family (hubby, me and two miniature Schnauzers). I can't decide if we should feel incredibly lucky or ready to jump off the nearest bridge.

First hubby, 71 and diabetic, had a major health scare right after Easter of this year. He suffered a bleed from aneurism in his skull caused by years of untreated and hideous hypertension. He acknowledged the diabetes only when he was so sick he absolutely had to but then he took such care of himself that he's been medication free for it. With the aneurism he was hospitalized for ten days, six of which he spent in ICU. The man had never been hospitalized before which made this incident doubly scary. So are we grateful for the good health he's had? Or are we terrified that now we have to deal with major health issues that have gone untreated causing us to face a dire outcome?

Luckily we have insurance to cover some of the medical expenses incurred this past month. Yesterday we were informed that the insurance has not yet agreed to cover the current and huge quantity of medicine that has been prescribed. We are beginning to receive the massive bills generated from brain surgery and hospitalization; the amount owed by the insured is an intimidating number.

Last October my heart dog had to be put to sleep. On Friday night he was fine. On Saturday he suffered a major bleed into his gut. Wolf was about 19 years old and we had had him since he was around seven. We don't know his exact age because he was a rescue from a puppy mill where he had been cruelly mistreated. Wolf was a wonder of a dog, always happy, always loving, always by my side. I shall always be grateful for the long and happy life he had with us but my heart misses him every day. The spot by my side will always be empty without him there.

The week after Wolf's death, Gus came to us from a pound in Ottawa, Kansas. Left by his people to roam the countryside, he, too, has been thankful to have a family. He is a loving and funny little boy, full of life and joyous of heart. He loves his papa and his housemate, Fritzy, and he gives me sweet kisses, but he's not my heart's companion.

After working temporary jobs when my own consulting business took a downward turn, I was offered employment in an interesting, new field. I loved the boss who hired me and I found the new work stimulating. Then the boss resigned to accept a better position, leaving me to cope with four new bosses in as many months. One threw chairs when angry. One never smiled and was young enough to be my grandson; he quit. One was fired for incompetence. The current one doesn't trust anybody and believes the world is out to cheat him, me included. My office is now filled with suspicion and hostility.

Some moments I feel incredibly grateful for the gifts of our lives. Hubby survived. He has a team of caring doctors who want to see him not just live, but thrive. Thriving costs a lot of money, it seems, and it may be money we don't have enough of. We have food on our table every day and we are learning to tolerate the low salt, low carb diet now strictly enforced. We have both a 14 year old car and an even older huge industrial van (with over 300,000 miles on it) that hubby can use for doing "handy" jobs and both are completely paid for. We are barely managing the gas for said vehicles what with today's rising prices and and both aging vehicles demand constant maintenance. We have a roof over heads and we own that roof, even if we did have to re-finance the house last year. I may have to drive 300 miles a week to work in a hostile environment but I am employed for the moment and have a steady income with health insurance.

So is the glass half full? Or is it half empty? Either way, we are feeling that we have sprung a leak. Where's the duct tape when you need it?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

George Frederick -- Fritzy (Itty Bitty Pretty Fritty)Gustav Mahler -- Gus
Grooming Is Important

This morning Fritz, age nine, and Gus, age two, are at the groomers. Both are "rescue" miniature Schnauzers with the requisite flowing beards, bushy eyebrows, and leg / belly fringe. Fritzy is gray in color and Gus is silver but after four weeks of playing in the park and romping through the mud and rolling in stinking grass they are both dingy and matted.

The traditional wisdom is that Schnauzer’s don’t shed if they are properly maintained. Frankly the beard and the belly fringe do require a bit of work. However, with the proper snipping and brushing, Schnauzers look quite dashing and they don’t shed much.

All of which leads me to a small rant about Schnauzer owners who do not understand the glory of the Schnauzer cut. Why would a Schnauzer owner allow his / her pet to turn into a wooly bear, which is exactly what a Schnauzer looks like without grooming? It must be uncomfortable to have all that hair curling around and in the summer it has to be hot. On the other hand, why own a Schnauzer if you plan on shaving the poor thing bald? Own a rat terrier or a Jack Russell but don’t invest in a Schnauzer whose most distinguishing feature is a lovely flowing beard (which drags through water, goop, mud and grime with equal abandon).

