I Wouldn’t Trade My Life. Or Would I?

Sunrise dogsThis morning, the alarm on my phone went off at 5:20 a.m. My entire body finds that time of day VERY alarming. In a numb haze of sleepy denial, I reach for the phone to hit snooze. Five more minutes. Five more blissful minutes.

In what SURELY was only 30 seconds, the annoyingly diligent alarm sounds again. I reach toward it aiming for that lovely snooze feature “just one more time.” My attempt is efficiently thwarted by a rather large, insistent paw planted firmly in the middle of my chest. Fifty-plus pounds of reality shifts her full weight onto said planted paw and proceeds to lick my face into consciousness which in turn awakens my often impatient bladder. God forbid those 50-plus pounds shift the pressure from chest to lower abdominal region.

I’m up. I’m UP!

Twenty-someodd tails wagging in approval, I stumble to the bathroom knowing I have a moment of solitude before the avalanche that is also known as my normal day starts rolling around me.

My own “pressing need” attended to, I start the routine I can thankfully move efficiently through in an I’m-not-a-morning-person-by-choice zombie state. Dogs rotate out to potty. The foster puppy pen gets cleaned while delighted puppies wiggle exactly in my way at every turn. Water buckets get filled. Ears get scratched. My feet get trampled a hundred times. Somewhere in there I mumble a good-morning to Jim and stop to give him what he may perceive as a hug, but I actually know I have collapsed against him for momentary support. He’s strong in the morning.

Dogs are pottied and as several of them annoyingly return to MY bed for a little extra slumber, I climb the stairs for a life-giving shower and five more minutes of warm, steamy solitude. Well…sort of. There will be noses poking through the shower curtain in ongoing wonder at my willingness to get drenched and shampooed without being forced. There will also be two dogs reliably curled on the bath mats outside the shower, forcing me to step barefooted on the cold tile floor instead of on fluffy warmth. Brooke and Stormy are always there waiting for me. You may think it a sweet gesture on their part. I’m fairly sure they’re just on assignment to make sure I do not escape the house without feeding everyone breakfast.

For the record, I never fail to feed them breakfast or dinner, but they are ever-skeptical.

Shower complete, I come back down the stairs a tad more sturdy on my own feet. I rotate dogs out for another romp in the yard while I make my breakfast smoothie and head back to do damage-control on my face and hair. I may not FEEL awake and raring to go, but I need to look the part. Maybe it’s ambition, maybe it’s Maybelline.

My morning routine does not take long because I eventually look in the mirror and say, “Oh, screw it. That’s good enough.” I then get dressed in my finest professional attire (thank GOD that’s jeans, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and running shoes). It’s a huge plus to glance in the mirror and see no pre-existing slobber smears glistening on my clothes in the flickering light of the bathroom (flickering because I need to change some bulbs and keep telling myself to do that when I have a minute…and I religiously forget until the next morning’s routine).

Dressed and presentable, I turn to face the herd of expectant faces at the baby gate that steadfastly guards our shoes and clothing from the creativity of canine family.

Group of dogsTime for breakfast. Stand back, don’t try this on your own, I’m a trained professional. I can feed 20-someodd dogs in 10 minutes or less.

I stack the bowls in the unique order that makes perfect sense to me, but to no one else on earth. I sling the right food in the right amounts into each bowl. I add warm water because, gravy. The salivating dogs move in eager, choreographed groups as each bowl is placed in each specific dog’s eating spot in exactly the same order as the day before. They know when and where they eat, they know “bowl-diving” is not allowed. It all goes smoothly in a fashion I lovingly call controlled chaos.

As the satisfying sound of 20-someodd dogs slurping up water-logged kibble surrounds me, I make another pass to fill water buckets. I re-clean the puppy pen (this happens a lot). And then everyone else goes outside to potty once again.

I say my goodbyes to Jim. I deliver pats and “be goods” to all the dogs, stooping to give my boy Howie a kiss on his forehead. I grab my stuff and head out making sure no furry bodies slip out the door with me.

The household as conquered as it possibly can be for now, I bolt out to feed the chickens and open their run for a little daytime free-ranging. Mental note, must clean the coop later today. Must.  Then I jump in my Jeep.

Guess what? NOW I get to start my day.

But the next 30 to 40 minutes are Nancy-time. Relative peace and quiet with a few hundred other commuters heading my direction. Ahhhhh…drive-time.

I listen to an audio book. Right now I’m addicted to the Andy Carpenter series of murder mysteries by David Rosenthal. Great stories salted with a healthy dose of humor AND there are always dogs written in because, in addition to being a prolific author, Rosenthal, runs a dog rescue out of his home (Hey, me too!). Where he lives with 20-someodd dogs (Hey, me too!). My brother from another mother.

Morning traffic can’t even fluster me when I’m in the oasis known as Duke, my Jeep Wrangler, listening to a good book. It’s 100% rejuvenating.

I arrive at work, the business I have co-owned with a friend for just over 13 years now (and hey, still friends!). Our business is Pooches, a dog daycare and boarding facility. So yeah, I just left a herd of dogs only to be greeted by a few dozen more. There’s a pattern here and it includes lots of pee, poop, and cleaning. I’m good at that and good with that.

None of this is written in complaint. I love my life. I love my dogs, both the on-purpose ones and the fosters, and I love the dogs that come see me at Pooches. I love helping dogs that are not as fortunate as my own. I love Jim and I love/am grateful that Jim shares my passion for dogs and animal welfare. That’s a lot of love right there.

I really wouldn’t trade my life.  I am where I am supposed to be right now, doing what I was meant to do. But you know, if some kind publisher out there somewhere reads this and thinks, “Hey, I think I’m going to give that little blogger a break.” I’d be really good with that too. Especially if that break actually comes with an income.

The thought that I might get paid to work from home by putting words into a document that become a real book (and I’m talking the hard-backed, hold it in your hands variety)…whew…that’s win-the-lottery stuff in my mind. I’d be so down for that. Someday. I really would. Just putting it out there. Surely someone linked to publishing reads obscure blogs from time to time? I would truly love to have one more “hey, me too” to share with David Rosenthal.

And I think I will. Because after all, dreams are just my future reality waiting for me to come up with a plan.

But for now, there is my little blog. And there is my amazing business. And there are dogs looking at me expectantly because it’s walk time. And there is poop to clean up. And dog bowls to wash. And…and…and. And then there’s always drive-time when I can do a little more dreaming/planning before I return home to Jim and our furry family to do the whole process again. And that will be followed by the great play and snuggle time that only 20-someodd dogs can deliver.

Ahhhhhhhh.

 

 

 

 

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It’s Possible I’m Just Plain Crazy.

As I kid I was known as “horse crazy.” My parents swear that my first word was not mama or dada, it was horse.

Then, as I grew physically, my crazy factor also grew to encompass all animals. There really wasn’t a critter that couldn’t tug at my heartstrings and make me want to give it a hug and a happy home. This infatuation earned me the broader title of “animal crazy.”

