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A Letter From Mom

Mom on silly photo day at the memory care home where she lived. This was a very good moment.

It started with little things. Stories repeated. Tasks performed 15 minutes earlier, completely forgotten. A phone call to ask for directions to a destination she had visited a hundred times before. Just little things that were so easy to explain away.

But those little things kept tapping on my shoulder, nagging me to wake up. It was as if there was a little elf sitting on my shoulder urging me to speak up, telling me that soon, denial would no longer be an option.

I remember the day that my sisters and I had “the talk.” We had all noticed the little things individually, and they were starting to add up. Now it was time to admit that there was something wrong with Mom.

Together we approached Dad, fearful that he would deny our observations. Afraid that he would try to tell us we were overreacting. Instead we were met with a flood of relief from a man who was also seeing signs, but just couldn’t bring himself to say the words out loud.

Next we had to voice our concern to Mom directly. And here is the very cruel reality of memory-related disease—Mom had noticed the little things too. In the early stages, she was very aware that she was starting to “slip a little” as she called it.

Then came the doctor visits with all of the tests designed to confirm what we really already knew. I sat with mom while they asked her questions.

“Who is the President of the United States?”
“Where were you born?”
“What month is it?”
“What year is it?”
“How many children do you have?”
“When is your birthday?”
“What year did you say it was?”

Then they gave her a drawing of a very simple house. It was the kind of line drawing that a five-year-old might have created to hang proudly on the refrigerator. They asked my mother to duplicate it, exactly.

I had to sit on my hands and bite my lower lip in an effort to stop myself from showing her that she forgot to draw the chimney. That she forgot one of the windows.

“Are you finished?” they asked so kindly. “Yes,” said Mom. “All done.” And she smiled a smile that showed she was sure she had done well. And I smiled back.

Alzheimer’s, age-related dementia, memory loss…call it what you will…it is a scary, confusing diagnosis and there really is no how-to manual out there to teach you how to help someone live with it. It’s a personal journey, a gradual progression and you just try to make up the rules as you go along. Then you find out that there are no rules, so you truly take it one day, or even one moment at a time.

I have always wished that my mother could have written a Dementia for Dummies book. They have those yellow how-to books on just about every other possible topic, so why not? Her wants, needs, likes, and dislikes were very clear in her mind. So now, more than four years after her death, I’m putting myself in her shoes and summing it up in a letter to her loved ones on her behalf. I think this is what she would want us, and everyone whose lives are touched by this disease, to know.

To my dear family,

I guess I am not going to age gracefully. I wish I could change that. I wish there was a miracle cure for me, but there is not. I know that my disease is not because of something I have done wrong. It is, quite simply, something that is happening to me. I can’t control it, don’t ask me to try. Let’s just get through this together, the best that we can.

Here are some things I need to share with you…

I know you’re trying to be helpful, but please don’t correct me. Don’t try to tell me I’m repeating myself, even if I have said the same thing a hundred times. Don’t tell me I know something when I clearly don’t know it any longer. Your constant reminders of my failing mind only serve to frighten and frustrate me. Perhaps, as I am working to learn about acceptance of my situation, your job in this journey is to learn about patience.

Don’t try to make me be the person I once was. While that person is still inside me—and there will be cherished days when that person will surface—I encourage you to also get to know the new me. Accept who I am in this moment. Love the person I am right now, even if I’m having a bad day. It’s still me…I’m doing the best I can.

Don’t try to tell me what I do and don’t like. I may not even realize it myself because I’m changing. Help me find wonderful new things to enjoy.

There will be times when I am sad, frustrated, or even angry over things I can no longer remember or do. Just help me through it. Help me perform the once simple tasks that now seem so hard. I may not remember things, but I still have emotions, I still feel embarrassment. Just help make it all OK. It’s no big deal, right? Believe that when you say it to me.

Help me simplify my life. I get overwhelmed so easily. New places, too many faces, too much noise—everything closes in on me and scares me. I need space. I need routine. I need someone to gently and consistently help me follow that routine.

Be willing to accept help from others. We can’t do this alone. I trust you to make good decisions for me. I trust you to keep me safe.

Let me hold your hand when I need to. Those times will be frequent. Please also understand that there will come a time when I may reach for someone else’s hand instead of yours. It’s not personal, it’s just my mind playing games with my sense of loyalty. Please don’t let your feelings be hurt.

