Friday, July 3, 2015

There's Something New Around Here

Almost as soon as we put our sweet ole Beck down, I started thinking about a puppy. The year has just been SO sad. I can't make a birth mother choose our family. I can't get my boys the sister they pray for every night. But a puppy, well, that I can do.

I asked my parents what they thought because we'll be with them for over two weeks this month. So they kind of needed to weigh in. My arguments were strong. The boys got out of school today and don't go back for six weeks. It's the perfect time for all of us to love a puppy and train a puppy and really get to experience the joys (and horrors) of a puppy. Additionally, I talked about my sad, sad children and how I just really wanted to bring them some NOT SAD. My parents concurred that the whole puppy thing really kind of needed to happen. At least, that's what they said to me. Behind closed doors they probably cursed me and my cockamamie ideas.

We started looking. And we found this litter of puppies that would be ready for their forever homes on July 2. There were ten of them...
(Focus in on the puppy on the left because we fell in love with her.)

We met her when she was five weeks old. It would be another two weeks before we could bring her home. That was actually good. Our house was sad and lonely without our Beckster but I don't think I was ready for a yapping ball of fur. Beck was old and broken in. He was nothing at all like the little curious furball we brought home today.

We saw her on a Thursday but didn't actually put a deposit down until two days later. We got to see her again and play with her and fall in love and decide that waiting twelve days might KILL US ALL DEAD.

But then it didn't. Today we picked Garrett up from his last day of school and went to pick up our girl. Over the past twelve days, we've whittled a whopping 22 names down to one. 

I loved the idea of a Tahoe related name and came up with several (terrible ones) that we rejected right off the bat. Ponderosa (Rosa). Little Jo(sephine). Fanny. (Troy refused to stand outside at night and yell, "Fanny!" for all the world to hear.) There were several others like Rubicon (Ruby), Dixie (for M.S. Dixie), Lake and River that stuck around for awhile but didn't ultimately make the cut. We also threw in several others that had not a thing to do with Tahoe. We also loved Summer because, well, it's the best time of year.

On the day we decided to put down a deposit on her, Garrett threw out Tessie for the legend of the lake monster, Tahoe Tessie. I didn't love it. It had already crossed my mind but I didn't want to go with it so I didn't say anything. "Tessie!" he'd yelled with enthusiasm, so proud of his creativity. And, truthfully, I do love that it's a total reference to my favorite vacation spot but it's not so overt that everyone we come into contact with will know it.

Still, I wasn't ready to commit. I realized that she was born the day my mom and I went to The Cloisters and Rockefeller Center and Magnolia Bakery. "Magnolia! MAGGIE!" I threw out. (Because that is a very cute name and who doesn't want to share their name with a delicious cupcake shop?)

But my eight year old had all but contacted the American Kennel Club himself to confirm that his pup would be named Tessie. In a last ditch effort, I texted Troy and asked him if he was sure we didn't want to go with Maggie. I received this picture with the caption, "The Diet Coke has spoken."

And it's perfect really. Because golden retrievers are notoriously known for their long lasting puppy stage. Who better to name a dog after than a fictional (I hope) monster? Today we officially registered her as Tahoe Tessie Lady of the Lake. (We might as well throw two legends in to one name, right? Why not?)

But, we've already taken to calling her Tessie, Tess, The Tess, Little Miss, and Red (the breeder called her Red Girl) so she's not lacking for nicknames.

The boys are head over heels in love with her already. And, what with her popcorn paws and puppy breath, it'd be nearly impossible not to love her.

His smile says it all. My heart is so happy to see the grins of pure excitement on the faces of my boys. Also, Tessie is one cool cat, er, dog.

Speaking of cats, these two do not love each other. Oliver has been moping around since his best friend died and you'd think he'd be happy but this is definitely NOT his best friend. She is small and smells funny and is very unpredictable. Their encounters today were based on a mutual terror of one another. At one point they went nose to nose for the briefest of seconds before Oliver recoiled and Tessie ran away and hid. Every time Ollie would make a cat sound, Tessie crept away and stood in the corner.