When we got our first Schnauzer, Milly, from the pound she was five and had obviously been ignored for some time. She was a ball of curly locks all over her stout little body. The first time I picked her up from the groomer I wouldn’t have known she was my girl, except for the warm greeting I received when retrieving her. Suddenly, our little abandoned pound girl was a stunning pure bred lady.

Admittedly, we had to shop around for a really good groomer who also understood Schnauzer cuts and was gentle with the dogs. We eventually settled on a slightly higher priced gent who also bred champion Schnauzers and Milly loved him unabashedly from the first appointment.

When Wolf, the puppy mill stray, came into our lives he had been shaved bald because he was so damaged, both in spirit, flesh, and hair. The only way to untangle his fur was to cut if all off. Even our vet was not completely sure Wolf was pure Schnauzer when he first saw him, but when we took Milly for her regular grooming appointment, I dragged Wolf in to have Jack, our groomer, look him over. Jack put Wolf on the grooming table and minutely examined him, prying open his mouth, looking under his belling, prodding his nether regions. Wolf stood hangdog allowing the exam. When Jack finally turned to me and announced that Wolf was "a very fine specimen of a Schnauzer," Wolf perked up and stood proudly in "show" stance. Jack suggested we leave Wolf to be bathed and pampered with Milly so he could learn to get used to grooming. From that moment, Wolf, like Milly, absolutely loved to go to the groomer. When we’d pull the car into the groomer’s parking area, Wolf was the first one to leap from the car into the shop for his appointment.

My hair and nails get done infrequently. My Schnauzers’ get groomed every four weeks, no matter. This morning hubby dropped them off for their summer cut, which does not mean they are being shaved down to the skin. They will come home with shorter fringe and less flowing beards, but they will look like the Schnauzers they were bred to be.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Wolfgang Amadeus arrived unexpectedly in our lives, a rescue from a puppy mill, at least seven years old, starved, diseased, frightened, but with a will and joy for living unmatched in any dog we’ve had before or since. Everyone who met him marveled that he was “the best dog in the entire world.”

Wolfie came into a home with an aging Schnauzer who had been diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction, along with going blind and deaf and with congestive heart failure. He immediately made Milly, our very first dog, his cause in life and dedicated himself to caring for her. Outside he would guide her to her favorite trees or the smelliest grass in which to roll. When she couldn’t find her way back to the house, he would nudge her along until she could find a doorway to enter. He kept her alive for an extra 18 months and we were eternally grateful to him.

Milly didn’t play with toys much. She had no interest in anything other than food and going for rides in the car, so when Wolfie came we didn’t have dog toys around the house.

After Wolfie had been doctored and fed well and was secure in our love, he began to exhibit odd behavior. When we left him alone in the house with only Milly for companionship, he would tear up any paper he could find. One day I found him tearing around the bathroom, toilet paper and magazines shredded into tiny pieces and he ran in wild, tight circles creating a snowstorm of paper all around him. It was then it occurred to me that Wolfie needed toys. We bought out the store, of course, because such a dog deserved only the best and Wolf’s favorite toy became “bite the man.” Whenever Wolf entered the house, after greeting his humans, he would run to give “bite” a ritual greeting, shaking him and tossing him into the air.

Wolf never hunted but he loved the chase. Once he actually caught a bunny in our yard that had the misfortune to run past just as we let Wolf out the door. He looked with astonishment at the bunny in his mouth and very gently set the bunny down, who, terrified, took off like a “jackrabbit.” Wolfie did, however, destroy scores of “bite the men” during his lifetime and would chastise us with evil looks when we would finally toss away a gutted, but still beloved toy.

Wolf shared our lives for twelve precious years and though other Schnauzers have come into our lives, none has ever replaced “the best dog in the world.” His last “bite the man” sits atop our computer, along with his ashes and his collar, waiting . . .