The Final Days of Ross The Dog

Ross having a good day and preparing for his final hunt.

Ross having a good day and preparing for his final hunt.

Today I woke up to the sound of a gentle rain,  and it reminded me of the lyrics to that old song, If Ever I Would Leave You.  I went out to the back deck, with “If ever I would leave you, how could it be in springtime?” running absently through my head. The pristine morning with softly falling rain and cheerful birdsong completed a long, sad week of saying goodbye to our beloved, fun loving spirit known as Ross The Dog.  Ross was special in many ways, but perhaps what differentiated him from other dogs is that when people got to know Ross, they would say, “I want a dog like that.  I want a Ross.”  On Thursday, while Ross was out hunting for one last pheasant, I bought a bottle of whiskey aged seven years, same as Ross, so that my husband and I could make a toast to our first family dog.  After Van returned with the pheasants and told the story of Ross’s glorious final hunt, we clinked glasses and choked back tears.  “To the best pet.”  I said.  “A good dog.”  Van added.  It wasn’t necessary to say anything more.  Ross was a dog that broke the mold on canine companions, a dog that set impossible pet standards.

Ross taking a nap with his person, Alexis, this spring.

Ross taking a nap with his person, Alexis, this spring.

I wasn’t on board when it came to getting a dog.  Basically Van wanted a puppy but I didn’t think it was a good idea at that time, so he picked out Ross, without my permission, and I had to hold the enemy in my lap during a very long drive home.  Ross peed all over me.  I was quite angry.  I never admitted this to anyone in seven years, but even as angry as I was about Van buying a dog — without my permission — that then peed on me –my heart totally melted while I held him during that long ride home.  Ross learned that Van was the Master, and I was Mommy.  Sometimes this caused problems when Mommy didn’t want Ross doing something, but the Master overruled.  Ross always knew that Mommy somehow trumped the Master (wink).  But possibly the greatest compliment Van has ever given me in reference to my dedication to Ross, was when he said recently, “If there is such thing as reincarnation, I would like to come back as one of Georgeann’s dogs.  It doesn’t matter which, because I know that if I am her dog, I will be cared for better than any other dog.”

Ross learned that there were little companions to play with and protect.  Our children became his new friends, and our youngest became his Person, his life long soul mate.  Alexis would sneak food to Ross during dinner, stick her fingers up his nose and in his mouth during inspections, and use him as a pillow or footstool.  He was very patient and gentle with her and her siblings.  Alexis was the only one who Ross listened to all the time.  Listening to me was optional, and he listened to Van most of the time, but he always listened to Alexis.  And she could get him to do anything.  I didn’t like to take Ross on walks because he pulled on the leash and acted belligerent.  With Alexis, he heeled perfectly and stayed on pace with her, and she never had to say a word.

Alexis proudly showing off her picture of Ross.

Alexis proudly showing off her picture of Ross.

During our last trip to the park this week.

During our last trip to the park this week.

We always knew our time with Ross would be limited.  I still vividly remember how sick he became one day many years ago.  We had only recently moved to South Dakota, Ross was just a few months old, but growing fast, and we had become very attached to him.  We rushed him to the veterinary clinic down the road from our house.  The news was depressing.  Ross was in kidney failure and the doctor didn’t believe that he would live to be one year old.  One kidney was tiny and deformed, and the other wasn’t detectable on an x-ray.  We decided that the best way to care for Ross was to treat him with as much love as we could, for however long he had left.  We started him on a special diet and gave him extra TLC every day.  And we never, ever took him for granted.  He celebrated his seventh birthday this January, a pretty long and successful life for a dog not meant to live more than twelve months!

Resting on the deck after returning from his visit to K State earlier this week.

Resting on the deck after returning from his visit to K State earlier this week.

Last week he became sick again, and I saw the same signs as the first time.  Van took him to the K State animal hospital in the Veterinary Sciences Department.  He was kept there for three days under the incredible care of the students and staff, but the prognosis was not optimistic.  His renal levels were fourteen times what should have killed a dog his size, the veterinarian was mystified, and the one explanation that Van and I could give for Ross living so long was that he was the dog that was meant to be with us at this point in our lives.  The student on his case told me that Ross was responding to the medications, and that he wanted to come home, but there was no guarantee how much longer he might live. “We may have only bought you two days, maybe two weeks, optimistically a few months, but it’s just difficult to know.” she said.  I felt in my heart the answer.

Ross playing in the snow, South Dakota.

Ross playing in the snow, South Dakota.

The night that we got Ross back from K State, I had a dream about him.  He was loping to me, all tail wags and happy panting.  He was wet and shiny like a bright penny under water.  He was young, maybe only three years old, with the best muscle tone I’d ever seen, and his eyes were clear with intent.  I didn’t know what he was trying to tell me.  The next two nights, I was up with him.  He was very restless and had to be let out often.  He was vomiting and couldn’t control his bowels, wouldn’t eat or even drink water.  It was gut wrenching to see him like this, but I was his Mommy, and I was there to clean him up and take care of him.  He seemed to be fighting sleep, as though he suspected that sleep might try to sneak in a more final condition without his approval.  Since I couldn’t sleep anyway, I looked up dream interpretations about wet dogs.  Nothing.  Then I came across a Web sight for Native American dreams and visions.  My bright, shiny, wet dog, according to this site, was a reflection of my own personality and my response with the world around me.  It would be a few days before I understood the significance of the dream.

