RIP My Jackie Boy

My heart breaks into pieces as I watch my best friend, a 110lb German Shepherd, pull his back legs foraward as he tries to move in a straight path.  Instead, his giant frame makes tiny circles, and his expression is tired and frustrated.  Jack’s brain has stopped connecting with his rear end in what the vet has called a degenerative neuro issue.  In the course of two weeks he has declined quickly.

I stayed awake all night, by his side, hoping his brain would quiet down and he could fall asleep to never awake.  While I know it is unlikely for dogs to pass away naturally, this is the first pet I am watching die so I pray for a quick end.  People have consoled me saying he will tell me when it is time, and as he rested his black snout on my lap I knew he was getting ready to go.  I knew he was getting ready to tell me.

Jack’s precense in my life has been short although grand.  He was the livestock guard dog of the cabin I purchased 5 1/2 years ago, and our first meeting was when I toured the property.  He was loyal and large, and it didn’t take me long to realize this was his land, and he knew it better than I ever could.  My first night in the cabin we sat among moving boxes, just him and I eye to eye.  He looked at me with confusion but also with a comfort that let me know he was sharing this place with me.  His loyalty to me started that night and never once waivered during our partnership.  My Jackie Boy’s fierce bark kept away strangers and scared off tourists using our driveway as a turn-around.  His scent kept everything from chipmunks and rabbits to coyote and bear out of our garden and yard.  As he aged, the affects took its toll on his awareness, and it was this first sign that told me he would be leaving soon.

Over the years he went from being an outside dog who ate on the porch and slept most nights near the front door to a gentle giant who slept at the foot of the couch and took his meals near the dining table.  My bond with him was always one of equals which my husband noted upon moving in with us.  We never had the master-dog relationship that people have with goldendoodles or pomeranians.  He was the brave, protective being that stood by my side when I was too old to be living in my father’s house and too single and strong willed to wait for a man to step in and take care of me.

This afternoon as I rested my cheek on the soft fur between his ears I realized I was never the courageous single girl living in the woods by myself but rather a young woman on a transitional path that was guided by this handsome German Shepherd. I have cried a lot today over my best friend’s decline, and I wonder how I will sleep at night without my protector keeping watch.  Jack, you have been more than a dog.  You have led me outside through dark, creepy nights.  You have single handidly saved my gardens from the hungry mouths of deer.  You have been my pal and partner in life and over this land.  And you will be unbelievably missed.

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RIP My Jackie Boy

luck or no luck

I can’t make a step by step plan to force the stars to align.  And I can’t go back in time and change the course of events that have led me here.  The only regrets I am allowed now are the ones I am letting to grow in this very moment.  This is not a midlife crisis so much as a midlife reflection.  Today is all I have and all I can try to control.  If picking off my pink nail polish while I watch a tiny spider crawl across the papers on my desk to Joni Mitchell’s 2000 album is where I am choosing to be then I must accept with responsibility the moments to follow.  My coffee sits cold in my morning mug and I think back to my 20’s when I believed neither in luck nor regrets.  That was my age of pessimism and realizing that things out of my control will keep happening no matter how little I allow myself to eat or how far I tried to run away.  It also seemed like the age of endless possibilities, and it would have been had I stopped being so negative to notice how fleeting life is.  Which brings me to here where I am afraid my luck ran out before I realized it existed.

My 30’s have so far been an endless list of responsible decisions and accepting that luck may never be on my side long enough to propel me into something meaningful and fantastic.  My childhood dreams seem to have come and gone during my long awaited but short lived time in Chicago.  I don’t like accepting that my big city dreams came and went so fast before I had the chance to make something of myself, but now I am the owner of a small cabin in the woods fulfilling a different dream.  It’s not like me to stay planted in one spot, accepting what lies before me as THE one path.  Or maybe it is that I have always ran away when things became too real causing me to leave Chicago at a pivotal point in my young adult life.

I sit and stare at the wall before me on which hangs a photo of me at 18.  “So naive, you.”  I wish I would have discovered Joni Mitchell back then.  Luck or no luck, pessimistic or not, running away or staying the course, it is the same things now as it always was leading up to this point.

luck or no luck

cabin sweet cabin

I have lived in my cabin for five years now, and while it may not fit the hip millennial description of “cabin” (think, tiny home with a ridiculously stylish yet almost unusable kitchen and a sitting area that is uncomfortable just to look at) it is home.  The decor is nothing I could garner praise by blogging about, and while I have big dreams for my outdoor space it looks more like a half assed idea than it does any of the Pinterest photos I drool over for inspiration.  The cabin sits at the front of the accompanying 40 acres so on Saturdays and July 4th traffic on the road out front attempts to drown out the birds singing or the wind rustling through the leaves.  In the five years I have lived here I have only had a few people stop by to visit (and most of those were just checking to see that my home truly did exist).  And while my cabin will never be featured in Martha Stewart’s magazine or get a million likes on a social media platform for my use of space or decor it’s one of my most favorite things in life.