Tell me stories about once upon a time. If I don’t recognize the stories, I’ll still enjoy your company. Let me also tell you a story and act as though you’ve never heard it before, even if I just told it an hour ago. Don’t let it bother you, or me, if I get some of the facts wrong. And tomorrow, be willing to hear my stories all over again with a smile and the good grace I know you possess.

Look at photographs with me. Don’t make it a test, just tell me names and a little bit about each photo. I may remember, I may not—all that matters is that we do this together.

Buy me clothes that are soft and that fit loosely with no elastic to bind. I want shirts that slip easily over my head. Yes, I’m a bit picky now. Find me shoes with Velcro, not laces. And I need a good sweater. I get cold easily now.

I like to be clean. Help me bathe. Help me brush my teeth. Make sure my hair looks nice. It all still matters to me, though I no longer think to do these tasks for myself. I love to hear you tell me that I look beautiful today.

Celebrate with me. Hug me. Walk with me. Dance with me. I love to dance. Sing with me. Did you know I can sing now? I can!

I need moments of joy. I need a stuffed bunny to hug. I want apple pie for breakfast. Don’t tell me that it’s wrong, just sit down and enjoy a piece with me. There really is no harm in having apple pie for breakfast, is there?

Help me smell flowers. Help me touch the soft, warm fur of a gentle dog. Help me enjoy the sunlight on my face. Make me laugh. Let me make you laugh. It’s OK to laugh at the silly things we do and say.

Please understand if I don’t always know who you are. Your visits still mean the world to me. You bring a smile to my face even on the hardest days—it’s your gift.

Finally, when my time comes, don’t ask me to linger. Don’t ask my body to try to do things it can no longer remember how to do. Just be with me. I won’t be afraid if you are with me.

Look into my eyes. I’m in there…you’ll see me. Everything I need to tell you, a lifetime of love, will be shining in my eyes. Accept my gift to you. Tell me you love me again and again, though in this moment of divine clarity, I will know that you do. Tell me anyway.

Then tell me I’m going to be OK. More importantly, tell me that you’re going to be OK. I need to know that you are OK.

With this peace of mind, I will go. Hold my hand for just a moment longer. Then embrace all of the people you love. Let yourself cry. Let your memories comfort you. Then go. Go have a wonderful, joy-filled life. It’s all I have ever wanted for you.

I will be watching. I will feel every beat of your heart. If you find that you need me, I will always find ways to show you I’m with you. You’ll know it’s me.

Love always,
Mom

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I’m Not Walking Bruce. I’m Walking With Bruce.

He rushes me out the door, like a boy dragging his mother from one attraction to another at the county fair. Hurry! Hurry! There is so much to see.

Easy Bruce. Don’t pull me. We’ll get there. I promise we’ll see it all.

This is how our walks begin. Every walk. Bruce shoots outside in an ecstatic charge to get into the world. I don’t blame him. Though he receives good care, has a healthy diet, and has a good number of people who truly love him, Bruce wants out. He needs to get out.

Bruce, an impressive dog we believe to be part pit bull and part American bull dog, was found stray, wandering the parking lot in front of the dog care business I co-own with a friend. It was around 5:00 in the afternoon, during the time of day when owners are rushing in and out of our doors picking up their dogs from daycare. The last thing we need is a large stray pit bull mix greeting them in the parking lot.

Our manager went out, put a slip lead on the dog, and brought him into our kennel area. His condition and appearance spoke to his former life, perhaps the life he had finally escaped. He was a bit on the thin side, though not terribly. The tops of his folded ears were raw with fly bites. He wore a wide, sturdy buckle collar with a large metal clasp hanging from it like an ominous pendant alluding to a life lived on a chain. He had a wide, well-muscled jaw that stayed tight with stress and uncertainty.

He was tired, he was wary. He was thirsty. He was hungry. He didn’t feel very well. We cared for him. Over the course of his first days with us, those tight jaw muscles relaxed into the wide, silly grin that makes a bully breed’s face so very appealing.

Soon, Bruce started to flourish. Old wounds healed. A collar used for restraint was replaced with a colorful collar that complemented his handsome coat. Soft beds and blankets provided comfort in his kennel run. Toys and chew bones were provided regularly. Many hands provided pats and scratches in just the right places. Breakfast was served every morning, dinner every night—on schedule. Regular trips to the fenced yard were provided throughout the day and evening.