At one point, Tessie zonked out and Oliver approached. I managed to snap this picture before he ran away again. I have high hopes that they'll get along soon enough. Today it was just a victory on account of the fact that Ollie didn't hiss and/or claw at Tess and she didn't try to eat him. (She's a VERY mouthy puppy which is VERY not awesome. I was on the couch tonight with my foot hanging off and she stalked it, leaped up and bit my toe before I ever even knew she was there. Those puppy teeth sure are sharp.)

We can't replace Beck. He was our very first baby. Our practice child. If we could keep him alive, we could try our hand at actual human babies. And we managed for eleven and a half years to do that very thing. He is gone but never forgotten.

However, if you're going to bring another one home in an attempt to heal hearts, it might as well look like this...

Tahoe Tessie Lady of the Lake--May 14, 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I'm about to have a first grader and a third grader. I don't know how that happened. But, also, I'm supposed to have a three month old. And I really do use that word "supposed" loosely. My God knew that she'd never be here for her first trip to the pool or her first day at the beach. He knew she wouldn't celebrate a first birthday or get married. So I am not supposed to have a three month old, really. It just feels like I should.

When the boys dive into the pool, I wonder why I'm not splashing in the shallow end with my girl. When I tuck them in at night, I think about how she should be sleeping in the crib in the room next door. Her tiny feet should be kicking barefoot in the summer breeze. Because that's how I imagined it all.

I see babies and I think of her.

I see strollers and car seats and I think of her.

It is better. Summer has a way of making things better because the sun comes out and the weather turns hot and we distract ourselves with the vacation of it all. And time has a way of healing us. But though it be better, it is not complete.

We are amputated.

We choose joy. Sometimes we choose distraction and sometimes we choose tears but always we are trying to choose joy. Because whatever happens in this life, whatever comes our way, whatever challenges us or shifts us or changes us or terrifies us, it is all passing.

And, in a way, our discomfort now simply directs us to a deeper longing of the perfection that is to come. Our grief reminds us that one day our tears will be wiped away. We live. We leave. We come back. But we are not home yet. Home is where our Father is.

Home is where our daughter waits.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

In Summer

We're finally ALMOST on summer break. Matthew has three days left and Garrett has four. IT NEARLY KILLS ME DEAD EVERY YEAR. Coop them up in a classroom all winter long when it's cold and miserable outside and then let them go free long before July 2. For the love of all things warm and good! LET THEM FREE.

The sun is shining.

The water's running.

The pools and splash pads and sprinklers are waiting.

The milky white skin needs to brown. The brown skin needs to blacken.

It's time for the school to shut its doors. The office staff is ready. The teachers are ready. The students are ready.

We've already started our summer with trips down the slip n slide and stops at the pool. 

On Friday I checked Garrett out early. I was wearing my bathing suit* and I did not apologize. "We're going to the pool," I said. He missed lunch and fifteen minutes of class. I hardly felt bad about it.


Look at how happy they are in the summer. (Also look at his stomach. I...just...I'm thirty shades of jealous right now.)

It's the MOST wonderful time of the year.

Also. This kid is almost halfway to eighteen. Excuse me. I'll be over here with my head stuck in the sand, pretending this isn't happening. Pretending he's not all but grown up.

And then another also. Hi, Baby. Your brother has insisted on growing up and leaving me already. Will you please stay small even though your tibia is as long as his and you have more muscles than most adults? I mean it, Matthew, please keep those scrumptious chubby cheeks forever.

There's nothing quite like being a kid in the summer.

*And some other stuff. I didn't just waltz into the school clad only in swimwear.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On Dogs and Delusional People

Here's the deal. We wouldn't be talking about getting a new puppy if it wasn't for the fact that it's summer. Beck was our sweet baby and he's in a box on my mantel with an old ball and his collar resting on top. I know. This is exponentially weird. Last night I told my husband that I missed Beck's bad gas. His GAS, PEOPLE. Loving a dead pet makes you think all kinds of crazy things and I am sure to lose at least half my followers for the gross offense of even mentioning dog farts. And they smelled horrible. But now they're gone forever. Excuse me while I go cry some more about missing my old dog's disgusting digestive system. So, you see, I should not even be thinking about a new dog while I am in this altered mental state. But our boys will soon be out of school and since they're on year round, they only get six weeks off. They should enjoy their new pup while it's warm and they're not stuck in a classroom. Plus, I do NOT want to try to train a puppy in the rain/wind/sleet/hail/snow of autumn and winter...and spring.

