Monday, October 01, 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012

Illness, Loss, and Inconvenience

Recently we welcomed into our home an ancient dog who had to be re-homed when her family moved. Technically she is a "long term guest," and will return to her family if/when they find a house with a yard where she can be healthy and happy. She's adorable and really not any trouble (because- did I mention she's ancient?). Today she is much more her normal self and we've discovered that she talks (woo woo woo... very softly, like she's having a conversation with you). She is mostly deaf, but responds if she can see your hands and she is socializing well with the other two dogs who were already part of our family.

Watching the dogs interact today reminded me that it wasn't long ago that I debated the wisdom of keeping the puppy, Aztec. He got very sick when he was a young puppy (along with two others in his litter) and now he continues to puke all over the place and wheezes when he's stressed (either physically or mentally). The last time I took him to the vet we discovered that he was completely healthy (which I'd expected)... so we did some chest x-rays. It turns out that he most likely has a para-myocardial arch (blood vessels from the heart wrap around the esophagus and cause restriction in the esophagus). He also has a mega-esophagus as a result of the arch. The mega-esophagus means that his esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to stomach) doesn't work the way it should (muscle movements that carry the food downward) and it has created a wider place where food tends to settle (instead of emptying into the stomach).

When I heard what the vet was thinking my first thought was, "I wonder if we should just put him down right now?" Closely following that first thought was, "Oh my goodness, I can't stand any more puke all over the place! My back hurts from cleaning the carpet as it is!" Then... I looked at him. He was sitting on the exam table, completely happy. Happy puppy with a strange rattling sound in his throat, but totally trusting, totally happy... and healthy (just not perfect). Of course, right then and there I committed to doing my best to seeing that he remains happy and healthy (and imperfect).

One of the traits I like least about myself since Dave died is that I'm scared that I'm not strong enough to handle severe illness or loss of anyone else that I love. Even the thought of losing someone close to me makes my body feel the same shocky way that it did when I found Dave the night that he died. I really question whether I'm strong enough to go through that (or anything even similar to it) again.

Right now I have more than one friend fighting life threatening battles. Even THINKING about it makes that anxiety rise (not slowly like bread, or leisurely like air bubbles in water... but rapidly and violently, like a bullet out of a gun) to the surface. It creates ripples that invade every corner of my brain. My first thought was that maybe I should just distance myself.. save some pain. Certainly I have already lived through enough pain in my life and no one would blame me if I just "forgot" what was happening.

Then... I look at Sierra and Aztec. They are strong. I don't have to be. They're the ones in our house who are ill or old. I love them. I help them in whatever ways I can. I feed them, clean up after them, and enjoy every bit of companionship they offer. If one of them dies, or leaves (since Sierra very well could return to her family) I will be ok. It would be much more painful to live in this moment, fearing that loss, and denying the love and companionship we can share RIGHT NOW.

I know that they're "only" dogs, but I think that the timing with both of them is perhaps meant to be a message and a lesson for me. It's ok that I don't like illness and death affecting my loved ones. Those things will happen whether I'm ok with it or not. It's ok that I question whether I'm strong enough to deal with new situation.

Dave was not the only person in his family to die young of a heart attack, in fact there have been way too many of his cousins who share the same fate. One of his cousins was visiting with me not too long ago. He expressed how much he valued his time with his wife and kids and then he said something like this: My family don't live a long time, but we have FULL lives. We have rich lives because we know that they may not be LONG lives.

Make your days count, every day. Don't run (or even walk slowly, careful not to make eye contact and draw notice) away from situations that might not (or definitely won't) end well. Avoiding pain, because it will hurt (duh) will decrease the fullness of life. It will spend part of the richness in a way that gains you nothing... and so... old dogs, and chronically ill dogs will remain in my home and I will love them... because what is today about, if not loving those who mean something to me? We will let tomorrow take care of itself when it gets here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


:-) It's been another month and time for another update.

Life at our house is settling into a more livable rhythm. Our homeschool co-op is out until next September. 4-H is gearing up for fair (only about six weeks away, yikes!). The kids appointments have now become more streamlined so that I can get everything out of the way within an hour instead of spending most of a day in town.

The sheep are looking fabulous. This year Chris bought lambs from a family who we've known forever. They're gorgeous little lambs and the whole experience of going out to choose them was something that the kids really enjoyed. The family set up viewing times for each potential customer. After we got our time we got another call from them inviting us to join them for lunch. The kids in their family helped Chris select his lambs... and I'm pretty sure he listened better to them about what he's looking for than he ever has to me. It was a very enjoyable afternoon.

We still have one market lamb from last year who hasn't been butchered. This week we have some friends coming out to help us butcher him ourselves. I'm still not entirely convinced that I'm going to love this... but it is MUCH less expensive than sending him to a packing plant and the people who volunteered to help have a lot of experience. Hmm... I wonder if I should invite my 4-H kids over for that event.