I have to say I worked diligently to deserve that title. Once, when I was about eight, I sat for hours on end babysitting a mole who had been washed out of his burrow in heavy rains. I would not abandon my vigil despite repeated assurances from my parents that the pesky…um…adorable animal was fine, and that he would soon move along to build a new home. I remained there until darkness and parental insistence required me to head reluctantly inside for the evening.

The next morning I rushed out to check on my patient and found that he had indeed made a miraculous recovery overnight because he was nowhere to be found. And trust me, I looked.

In decades-later hindsight, I believe Mr. Mole may have actually been quite dead (What? You knew that right away?). Yes, I may have sat for HOURS watching over a deceased mole. I can just imagine my parents not having the nerve to break the news to me for it most assuredly would have resulted in tears and the need for a burial. With flowers.

Much as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were able to slip in and out of the house undetected, the Mole Fairy was able to come whisk the body away without young eyes bearing witness. Bravo, Mom and Dad.

As I have matured (though the eight-year-old caring for a dead mole is still alive and well in my soul), my tendency toward crazy has not slacked off even one tiny bit. In fact, now that I’m adult-ish and free of parental “my-house-my-rules” constraints, my craziness has flourished with a farm full of animals and a house quite literally full of dogs. And so I wear my Crazy Dog Lady, Crazy Pig Lady, Crazy Donkey Lady, Crazy Horse Lady, and Crazy Chicken Lady sashes simultaneously and with great pride.

But…It actually doesn’t stop there.

You see, I might (do) believe that maybe (absolutely) plants and various inanimate objects have feelings. There’s actually a name for this “disorder” that pops up in Google: Animistic Thinking. It’s defined as a mode of thought in which inanimate objects are imagined to have life and mental processes. Take the words “are imagined to” out of that sentence and BINGO. You’ve nailed it.

Let’s be honest here…I still have my teddy bear from childhood and though he is stored away on a closet shelf, I still see to it that he is always comfortable and has other stuffed animals to keep him company.

I have a hard time breaking it to my faithful old cars when I am trading them in for a newer model. I also pretty much refuse to have houseplants because I did not inherit my father’s green thumb and I’m terrified I will cause them pain and suffering.

Yup. This is my brand of crazy.

So this brings us forward to a point about a month ago when, on my drive home to the farm, I passed by what had once been a wooded parcel of land to see that it had been completely bulldozed…you know, in the name of progress. Hundreds of trees were shoved around in cluttered piles like a giant game of Pick-Up Sticks (Yes, kids used to be entertained by repeatedly picking sticks out of a pile only to re-jumble them and start over. No batteries or power cord required.).

It was heartbreaking to see these once sturdy trees, still sporting their vibrant spring leaves, uprooted, discarded, and left to die. I had to speed by as quickly as possible as I was certain I could hear them screaming. Or maybe I was the one screaming. Hard to say.

I passed by the trees daily as I drove back and forth to work. After a few days with trunks splintered and roots exposed, the leaves on the trees withered and died. It soon became a field filled with endless bonfire potential…with the exception of one determined tree.

There, in the middle of all of that soon-to-be firewood, one tree, despite its very horizontal predicament, was still in full bloom. This one tree was desperately hanging on to life. A soft green oasis in a branch-filled sea of despair.

And that darn tree was haunting me.

Every time I drove within a mile of the tree I came to know as Twiggy, I could hear her calling to me. “Nancy…save me! Naaaaaancy! Can you see me? Help me!”

And so, as any logical person trying to save a tree on the side of the highway would do, I posted a question on Facebook.

“How do I save a tree that has been bulldozed and have it transplanted to my front yard?”

Here’s the cool part, I apparently have a lot of similarly crazy friends! Because I got answers. I got offers for help. I found that other people were almost as disturbed by this tree’s bleak destiny as I was.

So this past Sunday, bolstered by the support of my kindred, tree-hugging friends, I decided to pull off the highway to visit my tree, offer it some reassuring words, and see if there truly was any way to save it.

Yes, I really did.

As I picked my way through the mud and “fallen soldiers,” I realized my tree was no little sapling. In fact, my tree fell into the category of “darn big.” (That is a technical forestry term. Trust me.) And then I saw the nail in Twiggy’s coffin–a shattered, splintered trunk.

Even if somehow I had raised the funds to hire a fancy tree relocation service, Twiggy was only hanging on by a toothpick. I walked over to pat the doomed tree and offer a few words of comfort. It was then, as I was standing there by the busy highway, talking to the dying tree (What?), that I saw them. Scattered in the mud around the base of the tree’s trunk were teensy seedlings. A quick comparison of leaves told me that these lime-colored minions were actually Twiggy’s offspring.

Hooray! I might not be able to spare the mighty tree from certain death, but I could certainly rescue a couple of her tiny babies.

Carefully I dug around the base of two of the treeletes, extracting their roots and a good little chunk of soil to protect them. Then I speed-limit-raced to get them home because “…but officer, I have to rush home, I have babies in the car that need to get into potting soil right away or they will surely die…” not only wouldn’t get me out of a speeding ticket, but just might land me in a padded cell.

I am proud to report that I did get the baby trees safely home. They are now carefully potted and residing on my front porch where I tend to them multiple times a day and move them in and out of the shade to allow them just the right amount of sunlight. Whatever that amount is. I’m totally winging it here.

So now I have a new title. I’m the Crazy Tree Lady. And don’t think for a second that my don’t-have-Dad’s-green-thumb phobia hasn’t surfaced to poke at me as I care for my two leafy charges. This is a weighty responsibility, but I’m going to do my best.

Dammit, these little trees WILL live. They WILL grow tall and strong. One fine day they WILL  have sturdy branches like their mommy did. And, someday, my dogs WILL pee on their trunks.

It’s the least I can do in memory of dear Twiggy.

(Yeah. I know. Crazy.)

Oh, For Freckles’ Sake.

puppy nora

Ok, let’s air this out right now. This post may seem a little defensive to you. I don’t intend it that way. I really don’t, but you may feel I protest too much. Frankly, I don’t care. This post has been brewing for a lifetime. So here we go.

I have freckles. Tons of them. I always have.

As a youngster, I was that little freckle-faced kid that adults proclaimed “so cute” and other kids might have teased. And when I say the freckles were everywhere, I mean everywhere.

They covered my face, my torso, my arms, and legs. I had freckles on my lips. I even found freckles between my toes.

I never really gave much thought to them. They were just part of me. They showed up when I was just a kid of five or six and they’ve been part of “my look” ever since. I have never spent time hating them because really, what’s the point in that? I have also never tried to get rid of them, even though I have had creams and voodoo “cures” shoved my way. And for the record, if you are a truly freckled person, they can fade, but they never truly go away.

In fact, while growing up bespeckled, my sweet mommy told me that freckles were angel kisses. This is the same mom who told me that thunder was just the angels bowling. So here I am today, comfy in my spots, in love with thunderstorms, and extremely fond of angels. Score one for good parenting.

