Sunday, November 16, 2008

Finding Nemo

In October of this year I hit a serious patch of blues. Although season-wise, this is my very favorite time of year the change in climate sets off a serious emotional time bombs. One in particular this year was missing Kristi (still). The fall was our favorite time of year to walk through the neighborhood and crunch leaves. My nest had been truly empty for 9 months. I found that taking care of me was not nearly as satisfying as taking care of someone else. There was and is no romance on the horizon and I don’t really want to base my happiness on that anyway. I was outwardly functional but inwardly in danger of becoming permanently unhappy.

I didn’t miss having a pet. I missed Kristi. I didn’t want another pet. I wanted Kristi. In my head I sounded like a petulant child. Even looking at the rescue sites seemed disloyal to her memory. Still, I thought if I could find a dog that needed a home maybe doing a good thing – even half heartedly – would be a step toward recovery. I have to admit that my motivation was totally selfish.

This time around my selection would have to be small – less than 25 pounds due to neighborhood association rules. I had still been cruising the greyhound sites up to this point. I attempted to adopt first one female and then another only to find that applications had already been received and accepted on them. I widened my search to include a male – after all, I had raised a son, why not a male? That’s when I found Nemo.

I don’t know how I got so lucky. I found a loving, eager to please, smart, quirky, charming little dude bundled up in a 3 year old, 10 pound frame. He is a Maltese - rescued by Second Chance Small Dog Rescue in Elkhart. He was in foster care for 6 weeks after having been with a breeder.

He had to learn about stairs, treats, stuffies, sit, shake and bounce balls. He had to learn to endure brushing his coat, brushing his teeth, wiping his face, wiping his feet and negotiating his days with two other dogs at Mom’s place while I was at work. He also had to learn how to ask to potty outside and that I was the pack leader in our little family. He has mastered all of this in the three weeks we’ve lived together. And, oh yes, I’m becoming one of those – he has a sweatshirt for cold mornings in the car.

What started out as a half hearted search for relief has blossomed into a whole hearted love affair. Kristi would have loved him too.

Losing Kristi

Friends, I debated whether or not to add this piece to my postings. I like that most things here are upbeat or irreverent. Still, this one became a labor of love and while it is still an unfinished story I thought I would include it. I wrote this out in May this year. And, I don't think I can tell one story without the other.

I’ve been away for a while. Shortly after I posted my very hopeful New Year’s blog I had to say good-bye to my beautiful greyhound, Kristi.

All of the fears I had ever harbored about this event were played out in those three days in January. I had hoped that when her time came she would slip peacefully into a never ending sleep. That was not to be the case. Instead she endured pain, suffering, confusion and panic the last days of her life. She remained alert, loving and brave throughout. I had no idea that an animal could display and teach grace.

She was born and bred to run, retired from racing and 13 years old. We couldn’t fix her leg, we couldn’t even amputate. The bone was crumbling. She wouldn’t survive the surgery; she would never recover. There were two options. One was to medicate her and mask the pain as much as possible for whatever days remained and the other was to give her my final gift. As the vet administered the injection I held her and my breath. All too quickly her muscles relaxed, her breathing slowed and her eyes unfocused. I could feel her spirit, life and soul slip away. The moment her heart stopped beating mine broke completely.

Months have passed and the loss today is as fresh and heartbreaking as it was that cold January morning. My fear now is that I will grieve so long that the best parts of our time together will be overshadowed. I won’t wash her blanket or put away her picture or try to remove her from my days in any way. I carry her tags with me sometimes so I can hear them as I did when she was with me and wearing them. The vet’s office gave me a clay imprint of her paws. But, the most enduring memory of my beautiful girl is the imprint she left on my soul.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Bliss List

This weekend was blissful. I didn’t plan for it or expect it but it was. I’m sure that part of it was the confluence of good weather, an open schedule, a healing heart and a downsized lifestyle. Still bliss is not a word I throw around lightly and like the perfect houseguest it doesn’t come often or stay long.

I pulled out a piece I started a few weeks ago. It seems like the ideal time to share it.

Bliss, the word is synonymous with joy, happiness, and contentment. Bliss has a different feel to it though. Joy is deep, spiritual. Contentment is quiet, warm, and comforting. Happiness is bliss on steroids. Bliss feels like the perfect alignment of stars, a fleeting yet intense affirmation that sometimes we get it right.

Here is my bliss list. These are the things that wrap me up in a long affectionate hug.

  • scratching a dog’s ear and having them lean into you
  • that first bite of your favorite dish (prepared by someone else)
  • the first kiss with a new love
  • a child’s head surrendering to sleep on your shoulder
  • when everything you brought into the dressing room fits, is priced right, looks great on you and is machine washable
  • tears of gratitude when you’ve done something for someone you thought was no big deal
  • fat flakes of snow on Christmas Eve
  • the smell of fresh coffee and bread baking
  • Sunday afternoon naps punctuated by soft, steady rain
  • overhearing someone say something nice about you
  • soft supple leather
  • the crackle of a fire
  • the afterglow of a summer sunset
  • an unexpected handwritten letter
  • dappled sunlight and spring breezes
  • waking up fully rested before the alarm goes off
  • the perfect cross breeze in your living room in early summer
  • fall days in the Midwest – crisp air, crystal blue skies, crunchy leaves and long shadows

What does your bliss list look like?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Exercise Equation

I grew up in a time when organized athletics for females in junior high and high school were limited to cheerleading and gym class. I was not popular enough or coordinated enough for the former and not enthused enough for the latter. I could pull off being oblivious to exercise when I was walking with my friends, dancing and bike riding for fun. But over time those free spirited activities were replaced by driving just for the fun of it, reading, needle working, desk jobs and being a wife, mother and exhausted. I’m not suggesting exercising in the midst of everyday adult life can’t be done but I am telling you that I couldn’t or didn’t do it.

