Friday, February 07, 2014

Friday Morning Coffee with WhatsHerFace

Last week, my Mom forgot my name.

I knew it was coming but it was still a surprise. I know. Everyone says that.

They say it because it's true.

She remembered all about my name, "It came from South Africa. Those special things. You know."

At the time of my birth, the diamond mines of South Africa were very special. Now, not so much.  I generally avoid telling people where my name comes from. Though when I think about it, my thoughts generally stray toward the irony that I ended up working in the human rights field in my pre-kid life (before the world knew of the horror stories of those mines).

But I digress... the point is, she knows the workings of my name... just not the name itself.

I'm okay with it.

Some people find it strange that I have accepted this development so readily. Perhaps my rather objective approach comes from some minor studies in university of brain chemistry and different forms of dementia. But I think more-so, it's that I really love the little old lady she's become, and I love my Dad for his easygoing attitude and I love watching their relationship evolve in such an accepting, caring way... which is the far bigger picture.


Fridays are my day off. My Mom looks forward to our Friday morning chats... which is interesting because she's never been a 'chatter'. But now she is.

I find it interesting that she has become a chatter because she has lost most of her vocabulary. The incongruity is particularly striking because she majored in English, taught English for over 30 years in three different countries, including English as a second language and has a Master's in education.

When I was a kid, she was always using big words. It drove me crazy as a teen, I would scream,

"Why can't you just use regular words???!?"

Her response, "Because I want you to be able to speak like a relatively, decently, educated human being."

My response, to what I deemed the banal: a typical teenage sigh and exit. I knew I wasn't going to win.


Our chat this morning was pretty much the same as every Friday. She tells me about all the animals she's feeding (countless cats - yes she's a crazy cat lady, a dog that seems stuck in it's terrible twos and all the birds in the near and far hemispheres), asks about our next visit and wakes up Dad to tell him something that could wait until later. The latter of which, I always find particularly amusing. In fact, it makes me smile... and even laugh out loud sometimes. This morning was a laugh out loud kind of day.

Part of the reason it's funny is because she has become that very kind little old lady who has one big quirk. If she wants to tell someone something, she doesn't care if they're sleeping.  She doesn't care that she doesn't have all the words she needs. It's important and no one should mind being woken for important information. Case in point, if I don't call her early enough on Friday morning, she will call me, even though she knows I work the late shift and don't get to sleep until around 3 a.m.

So as usual, part way through our conversation, which suddenly comes to a grinding halt because she looked out the dining room window, she brings me, on speakerphone, with her to wake Dad (who is a bit of a night-owl by nature) and says,

"The whosits have come to clear the thingamagig and whatsername is on the phone for our Friday morning chat. You know who I mean. Say hello."

Dad takes it all in stride, says hello to me, tells me he's good, says "Okay Dear," to her, which makes her happy, and then rolls over and goes back to sleep. I'm not even sure he was awake. I think he has learned to perform this response in his sleep.

I will laugh out loud thinking of this brief interruption for the rest of my lucid days... mostly because I adore the way my parents are so content with each other at this stage of their lives.

In some ways, this glitch in her brain in quite a gift. She is the most consistently happy that I've ever seen her in my lifetime. She doesn't get all bent out of shape if I mention my bio-Dad's name anymore because she doesn't remember him. She doesn't get impatient with people in general anymore as she used to in her cerebrally faster days. And she is still very high functioning.

As long as you leave her alone with her daily schedule of feeding everyone, she's perfectly fine. She knows what things are for and maintains all her safety practices. She just can't remember the words for all of the thingamagigs she uses.

Some people with dementia, or living with dementia get frustrated. My parents are taking it in stride and living day to day with a grace I wish everyone was blessed with.

Are there negatives? Sure there are. You can read about them on someone else's blog though. The negatives abound to such a degree that you can't escape hearing about them.

I, however, will not focus on that cascading waterfall of despair.

I will focus on "coffee with whatsherface" and laugh about it until the day that I too, will probably forget the words to tell the story with. If and when that point should come to pass, I take comfort in the idea that I will also be loved as the kind little old lady that spends her days feeding everyone.