But still…it was clear that Bruce wanted more. Bruce needed more.

20140116_151110Finally, we put a special harness on Bruce—one designed to reduce his ability to pull too hard. I took hold of the leash, still wondering if I would be able to hang on to the 80 pounds of muscle I was about to take for a walk. Bracing myself we stepped out of the door, back into the very parking lot where Bruce was first found.

I am a dog trainer. I work with people all the time who want their dog to learn to walk on leash, without pulling. Most owners have a vision of the dog walking compliantly at the human’s side, following along whichever path the human decides to take, at the pace the human chooses to walk. It is the human’s walk, right? The dog is a lucky participant.

Bruce had other ideas. Bruce had something to teach me.

When Bruce realizes he is heading out the door to go on a walk, his face takes on a giddy, bright-eyed-as-an-eight-week-old-puppy expression. He can’t get out that door fast enough. The world is waiting! He struggles to stay still while I fasten his harness.

We head outside and Bruce just takes it all in—sight, sound, and smells. Oh the smells! We spend the first 10 minutes of each walk hurrying as fast as we can to smell, mark, poop, scruff the earth, smell some more, and mark some more. Ok, that “we” part. Don’t take that too literally. I’m just along for the ride.

Once we get past that first 10 minutes of pure canine tell-the-world-you’ve-been-here joy, the walk takes on another dimension. Because it is Bruce’s walk, I let him choose the route. After all, I’m not the one currently living in temporary housing for the homeless (aka: a pretty nice kennel run, but still…).

Our pace slows down. The frantic need to get into the world shifts into absolute bliss to be experiencing it.

And this is where my lesson begins.

While my walks with Bruce are for exercise for both of us, Bruce has shown me that our time together is not a mission from point A to point B. Each walk is an adventure—a sensory experience. To just force Bruce to walk the direction I choose, at the pace I choose, would be such an injustice to us both. You see, Bruce takes the stop-to-smell-the-roses concept several steps further.

20140116_151311Stop to smell this tree. Stop to feel this shrub rub deliciously along the top of your back. Stop to sniff this spot in the grass. THIS spot. Scratch the earth there vigorously with your feet to stretch while also letting others know you’ve passed this way.

Put your nose to the wind and drink in the smells. Learn everything you need to know about which direction to take through detailed olfactory stories. Don’t be afraid to change direction. Follow your nose, follow your instinct, find joy in each and every step.

Watch a little girl running and laughing with her mother. See the tiny sparrows hopping in the bushes. Track a flock of squawking geese as they fall into a perfect V formation. Smile your wide, lolling-tongued smile at passersby.

Splash through a puddle instead of going around it. Roll in the grass. Race across a field snorting as the human works to keep pace.  Jump on top of a rock to survey your world.

Bruce has taught me that each and every walk is not merely a walk. It’s an adventure. The leash is not there to bind Bruce to me. The leash is there to ensure that I see, feel, and experience the world from Bruce’s point of view. It’s really his tool to use as he guides me along his chosen path.

Nancy and BruceBruce and I will continue having our little outings together—enriching his temporary life as a foster dog, certainly enriching my life.  We’ll keep going until the time comes for him to leave. With gratitude, I’ll carry Bruce’s lessons forward on every walk, with every dog.

Someone out there needs Bruce. Someone is meant to be Bruce’s special human, and he their very special dog and mentor. Bruce has so much to share.  You just have to be willing to grab onto the leash and learn.

Bruce is available for adoption to a qualified home in the area of Northeastern Oklahoma. Please comment if you are interested in being Bruce’s person.

Bruce walk

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Quiet.

Quiet.

This is the scene that greeted me early this morning as night was setting to make way for the dawn and I was racing off to work.
This is the lesson I learned in this very still moment.

Stop.
Be still.
Breathe in,
Breathe out.
Relax your mind.
Feel your heartbeat.
The silence will embrace you.
Appreciate the void.
Revive your soul.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Be here.
Shhh.

To Paint or Not to Paint. It’s No Longer a Question.

Deer painting

Painting of a buck by 10-year-old me.

When I was 10 years old, my mother recognized that she had a kid who loved to draw and was not half bad at it. She decided I could use a bit more challenge than the art classes at my elementary school, so she enrolled me in an oil painting class.