I am a home body.  An unashamed, unapologetic home body that would rather be on my hands and knees pulling weeds from my garden than sitting down at someone else’s dining table for dinner.  The sheer thought of knocking on someone else’s door makes me sink deeper into my own worn in and eclectic pillow adorned couch.  Every time I pull out of my driveway a tear sits perched on the edge of my eye as I think of the moments I will miss away from home.  Is it the carefully curated mix of antiques and thrift store finds filling the open living space or the chorus of birds streaming through the large, lace covered windows? I haven’t quite put my finger on it, but there is no place I’d rather be.

In this part of the Midwest most people have camps.  Typically hunting camps, they are small, on a good sized piece of land, and usually include a sauna.  In my neck of the woods these camps surround me, the owners coming up once or twice a year from other parts of the Midwest.  On long summer weekends or holidays I like to pretend I am also at camp.  My cozy, perfectly clean, and acutely organized space becomes my laid back vacationing spot.  I go to town for supplies just once, and then sit back and pretend I have traveled eight hours to get here.  The decorations on the wall, the thrift store plates and cups, and the low ceiling “bedroom” in the attic all take on a new look.  My list of chores changes in order to address the vacationer version of myself; instead of organizing a junk drawer and cleaning out the fridge I take to sweeping the porch and mindefully pulling weeds from the flower bed alongside the house.  I cook hotdogs over a fire, and I don’t get frustrated over my small kitchen while I prepare a traditional summery dessert.  I don’t think about ironing clothes or preparing lunches for tomorrow’s start to the work week.  I don’t clean the bathroom or turn on the tv.  When I am stuck indoors because of the nasty mosquitoes, or have to limit my morning coffee on the porch because a small, protective phoebe has laid eggs in a nest just a few feet from my chair I don’t get upset.  If I am unable to mow the grass because an abandoned fawn is calling for a new mother I don’t get impatient like I would any other day with my yardwork.  I give nature its space, the broody phoebe, the terrified fawn, the fat squirrel hanging upside down from my bird feeder.  Time is more relaxed, and I am more at ease.  And when vacation time is done, I will still be right at home.

cabin sweet cabin

happy 4th

I had originally planned to spend the 4th of July weekend as a tourist in my own town, or more accurately as a vacationer in my own home.  The weeks leading up to my 3 1/2 day weekend I pictured a quiet and memorable holiday complete with bluegrass music and evening bonfires.  My grocery list read “marshmallows, hot dogs, alcohol…”  And I told myself that I would wake up and take my coffee to the porch, reading the news slowly and enjoying the ever warming day.

Day two of my holiday and I feel just as I normally do on any other given day off.  I still haven’t grocery shopped, and I don’t bother to take my coffee to the porch but instead settle into my recliner next to an open window.  I have debated bailing on tonight’s family dinner but know that it would just result in me laying on the couch watching the same tv show I always binge watch.

Last night’s family gathering at my aunt and uncle’s house two hours south of me did not disappoint.  While my father made a few remarks about me needing to have children my mother brought up my ex husband and wouldn’t take my hints from across the table to let it drop.  My sister with the children was absent from the occasion.  Her family was staying at a Christian family camp while my other sister had an engagement session to photograph and couldn’t even take a moment in her day to text me back.  Their missing energy gave my parents the time to focus on me, but this never yields positive results.  “Thank God I’m not an only child” I thought this morning as I sipped my coffee and wallowed in my parents disapproval.

I am sure they don’t mean any harm.  They only mean to pressure me enough that I will decide to have children.  “Do they think their stubborn comments such as ‘I’m praying for you to get pregnant so you better watch out!’ make me want to rush home and jump into bed with you?” I asked my husband on the way home from my aunt and uncle’s house.  “Seriously, do they think bringing up their dissapointment makes me want to produce children?”  My husband shook his head and kept his eyes on the road.  When we stopped for gas I demanded that he call his doctor first thing after the holiday to schedule a vascectomy.  “You know that’s not going to make a difference to your parents.”  And deep down I knew he was right.  But wouldn’t the argument hold less weight?

As for my mother’s remarks regarding my ex husband I have no explanation.  Again, I am sure she doesn’t mean to make me upset, just stirring the pot is all.  Typically after she’s had a couple of drinks the comments about my first wedding dress will be made, but since she was sober yesterday she was less severe.  To this my husband also brushes off saying he is not bothered by her remarks personally although, he says it upsets him that I am upset.  I chalk it up to disappointment as I sat rocking in my recliner, looking out the window to notice how high the sun had already become.