Yes. My Mom has dementia. It's not always a bad thing... here in the Gray Zone.

For an interesting yet entertaining read on different forms of dementia, see: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How many people will it escape that they depict a garden in straight rows with no weeds and poles that direct growth without individual freedom to grow willy nilly?

People are sheep. Often, even the ones who think they are not.

Some things are not grey at all.

Scaled Down Version of "Lord of the Flies"

I read something on Facebook about homeschooling and socialization this morning. It made me realize I have a fairly unique perspective regarding conventional school after having homeschooled a child until age 11, sent him to conventional school, and then homeschooled him again.

People are always worried about the 'socialization' of homeschooled (hs'd) kids. Even the parents of those kids worry about it... and any who tell you they don't are lying... unless their child has finished hs'ing and is out in the world, doing fine, which they invariably do... or unless they've had the life experience we've had.

Even my biological Dad, a fairly individual outside-the-box thinker, who has grandkids (not mine) in the system who have suffered, gets all caught up in the whole idea of raising children in an institution for the sake of 'socialization'. In fact, we just had a discussion about it a few weeks ago, and by the end of the discussion he realized that kids actually are better off at home if possible... particularly young kids who don't, by virtue of lack-of-life experience, have a well developed sense of self.

The statement I read was on a friend's page in response to something she posted about a family who had homeschooled their children. The children were passing college entry exams at age 12 and graduating college by age 18.

"It's kind of rough on kids socially to not let them grow in a peer group.

No it's not. What's rough on kids is being stuck in a peer group where they cannot truly be themselves for the risk of being ostracized (or worse).

My 11 year old went to school for the first time in grade 6. By the end of that year, he stopped playing outside. I'd send him outside and he'd come back in saying there was nothing to do.

He wasn't ostracized. He was lucky enough to be very well liked by everyone - he is actually a quirky yet very charismatic kid who has never had trouble being 'liked'. Still, he learned very quickly that recess was more for standing around, being bored and looking cool. There were other things too of course... stresses about not being 'normal' and fitting in that worried him. They worried him a lot, I thought. Enough to make me start worrying about him.

When he hs'd, he did not worry about those things at all. Other hs kids seem to thrive on differences. Eg. one boy we knew, age 12, painted his room pink and everyone just thought he did a great job. The fact that another boy occasionally wore his sister's old pink rain boots never fazed any of the other kids. My son also wore his sister's old pink rain boots. I could go on. Hs kids easily accept personal choices that are not the norm. In fact, they almost thrive on what makes them an individual who is different and unique. Conventional school kids do not.

The next year he chose to stay home again. It took him almost a year to figure out how to have fun outside again. Now, at 13, he goes outside and messes around for hours and is very happy, whether he's with someone else or by himself.

It took him until about 6 months ago to stop worrying about being 'normal'. I am happy to see him so comfortable with himself once again. I no longer worry about his worries of 'acceptance' because he no longer has any. It's a relief! Conventional school (and I'm not criticizing the school, it was awesome, had great teachers, etc.) is like a scaled-down version of "Lord of the Flies". Frightening really.

I wonder how this family affords all these tuitions. Also, how did they get the universities to allow the young children to be tested? I wouldn't be interested for my kids, I think that's too much pressure. (After starting the school year late, my boy tested higher, in provincial testing, than his class average in everything but math. We do only about an hour of sit down work a day, the rest of it is unschooling and free time. So I can see how a parent focused on a lot of sit down time could get their kids to advance fairly quickly. I like my kids to have a lot of free time just for the sake of personal discovery.) But I'd still be interested just for the sake of knowing.

Oh, and my 7 year old son is now wearing his sisters old pink rain boots occasionally too...  if he chooses to wear shoes at all... because sometimes things are actually pink in the Gray Zone.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sugar Babies Before Corn Snakes

My friend has had sugar babies for years. She adores them. Time has come though and traveling is not an option for her anymore. She felt they were not getting enough attention. So she thought our house with three dogs and three cats would be a good place for them. lol

Actually, it was quite a blessing and honour to have her ask us if we would take her babies. They arrived yesterday and came with EVERYTHING and more. :O

Including enough food for a month (live worms and all). lol

I have never received animals here that were all completely provided for already. So that was a real treat for me. There is absolutely nothing I have to do except enjoy them and make sure the kids feed them.