So we turned to KSL which has a classifieds section for Utah and Idaho. Sure, there are plenty of legit, NOT ABSURD, less hysterical ads for dogs that a regular family living on a regular sized paycheck could afford. But those aren't gut-busting hilarious. I wish there was a comment section where I could make snarky statements but, as there is not, I decided to bring the ads over here for your enjoyment.

First, an explanation. Why was I up past midnight as is evidenced by the time posted on the screenshot from my phone? I HAVE NO EARTHLY IDEA. I get distracted. I sidetrack myself and then suddenly it is midnight and I'm still not asleep. AND THEN, ALMOST AS SUDDENLY, IT IS 7:00 AM AND I AM SAD ABOUT THE POOR CHOICES I MADE THE NIGHT BEFORE. 

First, I present you with Gunner. Gunner is a champion show dog imported from Hungary! He's not available for purchase for $1,500 though. No. That's how much it costs to use him as a stud. To put this into perspective, when we bred Beck (who was AKC registered), we were paid $450. Gunner commands more than triple that price!

You guys! Gunner might have the very best pedigree in all the world but Gunner is still JUST A DOG. His puppies will look a lot like the puppies you can find in any backyard in any state in this beautiful country (or Hungary). He will die in a handful of years and no one will remember his pedigree. The ad goes on to state that (and I'm sure I've never once used this word on my blog before) Gunner's fresh OR frozen semen can be shipped through a reproductive veterinarian. Oh my. Poor Gunner. Gunner wants to run and fetch and roll around in the mud. I'm going to go out on a pretty sturdy limb and say that he does not want to hang out with a reproductive veterinarian behind a closed door with copies of Pethouse and Playdog.

It's highly likely that by the end of this post my husband will have lost his job on account of his wife's questionable blog material. It's also possible that my blog will now pop up when people google gross subject matter.

Moving on.

Do you know what a Golden Doodle is? It's a mixed breed. A highly intelligent, generally compliant, specifically bred, mutt. We've very strongly considered getting a golden doodle. Made up of a poodle and a golden retriever, doodles are all the rage. Often, they don't shed which is a real bonus. They're often smaller than golden retrievers. They still love water. They're great. And cute. But they are mixed breed dogs.

So, with that being said, perhaps you can understand my confusion...

$1800 for a dog resulting in cross breeding? What the? I can't even...I just...what? In my opinion, all doodles are overpriced as they command more money than pure bred retrievers and pure bred poodles but that doesn't mean I wouldn't consider buying one if for no other reason than LESS DOG HAIR=HOORAY! But $1800 for a puppy that is going to grow up and eat you out of house and home and then die taking your heart with it? I don't think so.

But if y'all thought that was overpriced.

This one just about kills me.

So wait just one second. Your dog, the one you have, presumably, raised from a puppy, is RETIRING FROM YOUR BREEDING PROGRAM AND IS NO LONGER OF USE TO YOU AND SO YOU WOULD LIKE SOMEONE TO PAY YOU $2,500 FOR HER? Am I the only one who thinks this is not only delusional but also cruel and greedy?

The dog is FIVE. The dog, based on the average golden lifespan, has about five to seven years of life left. That breaks down to roughly $400 a year just to own her. She is house trained (most goldens by age FIVE are), crate trained (good for her), a therapy dog with champion bloodlines (all good things but you can't do anything about those champion bloodlines because she's retired from breeding), loves the water and to fetch a tennis ball (SHE IS A GOLDEN! So...duh).

I feel SO sad for poor Berkley. If I had $2,500 just lying around, I would buy her and love her and show her that some people like dogs just because. Not because of the money they can make off her womb. I certainly wouldn't discard her (for an exorbitant price) because she was retiring from my breeding program.

This next one, well, I thought it was a typo.

But then it turned out to not be. For FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS, these bulldogs had better plan on getting the boys to school, keeping my house clean, and bringing me breakfast in bed. Also, my husband has requested the occasional massage. I don't care if the blood pumping through their veins is liquid gold or if they are actually famous circus performers, THEY ARE DOGS. Correct me if I'm wrong but a $100 shelter dog and a $4,000 bulldog both sniff butts, right? 