As I have “matured,” however, some people have tried to suggest that my beloved freckles are not just my skin type, but rather caused by sun damage and age. You know, the dreaded age spots.

What?

Um, well, if they are caused by sun damage, then my sainted mother, whom I just so thoroughly praised just 1.1 paragraphs above, was apparently terribly negligent. I was at my most gloriously freckled as a pony-tailed elementary school kid. Did my mom set me outside to bake as some bizarre form of punishment for failing to eat my vegetables? (And for the record, I HATED vegetables as a kid, but fortunately, Skippy, the family dog, loved them and sat discreetly under the table with her head by my knee…)

Admittedly, we did not do much in the way of sunblock in those days. A smear of gooey, white zinc-oxide on the old nose and maybe some Coppertone tanning lotion on the bod–you were good to go. And sure, my freckles intensified in the summer sun and faded with winter pallor. But damage? Premature liver spots at such a tender age?

Nope. It’s blaspheme. And I have proof.

In an article in Women’s Health Magazine (7-2016) written by my new best-friend-who-doesn’t-know-me, Jessica Chia, the myth about freckles is smashed. Freckled friends, take heart! Here is the REAL story about those precious brown dots:

If you have ephelides, as they’re known medically, you’ve got Mom and Dad to thank. Freckling is a recessive trait, so both parents have to be carriers and pass the tendency on for it to show up, says Amit Sharma, M.D., a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, who researches dermatologic genetics. The so-called gene for freckling is actually a benign mutation of the MC1R gene, which regulates pigment.

Take that freckle-haters…age-spotist proponents! Or is it that you are just a tad jealous of my leopard-esque complexion? Because, you know, according to Ms. Chia’s article, freckles are in. (If you’re freckled and you’d like to read the whole article, it’s right here.)

Yup, freckled faces are being hidden no more. They’re on prominent display in high fashion venues, make-up artists no longer get asked to make them disappear. It’s somewhat of a freckled revolution and I’m proud to be a part of it.

I have freckles that are longtime friends. There’s right thigh freckle that was used to measure the length of my mini-skirts in the 70s. No skirt could be shorter than that one perfectly positioned mid-thigh freckle. Still there today, though my skirt hem modestly hides it these days.

Then there was lip freckle that family and friends were constantly trying to wipe away as if it were a stubborn little spot of chocolate. I squirmed in protest as many an adult licked a finger (ew!) and tried to scrub lip freckle into oblivion.

Cut. It. Out.

Of course now my freckles on my face have faded. I am diligent about using sunblock and though freckles are NOT sun damage, they do require sunlight to emerge. Think of it as tanning in tiny baby steps…though they never really do connect to give you that fantastic golden tan your friends achieve each summer.

But my arms and legs? Still a challenging game of connect the dots (and yeah, as a freckled kid, you are subjected to that particular torture by your older siblings at some point). And if you look really closely you’ll still see the spots that decorate every bit of my face.

Here’s a fun freckle fact: You won’t see a freckled baby…freckles emerge later much like a Dalmatian puppy is born all white and the black or liver-colored spots emerge over the course of the first few weeks of life. Well come on, you KNEW I had to work dogs into this post somehow, right? And I do have an Appaloosa horse…so there’s a definite theme going on in my world.

So here’s the sum-it-up-and-tie-it-in-a-speckled-bow truth: I turned into an adorable freckle-face when I was about five, I’ll still have my freckles when I’m 85, and I love me just the way I am. Talk about the perfect way to keep a youthful appearance. You’re cute when you’re five, you’re cute again when you’re 85. Works for me!

So let’s cast the freckles-are-sun-damage stigma aside and celebrate my little spotted self and all of my ephelide-covered brothers and sisters. You freckle-challenged people out there just might have to turn to teeny little tattoos spattered all across your cheeks and the bridge of your nose if you want to keep up with the fashion trend. But please don’t hate those of us who are naturally freckled or try to make us feel bad about them.

The angels are watching…

nan and pup

How We Do It.

Jim and Skip 2“I don’t know how you do it,” a friend exclaimed as she watched me send one of my adorable little foster puppies off to a new home. “This is exactly why I don’t foster dogs. I could never let any of them leave. Seriously, how do you do it?”

I get this comment a lot. And I mean A LOT. Jim and I have fostered many, many dogs. We have placed many, many dogs. And we have loved each and every one of them.

It’s what we do. But how do we do it?

Well, interestingly enough, the very person who posed this question to me was a mom about to send her child off to college for his freshman year. She raised this child. She loved him dearly. She gave him everything she had to give. And now she was about to let him go.

This week Facebook has been filled with similar stories. Parents dropping kids off for that first day of kindergarten. Nervous parents seeing their youngsters smile and wave as they hop on a bus for their first solo ride to school. Moms forcing eye-rolling kids to pose in front of the very same tree they’ve posed in front of at the start of every school year for…can it be eight years now? Nine? Ten?

I’ve heard tale after tale of parents nervously adding as many home touches to a cookie-cutter dormitory room as their eager-to-spread-their-wings college students will tolerate before saying goodbyes.  Then, of course, while driving away with suppressed tears springing free, they think of a hundred more things they should have said.

So how do I do it?

I think it boils down to this, you love, you nurture, you teach, you shelter. And then, there comes a day when love means knowing it’s time to let go. It’s time to trust that you did your job and that there is a perfect home out there for that puppy…that there is an amazing life ahead for that child.

Do I dare compare a human child to a foster dog? Well…I do because it’s what I’ve got. And really, loving and letting go tugs at your heart, regardless of how many legs your kid has.

But I do have to give the nod to you parents to actual human children. Seriously, you take your child, whether born from your body or born in your heart, and you set him or her free to explore this thing called life. Maybe it’s just for the school day, or maybe it’s for an entire semester or longer. That takes some serious faith and amazing strength.

So how do I do it? How do Jim and I take dog after dog into our home, treat them and care for them as if they are our own, and then let them go to another home,  to a new life?

I think I can answer that question best with a question of my own.

How do YOU do it?

Because really, you moms and dads out there, bravo. Well done. I think you really know the answer to your own question far better than I do.

Brother nap

Where Sunflowers Grow

Run in Peace Big PaulThe patch of broken, brown earth stood out in sharp contrast to the surrounding blanket of green dotted with splashes of colorful wildflowers. This was the first time I had ventured out to visit this spot in the pasture since the day it happened more than two months ago.

I looked at the packets in my hand, eight in all. There were two each of four varieties of sunflower: Mammoth, Moonshine, Autumn Beauty, and American Giant. The promise of the massive flowers seemed a fitting tribute to my big boy. Soon, I hoped to see a small forest of sunflowers covering the bare spot in the earth that marked the place where Paul, my big draft horse, was buried.

It was a gorgeous spring day. The perfect day for a walk in the pasture. Life was erupting all around me. The trees were covered with tender, brilliant green leaves unfurling to greet the changing season. The birds darted about, busily tending their nests. Insects flitted lazily about from blossom to blossom, finding nourishment as the warmth of the morning sun fueled their meandering mission.