Our puppies have all gone to their new families. I miss having them all here. We did keep Aztec, who was the largest puppy in the litter. He was the kids' favorite. Aztec is going to be a new adventure for us. The plan is to get him a vest and train him as a service dog. My hope is that if I can get him working with Chris it will help Chris be able to go to camps and leadership retreats without me. So far the puppy has been exactly what we want... except... he barks. His mother never barks without a very good reason. Aztec is chatty. He likes to talk to us. When he's bored and wants someone to play... he barks. If he's outside and wants in... he barks. If he needs to pee... well, that's a good time to bark. I think I'm about to get him some harness bells to hang on the inside and outside doors and see if we can train him to use tools rather than barking for some things. He is incredibly smart, and incredibly mellow. The puppy's favorite people (other than our family) seem to be toddler boys. He likes when they pull his ears and use him for balance. He likes the screaming joy they exhibit (which probably is a lot like his chatty barking thing, in his eyes). All in all, I am VERY pleased with the dog and his behavior.

The boys are getting a little adventurous now that we have less school oriented things going on. I should spend some time putting together lessons and activities for them... because they keep inventing their own and that sometimes doesn't end well. Yesterday they made salt dough. They've made it before... somehow they decided they didn't need the recipe this time... and they didn't ask for help. Yeah, so... I should get off the computer and go continue scraping stuff off the kitchen floor.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


It's been a month since my last post, so it must be time to write something new!

The past couple of months have been really hard, really long months. My kids have had some issues with sleep, sickness, and general well being. Our sheep lambed and we lost one ewe lamb, then a month later had a yearling ewe (with twins) prolapse, and then go down with pneumonia and die. It has been many, many years since I have had so little sleep and things got a bit scary around here. Sleep is not to be overrated.

During the hardest parts of the last month I did realize that part of the reason things hit me so hard when I wasn't able (not allowed, emergency disrupted, solo parenting) to sleep was because in a lot of ways I still have a public face and a private face- and when I'm exhausted I can't maintain the division between the two. I also spend a lot of time meeting other people expectations (yes, believe it or not- I'm kind of sucky at it, but I DO work to meet other people's expectations).

I don't ask for help meeting my own needs until I am so overwhelmed that everything comes out as rage. That's not a good way to get your needs met. That's a great way to lose relationships. On the positive side- it does show you who your real friends are, because they just blink at you and tell you to go take a nap. It's a great way to sort out the people who are only nice because they're polite.

Monday, April 09, 2012

He wants to be normal.

We survived another holiday. It was rocky, and at times unpleasant, but we survived.

Chris can't eat artificial food coloring. Let me repeat that. Chris can't eat artificial food coloring. Well, to be truthful, he CAN eat it. It only requires opening his mouth, putting the food in, chewing, and swallowing. He CAN eat slugs or sheep poop too, and they'd be healthier for him. There are times when temptation overwhelms him and he DOES eat a piece of candy that's colored. We all pay for it when that happens.

Allergies cause histamine responses. That's how you define something as an allergy. Chris isn't allergic to food dye. It doesn't make him swell up. It doesn't affect his breathing. It doesn't cause hives. I wish he was allergic to dye, because that would be easier to deal with. Instead, Chris has a neurological response to food dye. He doesn't have a hard time breathing. He does wake up screaming. He does sit and rock. He does pick at his skin, his clothing, his nails, and his hair. He does get very anxious and worry incessantly about things outside his control. He does feel unreasonable fear. He does go days without sleeping. He does voice the opinion that he would rather be dead than feel like this. He does strike out physically when overwhelmed by the physical sensations caused by dye... but he's not allergic. He's also not faking or trying to get attention. Food dye makes him miserable, and it makes him miserable every time.

Chris is ten years old. He still gets excited about holidays and treats. Sweets are exciting to him. Surprises still hold the power to captivate and delight him... except... almost every surprise someone has put together for him is FULL of food dye. Chris is his father's son. He LOVES candy and goodies. He reminds me so much of Dave in that way.

He's ten. I know that he needs to learn to be graceful and not resentful when he can't participate when his brothers and cousins get candy. I know that he needs to be graceful and not resentful when he can't eat dessert. I know that he needs to be graceful and not resentful and not even mention that he CAN'T eat something- because good manners are about making other people feel comfortable, and reminding everyone that you can't eat what they are trying to give you makes them uncomfortable. He's ten. He wants to participate. He wants to get treats when the other kids get treats. He wants to be normal.

Wait. He wants to be normal. Did you hear that? He wants to be normal. He isn't making up a problem in order to get attention. He wants to be normal. He isn't being snobbish or rude when he can't eat treats that other people bring. He wants to be normal. He isn't being difficult. He wants to be normal. He is trying his hardest to be fun, and cooperative, and polite. More than anything in the world- he WANTS to be normal.