On the other hand, if I bought one of these and bred it twice a year, my husband wouldn't have to work.*

Finally, there's this which, I mean, has to be a typo. Right?

The ad does state that this guy comes with a crate and a brush! Perhaps the crate is made out of precious gemstones?

*Breeding your dog twice a year is NEVER recommended and, as previously stated with poor Berkley the golden retriever, I would never buy a dog for her womb.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Falling in Love is the Easy Part...

Church leadership is a funny sort of business. You meet and fall in love with people. They move. Or you move. You meet and fall in love with more people. They move. Or you move. Pretty soon, you have an incredible database of friends that feel more like family. Older folks who feel like honorary grandparents, people who are more like aunts and uncles than just friends, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews. The body of Christ really is like a big extended family. For better or worse.

Some will always be just friends or acquaintances or people you say hi to on Sunday morning. But some people cry together, laugh together, hug tight, anticipate life and overlap lives so often that it really, truly does feel like whatever happens to them will greatly impact your own life. Some people, you really just love a lot.

It is a blessing to love like that.

But when they hurt, we hurt. When they're anxious, we're anxious. When they need prayer we step in and say, "Lord, we will still be worshiping you tonight, even if this doesn't go the way we want it to. You will still be on the throne. But, please, Lord, can you answer this prayer the way we're all hoping?" And maybe we don't think about it as much as they do but we sure think about it an awful lot.

We are praying today for a family we love big. Maybe they don't even know how much we love them. But we do. So much so that we are going before the Lord constantly and begging, "Oh Lord, hear our prayer..."

Please pray with me. You might not know them but trust me, they are worth your time. One day they will move. Or we will move. But for now, we share this space, this town, this church building. I am honored to know them and to partner with them in ministry. They need our prayers.

"Lord, bless this family's sacrifice. Accept what they have done. Allow it to come to pass as we hope and desire that it will. Amen."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Choosing Joy

In church yesterday, the worship leader was talking about going through tough times. He rhetorically asked if anyone was experiencing difficulty. Garrett turned his head toward me and nodded slightly.

"We are," he said. I half smiled and winked as if to say, Yes. We are. "We have been through a lot," he continued. Then he finished gently, "It's like there's something wrong with our family and bad things just keep happening."

I fully acknowledge that things could be SO MUCH WORSE. We could live without our basic needs being met. We could have major health concerns. More of us could die! I know all this. But to an eight-year-old, losing a sister and the beloved dog he's had since birth seems pretty awful.

I ran my fingers through his hair. Our eyes met. I didn't speak but he knew.

We will praise if the bad things keep happening and we will praise if the good times come. We will acknowledge the infinite blessings we have and eagerly look forward to what the Lord has for our futures.

We will choose joy.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

For a Purpose

"I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure." Eric Liddell

My boys are running track. Matthew is fast. He's a speedy little sprinter. He hasn't placed in the top finishers yet. He's the youngest in his age group and there are A LOT of boys who want to sprint. And the difference between first and twentieth is a second or two.

Garrett is fast. He likes to run the mile. He settles in and decides to run fast and then he just glides along. He loves to play all sports and we support him in trying new things. He did well at baseball this year. He likes to wrestle. He enjoys swimming and soccer and even played a session of basketball last year.

But when he runs...

It is natural. 

It comes easy.

I hope he feels God's pleasure.

Last week he ran four events and qualified to run three of them in a district meet on Tuesday. Only the top two moved on. 

I'm not proud of him because he runs fast. I'm proud of him because he works hard so that he can run fast. In the heat and the sun, whatever he is told to do, however long he is told to run, he just does it. He doesn't quit. And it pays off...

P.S. Notice how that division says 9/10? My guy won't even be 9 for another month.

The Box

My dog came home in a box.

It smells like his old bed from Costco with the cedar chips inside. My dog, his whole big life, secured in the confines of a tiny box that fits on my lap. He hasn't fit on my lap since he was three months old.

We opened the box and looked inside. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

That white paw...