They are nocturnal and so were up through most of the night playing. The cats, though interested, seem to understand that they are pets (all the birds that we bring into the house here and there for tending probably)... but I think it's a good idea for them not to escape their cage. lol

I shared a bit of pear through the cage this morning with one and then the other two came over to beg for some bites of pear too. So cute!

So now we will make a worm colony in the basement to grow our own worms for them and maybe a cricket colony too. (What fun to watch them jump around an open tent chasing crickets! I know the chickens and duck think it's a real treat. They get crickets for Christmas.)

And so sugar babies, worms and crickets come before corn snakes, who were supposed to be our next animal project. As always though, Earth Lessons continue on in our household. Why? Because we don't live on this planet all by ourselves. ;)

Friday, September 23, 2011

What's So Important About Stickers?

As I have gotten older and with each consecutive child, I have become lazier.  I have confirmed with several friends that indeed, this 'syndrome' does occur amongst quite a few of us.

Now, with our third child, as with many third children, he lives life exuberantly.  He follows two older siblings and so gets into more, experiences higher levels of achievements and takes greater risks.

And so we figure that if we feed him well, try to make sure he is reasonably safe and fairly well schooled, that we've done alright.  We don't really use any motivational tools like we did with the other two.  There just isn't the same focus on artificial rewards.  No time? Maybe.  Not as creative? Maybe. Allowing him to find his own internally useful values?  Maybe.  If I want to impress people with my parenting philosophies this third reason is the one I actually use in public.

Through this process, however, some things just don't have the same value for him that existed for the older two.

So, this morning, whilst sitting at the table doing math, my older son said to my younger son, "Finish your page and I'll give you a sticker."

To which the younger one shrugged and responded, "What's So Important About Stickers?"

And I thought, "Yeah."

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Before reading this entry:  Please be aware that it may be both too graphic and too controversial for some.  Weak stomachs and hard liners will not enjoy it.  Those who enjoy pedantic thoughts that wander all over the place without resulting in any specific decisions may enjoy it with a cup of tea. 


If you don't know what it means, it sounds like a wonderful, magical place that perhaps you could go to for your holidays.

"Where are you going for the holidays?"

"Oh!  We've booked a trip to Euthanasia.  I can hardly wait to relax, soak up the peacefulness and try all of the amazing, exotic food!"

The reality of it is, perhaps in the view of someone suffering from extreme clinical depression, not much different.

I say this because, in my late twenties, I suffered a very deep clinical depression and death actually equated itself with cookies baking in the kitchen.  All I would have to do was walk through the door and I would have all the comfort and peace that I experienced with eating warm chocolate chip cookies and drinking hot cocoa.

If the choice of Euthanasia had been offered to me at the time, I would have taken it, with some caveats that I'll cover later.

Of course I didn't know my middle name and I didn't know how old I was... but I knew for certain, with the kind of faith many people have in God (and other higher beings) that death would absolutely be THAT comforting.  In fact, it felt quite a bit like God was calling me, telling me it was my time to move on.

Honestly, I don't remember much about that time but I do remember how strong the pull was just to 'walk through that kitchen door' and bask in the gloriousness of warm cookies...

What has stayed with me from that experience is no fear of death.  I do have fear of pain... just not death.

Perhaps, it created even a morbid curiosity about it.  This curiosity has been such an integral part of me since then that, even though I don't speak about it much (quite frankly it freaks a lot of people out) my husband buys me books about it for Christmas, knowing I will immerse myself and enjoy them thoroughly from beginning to end.  I find them THAT interesting, along with what we do in different cultures around the world with dead people.  (Mary Roach's, "The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" was one such book that explores Swedish experiments regarding composting the dead.  It makes sense to me.  The planet feeds us for so long, our bodies should feed the planet when we're done.)

But I digress, the reason I come to this topic today is George.  If you haven't read the notes before, George is a dog who appears to be a rottweiler/doberman cross (a very tall rottie with long, long legs).