Hi there NanYet I stood oblivious to the spring parade. I was fixated on that one patch of cracked, clumpy earth that represented the beautiful ghost still testing my heart.

I’m no stranger to loss. We live with lots of animals…all lives more temporary than our own. We’ve said our share of goodbyes and we always find a way to celebrate the beings that have shared their time here with us. Each has taught a lesson, each has been a blessing.

But, Big Paul. I just wasn’t coming to terms with his loss. The stately Belgian horse who won my heart from one photo on a Facebook page. Our story was supposed to roll gently toward a very distant sunset. It was not supposed to be a short story, over in just a couple of chapters.

So my morning visit to Paul’s piece of earth was to find resolution. It was my private ceremony. I was going to welcome closure.

gogo 2016Standing clutching the seed packets in my right hand, I heard a quiet shuffling behind me. I turned to see GoGo, our old appaloosa mare, with her nose to the ground as she followed my trail through the pasture as surely as a faithful tracking dog.

GoGo is a special girl. She is 30 years old. She has lost her vision. But she doesn’t hide in the barn, she doesn’t beg for special care. In fact, she won’t tolerate being kept in a stall or safely confined to a paddock. She is, despite the toll advancing years have exacted, strong-willed and determined to keep pace with the rest of our horses. Where one sense has failed her, others have grown stronger. She is a survivor.

I stroked the sweet mare’s neck as she sniffed the seed packets, perhaps checking to see if I might be holding a carrot or a horse cookie. I was immediately thankful GoGo decided to join my private memorial service. The mare who had graced our farm for such a long time, joining me as I paid respect to the horse who touched my life so profoundly in such a short amount of time. Perfect.

I opened the packets, one by one, and sprinkled the contents across the bare earth, watching as the small seeds bounced and tumbled into the cracks and crevices. Soon they would find purchase, sprout, and spring back up toward the sky, strong, tall, and golden. Just like Big Paul was.

Job done, GoGo and I retraced our steps and headed back to where the rest of our little herd watched in seemingly silent homage. Did they know I needed some space? My very spoiled animals are not known for restraint, especially when they see a human that normally has pockets filled with cookies. But somehow, today, they showed quiet respect.

As I moved closer to the barn, the truce was broken and my herd surrounded me, snorting and sniffing. I looked into a half dozen pairs of soft, hopeful eyes as impatient noses pushed at my hands and nudged my pockets.

In that moment, it hit me. Just as surely as the sunflower seeds would sprout roots in the fertile soil and grow to fill the cracks and gaps in the broken earth, these silly horses and donkeys, in the here and now, would help fill the cracks and gaps in the fertile ground of my heart.

I would always remember, and I would always be grateful for what was, but I could also let go. It was time to stop replaying the pain of loss and instead focus on the good times I had with Big Paul. And it was also time to simply allow myself to appreciate what was standing right in front of me.

Just like that, a spring day became a gift. The sunflowers to come became a promise. A ghost became a beautiful memory. A heart was allowed to begin healing.

Oh…and yeah…a little herd of horses, donkeys, and one fine mule got to eat cookies. Lots and lots of cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Another Day?

Pasture spiritI woke up this morning just as I do every day, though admittedly a good deal later than normal. Yes, I slept in. It was nice. It felt lazy and indulgent. I can’t believe all of our dogs allowed it, but God love them, they snuggled in and enjoyed it right alongside me.

When I finally coaxed my eyelids open, it looked like any other day. The sun was up, the sky was perfectly clear. Maybe I should rephrase that, it looked like any other gorgeous day.

Things outside the window looked familiar in the early morning brilliance. The pond had a thin little layer of ice tiptoeing tentatively from one shore toward the other. The frosty dew highlighted the trees better than any strand of Christmas lights ever could. I could see a few of our horses milling around in the pasture behind the house, likely wondering when one of the humans was going to emerge to toss a little hay their way.

I could smell Jim’s first cup of coffee, or maybe his second. I did sleep pretty darn late. I could hear some of the dogs tap dancing up the stairs to join him in our loft office, where a morning newscast played on the television in the background. Jim is always an early bird so these smells and sounds are familiar and comfortable.

Yes, it was by all appearances just another day on the farm. Or was it? Well, I guess that’s up to me.

It really wan’t just any other morning. Last night, in a fit of laughter and good fun with good friends, we said goodbye to a five and welcomed a six. 2016. Twenty-sixteen. Sounds big. Sounds like it could come with change…or should come with change. Sounds promising?

I have to admit that I have never been great with change. I was the kid who cried on the first day of school. I was the preteen who was shocked when her girlfriends threw away the comfort of knee socks in exchange for shaved legs in pantyhose. I was the tomboy who would have been content to just drape myself across my horse’s back to nap in the shade forever and always.

But those things had to change. I had to grow up. Through all of my Happy New Years I’ve embraced a lot of really good change. I’ve also had to suck it up through some rough change. It’s that thing called life. We all do it. Some of us do it better than others.

I saw a lot of people I care about go through change  in 2015. It seemed like a year for it. Some of it was amazing – seeing my niece and her husband welcome new baby Grace comes to mind. Some of it was hard – and by hard I mean major life altering stuff. I honestly witnessed a couple of friends have the proverbial everything-I-hold-near-and-dear rug ripped right out from under them.

One friend in particular comes to mind, and I think she will know I’m referring to her when she reads this. She truly had a hell of a year. The triple whammy runaway freight train kind of change that can easily take the strongest of people straight to their knees. You wonder how a person ever stands up again after a year like that.

But my friend did stand up. Oh, don’t get me wrong. She allowed herself to grieve. She allowed herself to fall apart a little bit when she needed to. She allowed herself to feel every step of the way from complete devastation back toward the promise of new beginnings. She put herself right back together with such amazing grace, and charm, and pure strength of heart.

For all of the times I have had to face change, I hope I have displayed even one tenth of her character. I think she is ready to put the trials and lessons of 2015 to good use in building a shiny new 2016. I’m right there with her.

So here we are. Facing another new year. By virtue of a calendar, basically some numbers on a chart, we give this day such great meaning.

I won’t sit here and tell you that I’m going to make a list of New Year’s resolutions. I did manage to stick with a few of those cliche bullet points I scribbled down this time last year. I did actually mail a few Christmas cards this year (if you didn’t get one, it could well still be on the way…I said I mailed them. I didn’t say I mailed them on time.). And I did complete a half marathon (don’t get excited, a friend and I walked it, but we walked really fast). Oh, and I only locked my keys in the car one dang time, but that was great progress over the previous year. Points for effort?

This year, my resolution is to NOT tie myself down to an annual ritual so many execute and so few achieve. But I am entering the new year with some new ideas. Yes, the word idea sounds SO much friendlier than rez-OH-loo-shun.

I’m going to embrace the things that matter most to me. I’m going to focus on Jim. I’m going to focus on our home. I’m going to focus on the animals that are here sharing our world. I will love this man, these creatures, and this place with greater, ever-growing intention.