Those brown eyes...

The soft muzzle...

The ears that curled slightly outward...

All of it in that tiny box, sharing space with a chunk of my heart.

He doesn't run, ears perked, expecting ice, when I open the freezer. He doesn't go to the door, curious about who is on the other side. He doesn't put his paws in my hands and dance with me or run outside with his two best boys.

My dog came home. But he isn't here.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Eulogy for the Mostly Perfect Dog

I hardly even know where to begin. For, you see, once upon a time, I begged my husband for a dog. We'd been married for three months and I was desperate for a puppy. We drove several hours north and bought a puppy for a bargain $300 which was impressive considering he was AKC registered. 

I wanted his brother. 

But this one pup--the one with the white foot--just kept jumping and yapping and trying desperately to get my attention. When I ignored him and continued to give my undivided attention to the better looking puppy, the feisty one hopped and howled and stared me down with his big chocolate eyes. "Pick me!" he screamed. "Pick me! I'm worth it." Finally, as a sort of afterthought, I bent down and scooped him up. Instantly, he snuggled into my arms and closed his eyes. He sighed, content. I cradled his muzzle in my hand, stroking his face.

Last night, I cradled his muzzle, smothering it with kisses, one last time. Eleven years, six months, 27 days since I'd first met the puppy who picked us.

On our way home, we stopped at the pet store and let our boy pick out a toy. He ran immediately to a soccer ball, pulled it off the shelf and pranced around the store with it hanging out of his tiny mouth. We named him Beckham.

He came to us when our marriage was brand new. Before all the tears we would shed over building our family, when we were wide eyed and optimistic about everything the future would hold. Save for a few handfuls of weeks, we've never done our life together without the pup who clamored for our attention and said, "I want to be a part of whatever this is going to turn into."

As golden retrievers are prone to do, Beck remained a puppy for years. He tore the ruffle off my second hand couch when a new couch was far from budgeted for. He shredded any stuffed animal he could get his jaws on. He ate rat poison and we had to wait around to see if he'd live or die. He ate his body weight in ice and we had to warm him internally so he didn't die. He jumped off a cliff. That all happened within a year and so we called him the suicide dog.

Despite his apparent death wish, he just kept living. He chased balls but was incapable of catching them. He ran like the wind but, though he loved to swim, he did so as though an anchor was attached to his rear end, never beating another canine in a water race but having the time of his life losing.

Our Beck was terrified of thunder, fireworks and vacuum cleaners. He shook. He shivered. He tried to climb into our laps. He hid in basements and bathtubs and, once, he even bolted through our friend's fence to, thankfully, be recovered by some kindhearted people who stored him in their garage on a particularly noisy 4th of July.

He was the happiest near water. Lakes and rivers and streams and even a stagnant pond that gave him infections in both ears. Never was he happier though than when we took him camping or to his favorite of all places, Lake Tahoe.

Beck, still very much a puppy, calmly sat by my side day after day as I sobbed my infertility tears straight into his soft coat. I walked him and threw the ball for him and cried about how desperately I wanted a human child for him to play with. He was wise beyond his years and, perhaps, beyond his species. Gently, he licked away the salty stream as it flowed from my eyes.

In the absence of a child, ten years ago, we got him a cat. And the two were inseparable for a decade.

When he was nearly three, he patiently watched my ever expanding mid section with eyes that suggested he knew that something was up. When we brought Garrett home, we stuck his car seat right in the middle of the floor. Beck crouched down, belly flat against the carpet and began to sniff. He became increasingly more excited and, finally, he swiped the baby with a giant lick of approval.

Finally, the dog had a boy. Albeit a very small one that didn't do much at first.

But the boy got bigger. And the dog became best friend, horsey, and a source of endless entertainment. The boy and the dog were inseparable. They played together, shared popsicles, and loved each other in every way that a boy and a dog should.

He was happy always. Gentle, always, never so much as snapping at anything bigger than a fly. He loved every single person he ever met and he loved them big.

With the exception of completely ignoring us when he was off leash at Lake Tahoe, he was obedient and easy to train, fearing rejection from us more than even the thunder. He aimed to please 99% of the time. That 1% reserved for paying a little too much attention to the lady dogs on the beach if you know what I mean.