Ross getting brushed out by his favorite girls.

Ross getting brushed out by his favorite girls.

I think that I had started to notice small changes in Ross over the past year.  He began to slow down, take longer naps, and refuse his food more often.  As time went on, there were more days when he seemed to feel ill, and his hair began to turn white around the muzzle.  He still looked amazingly healthy for a dog with non-functioning kidneys, and to look at him you wouldn’t know that he really wasn’t a dog in his prime.  In just a few short weeks, I began to notice that instead of greeting me at the door with an energetic bark and wagging tail, he first stopped barking and just stood at the door, tail wagging gleefully, then he laid at the top of the stairs, no bark, but with tail thumping.  After a while, he was too tired to even wag his tail, but he would lie at the top of the stairs and turn over for me to scratch his belly.  Days near the end, I had to go find him.  This was very difficult, because I knew it was his way of telling me that he was too tired and weak to keep a routine.  He could tell me that he didn’t feel well, but he saved all his energy for Van and the girls, springing to greet them at the door like a fresh puppy, and he spent up the last of it playing with them.   He let me lay down next to him on the carpet in the bedroom when he was exhausted.  There had been many days when he patiently let me bury my head in his soft fur and have a good cry.  Now it was his turn to push his head against me for some hugs and comforting.  He needed someone to be there and tell him that it was okay, and so even though it terrified me, I put my face next to his, rubbed his shoulders, and said, “It’s okay, Buddy.  I know, it will be time soon.  You’re a good boy.  You can go when you’re ready.”

Watching and waiting.

Watching and waiting.

For me, the Mommy of the family, well, I like to think that he did something special, not that I could ever repay the favor.  Ross and I didn’t have that Master/Loyal Companion bond since he was officially Van’s dog.  But Ross knew his job was to protect the family and be a friend.  He spent more time with me than anyone else.  When Van was deployed or on a training mission, Ross never shirked his duties as the guardian of the home.  And when everyone left the house for work and school, Ross followed me around, got in my way, stole my place on the couch, took naps with me, rode with me in the car, played with me in the yard.  Most importantly, he listened to every word I said.  I told him all my problems, all my dreams, all my secrets.  He probably knew me better than any person! I could look at him and get an idea of what he might be thinking, and when the time came, I knew that Ross needed me to have strength that he no longer possessed, to encourage the family to let go.  He might have gone on living for another week or longer out of sheer willpower, but what kind of a life would it have been?   I told my husband that Ross seemed happy but that he also seemed to be waiting for permission to depart.  Van just needed a little time to prepare a final pheasant hunt.  I found Ross sitting in the bedroom and hugged him.  “Just hang in there for a couple more days, okay?”.  He seemed to give a nod of agreement.

Our family taking Ross for his last walk around the neighborhood.

Our family taking Ross for his last walk around the neighborhood.

There was no way to really repay Ross for a lifetime of loyalty and friendship but I decided to give him the best last day possible.  The things that a dog likes are so simple in nature that they should be a lesson to us all: a ride in a car on a sunny day, rolling in the grass, a nap on an old bed, a crust of good bread, and being with our favorite people.  What better way to pass a last day?  He was too weak to jump easily into my car  so I had to boost him in, but he got to ride shotgun once more time as I made my way to a park near Milford Lake.  It was a chilly, windy morning, and the park was completely empty, so Ross had the place to himself.  I let him run as long as he wanted.  The view was quite pretty, although not as beautiful as South Dakota, where we had hoped that he could spend his final day.  I wondered if God granted dogs the ability to see in color in their final hours, and I hoped that Ross could see everything for how truly beautiful if was on that morning.  Tears started to stream down my face, but great sheets of wind quickly blew them away.  Ross paused from sniffing the grass to look at me quizzically, so I wiped my face and we walked through the park together, hot on the trail of a rabbit that was long gone.

Road DogHe tired quickly, so I helped him back into the car.  At home Ross seemed content just laying in the backyard.  I had been saving half a bundle of sage for a special occasion, so I lit it and let it smolder slowly, ceremonial incense from me to Ross.  I laid down on the grass beside him and smelled the sage and looked at the sky.  It was a gorgeous day.  I opened up the guest room and helped Ross onto the bed, his favorite place to nap, and he sprawled out in the afternoon sun.  I peeked in on him and chuckled to see how content he was dozing on his back with his legs flayed and sagging balls flopping out in the afternoon sun — just the way he liked to nap.  I’d bought frozen pizzas for supper because the one treat Ross was allowed on his special diet was pizza crust.  Van called to tell me that he had found a place for Ross to go on his last pheasant hunt, then he would take him back to K State.  He would go to sleep next to Van, with a freshly killed trophy pheasant to dream about as he began to doze.

Ross and his favorite toy, a stuffed sheep named Moss.

Ross and his favorite toy, a stuffed sheep named Moss.

After school we had to break the news to the girls.  I don’t want to ever have to go through that again, but after the initial shock, the girls agreed to take Ross for a walk around the block, brush him out, play with him in the yard, and feed him pizza crust.  He refused the pizza crusts, but did everything else, and more.  He even posed for some very touching pictures.  We explained to the girls that now was the time for them to tell him what they felt in their hearts and give him all their love so he would be ready for his journey.  As much as it hurt to say goodbye, our good memories of Ross are a reminder of the incredible relationship that we, as a family, had with him. When I think about Ross and the impact he had on our family and friends, I have to wonder if it’s possible for angels to appear in animal form.