I’m going to focus on being a true and good friend, sister, and aunt. I have amazing people in my world and I need to always be sure to nurture and honor these relationships with the same care and dedicated attention my dad gave to his beloved, prize vegetable garden. (This may or may not mean I will actually spray water at my friends and family. They’re cool people. They’ll think it’s funny too.)

I’m not going to try to define exactly what these ideas mean. I’m going to let them evolve and I’ll evolve with them. I’ll invent the meaning as I go along. But I will work to keep these ideas top-of-mind every single day.

And I’m going to focus on me. I’m going to believe wholeheartedly in myself. Maybe 2016 is the year Nancy finally realizes what and who she truly wants to be when she grows up. I have a pretty good idea. I learned a lot about me in 2015, and what I learned is that I may be ready for some change. Some good, old fashioned change for the better-for-me. It won’t be anything radical…you might not even notice the change. But I will.

Truth be told, I’m at an age where change happens whether I like it or not. My body has changed, my mind has changed (oh so many times), people around me have changed. And boy has my world changed from where I was during this calendar flip 10…20…30 years ago.

Despite the number of calendars behind me, there is so much great possibility still ahead. Some of it requires leaving old ideas behind, some of it requires dusting off ideas long buried. I believe my mind can follow my heart into some great new chapters.

And I think a little well-nurtured change will be a great thing. I just have to tell first-grade Nancy, who stood sobbing as her mother turned to leave her at school on the first day, that everything truly will be OK. Because darn it, “…you is kind, you is smart, you is important.”  (Oh hey, I may have just realized the answer to the “what is your favorite movie” question that I can NEVER seem to answer. The Help. Such a good one.)

So today, resolutions be damned, I’m coming up with ideas. Brand new ideas and old ideas that need a little TLC. I’m staring possibility in the eye and believing that I’m in for one great year.

After all, it’s either just the act of taking down one calendar to put up another, or it’s the first sunrise of a beautiful new adventure. It’s up to each of us to decide. I know which direction I’m heading.

Hope to see you there.

2016

Christmas With Shelby and Friends

shelby bwWhen I first saw Shelby, he was taking a nap in a nice sunny spot. The temperatures were mild for December and Shelby looked perfectly content snuggled under a blanket his human had tucked carefully around him. The stout, copper-colored dog was snoozing so comfortably you almost didn’t notice the shopping cart he was tethered to, filled with clothing, blankets, and a plastic bag of dog food perched on top.

Shelby’s cozy form in the early light actually a painted a picture of serenity, though the dog was about the only creature enjoying a little peace and quiet at Iron Gate that morning. The rest of the place was buzzing with activity – volunteers preparing food and filling plates, a steady line of people passing through the serving line. Over in a far corner of the room, behind the swiftly filling rows of tables and chairs, was my station where Santa Bob (he just goes by Bob the other 364 days of the year!) and Jim were busy handing out little gifts and lots of necessities.

An amazing non-profit organization based in downtown Tulsa, Iron Gate’s mission is simple: Feed the hungry and homeless in Tulsa – every day. And that’s exactly what they do. Every single day, all year around, people in need can go to Iron Gate, in the basement of Trinity Episcopal Church, to enjoy a warm meal in a clean, safe environment.

Jim and I were first drawn to Iron Gate because it is also one of the pet food distribution points for Feeding the Pets of Tulsa’s Homeless. Every Wednesday morning, employees of our city animal shelter are stationed in the parking lot outside of Iron Gate handing out small bags of dog or cat food to anyone who needs it.

I was initially surprised to learn how many homeless or low income people do have pets. But the more time I have spent helping raise food donations for the group, the more it all makes sense. A dog is a loyal friend, not to mention a great little alarm system when a person has to sleep outside at night. Dogs don’t judge, they don’t question. If they receive affection and care, they give loyalty and love in return. In reality, homeless people often care for dogs or cats that are homeless as well – they are drawn to each other. They need each other.

Shelby’s owner told me how he found the dog injured and starving by a roadside. He worked to nurse the dog that no one else wanted back to health. Now he has a loyal friend and protector. Shelby was quite friendly in the setting outside of Iron Gate, but his owner assured me that Shelby took care of him just as much as he provided care for Shelby.

“No one messes with me or my stuff with Shelby there.”

I can honestly tell you that all of the dogs I have seen that belong to homeless people appear to be amazingly healthy.  I have found that the homeless are very devoted to their animal companions, so much so that they often put the needs of their pets ahead of their own needs.

One of the animal control officers that spearheads the Feeding the Pets of Tulsa’s Homeless program told me a story about a time he bought a sandwich for a homeless man he ran into outside of a convenience store. As he got into his truck, he saw the man immediately unwrapping the sandwich to feed bites to the dog sitting quietly by his side.

The dog ate before his human had a bite.

OK. See what happens when you get me talking…or writing…about dogs? I stray (yes, great word choice). Back to Christmas morning we go.

With lots of changes in my family and holiday routines in recent years, Jim and I decided that we wanted to start some new Christmas traditions of our own. So for our Christmas morning, we gathered up a bunch of goodie bags we had put together for kids, as well as some gifts for any dog friends that might show up, and headed downtown to Iron Gate to meet our good friend Bob. We expected a number of children to be at Iron Gate for breakfast, so we wanted them all to see Santa and receive something special for the holiday.

As it turned out – you can never predict who will show up at Iron Gate on any given day – there were very few children at breakfast that morning. But the place was packed with hungry people, and the regular volunteers created a cheery, festive atmosphere for their guests.

Santa Bob 2Instead of handing out our carefully prepared bags, we were given boxes of socks, blankets, gloves, woolly hats, and other essentials to distribute. And yeah, we raided the goody bags, gave out all of the candy, and sent toys and stuffed animals with anyone who said they had kids. Even a few people who perhaps didn’t have kids seemed to love receiving a toy or candy cane. Everyone loves a little gift on Christmas, right?

I will admit that the first 10 to 15 minutes in our little corner space were a bit overwhelming as people crowded around to see what we had, what might meet some of their needs. I was initially a bit of a deer in the headlights, but then quickly found my smile and hit my stride.

Clean socks were a priority. Blankets went quickly. Many hoped for backpacks and I was sorry we had none. What I found was, for the most part, the people were polite, did not try to take more than what would meet their immediate needs, and they were grateful. I was thanked time and time again for being there with them on Christmas morning.

Jim, Santa Bob, and I worked from 8 to 10:30 a.m., digging through boxes to find one more hat, one more pair of gloves, as we helped people prepare for our soon-to-change weather. Though Christmas day was mild and sunny, the forecast promised torrential rain and dipping temperatures over the course of the weekend, with sleet and snow predicted for the start of the new week. A rough prospect for those with no roof over their heads.