Oil painting might seem an odd choice for a 10 year old, and maybe it was, but I am forever grateful. The weekly classes were held in the home of the instructor. There were only four or five students at a time, so we each received good individual attention. Each spring, she hosted an art show  and invited the public to come view and purchase her students’ artwork.

I never wanted to offer any of my paintings for sale…funny kid that I was. I’m sure my family members would have bought some of them to support their blossoming young Picasso, but I just wanted to keep them all. I did part with one painting of a giraffe when a friend of my parents admired it, but it was a gift. The other paintings, honestly, are hiding in my attic to this very day. I love looking at them from time to time. I think I may even re-frame a couple of them to hang on my wall someday as a nod to young me.

After about a year of lessons, my painting instructor moved away and the lessons ended. I’m not sure why my mom did not pursue another avenue for continuing my art classes, but I have a feeling it had something to do with me entering my completely horse-crazy phase. I really wanted to do nothing more than sit out at the barn with my horse and my equally horse-crazy friends.

1980 horse

A sketch by college-age me.

I did still take art classes in school and kept it as a hobby into my early twenties. I didn’t paint much, but I sketched a great deal and took a couple of art classes in college. All for fun. All because I just loved the process of taking a blank page and creating an image.

And then at some point I stopped. This time I suspect that the culprit was the pursuit of my career and other “adult stuff” that took front and center in life, while I let my love of creating artwork go dormant. My writing career became my focus, and still is. It has been my source of income, my place for self-expression, and my passion for decades now.

But the artist in me was still alive, if somewhat buried in cobwebs. She emerged just a bit when I went with friends to a painting party at a place called Pinot’s Pallet. This is a fun place where everyone creates paintings and drinks wine. Unleash the creativity through alcohol! What a concept.

Howie

A painting of Howie by nifty-something-year-old me.

We did the pet portrait class.  You submit a photo of your pet, and they help you cheat a little. They transfer the outline of your pet onto the canvas and then you paint over it. It allows people of all skill levels to capture their beloved dog, cat, horse, etc. The artists on staff wander through the room helping people with color and form…and save a few canvases from certain disaster.

As for me? I found myself totally and completely lost in my painting. It was as if I had moved from the noisy, chatter-filled room into a soundproof booth where I could just focus on putting color on canvas. A seed deep inside me bloomed again and I had to work hard to remain a part of the party that night. The wine helped.

After that experience, I knew I wanted to paint again. I also knew I was afraid to paint again. Silly, isn’t it? You think to yourself, what’s the big deal? You paint a picture. If it’s good, great. If it’s not, keep trying. It’s that simple, right?

But it’s not that simple, at least it wasn’t for me. I allowed myself to be paralyzed by the fear that I wouldn’t be able to paint. I was afraid that I would have an image in my head, but wouldn’t be able to interpret it well—if at all—on canvas. I allowed fear of failure to keep me from painting. FDR was completely right…we truly have nothing to fear, but fear itself. The problem is that fear can really be a powerful thing if you allow it to be.

So my inspiration was being squashed by irrational fear. Was, that is, until I found my courage. I belong to a wonderful online group, the Open Group for Bedlam Farms, that was born to be a community of encouragement to artists of all disciplines. It is a self-proclaimed ministry for the support and nurturing of the creative spark that glows within each of us, whether we know it or not.

On a daily basis people in this group put themselves “out there.” They share first essays, fledgling photography pursuits, fiber art, and any and every form of expression. Those with experience in each discipline share their craft while also offering encouragement, guidance, and constructive input. It’s a beautiful thing to see and share in.

So I took the plunge. I dipped brush into paint and revived a lost love of about 30 years. My first effort would be a gift for a Christmas exchange between members of my online group. It seemed fitting that  my first painting would be something intended for someone else—a mission 10-year-old Nancy would have never allowed!

painting in boxI tried for a whimsical interpretation of the recipient’s dog from photos I found online. I finished the painting, let it dry, and before I could question myself (doubt myself?) too much, I wrapped it up and sent it away. Oh the feeling of walking out of the UPS store knowing there was no going back. Perhaps that seems overly dramatic, but paintings are very personal to me and in some ways, feel like a child to me. So letting go…especially when you’re not sure if what YOU see on that canvas is something anyone else will appreciate…is a big deal.

First painting done, I was ready to dive back in to do another. Another for someone else—for  the founder of and driving force behind the Open Group at Bedlam Farms.