At this stage of life I know that I better get moving or type II diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are going to come knocking. Since taking a battery of pills doesn’t appeal to me I figure life style changes are the only acceptable options.

Over the years I’ve run the gamut on rationalizing, deluding and financing every possible approach to this exercise thing. I’ve purchased a treadmill, a stationary bike, a Gazelle, a step, countless exercise tapes, CDs and DVDs, a yoga mat, an exercise mat, 2-lb, 5-lb, 10-lb weights and I’ve watched (on the couch with a bowl of sausage gravy, I imagine) all of the paid commercials for shedding pounds, losing inches, building muscle, increasing metabolism and decreasing appetite. Not one of these efforts lasted long enough for the charges to clear my credit card.

A friend of mine finally gave me the perspective I needed to move forward. She suggested that I look at exercise as a second job. I may not make the healthiest lifestyle choices but I have an awesome work ethic. Armed with a new philosophy I opted to find an acceptable health club. I wanted a place separate from my home life and dedicated to the job of exercising. In my search I found the perfect club for me. The location was less than a mile from my home. The hours worked with my schedule. The facilities were clean and safe with plenty of equipment that was kept in good working order. Plus, I found out later that they have a members' lounge that offers the best flavored coffee every morning. The trainer who gave me a tour pointed out that every cardio machine had its own cable television with sound provided via head phones. I thought, “TV got me into this position – that’s your selling point?” The fee was a little steep but I rationalized that I would have to go more often to make the cost per day rate reasonable.

Starting out was a little rough. The first day I had to follow someone to find the ladies’ locker room. I haven’t warmed up to the group classes yet. Some of them are pretty intense and the trainers are a little masochistic. I don’t want to strain my fragile ego. Besides, I get pushed around enough at my first job. I don’t care to subject myself to it at my second job.

I prefer to work out solo so I opt for early morning. There are plenty of people there at that hour but I’m too sleepy to interact. I like going early in the morning because I’m not awake enough to make excuses not to go. By the time I wake up I'm at the the club so I might as well work out. For some reason I feel virtuous for getting up at an ungodly hour. However, I will confess that prior to finding the lounge with the great coffee I would go home and nap for 20 minutes before preparing for job number 1. It took a while for the mythical endorphins to kick in.

I'm a regular now. I find it funny that so many of us who use this club are paying for the privilege to get more exercise but find the closest parking place to the gym entrance. I am also amazed at the women who come to the club in designer workout gear, jewelry, full makeup and who read magazines while they are on the cross trainer. I come in clothes that have been retired from weekend wear due to paint drips and baggy knees. I have to concentrate on breathing and not dying while I’m on the cross trainer.

I don’t have any delusions about meeting Mr. Right at the club. I’m not a pretty picture when I work out. I’m fairly certain I won’t attract anyone with my sweaty clothes and matted hair. Besides, it’s difficult to engage in witty repertoire while gasping for breath.

It surprises me to see discarded cigarette butts outside the health club entrance. When I commented to a friend that I didn’t understand how someone could commit to exercise every day and still smoke they pointed out that I commit to exercise every day and still eat chocolate. The difference is that I exercise so I can eat chocolate.

I don’t know that exercise will come back naturally to me but I do know that I have found the right exercise equation for the time being. I go 6 to 7 days a week for 1 to 1.5 hours. I use weight machines, dumbbells, and the cross ramp. I can cover 3 miles on the cross ramp daily while watching the Food Network (turns out that whole TV thing is a good selling point after all).

Monday, January 07, 2008

A New Year

It might be the unseasonably mild temperatures (58 degrees for January in Indiana is like finding an extra 20 dollars in your coat pocket) but this year, more than any other, I feel content, hopeful and optimistic. I can’t say I’ve formalized any particular New Year’s resolution but I am anxious to make my dreams a reality. Writing this piece and others like it is one of them. It occurred to me this week that I have much more than I need and nearly everything I want – at least of those things in my circle of influence. I am blessed with good health, great family and first rate friends. I earn enough to pay my bills (although I can’t quite swing the vacation in the south of France yet) and I have heat when I need it, enough to eat and an expectation of safety and privacy.

The things that I want these days are not things at all. I want a healthy and sustained life style (and, yes I still have pounds to shed like two thirds of us). I want to live creatively. I want health and happiness for my family. All that I want in within reach - anything, if not everything.

It makes me thankful on many levels – for having a job in a shaky economic environment; for living in a country that provides ample opportunities, freedom and options; for living in a time when we can extend and improve the quality of our lives.

Like all of us I’ve had crummy jobs, crummier bosses, false friends, disappointments and lost loves. But these days I’m looking at those things in my rearview mirror rather than at the road ahead.