Back outside, in addition to Shelby, two other dogs had arrived and were tethered to a fence while patiently waiting for their humans to return from breakfast. They weren’t stressed, they weren’t barking or pacing. They were just waiting and watching. There was no separation anxiety among these three. Just a seemingly quiet understanding that their people would be back soon.

Jim and I were, of course, very prepared for canine guests that morning. All three dogs got new, brightly colored coats to wear. All received goody bags filled with biscuits, a toy, and chew bones.

shelby and toyThe dogs were lovely. They were friendly and happy. I enjoyed a little break with Shelby while his owner was still inside. Shelby was dressed in a makeshift dog coat fashioned out of t-shirts and some sort of tube top. I was pleased that Shelby would now have a proper coat to wear, but he seemed quite comfy in his eclectic ensemble.

Back inside the Iron Gate dining room, people were finishing up last bites of a generous meal, gathering their belongings, and stopping to say thank you for our time there. I assured each person I spoke with that there was no place I’d rather be that morning. And I meant it.

After things at Iron Gate closed down for another day, Jim and I, suddenly famished ourselves, stopped at a convenience store for for a breakfast sandwich to eat on the drive back to Tails You Win Farm. At home, we celebrated our own little Christmas, exchanging fun gifts, watching the dogs compete for the best new toy (whichever toy another dog had at that moment), and just spending a little rare time relaxing together.

We had a really great day.

Christmas has always been a favorite time of year for me. I grew up with huge family celebrations and  now, as my family has changed through the years, I’m finding new joy in re-inventing our holiday, finding meaning in new ways and places. I think the joy and purpose that Jim and I found in our first-time experience volunteering at Iron Gate will spill over to many more days of the year beyond the holidays. That’s a pretty special gift to receive.

Mother Teresa once said that it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand. What incredibly wise and meaningful words.

Shelby and JimI’m sure Jim and I will be returning to work with the amazing volunteer group at Iron Gate again. I’m very sure it won’t just be during the holidays. I’ve already started working to gather some backpacks, some warm coats, and other useful items. And I know I’ll always have pockets full of dog biscuits and some bright dog coats to share, because many of my “brothers” have four legs and wagging tails and they deserve a Christmas too.

Today and every day.

 

The Greatest Gifts…And It’s Not Even Christmas Yet.

Charlie bed

Handsome Charlie

This has been a joy-filled week. My heart has that feeling in it that you get when you are just beyond happy. I’ve always struggled to find the words to describe it. It’s a fluttery, excited, feeling that just bubbles up  from your chest to put a smile on your face and a light in your eyes.

Heart bubbles. Yes. That’s the best way to describe the feeling. Beautiful, shiny, floaty bubbles (not to be confused with indigestion or burps…I’m a step ahead of my wonderfully, hysterically sophomoric friends on that one!).

I made a promise to myself last week that I was going to have an amazing Christmas. I decided that the best way to ensure the success of that mission was to put out into the world exactly what I hoped to receive back.

Some years I get so rushed and panicky about last minute shopping (because apparently I don’t learn from year to year that Christmas ALWAYS comes in December and it’s ok to start shopping a month or two early) that I end up on the grumpy and stressed end of the holiday joy meter.

But this year I decided that it was all going to come together and that everything would be great. So I put it out there. Everyone I ran into, or talked with, or purchased something from, or spoke with on the phone got a heartfelt Merry Christmas. And it felt good to put my wishes out there. And the goodness bubbled up from my heart to put a happy smile on my face.

Guess what? People smiled back. They exchanged greetings with me. And gifts started coming back to me. I got some GREAT gifts this week. I don’t necessarily mean the wrapped-up-and-tied-with-a-bow kind. I mean gifts you can’t buy or package.

Here, I’ll share a few with you.

First, I got a visit from a special guy that lived with Jim and me at Tails You Win Farm for some time, but then found a happy home of his own. His name is Charlie and he is a handsome spotted fellow with a wagging tail. I hadn’t seen Charlie in probably a year or more, so seeing him walk into my business with his new owner – just to say hello and thanks again – was a wonderful surprise.

I immediately fell to my knees to say hello. Charlie was a bit distracted – there were a lot of dogs coming in to board with us over the holiday – so for about 15 seconds or so, he accepted my attention with polite indifference.

And then he noticed.

When he finally really looked at and got a good sniff of the woman scratching his chest, his tail started whipping wildly from side to side and I got the most wonderful, enthusiastic doggy hugs and kisses. We all laughed as Charlie obviously said, “OH! It’s YOU! I know you! HI!”

That was a pretty great gift. But you know what the best gift of all was? It was when Charlie calmed down from recognizing me and immediately fell back close to his new human’s side, looking up at her as if to say, it’s great to visit Nancy, but I’m still going back home with you, right?

Oh yes, Charlie. You are most certainly going back home with your people.

Charlie’s body language was so clear and so endearing. There is nothing more wonderful than when one of my former foster dogs is thrilled to see me, but even more focused on his new people. That means Jim and I did our job. We found a perfect match and it is a joy to see.

Oh, there go those heart bubbles again!

The next gift I received was incredibly special. If you have followed along with me here, you know that Jim and I have a wolfdog named Kainan. We took him in when he was found stray and terribly malnourished. We quickly fell head over heels in love with him. He is now a very permanent member of our family.

20140901_103907But we were not his rescuers. Nope. Kainan was first rescued by two ladies who were out for a walk on an August morning. Because our connection was through a mutual friend, I never actually spoke with Kainan’s first angels.

This week, Judi, one of those wonderful ladies, stopped by to introduce herself and say hello. What a pleasure to finally get to hug and thank the person who didn’t look the other way when she saw this young wolfdog following slowly behind her, struggling and in desperate need of help. Meeting Judi was such a special event to me that deserves its own story. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

A heart bubbling moment for sure.

11114095_10207000607237294_1910729615277641299_nThe next gift was, in part, a physical gift. A really special one. Earlier this year Jim and I took in a little speckled dog with huge, beautiful ears from an area animal shelter. Hannah was an absolute joy to have in our home. She was affable, sweet-tempered, funny, and loved to play with all of our dogs. It would have been so easy to  just keep her forever.

Ah, but we can’t keep them all – we have to repeat that statement to each other frequently – and we both had a feeling that Hannah really belonged to someone else. Almost from the moment she walked through our door, Jim felt that Hannah was meant to be our friend Sue’s new dog.

Long story short, we’ve known Sue for some time now and we have placed a couple of neat dogs with her through the years. She is a wonderful, kind, gentle person. Dogs who get to be a part of Sue’s family are beyond lucky.

Sue had recently lost a beloved dog and Jim and I knew it might be too soon to mention Hannah to her. So we just waited a bit and enjoyed Hannah ourselves. Then we tossed the idea of Hannah Sue’s way.

They met. Sue thought it over. They spent some time together. Sue’s heart was still healing and we knew this story needed to play out in its own time and own way. But through the process, we both just felt so sure that Hannah had come to us only as a stopover on her way to Sue.