Red paintingYou know what? It felt great. I knew it wasn’t the most masterful painting in the world, but it just didn’t matter. It was by me, from me, and it had meaning. The process was a gift to myself, the end result a gift of thanks to someone else.

Now I’m hooked. Time just ceases to exist when I am painting. I’m lost in the process, in the colors, in the interpretation of image to strokes of paint. I find an inexplicable joy when I am painting.

I know I will not go down in history as a famous artist. I also know I have a bit of skill, though, and it deserves to be nurtured. My initial paintings are not masterpieces. They don’t display technical genius. But they have unleashed a source of joy and expression that has been ignored for too, too long.

In support of my rediscovered hobby, I received an incredible Christmas gift from a dear friend—a box filled with blank canvases and more paint colors than I ever knew existed. I am very grateful to this friend, to my online tribe, and  to Jim who always knows just the right suggestion for making each painting a touch better.

So 10-year-old Nancy is alive and well, messy as ever, and finding challenge and bliss through color and images. I will work to develop my personal style. I will enjoy every brushstroke.

My next painting is going to be one just for me. I will not put it away in the attic. I will hang it prominently on the wall, because I now know that it really doesn’t matter if anyone else thinks it’s good, as long as I do.

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We Have a Hostage Situation

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Fitbit…aka: Richard

I am being held hostage. My captor is unyielding, unfeeling, and diligent. I answer to him daily.

Now, before you call the police or send in a hostage negotiator, let me put your mind at ease. I am not in danger. I am actually free to come and go as I please, but my little master goes with me. Oh yes. He is with me 24/7.

I am officially in servitude to an amazing little piece of technology called Fitbit. I received it as a gift from Jim for Christmas and it’s a great gift. It’s the gift that can put you on the road to better health, and better awareness of how well you do, or do not, care for your body.

I have named my Fitbit Richard because yes, I do actually name everything, and Fitbit makes me feel as though I have a tiny Richard Simmons strapped to my wrist cheering me on when I make good choices and chastising me in a perky way when I don’t. It’s a creepy mental picture, I know. Someone with mad Photoshop skills will undoubtedly latch on to that thought and bring it to doctored photographic reality.

Anyhow, Richard tracks a lot of stuff for me. He tracks how many steps I take per day. My goal is 10,000—his idea, not necessarily mine. I have literally found myself striding back and forth in my house in my pajamas just to be sure I hit my number-of-steps goal for the day. Is that dedication or just a little sad?

Richard also tracks how much of my daily activity is “very active,” verses, say, a stroll in the park. So apparently it’s not enough that I take a minimum of 10,000 steps per day, some of them need to be at a get-that-heart-rate-moving pace. He and I don’t always agree on these stats, but who am I to question Richard?

He knows how much I weigh (I told him…he has a way of inspiring brutal honesty, though he apparently can figure it out too, so no lying!). He knows how much I’d like to weigh. He has a plan for getting me there. I think he can even track my body fat ratio…I think. I have yet to explore that feature and I’m not entirely sure I want to.

He tells me how many calories I burn per day. He has established the number of calories I am allowed to have daily if I would like to meet my weight and fitness goals. He and I don’t really agree on these numbers either, but again, who am I to argue with Richard?

He tells me how much water I SHOULD drink daily, and together we track my actual consumption. He does not track how much Diet Dr. Pepper I drink daily. I think I actually hear a little sigh of frustration emitting from my wrist bracelet every time I take a sip of my guilty pleasure nectar. I just pull my sleeve down to cover him and drink away. Sometimes Richard needs to take a hike himself.

Fitbit Richard also tracks my sleep patterns. This one has been interesting/nerve-wracking for me. I tap Richard on his face (and yeah, I take a little pleasure in smacking him around a bit) until he does a little light pattern to show that he understands I’m going to bed. He then, somehow, knows how long it takes me to fall asleep. Richard also knows how many times I wake up during the night, how many minutes of my sleep are restless, how much of my sleep is deep sleep.

I’m just praying he doesn’t divulge how many times I have to make a trip to the bathroom. Surely SOMETHING is sacred in our relationship? What if there are Fitbit chat rooms and Richard and his Fitbit friends get together and giggle over their hostages’ stats?