A bonfire tribute for Ross.

A bonfire tribute for Ross.

Ross always hated it when Van built bonfires, probably because of his propensity to go overboard and inevitably blow up something.  Ross had a way of giving Van a disapproving look whenever Van was doing something stupid.  On Thursday afternoon, after showing me Ross’s beautiful pheasants, Van told me that on the drive back from the hunt, he was able to do one last stupid thing, just for Ross, and Ross gave him one last disapproving look, as if to say “I get it, dumbass!”  Last night, Van built a fire in my old chimenea that was meant to put all other bonfires to shame — and it did.  He blew up spray paint cans in it three times, which is how many times it took to completely destroy the chimenea.  The third explosion was so glorious that the blast scrambled the video I was taking on my phone (much to my dismay), scattered shards of pottery and burned out paint cans as far as twelve feet from the blast zone, and splattered yellow paint on the deck chairs.  Yellow paint for a yellow dog — very appropriate!

Fire and rain are re-energizing, recharging forces of nature necessary for healing and renewal.  This morning, waking to the sound of rain, my wet dog dream finally made sense.  Ross was not wet from a smelly pond or from bathwater, but from fresh pure rain, he smelled of sweetgrass, looked beautiful, and shone like new a penny.  He was healthy, happy, and strong.  Call me a batty sentimentalist, but I choose to believe in things that make me feel good.  Van’s bonfire was one last tribute to Ross from a bunch of silly, awkward, lost humans, and my dream was a message from Ross to wait for rain.  Then  tonight around dinner time, the sky opened up with the most beautiful and gentle rainstorm we had ever seen in Kansas, sending cool blankets of the rain billowing down to drench us.  We watched the girls play in it for hours, laughing and talking about Ross’s brilliant gift to us for taking care of him.  It was just his way of telling us that he saw it, and that he loves us even though we are all dumbasses.

~G

DSCN2495

It’s a New Year. Time to Get My House in Order.

2014-12-24 18.12.51I sort of mean this literally, and if you could see my house right now you’d think: yes! Please get your living conditions under control, woman! But I mostly mean it figuratively. For me, getting my house in order this year means getting a handle on some things that I struggled with in 2014.  Many of my friends have posted inspiring resolutions on their Facebook pages about how 2015 is going to be their year.  This is the year to travel the world, start that dream business, get back into phenomenal shape, rebuild important relationships, get the most out of life!

Unlike my publicly ambitious friends, I didn’t post anything definitive about my goals, but that’s because I’m kind of superstitious.  It seems like as soon as I put my plans on paper or make a verbal admission of intent, something goes terribly wrong.  It’s better if I let the wind carry me along and present spontaneous opportunities.  It probably makes me seem a little shifty and unreliable, but it’s a system that works for me.  So this year, I decided to be stealthy in my resolutions, take the time to reflect carefully on exactly what I want to improve before going crazy with promises of self refinement.  But here’s the thing — whether or not we like to admit it, whether we like to make resolutions or keep things loose, we all start a new year with expectations of what the future holds and what we might be capable of with our many talents and shortcomings.

"Let's spend Christmas and New Year's thi...

A Navy quarantine poster from World War II  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being a partial Type A person, I of course had expectations for Christmas and New Year’s, and as usual, my expectations failed miserably in the face of what I felt was God’s rather morbid sense of humor. The plan was that after Christmas we would pack the car and drive out to Kansas City to stay with my sister and brother-in-law for a few days.  The guys would spend some time hunting in South Dakota and be back for the New Year’s Eve party that my sister was preparing.  We would also squeeze in a belated birthday party for my husband, complete with homemade cake and splendid gifts.

I imagined days filled with craft projects, refreshing walks in the country, shopping trips in the Kansas City suburbs, and cooking adventures with my daughters and sister while the menfolk were away.  We would stay up late watching movies, cuddling on the over-sized couches in our cozy pajamas, eating big bowls of popcorn.   It would be so wonderful, and such a special way for our whole family to recharge before diving back into the chaotic routine that would come with a new year!  Best of all, my husband would  search through the house for me at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to give me a romantic kiss and set the tone for our new year together!  Well, nothing happened as planned.  My husband and I did manage a New Year’s kiss, but how romantic can a kiss be when you are planting a smacker on your husband while holding an ice cream bucket for a puking child who has caught the stomach flu just in time for the disco ball drop?

We spent a hellish week between Christmas and New Year’s fighting off a horrible intestine churning virus.  It was like a horror movie; every night at bedtime we huddled under the covers wondering who would be next.  When we heard footsteps rushing down the hall and the bathroom door slamming shut in the middle of the night, we knew.  We knew.  The virus picked us off one by one — first my brother-in-law, then my husband, then me, and finally my daughters on New Year’s Eve.  My husband and I, still recovering from the virus ourselves, were up all night, each nursing a very sick, miserable child.  So instead of imbibing on delicious food and drink and squeezing in last minute celebrations with loved ones, I spent my final week of 2014 obsessively swabbing down the communal bathroom with Clorox wipes, running to the grocery store for Saltines and Pedialyte, sanitizing record breaking amounts of barfy laundry, and keeping a careful tally of the dwindling toilet paper supply.  By New Year’s Day, I was a sobbing mess.  Thus my plans for a glittering entrance into 2015 were ruined.  I didn’t triumphantly stride so much as limp pathetically into the new year — battered and exhausted.