Through the open window next to me I listen to crows cawing as they fly over a dead deer near the end of our driveway.  I turn on some music to drown it out.  Yesterday morning my husband and  I heard the thud.  We got out of bed and as I made coffee my husband went to check on the tourists that had hit the deer.  Instead of sitting on my porch and doing a crossword puzzle I peered through the kitchen window, looking past the rows of pine trees at the Indian family that paced up and down the road waiting for a cop and a tow truck to arrive. As my husband and I passed the dead deer on our way to my aunt and uncles I looked the other way.

But today there was something behind the crows and the music.  Something that I couldn’t drown out.  I debated not texting my dad but the sound just wouldn’t go away.  “It sounds like an animal crying, but I’m sure it’s not.  Maybe it’s a raccoon?”  My dad texted back that it was most likely a fawn left behind, calling for its mother and that I should go look for it. I hastily threw off my pajamas and put jeans and a tshirt on.  I slipped on my boots and grabbed my coffee.  It felt good to be outside, and I watched a hummingbird fly overhead, stepped over a small, dead, bloated mouse in the driveway, and tried to forget about the carcass down the road.  The bleeting stopped, and all I could hear were the droves of tourists driving past.  I thought about all of the litter I planned to pick up along the highway and made note of the weeds in my garden.  But I couldn’t find the fawn.  My eyes filled with tears as I thought of the abandoned baby, and I went back inside to hide.  This wasn’t the vacation weekend I had planned on, the heartbreak, the disappointment, the feelings of being a failure, it all made me want to go back to bed.  The forest surrounding me wasn’t making me feel at peace, and as I heard a tire pop on a passing tourist’s boat trailer all I could wish for was the holiday to end.

happy 4th

dear diary, i’m a pessimist

June 18th

Today I was hoping my big break would come; not that I did anything to evoke it, but I am tired of where I am at. My face looks tired, my hair is drab, & I have lost the inspiration to wear anything even mildly interesting.  Around noon when I realized this wasn’t going to be my day I acknowledged the ever increasing doom and decided to move on. I considered looking into the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m not sure what I would do with the information, and moving is currently not an option. I at least need to get my day dreams back.
June 19
I had a very hard time focusing today.  I would start doing one thing and then switch to another part way through. A while later I would remember what I initially started and pick up where I left off.  My morning started along these lines, and I thought about quitting my job the whole drive in to work.  By mid day I was thinking I am where I need to be. Although in the back of my head I have this deep sense that if Sam and I lived in Chicago we could really make something of ourselves.  Is that what I really want? Maybe to stay here and make little money, sneaking out of work early to toil over my garden and lawn, maybe that’s where we’ll be forever.
June 20th
Work was rough today, and I wondered how many wrong turns I took to get here. Sam says I can quit, but only if I also quit my (costly) hobbies.  He also said recently that I could quit my job and work instead at the small grocery store 5 minutes from our house. After considering it for several days I decided I didn’t want to because working there would take the fun out of shopping there. This is similar to why I didn’t study art in college – the misconception that it would no longer be an enjoyable activity if I HAD to do it.  It turns out work is not enjoyable for me anyways, and I wish I would’ve realized that when I was picking a career.
June 21st
Today was our 2 year wedding anniversary, and it made me wish I would have accomplished more during that time. Then I had a bit of a break down and started researching what a copywriter is.  Maybe this is my new calling?  Sam says he supports me.  He always says that no matter how irrational or odd my ideas are.  Last week I wanted to quit my job and work at the small grocery store down the street.  The week before that I wanted us to move to England where I just wouldn’t work at all. At least he will never get bored; one less reason to leave me.
June 22nd
In my studies of entrepreneurs I’ve realized a lot, if not most, hit rock bottom before they realize what they are supposed to be doing.  I think it is this place of desperation that fuels the drive to take the risk and pursue what one wants or needs to do in order to survive. Every day I wonder, “Is today the day I hit rock bottom?” The pessimist in me is always looking for that worst day in hopes that it can retire and something resembling even a sliver of optimism will step in and take over.  Sam and I currently have no money and two vehicles that are in major need of repairs which, when added to my ever increasing anxiety at work, make me hope this is as rock bottom as it gets for us. It could be a lot worse so I need to move on with my life and do something before the universe dishes out the real rock bottom. If my mom gave honest advice she would say I need an “attitude adjustment.”

dear diary, i’m a pessimist

ham and cheese on bread

I should be working on a grocery list, but instead I lay in bed staring at the low ceiling and listening to Frazier playing on the tv at my feet.  It’s not quite my bedtime, and my to-do list sprawls off the paper and onto the floor.  The sunny hours of the evening were wasted sitting at a classy bar chasing my emotions away with a fruity cocktail and a salty burger.  The afternoon visit with my grandmother left me sad; a sadness that could only be treated with food.