So now, when I go to bed, it’s not the deep sigh, tell the body parts to relax, tell the overly-active mind to shut up for a few hours normal routine. No. Now, thanks to Richard, I am in a panic to fall asleep. I’m literally trying to force shutdown so my stats will look good the next day. Ugh. I think I may be missing the point of Richard’s assistance on this one. I even curse myself if I wake up in the night because I know Richard knows. “Tsk, tsk…” I imagine him saying. “If you had put in more VERY ACTIVE minutes, perhaps you would be sleeping better. Just suggesting…” Damn it Richard. Just shut up.

You know, when I think about it, it’s more than appropriate that  I received Richard as a Christmas gift because he may actually be related to Santa Claus.

He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake,
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!

But seriously, modern technology is Santa-Claus amazing to me. Half the time I can only sidestep my frustrated lack of understanding of it, by just accepting that it’s magic.

Magic indeed. I’m so grateful I’m here to witness an era that allows me to talk to my Jeep and actually get a verbal response. I can search out facts and information on the internut (sic) in a matter of moments.  I can have an entire conversation with a friend on my smart phone without uttering a single word. By the way, my ninth grade typing teacher would be so proud of my finely honed texting skills. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog…the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog…repeat, repeat. If you understand that sentence, then you too took a typing class once upon a time. If you don’t get it, then you’re young and were likely proficient with a keyboard by your first birthday. Good for you.

I am from an era when we used to have to actually get up and walk over to the television to change the channel…selecting between the three or four stations that were available as long as the antennae was pointing in the right direction. I used to have to open my car windows by turning a little crank on the door around in circles. Yes, REALLY. Phones were attached to the wall and you had to put your finger in little holes on a dial and then make tiny circles to call someone. If you wanted to send mail, you had to actually write a message out longhand, on real paper, and then walk the letter out to the mailbox to send it, knowing the recipient would not receive it for a few days at best.

But now? Well, now I have Richard. Ironically, Richard would have loved the “good old days.” I am pretty sure all of that dialing, walking, channel-changing, letter-writing, window-cranking stuff would have burned at least a few of my daily calories.

Oh technology, you are a double edged sword. Thank goodness Richard is here to keep me honest and keep me moving. Ok. Have to sign off now or I’ll never get all 10,000 steps in today.

Yes, Richard. OK, Richard. I hear you.  I’m on it.

And in This Corner…

Jerry at the porch

Jerry Swinefeld in his full glory.

In the straw-filled corner, weighing in at approximately EIGHT huuundred pounds, it’s the ravenous, no-meal-is-too-big, porker from the pasture…Jerrrrrryyyyyy “The Haaaaaam” Swiiiiinefeeeeld. And in the dusty corner, weighing in at 100-someodd pounds (Seriously? As if I would go ANYWHERE near the scales within a month of the most gluttonous holiday season of the year.) it’s Naaaaancy “I have a Big Stick” Gaaaaallimooooore.

I understand if you think this match sounds a tad one-sided, but I have a big stick. A really big stick. Let me explain.

Among the many animals living at Tails You Win Farm you will find two rather large, fabulous hogs. Spamela Anderson is the grand dam of the place. She has been a fixture in our lives for nearly 12 years, since the day she was liberated from our city animal shelter, thereby escaping certain fate as a slab of bacon.

Jerry Swinefeld is our younger hog. He came to us through a pig rescue group (yes, they exist) after escaping a vicious dog attack as a young pig and hiding in the woods for two days with open, infected wounds including one ear completely torn off. How terrible, you say? Not so much. One ear forever lost…one long, comfortable life forever gained.

Jerry and Spammy

The good old days…Spammy was still at her physical peak and Jerry was younger and smaller.

Back to our lopsided match. The bout described in paragraph one came to fruition because Spamela is an older gal, and Jerry is in his porcine prime. They get along very nicely nine times out of 10. They snuggle together in the straw on cold winter nights. They root in their pasture together. They wallow in the mud together on hot summer days.

And then there’s mealtime.

All love is lost when it comes to jockeying for position at the dinner trough. Years ago, when Jerry was a young whippersnapper, Spamela ruled the pigsty with no problem. She was a benevolent queen. As long as she got to eat first, at her choice of the feeders, all was well. This was back when she was a big gal tipping the scales somewhere over 800 pounds herself.

Spammy profile

Sweet Spammy

Now, however, Spammy is growing old. By the way, it took a bit of research to uncover the natural life expectancy of a hog. Good grief we do love our bacon. FINALLY, I discovered that a pig can live to be a teenager…16 years being the maximum life expectancy. For the larger hogs, like Spamela, that maximum may be a bit lower. So having nearly reached 12 years, Spammy is, well, she is definitely in her golden years.