My wiped out family needed a vacation from our Christmas Vacation after what we had been through!  The whole experience left me muttering to myself, “Man, I just can’t catch a break!”  But, after putting my hurt feelings aside for the moment, I managed to focus on the real issue.  My house has been out of order for some time, and I want to straighten it out.  I’d like to improve certain aspects of my life in the coming year.  And now, with nothing but my priorities laid out in front of me, I have a simple question to ask: what do I really want to accomplish?  Getting my house in order involves more than just having every thing organized neat and tidy, put away where it belongs.  It means changing my attitude, gaining a more positive outlook, building relationships, and developing better habits that will ultimately lead to the goals I want to achieve.  Sure, things like mini-epidemic viruses will change my short-term plans and temporarily slow me down, but if I allow such obstacles to prevent me from living a happy life, then there is no one to blame but myself.

So, I have now made my relatively simple, but very important resolutions for 2015 and kept them close to my heart.  It could take longer than expected to get my house in order, but I will follow the wind and learn as I go.

Happy New Year!

~G

What I’ve Learned After Ten Years of Marriage…

…Or my tips for success.

Aren't we adorable?

Aren’t we adorable?

This week Van and I celebrated ten years of marriage, the accomplishment being even more sweet because the week was an absolutely insane carnival of mishaps, chaos, and confusion, and the fact that we both survived was an unprecedented miracle. We’ve all had weeks like this: a kind of demented Butterfly Effect where one fucked up event creates opportunity for another, until you find yourself hitting new lows.  “Inconspicuously” changing your clothes in your car because you no longer have time to practice appropriate hygiene in between all the obligations you’ve signed on for.  Being mean to the children of people who you barely know (in my defense, the little bastard was trying to take my last potato chip).  Questioning the inner workings of the universe while cleaning elephantine piles of dog shit off the living room carpet.  This was my week.

On Monday evening after a lovely turkey dinner, Van had some kind of mysterious reaction to something.  I suspected the eggnog immediately because eggnog is a disgusting mixture of two things that I cannot digest properly: milk and raw eggs.  Even though he was clearly having a reaction to something, he continued to drink the eggnog until the rash that started on his face had spread to his chest, arms, and back.  At that point he wanted to go to the hospital.  My next door neighbor, an absolute angel, told me to leave the kids with her overnight.  We laughed a little on the drive to the Emergency Room “Ha ha!  What a funny way to spend our tenth anniversary!”  We weren’t terribly concerned about the reaction, and our anniversary wasn’t actually until the Tuesday, so there would be plenty of time to get the rash cleared up and be on our way for some merrymaking.

Once he got checked into the ER, the full effects of Van’s decision to seek medical attention set in.  He started complaining that he didn’t want to be there because it might take several hours.   “Well what did you expect?”  I asked.  “If it’s an allergic reaction, we need to get it treated.”  When the triage nurse saw us, Van went all out, claiming that I had sexually assaulted him on multiple occasions, and when he was asked about mental problems he stated, “You should probably ask my wife; she will give you a better answer.”  She looked at me with something like sympathy and I said “Just check the mental problems box, but NOT the sexual assault box.”  I kind of wanted to slap him but reminded myself why we were there.  We were ushered back to the waiting room, where one T.V. was blaring Fox News and the other was blaring Disney Junior.  Oh good, the inner circle of hell.  Luckily,  I had brought along my copy of Les Miserables so at least I had something to do.  Van had nothing to keep himself occupied, so he wandered around talking to the young mothers with tiny babies.  I’m sure the last thing they wanted was a bright red lobster man looming over their babies, asking questions about eating habits.

Before long, we were taken to an exam room.  I wondered if it had something to do with my husband complaining a swelling feeling his throat, but I didn’t know if he was just saying that to get through the exam and treatment process faster, or if he really was having trouble breathing.  Either way, we were in and there was no backing out. The room was small, and I had nowhere to sit except for an uncomfortable molded plastic chair shoved up against a scary garbage can used by everyone who came into the room.  The entire process took around five hours, with various medical staff coming in to perform diagnostics. Van remained in character, harassing everyone within ten feet of his bed.  He wasn’t going down without a fight, anyhow.  The doctor determined that he absolutely needed an Epi Pen injection with a steroid chaser, and some monitoring afterward.  I was tempted to ask if I could do the honors and re-enact the Pulp Fiction scene where Uma gets the adrenaline shot in the heart, but held my tongue because Van was being obnoxious enough for the two of us and I didn’t need to start doing or saying anything to keep us there longer.

The shot went, disappointingly, into his arm, and within a few minutes, his face looked clearer and he was actually dozing off.  Go figure!  While I sat in the uncomfortable chair, my legs and ass going numb, Van snored very loudly for about two hours.  Towards the end I passed out across the garbage can (gross) which is probably why I am sick with a mystery virus now.  When the doctor came back to check his vitals, Van said that he could breathe much better, which convinced us both that coming to the ER was the right decision.  We were told to never second guess an allergic reaction, since it’s difficult to know if and when it could cause the throat or tongue to swell.