He was always happy to just be where we were. Never jealous for a minute, even when he went from being our pride and joy to the canine friend of our pride and joy. It was enough to just be a part of something--the family he'd fought for. I like to think that, somehow, he saw what we would become and he wanted in.

Life was an adventure for Beck. Sniffing and frolicking and having a generally dopey approach to existence, all the while being deeply intuitive. Once again, he watched me with those eyes and caught my tears with his fur when we thought, for 14 long months, that we might lose Matthew. He loved that second born kid deep, unafraid that he was investing too much.

And always, always, he wore this goofy grin that told the world he was friendly and approachable. Neurotic, certainly. But ever ready to make a new best friend.

He was loyal and stoic, guarding his own like their little lives depended on it. Keeping them safe from rivers and bugs and anything that might threaten their existence. Except thunder. If the heavens crashed together in a clanging symphony, he was not above crawling into the lap of the nearest toddler for protection.

At night he would curl up at our feet, or with the cat, or in front of the fire and sleep deep. Until very recently, he still slept on his back sometimes, just like a puppy. He never stopped laying with his legs straight out behind him in the flying squirrel pose or bent up sideways like a frog. This gave the illusion that, despite his graying face, he was actually only a fraction of his years.

Still, he was gray. His black nose turned to brown and we began to wonder how many years he had left. He was older and wiser and we were hoping that he would defy all norms and live to be 14 or 15 years old. 

Once again, he caught my tears, so very many of them, when we lost Kate. Then his stiff joints survived the winter, and we assumed he'd be around until at least 12. We hoped he'd live to see the daughter we're so desperately longing for.

You see, we all loved him so dang much. He was there for a third of my life, a fourth of my husband's and all of both my sons' lives. They don't even know how to live without their dog and I can't say that I much remember either.

Last night he ran and jumped and fetched. We were having a BBQ and he snacked on greasy drippings. He climbed half into my friend's lap, giving a hug to the woman who takes care of him when we're gone. He was so very happy. Troy came in as I set food out on the counter and remarked, "Beck looks twenty years younger right now." He was smiling and, as always, pleased to just be alive.

Troy and our friend, Jeremy, were discussing the fact that the turkey burgers were mushing oddly on the grill. I pulled the ball from Beck's mouth and absentmindedly lobbed it. He didn't run. I looked at him. Drool was dripping off his tongue. His body was shaking and he was panting uncontrollably. Concern flickered across my mind just before he collapsed to the ground, heaving awkward breaths. His gums turned white.

We tried to give him water. I handed him a treat. Something was really, very wrong. I cradled his head in my lap and cried.

My friend called our vet.

Minutes later, Beck was lifted in a blanket by Troy and our friend, Tibbs, and placed, for the last time, into the back of our vehicle. As we rushed to the emergency animal hospital, Garrett gently stroked him and detailed his breathing to us.

When we arrived, Beck was in critical condition. It was as our vet had suspected. A ruptured splenic tumor. He was bleeding internally. Our options were surgery to remove his spleen which would be $3000 dollars and would buy him, at most, a couple more months, or euthanasia.  

He was in such pain. His eyes were glassy, his breathing labored. He lost control of his bowels. It seemed impossible that less than two hours before, he'd been fine. We all shed volumes of tears over our guy. But in the end, we couldn't support a risky surgery in hopes of buying a handful of weeks. So very suddenly, it was time to say goodbye. No real warning, just an instantly critical dog.

He tried to get up, tried to walk like nothing was wrong, tried to say, "Let's go home. Please stop crying. It'll all be okay." Tried to hold us all together as he's done for more than eleven and a half years. We laid him back down and told him how much we loved him, explained what an incredible boy he'd been, wept bitterly.

And then he was gone.

In many ways he was my best friend. The keeper of all my deepest secrets. My first baby. My heart. I will remember the way he frolicked just moments before an undetected tumor took his life. The way he wore his signature smile. The way he picked us. I'm sure glad he fought so hard for this family.

I will remember him just like this. Ever, always, content. The perfect dog 99% of the time.

As for that other 1%, well, it was certainly worth it. Thanks for the memories old boy.