With age, Spammy is also growing smaller. She is a bit of a little old lady pig at this point.

Jerry, on the other hand, can be summed up in two words: FREAKING HUGE. Seriously. This hog is massive. He would make your jaw drop if you stood near him. That is, if you were brave enough to stand near him.  Appearances aside (and Jim’s opinion aside), he really is a sweet hog. He likes to have his tummy scratched. He likes to have his back scratched. He likes to have his chin scratched. See a pattern here?

But, all scratch-the-sweet-piggy stories aside, the life stage and body condition differences bring us squealing back to the “Thrilla with Hogzilla” moment in the barn last night. It is safe to say that Jerry officially discovered the chink in the armor that once gave Spamela the upper hoof in the feeding chain.

Whereas once upon a time Jerry would have never challenged Spamela, now, my formidable friend has decided that whatever his pink counterpart is eating SURELY must be tastier than what he has been served. Dinnertime, if left to the big guy’s plan, has become a giant game of musical troughs and Spamela is definitely being shorted by the eating machine that is Jerry Swinefeld.

So that’s where I decided to step in. Yes, me and my very big stick.

I position myself between 800+ pound Jerry and the “dainty” Spamela. Somehow, armed with my very big stick, I manage to convince Jerry to simply enjoy his very adequate dinner, thereby allowing dear Spammy to eat in peace at her own pace.

Some call the idea of fending off King Hog in this manner over-the-top dedication (actually…none but me have called it that). Some call it bravery (again, not so many). Some call it absolutely-f’ing-have-you-lost-your-mind-nuts (there it is!).

But hey! It’s a REALLY big stick and I shake it at him. I hit the ground with it. Sometimes I give him a little smack in the butt with it. How can this not work?

Vegas odds makers are skewing things heavily (pun intended) in Jerry’s favor, but I still say the smart money is on me. I am David to Jerry’s Goliath. I won the first round, I will win again. I really will. (Saying that as much for my benefit as yours.)

Let’s all forget last fall’s story of a mafia hit man tossing a rival mafia boss into a pen of hungry hogs where the evidence was quickly and completely obliterated. Yes. Let’s forget that story.

Another feeding time approaches. Gotta run get my stick. See you later. Hopefully. (I joke! Good piggy. Goooooood piggy?)

Peace in the barn

Peace in the barn

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Now, Eighteen.

Now, Eighteen.

Chip the day he came into our home as a foster dog.

What does the number 18 mean to you?

If it’s an age, to me it is very young. If it’s your age, you likely think you’re very old, but you’re not. Trust me.

If it’s the number of things on your to-do list, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed.

If it’s the number of presents you received for Christmas, you are feeling very loved, and possibly a little spoiled.

If it’s the number of dogs in your house you might feel very outnumbered and quite insane.

For me, the number 18 does refer to the latter. But, it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Maybe a little insane, but it’s my insanity and I’m accustomed to it. Actually, 18 dogs in our house feels really manageable. A little quiet.

Dog number 19 left today for his new home. He is a cute, gangly Dalmatian boy. We called him Chip. I don’t yet know what his new family plans to call him.

Chip came to foster with us this past September. He had not had a bad life, but was just the victim of a twist of fate. The family that purchased him as a little puppy thought they would soon move into a new house with a big back yard. The timing, they believed, would all work out perfectly. Then life happened. The new house was not going to be a reality, but the active puppy in a one bedroom apartment was very real.

They decided to let us find Chip a new home through the Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc. I was very pleased to be able to help this family and this very sweet young dog.

We are picky when we search for new homes for our foster friends. Everything has to be right because we want their next home to be their final home. Chip had a lot of interest over the past few months, but there was always something that kept me from placing him.

Finally, thanks to a referral from a friend, a couple applied to adopt Chip and it was an almost-too-good-to-be-true match. Chip met humans…it was love. Chip met older Weimaraner sister-to-be…well, maybe not love at first sniff, but compatible. Definitely compatible.

And today, after a bath, lots of hugs, and a few words whispered in his floppy ear to PLEASE be good and not eat all their stuff, Chip headed off to start his new life.