So you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with marriage, right?  Van and I both woke up right after midnight on Tuesday.  I smiled at him across the room and said “Hey, it’s our anniversary!  We made it!”  Van smiled and asked, “Do you want your present?”  I looked at him, a bit bewildered, and said, “Well I kind of feel like I deserve one after what you just put me through.”  Van said, I’ve got your present right here; do you want it or not?”  So I said okay, yeah, I wanted it.  And do you know what he did?  He stuck his tongue out at me!  So I flipped him off.  But then he pulled a little ring box out of his pocket, and popped it open to reveal a gorgeous Black Hills Gold ring.  I was more than just a little surprised.  Van had that ring in his pocket, and at some point during the jackassery he thought to himself “Hey, I can give Georgeann a ring right here in the Emergency Room!”

This summer at Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose, South Dakota.

This summer at Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose, South Dakota.

So, this event set the stage for one of the weirdest weeks I can remember.  Van is okay.  We never found out what he is actually allergic to (which makes life even more mysterious and exciting).  Despite the strange week and all the challenges, we have been very close as a couple, which has led me to want to share my advice to couples who don’t yet know what ten years of marriage looks like, as well as to those lucky ones who do.

1.  First of all, it takes work.  Van and I didn’t get to this point without romantically pursuing each other constantly, appreciating each other’s qualities, and maintaining a special friendship.  Anyone who says marriage is easy is full of shit.

2.  Next, be patient with your partner.  So many times at the ER, I had to draw on my reserves of patience, and I am glad I did (I got a ring out of it!).  I didn’t feel great that night, and had been looking forward to a bubble bath and an early bed time.  No such luck, but that is part of a relationship.  We often have to put our needs on hold and be patient because our partner might need our understanding, and that becomes the priority at the moment.  It all evens out, so don’t keep score.

3. Don’t be afraid to have fun.  Van and I had to take a hard look at our resources, goals, and limitations this week, and reframe the definition of “fun” because it turns out that the fancy anniversary dinner we had planned for this weekend isn’t quite so practical for us right now.  We are still exhausted from Monday’s trip to the ER.  And cleaning up dog poop off the carpet on Tuesday.  And decorating for an office Christmas party on Wednesday.  And attending said Christmas party on Thursday…and, well, you get the picture.  What is more practical and within our capabilities right now is a pizza and movie night at the house. One of the best gifts I could give my husband this year was this statement: “I don’t need to have fancy steak dinners or big gifts as proof that we love each other.  I just want more time with you, and I will never outgrow that selfish desire.”  This was actually before he gave me the ring, so try not to find hypocrisy in this.  A solid relationship requires an investment of time, not money, and fun doesn’t have to be expensive!

4.  Say please, thank you, and I love you.  A lot!  Couples forget to say these phrases.  I feel spoiled because I have a husband who says these things many times a day, and on top of this, he does little helpful things for me, which makes me even more eager to reciprocate.  Let me tell you, nothing made me feel better than waking up this morning to a clean kitchen with loaded dishwasher full of clean and dry dishes, and neatly lined up CLEAN pots and pans, ready for cooking!  It allowed me to sit and write this post.  So when he wakes up, I will be in such a good mood and feel like helping him with a project.  Provided the dog doesn’t poop on the floor or the kids don’t flood the downstairs bathroom…

5.  Learn how to communicate.  This really ties into to my first piece of advice.  Van and I went through a long spell where we really weren’t communicating but we didn’t realize it.   I tend to use a passive aggressive tone, and he got to the point where it was just easier to tune me out.  So it took a lot of courage for us both to decide to develop better communication skills.  It has worked wonders for our relationship in just a few months.

6. Spend time together, but be individuals.  Van and I like to do things together.  We hunt, work in our garden together and sometimes we cook together.  We also have individual hobbies that allow us to have circles of friends who offer us support and advice to bring back to the relationship.

7. Last, because I like the number 7, but also because this is a very important tip, take care of yourself.  If you don’t practice good self maintenance, how are you going to take care of your partner and family?  This includes being your own best friend, caring for your needs and learning how to make yourself a consistent priority so that you feel taken care of.  Even if it means locking yourself in your bathroom so you can take a bubble bath without being interrupted by the entire neighborhood (which is my problem when I want to use the bathroom), it’s worth the effort to find time for yourself each day.  Doing so will create more energy for you to be open and loving toward your partner.

The Red Hammer sign next to a sculpture at Porter Sculpture Park reminds me of our marriage.

The Red Hammer sign next to a sculpture at Porter Sculpture Park reminds me of our marriage.

Last night we had a little dinner and some friends came over.  We cracked open a bottle of wine that was part of a case given to us ten years ago when we got married.  The first bottles were consumed years ago, with the last one drunk at our five year anniversary — and it was still good then.  We were not sure how the wine would taste last night, and when we took a sip we discovered that another five years of Army moves, bad storage choices, and general abuse had turned it into weird funky grape juice.  We laughed about it.  After our guests left Van hugged me and said “We outlasted the wine!  Should we keep the bottle as a souvenir?”  I said “Yes, let’s.”  Van gave me a kiss and said “You know, we still have one bottle of that stuff left.  We need to keep it and open it in ten more years.”  I giggled “It’s a date!”

~ G

Ten Years a Veteran

Last week was special for my husband and for me.  To us, Veteran’s Day is as festive as Christmas, Easter, our wedding anniversary, and various family members’ birthdays.  I have now been a veteran for ten years, a little longer than I’ve been married, making this a milestone year in many ways.  I’ve always been reluctant to bask in the adoration of well wishers on Veteran’s Day, but my husband loves free lunches, so he was impatient to get me out of the house.