“She has gotten worse,” my husband said quietly as we walked to our car.  We never know what to expect when we pop in to see her.  The dementia slowly steals more and more away from her, and I have noticed she no longer perks up when she see us.  In two years I’ve watched her slip away slowly, knowing it was only a matter of time before my husband and I could no longer cheer her up.  Now when we walk into the nursing home she stares at us as if we were strangers until I announce “hi grandma!” knowing at least that will still register.

Today her memory slipped in and out – at times she got me confused with my mom, other times she would completely forget what we were talking about or lose track half way through my story.  The tired staff looked busy as they tried to keep the residents content.  And then there was me, thinking I can entertain my grandma and bring her mind some relief.  I kept my stories overly animated and short.  She smiled, as did the other residents sitting within ear shot.

Before I get up to leave I notice the dry erase board on the wall behind her.  It states the weather, the day’s in-house entertainment, and the dinner menu.  “Ham and cheese on bread, fruit salad, potato salad” it reads, and I get a lump in my throat.  My gram used to be the best cook I knew; I ate like a queen whenever I was at her house.  I don’t know if it was so much the ham and cheese that made me sad or the realization that this was it.  She doesn’t enjoy eating anymore, and I know it has nothing to do with the food served her.  I could present her a plate of all of her old favorites and she would look the other way in disgust, forgetting the things that she used to enjoy.

As I lay in bed I cannot get that dry erase board out of my head, or the way she looked at me when I walked in, or the way my husband just knew without me saying, as we drove away, that I was sad.  Life doesn’t prepare one for these things, and my pillowcase fills with tears as I drift off to sleep thinking of my grandmother’s homemade dumplings.

ham and cheese on bread

census or self analysis?

This morning a gentleman from the census bureau knocked on my door.  I refer to him as a gentleman because his grey hair was combed back nicely with just the right amount of gel.  He wore khakis with just enough pockets to make them questionably cargo pants, and his name badge hung over his blue, zip up fleece top.  The apparel was pretty standard “comfy-casual” for this neck of the woods.  But like I said, the hair made him a gentleman.

After he grabbed his laptop with its giant U.S. Census sticker on it I invited him in.  I didn’t offer him coffee as that seemed too friendly an invitation for someone I wasn’t quite yet positive wouldn’t be murdering me in the next 5 minutes.  He asked me the standard census questions, but as this was my first home visit I wasn’t quite yet sure what to expect.  I fumbled on my husband’s birth date, first correcting myself on the day (“seventh, not seventeen”) and then letting it slide when I realized I also gave him the wrong year (“my husband was born in 1988?!”).  I also over estimated my yearly income, choking as I secretly vowed to brush up on my mental math skills.  I imagined myself sitting before a jury some time from now being questioned as to why I gave so many wrong answers.  I also thought about how ashamed I would be the next time I read some sort of national population statistic, knowing that my answers were slightly off.  “Accurate to the best of my knowledge” hopefully applies to my poor memory for birth dates and horrid math skills.

Even more concerning was the fact that this man was possibly judging me as he sat in my two room home (“if I sleep in the attic does that count as a second room, and does it count as a bedroom?” was my answer to his 8th question).  The upside down patio chair laying next to the couch, the dirty floors, the long, white cat hairs strewn everywhere like confetti.  I watched him type in between questions wondering if he was taking observational notes.  “Fidgets as she answers questions regarding numbers,” “Says she has husband but incredible amount of cat hair appears to prove otherwise,” “Bird seed on kitchen counter – she possibly eats birdseed???”  In my mind I see these notes being sold to retailers, ad agencies, and local mayors, maybe even Russia who would use them to calculate the stupidity of their frenemy.

I am an annoyingly clean person, or at least my husband thinks so.  To have someone come into my house while even just one item is out of place causes a self evaluation of the highest scrutiny.  I don’t spend countless hours every evening after work dusting cat hair, organizing my desk, and sweeping each square inch of my small home so that someone can stop by unannounced and find my home in a mediocre state.  As I sat across from the gentleman in his barely cargo khakis I wondered what it would be like to have his job and see so many homes.  I also wondered if his office was hiring.

Oh the excitement of stopping by other people’s homes unannounced and seeing what items may be out of place or what other people did while home on a Wednesday at 9am.  Maybe my barking lap dog was a breeze to a man who probably stopped by a lot of homes filled with small children and blaring day time talk shows.  The perspective one must gain by showing up at strangers houses unannounced!

As he left, the gentleman (who never once tried to murder me by the way) called back at me from his black Buick “you have a great place here!” and I thanked him, knowing he must be referring to the sunshine and tweeting birds flying over his head.  And as he drove away I thanked myself for cleaning the dog poop from the yard this morning.

census or self analysis?