Hannah ornament 2This week Sue, who has had Hannah for a few months now, stopped by with the most wonderful present for us. Wrapped in tissue inside a gift bag was an ornament – a white dog with speckles and huge, beautiful ears. A Hannah ornament!

I would not trade my Hannah ornament for all of the huge, lavish gifts in the world. This is my treasure. It’s just what I always wanted and continue to want. It represents another wonderful, deserving dog paired with another wonderful human.

Bubble, bubble, bubble!

What a week of amazing gifts. I thank each of the people who thought to come by to visit and share gratitude with me. It’s a busy two-way street for sure; I am beyond grateful to them as well. Jim and I could not do the rescue work we do if there were not quiet angels helping along the way, and fabulous happily-ever-after stories, because yeah – chant with me – we can’t keep them all. We can’t keep them all. We can’t keep them all.

Now the actual holiday is less than 24 hours away. I can’t imagine it getting any better than it already has been. But let’s put it out there one more time…

Merry Christmas to all!  I wish you bubbles…hearts filled with lots and lots of bubbles.

 

Christmas Spirit? Aisle Five.

Barbara

It had been a long, busy day at work. Not a bad day. Just one of those days when getting those 10,000 steps on the old Fitbit was child’s play.

I was sink-into-the-couch-in-a-trance tired. All I wanted was to get home, get the dogs fed while Jim took care of the barn, get my feet into my Ugg house shoes (they are magically soothing), and enjoy a little quiet time.

Oh wait. The humans should eat too.

That whole food for the humans thing meant my plans for a fast-track to the welcoming cushions of our couch had to take a little detour. Actually, a not-so-little detour to Walmart. But I had a list and I would stay focused, keep my head down, navigate the crowds with my mad cart handling skills, and be out of there in a flash.

After all, I had a date with a couch and the backside of my eyelids.

As I was speeding through the aisles, slaloming through the the other shoppers at what had to be a gold medal pace, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye that stopped me in my tracks.

It was a bin full of Christmas teddy bears strategically placed like a mogul on a downhill course. Ah, the marketing genius of Walmart. Doritos, toilet paper, and teddy bears. All on sale, all on display in the center aisle.

Those Christmas teddy bears almost proved to be the kryptonite to my shopping mission. I was mesmerized, reaching out to run my fingers through the soft fuzz of a big white bear wearing a Santa hat and a bright red sweater.

My mom had a huge soft spot for teddy bears. She had quite a collection. Little tiny bears on display wearing elaborate handmade costumes and hats. Colorful big bears with shiny button eyes and big squishy bodies perfect for grandkids to hug. And holiday bears. Mom specifically loved Christmas bears.

Each year, as Christmas would draw near, a new bear would show up on display in my parents’ house. Some had the year embroidered on a festive hat or sweater, some were little girl bears, some were little boy bears. All looked bright and happy to be joining Mom’s collection.

Dad would shake his head and wonder why Mom needed all of those bears. Mom would just smile and give each bear a little pat. “Oh Papa,” she’d say using the nickname the grandkids gave him, “no bear should be left behind at Christmas.”

There didn’t really need to be a good reason for that fluffy bear collection, did there? There was reason enough seeing everyone who came to the house, old and young alike, hugging a bear or two while grinning like a five-year-old.

“Customer assistance in electronics, customer needs assistance in electronics.”

The tinny page blared through the speakers, shaking my mind from a time more than a decade ago to the present. One hand still on my cart, one hand on the big, white bear, I smiled at the memory, but then snapped back to the task at hand. Food for the humans – get home to Jim, the dogs, the magic house shoes, and the couch.

Bears were a thing of the past. A happy memory to cherish from the past. Now, GO!

I resumed my well-planned trek through the store, zipping to my last stop for milk before the sprint to find the shortest checkout line.

Just as I was pulling my cart into the most promising queue, I saw Barbara. Ah, Barbara. My favorite Walmart employee of all time.

Barbara is something special. I don’t know her personally, but it’s easy to see she has joy buried deep in her soul and it just can’t help but bubble to the surface on a regular basis. She is the Walmart Old Faithful of joy.

I got to know Barbara a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. She was my cashier and I couldn’t help but admire her fancy, fall-themed, self-crafted headband. She had autumn leaves and flowers sprouting all over the crown of her head. It was not subtle…and perhaps not Paris-runway fashionable…but it was 100% awesome.

“Oh just you wait,” she said with a grin. “It will grow. I add something to it every day until Thanksgiving Day.” Here eyes were sparkling with the obvious fun of it all.

“Then, the day after Thanksgiving, I start all over again for Christmas. You should watch for me.”

I promised her I would, and I did. True to her word, the day after Thanksgiving I saw her again and she had one little sprig of holly fastened to an otherwise bare headband.

Now, a few weeks into the Christmas season, Barbara’s headband was starting to really take shape again. And, as people smiled and commented on her decoration, she was beaming. It was one heck of a powerful beam.

Suddenly, I wasn’t really so tired any more. And my mission for home, house shoes, and couch seemed a little less urgent. And the holiday-infused craziness of the crowded store didn’t seem quite so daunting.

Barbara was working the checkout at Walmart during one of the busiest, easy-to-lose-focus-on-the-spirit times of the year. She could have chosen to be grumpy, or harried, or stressed. She could have chosen to just put her head down, scan and bag items, and push from one customer to the next.

But she didn’t. She chose joy. Barbara unfailingly chose to greet each customer with a huge smile and a giant dose of joy.

Without a second thought, I surrendered my prime spot in the line and wheeled back to the bin of holiday bears, just past the Doritos display near aisle five. The big white bear was laying there on his back, his black eyes blank and fixed on the ceiling, his arms and legs flung out as if in surrender to his plight.

No bear likes to be left behind at Christmas, right?

White bearI picked the big bear up and gave him a good test hug – a lesson also taught by Mom, bears had to have a good squishy hug factor – and placed him in my cart in the seat where a small child would perch. Then I took him for a ride through the store, to check out the other Christmas decorations. Maybe I wasn’t in such a hurry after all.

And maybe we had a little joy of our own to spread around as people did double takes at the costumed child, oh-hey-it’s-a-bear, riding happily in my cart. There were plenty of smiles in our wake.

Finally, with a few extra bright and shiny items added to my cart of essentials, I made my way back to the checkout line. Barbara’s checkout line.

It wasn’t the shortest line. I didn’t care. I wanted more joy to bubble my way. Barbara, with greenery, poinsettias, and other foliage sprouting from her hair, nodded approvingly at my prized Christmas bear as her face crinkled into the most wonderful grin.

I admired her headband, she assured me it would get better. I told her I knew it would and that I would be following her progress. She laughed in delight, even blushing a bit,  as I asked to snap a quick photo of her. Then we both turned back to our duties. Mine to get home. Hers to check out customers and spread her special brand of joy – and I may have that in the wrong order.

I placed my new bear in the passenger seat, seat belt fastened snugly around his plush belly. As I pointed the car toward home, I chatted with my new friend, just as Mom did with her bears so many years before.