“Are you ready to go?”  he shouted into the bathroom while I was still shampooing my hair in the shower.

“Absolutely.” I yelled back.   “I think I’ll just go like this.  Naked and sopping wet.”

“Okay, I’m in the truck then.”

We were going to hike in a beautiful state park, eat a picnic lunch, and talk about sentimental things (my idea), but the weather intervened.  The temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and a hike no longer sounded remotely fun.  Van suggested we get as many freebies as possible and take advantage of the Veteran’s Day sales with some early Christmas shopping.  It turned out to be a fantastic day, and tagging along with him, doing everything that made him happy, made me happy.

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project.  I retain no rights.

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project, 2014. I retain no rights.

I haven’t always been able to relate to my veteran status.    When I returned from deployment in 2004, I just wanted to scrub everything about the Army off of me and be a civilian again.  I bought girly clothes, high heels, and lots of new makeup.  I dated a couple guys, one who was also a veteran and actually remembered seeing me working in the chow hall at my camp in Baghdad!  I got a job as a receptionist and shopped at Wal-Mart in the middle of the night when I was really bored.  I didn’t spend much time thinking or talking about my deployment experience.

Five years later, it was time to celebrate five years of marriage to a soldier, and the Army life had become a steady reality.  I’d traded in camouflage and combat boots for formal ball gowns and impossibly tiny handbags that nothing fits inside.  Now here I am again, another five years later.  I wear fewer dresses and more denim.  People tend identify me as an Army spouse rather than a veteran, and that is okay because that is my more active role.  The old guys at the VFW will need a bit more time to process that I earned my veteran status before my husband did, but eventually they will catch on.  I do talk about my service more, but it still isn’t a comfortable topic.  It’s taken time, but I can accept praise, even though, as my sister claims, I am still terribly humble.

My son, the original reason why I went to Iraq: a better future for him.

My son, the original reason why I went to Iraq: a better future for him.

I’ve also become accustomed to the reality that not everyone loves a veteran.  This Veteran’s Day, a man gained national attention after posting a harsh anti veteran statement on his Facebook page.  The rant went viral and incited angry responses, phone calls, and even death threats. It was sad to see, on a day when we veterans should be celebrating our roll as protectors and peacekeepers, so many were caught up in one person’s ignorant outburst.  It’s no fun to read something nasty pointed in one’s general direction, but receiving insults simply for ‘being something’ should never deter us from continuing to be good people, and veterans are the best.   I hope that this man, and others who deeply dislike veterans, could see through our eyes for one day, and look at the world from a warrior’s perspective.

Sharing MREs with a breathtaking view  in one of Saddam's palaces.

Sharing MREs above a breathtaking view in one of Saddam’s palaces.

Although it has been difficult to feel as though I deserve the title ‘veteran’, after ten years I am now proud and grateful to count myself among the courageous and loyal.   If I hadn’t joined the National Guard and deployed to a combat zone, I might not have learned the most important lessons for life. First of all, people in a war zone take care of others before taking care of themselves.  I don’t see that happen very often in the civilian world, but I see it all the time among veterans and military families.  It’s called Selfless Service, and it is one of the Army Values.  While deployed, I also witnessed many acts of kindness and courage that resulted in lives being saved.  Some of these incidents involved soldiers saving the lives of Iraqis, with no forethought to their own personal safety or profit.

In the combat zone, generosity was another lesson learned.  Every day I witnessed soldiers showing generosity to each other and to Iraqi children, often giving away their only blanket or last ration of food or water without complaint.  No questions were asked, but if a need was identified, it was filled immediately.  Soldiers also cultivated deeply loyal friendships with each other, and would do anything to support and uplift their friends.  Ask any veteran if he or she has a lifelong friend from war time, and odds are that veteran will have a very interesting story to tell.  Personal sacrifices every day become commonplace habits for soldiers who work closely together, and selfishness fails to exist.  But perhaps those who go to war are the only people who really understand this system of camaraderie.

A little girl who tugged at my heartstrings, and continues to do so.

A little girl who tugged at my heartstrings, and continues to do so.

Connections also form between soldiers and civilians in occupied regions, even if this is not popularized or publicized.   I was told a story by a weary young soldier who tried everything to save an Iraqi girl suffocating from an asthma attack.  Seeing that he was a medic, the girl’s father thrust her into the soldier’s arms and begged for help.   Unfortunately, the unit had no medicine for asthma, and the girl perished as the soldier held her.  Another young soldier single handedly arranged a massive humanitarian mission to donate school supplies to refurbished Iraqi primary schools in the Baghdad area.  Her mission was so successful it enabled Iraqi children to return to school with the kinds of supplies American children take for granted.  Another soldier tried to adopt an Iraqi toddler when her parents insisted she take the girl so that at least one of their children would “have a rich and safe life in America.”  The soldier pursued adoption through Army legal channels, but was informed that it would be impossible.  She was too young, too poor, unmarried, and Iraq had no political infrastructure for her to make a legal adoption.  To this day she remains brokenhearted over what she views as her failure.

When I deployed ten years ago, I didn’t realize that people who despise veterans actually exist, or that I would be accused of being some type of soulless, mindless government robot trained to create carnage and desolation.  I want to encourage other veterans to remember this: Your service is not defined by what someone thinks of you, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.   I didn’t serve in the capacity or manner that anyone else can imagine, and  my character isn’t defined by my service or by a stranger’s opinion of me.  I endeavored to serve mostly as a humanitarian, holding my hand out to the downtrodden.  And I continue to do so.  That is the role that I believe every veteran is responsible to uphold throughout life.