And so my home is a bit quieter tonight. I have one less mouth to feed. One crate that will be empty. But, I do have a new photo of an obviously content dog in his new home. I have a happy heart knowing that Chip is in very good, loving hands. And I still have a few more foster dogs waiting for their “and they all lived happily ever after” ending.

Eighteen. It’s a great number today.

Chip snuggling in his new home. A sweet success story.

Chip snuggling in his new home. A sweet success story.

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My Revolutions for 2014. (Or, everything I need for a great new year can be found by consuming chocolate.)

Ok, it’s January 5th and I supposed I should come up with some inspired New Year’s resolutions. I know what you’re thinking. New Year’s resolutions are:   A. Supposed to be made on January 1; and B. Are made…to be broken.

What do you suppose the average stick-to-it number of days is? Well, three or four if it’s something like “give up chocolate” (and no, I’m not about to make that resolution), and maybe 30 or so for something like “exercise more,” and that’s generally because that one usually involves the one month trial membership at the health club, or the treadmill purchase. Did you know treadmills are also great places to hang laundry to dry?

But this year, if not on time, I am at least determined to make some valid promises to myself and stick to them. Therefore I revoke the term “resolutions” and replace it with the more proactive term, “revolutions.” Yes, I am hereby declaring my very own, personal 2014 Revolutions.

Ok. Let’s start that list.

Ok. Here goes. Ummm.

Well, the one revolution I did actually commit to on January first was to drink more water. I know this does not sound incredibly profound, but I honestly don’t like plain water. I don’t.

Now, before you “unfriend me” or something equally socially horrifying, please applaud me for my honesty. In an era when everyone seems to be running around with a personal water purification bottle, sipping nature’s hydrating gift willy-nilly through the day, I have been surviving on Diet Dr. Pepper.

Ok. I know. Lab rats have not fared well on large doses of the stuff. I am poisoning my body…or preserving it…or pickling it. Not sure what the latest doomsday prediction about the perils of drinking too much diet carbonated yumminess is these days. For at least 34 of my 52 years, I have survived on a healthy daily dose of DDP and I’m really feeling pretty darn good, but I KNOW. It’s not good for me. (Rolling my eyes and muttering “whatever.”)

So I have started drinking water. Good old, been around as long as time itself water. Life-giving, life-sustaining water. Five days in on this revolution and I just pretty much feel like I’m drowning. You know what water needs? It needs some fizz. It needs some flavor. It needs a little color. It NEEDS to taste like DDP. Sigh. But I will stick with this one.

Just took a sip of water. Really did. I promise.

From there, I must admit I found my inspiration for the remainder of my 2014 Revolutions  from chocolate. Yes, thank-goodness-I-didn’t-give-it-up-for-New-Year’s chocolate.

In my stocking from Santa (YES, from Santa), I received some delicious Dove candies. Lovely, waistline-be-damned-for-a-few-more-days, milk chocolate (obviously NOT giving up the use of the “dash” for 2014). As I unwrapped each delicious morsel, I discovered wonderful, uplifting messages of encouragement inside the wrappers. AND each was signed, “Love, Dove.”

So not only do the Dove people love me, they rhyme. Chocolate…inspirational words…poetry. How can that not be a good thing?

I have now officially incorporated the Dove wrapper messages into my 2014 Revolutions. They are the fortune cookies of the candy world.

Be good to yourself today. (I’m going to make this one mean drink the damn water, keep exercising, take time to just breathe, and don’t let inner-Nancy get too nutso over little stuff. She can be one crazy, mountain-out-of-a-molehill  bitch.)

Make every day a holiday. (Celebrate every single day! Do nice things for myself and others daily. I can do this one.)

Create a happy place. (Create a special space in my home that’s just for me and carve out time to nurture creative Nancy. Now that I’m painting again, and loving it, this one will be easy and fun.)

Take time for yourself today. (Ahhh…me time. Dove, what a wonderful idea. Make a “me time” Revolution so I can pay attention to my Ta-da list, and not just focus on my to-do list. This one will also mean make more “we” time in 2014 so I will also focus on special time with Jim. Today I will hike in the new fallen snow with him. Yeah for us-time!)

There. Perfect list of New Year’s Revolutions. Thank you friends at Dove, who clearly love me. You totally get me and further prove my theory that good things do come hand-in-hand with chocolate.

You say YOU want a Revolution, dear reader? Easy! Go buy a bag of Dove chocolate and dig right into the New Year. Cheers! (Taps water bottle to screen.)