Isn’t it funny, I mused, how the Christmas spirit can find you in places, and in moments, when you least expect it? It’s just a matter of recognizing it and choosing to accept it. Mr. Bear’s eyes shone in agreement.

Every year there seems to be a great debate about whether Christmas has been trampled by a stampede of impossible, commercialized hustle and bustle, or if there is still true joy and personal meaning to be found in the season. I think this year Barbara is teaching me that it’s all about making a choice.

And I choose joy…and teddy bears.

I can’t wait to make a trip back to Walmart on Christmas Eve to see Barbara’s headpiece. It’s going to be spectacular.

A Different Kind of Merry.

Baby Nan and Santa Dad

Baby Nan visiting with the REAL Santa

Christmas. Just saying the word brings a smile to my face. I admit it, I love Christmas.

When I was a kid, my family celebrated in a big, festive, fa-la-la-la manner. We kind of had to because, in case you didn’t realize it, my father, who for 11 months of the year was Dr. John W. Gallimore, Jr., DDS, became Santa Claus during the month of December. I’m talking THE Santa Claus.

Santa Dad revNo, really. He was the real deal. He had the red velvety costume, the big black boots, the white beard, a booming HO-HO-HO, and the hat with the fluffy band. Ask any number of kids who sat on his lap to whisper their wishes in his ear. R-E-A-L.

Ok. The beard may have been fake.

But the twinkle in Dad’s eye? That was the real deal.

And together with his Mrs. Claus (aka: Mom for most of the year), well, our house was filled with shiny, sparkly, bow-festooned Christmas magic.

It’s not that our celebration was unusual, or outside of the box. If anything, our traditions were firmly IN the box. And it was perfect.

It kicked off a week or so after Thanksgiving when we would race around the corner lot to find that one perfect tree that begged to be ours…while also meeting Dad’s exacting expectations.  The tree had to be six feet tall, with still-soft needles, and a very straight trunk. You did NOT want to bring home a tree with a wonky, crooked trunk.

We always found our perfect tree. And sometimes the trunk was crooked. And Dad would grumble a little as he tried to get the tree into the stand, straight and tall. Sorry Dad.

But it was perfect anyway.

My sisters and I would decorate it with Mom’s  guidance. She liked red lights. She liked the ornaments spaced evenly around the tree. She liked the icicles placed carefully, one slender ribbon of silver at a time. No clumps. When she wasn’t looking, I would grab a handful of icicles and toss them into the air, letting them flutter down on the tree in a haphazard  manner.

Mom always said it was the prettiest tree ever.

Christmas Eve was feast time.  Our extended family would gather at our home, in festive holiday attire. I’d always ride in the car with mom to pick up Grandma Daisy and great-Aunt Elva. We’d take the long route home so we could admire all of the best Christmas light displays in town. Then Grandpa and Grandma, Dad’s parents, would arrive and I’d rush outside to help transfer Grandma’s amazing homemade pies from their car to our kitchen, maybe getting a small taste of meringue on my finger in the process.

There was so much food. Mom would worry that the turkey was dry.  There was a running joke about hovering over the gravy on the stove to stir, stir, stir so it wouldn’t be lumpy. There was a kid’s table. There was a lot of laughter. There was excitement and anticipation and lots of hugs.

My sister Terry would play the piano as we sang Christmas carols. We weren’t really a family of singers. It didn’t matter. We sang loudly and passionately. We might have digressed to silly at times. OK, no “might” about it.

My sisters and I did a mad rendition of We Three Kings. We even harmonized. Or at least we tried. If we were slightly off key, and I’m fairly sure we were, no one complained.

It was perfect. Our grandparents always said so.

Before bedtime each kid was allowed to choose and open one gift to whet the pre-Christmas appetite. There were cookies and milk to set out. Then it was off to bed to pretend to sleep while listening carefully as Mom and Dad shuffled around, working their Christmas magic.

Remember, Dad really was Santa Claus and Mom really was the jolly man’s missus.

And finally there was Christmas morning. First, there were filled stockings placed strategically at our bedside, presumably to give us our first little gift of the day, but in reality, I think, to allow the couple Claus just a few more minutes of peace and a first cup of coffee. Their calm before the Christmas storm.

The year I hoped and prayed and hinted for a Mrs. Beasley doll?  She was there, righ under the tree. The year my letter to Santa promised all sorts of good deeds in exchange for a Beautiful Crissy doll? She showed up to share my Christmas morning. The year my obsession with horses was at its peak? A blue cowboy hat and new boots were nestled in tissue inside the box with my name on it.

And the year I really, really, really just wanted a hamster? I named him Kris Kringle.

Santa didn’t disappoint. And, in the eyes of young Nancy, Christmas was pure magic.

Family christmas revAs I grew older, as our family grew to include grandkids,  and as I started to really watch, I realized the magic wasn’t in the gifts, but rather in watching my parents’ excitement as they helped the holiday unfold. The true joy of the season, I grew to understand, was behind the flying tissue paper and oooos and ahhhhs. It was right back to that twinkle in Santa’s eye.

Now, with the passing of time, a lot of things have changed. My family has changed. Those grandkids, my nieces and nephews, are all grown up and have families of their own. My grandparents are gone, and my sister Terry now answers to the name Grandma. I am great-Aunt Nan.

My oldest sister is gone.

My parents are gone.

Christmas looks very different now. Celebrations have shifted and rearranged. Family members come together some years, and go different directions on others. Some are near to us, some are near in our hearts.

Christmas is smaller. It is quieter. We create new traditions. Sometimes it’s just me and Jim surrounded by the dogs that are our family. And, you know, that’s perfect too.

The magic may have a different sparkle, but even with a softer glow, it still shines so beautifully.

This year we’ll celebrate a lovely Christmas Eve at home. Just two people and a herd of dogs. Maybe we’ll start the evening by taking some apples and carrots out to the animals in the barn. I think I’ll ask Santa for a clear, crisp night with a sky sparkling with stars and a bright, full moon.

Then maybe we’ll fix our own little Christmas Eve dinner with all of the trimmings. We’ll light a fire, we’ll turn out all of the lights leaving just the Christmas tree to glow–you know, the tree with the crooked trunk that begged to be mine. There will be classic Christmas movies; maybe we’ll watch White Christmas, or we might give the night a dose of laughter with a Chevy Chase twist. And we’ll each open just one small gift.

On Christmas morning, we’ll get up extra early to head downtown to help a different Santa hand out small gifts we have prepared for children gathering with their families to enjoy a warm, free breakfast. I think we might sing carols. I think we will sing loudly and passionately.

SANTA & NANCY rev

Our own little Christmas. Santa Jim!

And, like my dear Santa once did, I will have a twinkle in my eye that just might escape to trace down my cheek as I remember, as I honor, and as I embrace my new traditions. Different, yes, but still merry. Still wonderful. Still filled with magic.

Thank you, Santa, for this one lasting gift. You taught me well. It’s just what I always wanted.

And it’s absolutely perfect.