The last time I kind of looked bad ass.

The last time I kind of looked bad ass.

One last story, told to me recently by my husband.  This is the kind of behavior demonstrated all the time by soldiers and veterans in my life (and after being around such positive energy, why take any haters seriously?).  A soldier new to my husband’s unit was in a minor auto accident and needed medical attention.  Another soldier saw the accident and could have just driven away in the dark; instead she reported the accident and insisted on driving the injured soldier to the hospital.  She then sat with the soldier until my husband arrived.  She had no obligation to do so, but she put the needs of a fallen teammate first, sacrificed her time and requirements, and acted in the truest form of kindness by saying “Put some of that burden on me”.

Ten years from now I hope that she looks back at her time in service and feels good, the way I feel good, about being a veteran.

~G

Be Here!

I admit it, I have really let my blogging sit on the back burner.  I have been letting my laptop gather dust, losing my Blog Ideas! notebook under the bed, in the desk, in the car, etc. and generally not caring about my readership stats.  No, I am not severely depressed or on drugs (or both).  I am just really busy genuinely enjoying life, and apparently that does not involve blogging.

Kawthar

The thought occurred to me a couple of days ago that with Veteran’s Day approaching I really should have a thoughtful piece typed up.  You know the piece — something that would induce tears, smiles, or philosophical introspection.  But there will probably be so many of those posted and published on much larger formats, and I am quite an underdog.  And besides, I have way too much going on that I am genuinely enjoying right now.  I can always work on my introspective pieces later…

Three BuddiesSo what do I want to write about for Veteran’s Day; what do I really want to say?  What important message do I want to convey to others?  Simply this: live.  Live today, don’t wast time.  Yesterday is over, tomorrow might not come.  Be in the moment, be a friend.  Reach out to those who are hurting, who need a caring ear that will listen, a shoulder to cry on.  We outgrow so many things in a lifetime, but let’s never outgrow kindness.

The two Iraqi friends pictured in this post were killed in 2005 by a terrorist RPG shot into the car they were riding in while they were on their way to work with Coalition Forces.  I miss them, but I am thankful to have had time with them.  The most important lesson they taught me, that I can pass on to you, is to really live every day.  They lived in a world that was literally falling to pieces around them, and do you know what they did each day?  They laughed, told stories, shared food, played pranks, and they squeezed the life out of each moment and formed meaningful relationships because they hadn’t outgrown basic human kindness.  They were truly alive every single day, and for me, they always will be whenever I see flowers blooming in Spring and leaves changing color in Autumn.   Do not let today pass by without being present and accounted for!

Happy and Blessed Veterans Day

~G

So…Turns Out My Spirit Animal is a Witch

Lately my priorities have involved self reflection and goal setting.  And just in time for Halloween, I discovered that the path to my good mental health meant allowing my inner bitch to have some breathing room.  She is part of me after all!

Are you sure my spirit animal is a witch?

Are you absolutely sure my spirit animal is a witch?

I’m just a Wicked Witch trying to get by as a Dorothy in this Land of Oz.  Of course I want to be nice, and people are always telling me that I’m too nice — ugh, typical Dorothy behavior.  But it’s not healthy to suppress my inner bitch when she’s trying to look out for my best interests.  The truth is, I have a terrible time saying no.  It isn’t that I can’t ever say no; after I do manage to say no once in a while, I make a concerted effort to feel guilty for as long as possible.  I have also spent much of my adult life making important decisions based on the input of others who feel compelled to tell me what I should do (like they know anything).  I tell you, that makes it quite difficult for a gal’s agenda to progress, whether it’s raising a family or training an army of vicious flying monkeys (practically the same thing, by the way).

I have lost the ability over time to listen to my own voice and make decisions with a clear conscience.  Guilty feelings about saying no to people who have certain expectations only feeds anxiety and self doubt.  In order to get true respect from the world, I must first respect and love myself, delightful flaws and all.  This is where being a bit of a witch really pays off!  I decided that the best way to amend my problems is to reconnect with my inner bitch and allow her some breathing room.   Since she is part of who I am, perhaps she could teach me how to reclaim my true identity and learn to listen to that identity with a clear mind.  I did have to be careful when unleashing this powerful force.  Honestly identifying my feelings and personal goals rather than fixating on distractions made me feel courageous and motivated.   There is a difference between expressing oneself with emotion and just fighting dirty.  For me, progress isn’t about executing a vengeful agenda to get a higher foothold on the ladder of life.  The inner bitch is simply there to remind me of who I am and who I can be, if I focus on what is really important.

It wasn’t long before my confidence was put to the test.  While attending a harvest festival at the local dairy farm, I ran into a friend from the school where I used to work.  She asked if I would be coming back.  “No,” I said simply, and smiled.  “But we really miss you there!”  The guilt started to creep in, and part of me wanted to make promises to appease her expectations, but I stood my ground.  “I don’t know what to say, other than I’m not planning to come back.”   No longer a Dorothy, I was free of the guilt and broke the cycle of letting other people make my decisions for me – finally.   I would run into more friends and former co-workers from the school throughout the month of October.  It was very nice to see them again, but they did not change my decisions.