As much as I try to shield Chris from the more unpleasant sides of human behavior, the message he is hearing is that there is something wrong with who he is. As hard as he tries, he behaves differently than other kids. He tries SO hard to act like other kids. If you don't live in his house, you have no idea how hard he tries to not be autistic. He wants to be, and do, and think like other kids. He wants to eat candy with other kids. Making him MORE aware of how different he can be does NOT help. Food color is a simple thing to avoid... if you watch for it. But it's one more thing about Chris that is different. This is a battle that he can't win. He'll try to eat what everyone else is eating- in order to not be different. He pays for it later. I pay for it later. Our whole house pays for it later, because the dye causes real problems... if anyone is skeptical, they are welcome to spend the night after he's decided it's more important to be "normal" than it is to avoid dye.

I'm starting to hate holidays because the message society sends is that everyone is supposed to be happy. Every activity seems to be centered around food. The food in our house is safe for Chris to eat, but anywhere else we go (with the exception of our homeschool group) Chris winds up sitting out while every other kid gets excited about candy. Games, have candy as rewards. Easter eggs, are filled with candy. Desserts... usually filled with artificial color. Sure, the company is excellent! We have awesome family and friends who are fun to hang out with... but... Chris is ten. He's still maturing. It is NOT fun for him to watch the other kids having fun while he can't participate.... and he sees no point in participating when the reward is something that he can't have.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

This is the most recent addition to our family. It's a Shopsmith from the 1950's. I wanted to cut 2 feet off of about six boards... and I hate running the circular saw (yeah, it's a quirk). The motor of our table saw died a couple years ago and my little cutting projects have just been piling up (because for some reason I won't get out the circular saw and get them done). When I wanted to go shopping for a table saw a friend suggested that I check the pawn shops first. I checked. They had nothing I wanted... then... I looked on craigslist. This shopsmith showed up in my search for "table saw." My grandfather always wanted a shopsmith. That was my first thought. My second thought was, "wow, that's about $100 less than buying the table saw I like, if I buy a new table saw." Yeah, you know I had to purchase it. This one came with all the accessories to use it as a table saw, drill press, lathe, and shaper/router. I need to buy an attachment to use it as a disc sander (I'm currently shopping for the attachment).

My entire house and shop is full of projects. There are things I've started and not finished. There are projects I've purchased materials for and not started. There are many things in need of repair... and then there are the sewing projects which also share shop space with the tools. It's not like I NEED more to do here. Something about this tool called me. It feels right, as if it's going to be important somehow. I ordered a new owner's manual for the Shopsmith V (the V being because it is five tools in one), a series of 10 self directed woodworking lessons, and a book about woodworking in general. This is MY homeschooling for the spring. I WILL learn how to work this machine and get it up and running. My goal: to build a bar for use out in the shop. Everyone should have a multi-use workshop/sewing room/party space, right?

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I haven't written here in a long time. Sometimes I wonder if I still want to. Facebook may be to blame for my apathy about blogging. I can type out a quick status update and be done with it.

This has been an interesting fall/winter. Hard to believe that Dave died more than 2 years ago. We just had our third Christmas without him. That still sucks beyond belief. I think that Christmas Eve night is my own little hell on Earth. Other than that- things have been pretty good.

Chris is ten years old now. He's getting tall and his feet are WAY bigger than mine. They're only half a size smaller than his dad's feet were. He's so helpful around the house. Because of his size and strength he can move and fix things that I wouldn't have been able to tackle by myself. It's hard to remember sometimes that I don't have to do everything alone anymore. He likes to help and has a knack for "tinkering" that reminds me of his dad. Chris's sheep flock is doing well. He has three ewes who were marked when we took them to breed. We're hoping that translates into six spring lambs... but, lambs, like chickens, should not be counted before they're on the ground.

Sam turned seven last summer. He's tall and strong and still climbs everything in sight. His speech is finally more intelligible and the boy has interesting things to say. He also has a love of the television and all things electronic. He is the boy I have to drag kicking and screaming into the sunlight. Zowie got bred last week so we are expecting spring puppies. I think I may turn that responsibility over to Sam. He needs some encouragement to work hard and working with animals seems to be one of his biggest talents. Sam's other real talent is cooking. He loves to help in the kitchen and I have to sneak in baking time when he's asleep if I don't want company in the kitchen.

Jake is now six. He's funny, and amazing, and a pain in the rear- all at the same time. He's the kid who is most like me. That's not always a good thing. His wry observations make me laugh. The boy's sense of humor is twisted and wrong (which just makes us laugh harder). He's hard to discipline because it's so hard not to laugh at him. He was a spontaneous reader, but it's hard to get him to buckle down and practice. He loves getting together with friends and has never met a stranger. He is eager to help with anything and everything. Jake also loves to sing and has been trying to teach himself to play guitar. That's a sight to see, since the guitar is larger than he is.

I'm still doing the same old stuff. We still homeschool. We still have some deficits and excel in other areas. Grandma is amazing and active at 90 years of age. She is great company and offers wise advice (when I'm patient and wise enough to listen). For the most part I love my life and realize how blessed I am to get to be with the people I love, doing what I like, almost every day of my life.

Jake camping in the living room

Jake camping in the living room