For Halloween I followed my daughters’ advice and dressed as a witch.  After my adventure of self discovery, why not?  I was originally going to be Dr. Who (the Matt Smith version) but the girls convinced me to throw on a black dress with some witch-y looking black boots, and my husband helped me find an amazing red hat with feathers and black veil.  I painted my lips ruby red, practiced my witch cackle, then sat on the front steps in the freezing cold for two hours welcoming a steady parade of children dressed in an array of colorful costumes.  The highlight of the evening was a visit from an eight year old Dr. Who (Matt Smith version), and his costume was much better than mine would have been.

I am glad that I finally identified with my inner bitch and understood how she fits into my personality.  I can pretend I am a Dorothy all day, but I AM a Wicked.  Instead of skipping down the yellow brick road with random maniacs who pop out of the hedges, I would rather shutter the windows, light some candles, shove gingerbread men into the oven, and watch extra dark episodes of ‘The X Files’.  And I will continue to consult my inner bitch for purposes of self empowerment, if not for evil (although that can be tempting!).  Without her, I wouldn’t be me.

~G

 

In Search of The Perfect Day

 


I recently celebrated my birthday.  It was a great day.  In kickboxing class I beat the hell out of a punching bag, then I cooked myself a big brunch while watching ‘The X Files’ on Netflix.  I sat on my deck and burned a sage smudge to clear my head, and then I took a nap.  When my children and husband came home, they took me out for dinner, and I ended my day cuddled up on the couch with my husband, eating chocolate, watching ‘Dutch’ and drinking wine.  A great birthday.  Last year, my birthday was overshadowed by the government shutdown and news of the South Dakota blizzard that killed thousands of cattle near my hometown.   I don’t recall truly celebrating.  This year I treated myself to as much fun as possible.  I could always save the hum-drum for the day after my birthday.

I am reading a self-help book right now — something I never imagined doing.  In the book there is a passage about a man hung up on the idea of reliving his “perfect” day.  He couldn’t imagine living an imperfect life day after day, having experienced one day of absolute flawlessness.  He wanted that perfection every day, and it angered him that such an ideal could not be achieved to his satisfaction. When reading that excerpt, it struck me that I have been having the same problem.

This summer I spent not one perfect day, but one entire fantastic week in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  After running wild through the hills literally searching for gold, going back to life as a housewife seemed pointless.  The moment I set foot into my house in Kansas, I wanted to turn around, jump in my car, and drive immediately back to South Dakota!  I was even tempted to formulate wild excuses in my head as to why I had to go back for an extra week, or month.  Sound a tad neurotic?  Maybe so, but I knew what lay ahead.  Boring menu planning, unending laundry, pushing the vacuum cleaner back and forth, and pacing in my tiny yard, staring at nothing but cookie cutter rooftops instead of towering spruce covered hills.  I wanted to relive my perfect days, but that would not be possible in Kansas.

Last night, my husband and I had a profound conversation.  He is typically my more insightful half, but last night my self-help book and I came to the rescue.  Frustrated with a negative situation at work, he described a rosier future scenario that he wants for our family.  I recognized that like me, he is also suffering from the desire to live perpetually perfect days.  After concluding a successful term as a company commander, he is now in limbo, and nothing else he accomplishes seems as gratifying.  I told him that we were both at the same junction in our life together, but for different reasons.  He had come out of a very successful point in his career and was realizing that for a while, his work would not be as perfect as he expected.  I was trying to decide what to make of my life, and how I could guide my family as a matriarchal character.

” There is no such thing as a perfect day, but we like to think so, don’t we?  We are at a point where we can accept that any good day is what we make of it.  We can take control of some of the aspects of every day, even if we can’t make every day perfect.  And, if we’re genuinely unhappy with the way things are, then we can make changes for the better.  I hope that makes sense, I am kind of tired.”

“That does make sense, and it’s helping me feel a lot better!” my husband smiled at me.

“Really? Wow, I am so glad!  I know that we are both going through the same things right now, which is kind of nice in a way, because I totally understand how you feel.  And I know that you understand why I want to run away to South Dakota.”  I smiled and patted my husband’s knee.

“Absolutely, I want to run away to South Dakota.” he stood up and stretched.

“Well, as long as you don’t run away to South Dakota without me!”

“I have to pee really bad.” And that was the end of our deep conversation.

There is an episode of ‘Parks and Recreation’ called Pawnee Rangers in which Donna, Tom, and Ben enjoy something called a Treat Yo Self Day.  The first time I watched this episode, I remember thinking that it was cute, but not terribly realistic.  The scene begins with Tom coming into the office and presenting cupcakes spelling out “Treat Yo Self” to Donna, thus prompting a celebratory atmosphere and a massive shopping spree.  There are no restrictions, the characters purchase anything and everything that they want after embarking on a luxurious spa visit.  While not exactly financially feasible in that context, the idea of having a Treat Yo Self Day is quite brilliant when considering mental health.  I like the concept of applying a Treat Yo Self mentality to each day rather than expecting perfection.  A Treat Yo Self mentality is forgiving and generous; perfection is neither of these.  Treats don’t have to be substantial and expensive either.  Sitting with a loved one and having a meaningful conversation, investing in a kickboxing class because it’s always been a personal goal, drinking a favorite cup of tea every morning, or just taking a walk to the mailbox can feel like a treat after you embrace the imperfections that make your life unique and special.   And now, I must treat myself to sleep, and submit an imperfect post to the online community.  And yes, I am happy.

~ G