He came to us after living for his first three years in a garage.  The people who owned him were not unkind and I don't believe they mistreated him.  But I do believe he was tremendously lonely and though they thought he could live in our yard (they were moving to the city and couldn't take him with them because fenced yards were not allowed) he has absolutely basked in the experience for the last eight (nine) years of being a house dog.

Of course, if you do the math, that means George is eleven or twelve years old.  Quite a decent age for a dog who, in his prime was just over a hundred pounds of pure muscle.  And actually, if it weren't for the cancer in his face, I think he'd be just fine for another few years.  (For those who don't know, life expectancy for a 70lb dog ie. Husky, is about 10 years.  This bigger the dog, the less years they are expected to live.)

However, he does have cancer in his face.  It grows daily.

At first, I thought he had and eye infection because his one eye was a little red.  So I picked up some Polysporin.  About a week later, he started sneezing.  These were some of the most violent sneezing fits I've ever witnessed.  It got so that if he was near a wall or piece of furniture, one of us would run over and move him away so that he didn't hit his head on anything whilst the sneeze blew its way out of his face.  After a few more days, a lump appeared to be forming on the top of his muzzle.  This brought forth my second thought was that he had sniffed a seed up his nose and got it lodged in there.

My third thought was that it was cancer.

One of the stories his previous owners told me when they dropped him off, was that to keep the flies from bothering his eyes, "just wipe some axle grease under there and he'll be just fine".  Ugh.  I say this without judgment because I know that they were doing something in the spirit of sparing him the discomfort of flies around his eyes and the threat of infection.  But Ugh.

So yeah, since it started with his eye, I couldn't but help to think of three summers of axle grease and what that might mean for the possibility of cancer to exist for him now.

So I took him to the vet.  The vet took one look at him and declared that he had a tooth abscess and this would be no big deal at all.  Relief.

It didn't feel too good to feel like I was being accused of negligence where his teeth were concerned.  Nevertheless, the alternative idea of cancer being so quickly eviscerated was quite a relief.

Since he has lived here, I have been the love of his life and he has been mine.  My husband and children may get tired of me at times, and I of them, and we may need breaks from eachother.  But not George and I.  Of all the animals I've ever had, and we've had many as country life lends itself to the ability of keeping many animals, though I have loved them all to varying degrees, George is my one true love.

When George arrived I was scared to death of him.  He was huge.  He was all muscle.  I had birds and small children about.  But if they didn't find a home for him, they were considering Euthanasia.  So, I  tethered him to me with a fairly long leash every morning for the first two weeks he was here so that he HAD to follow me around while I did my daily chores and would get to see what was considered 'normal' (like chickens that wander around the yard freely during the nicer months of the year).

After the two weeks were over, I took off the leash but he has remained at my side ever since.  He follows me from room to room.  I can't even have a shower or go to the bathroom without the company of George.  Even when I have left the house, my husband would always tell me how George would just sit by the door, or the gate (if everybody was outside) while I was gone, watching and waiting for my return.

It is the same for me.  My husband has been on a special project for work for the last six months, far away from home.  My daughter went with him because we thought it would be a cool experience for her (and it has been).  The boys and I were supposed to go visit them in February but we got to talking and I said,

"Honey, I just can't leave him.  If I'm gone for days and he dies, I will never be able to live with myself."

Thankfully my husband is a kind and understanding man.  Perhaps he is hopeful that should he be near death, I will be as vigilant.  It could happen.

Nevertheless, I'm sure you've guessed the end of the tale by now.  Indeed, it was not a tooth abscess but the tumour, taking the easiest route available I suppose, began invading his gumline.  His surgery was cancelled and the vet recommended Euthanasia.

All I could think was, "But he's loving life.  He's not anywhere near wanting to die.  And I know what wanting to die looks and feels like.  He is just nowhere near that.  Before we consider Euthanasia, he should WANT to go there."

I couldn't bring myself to do it.  And here's why.  Essentially, aside from some pain (not a lot but enough that I looked for ways to cope with it - definitely not more pain than a migraine sufferer and we don't practise euthanasia with them), his life was the same. 

He enjoyed visiting Granny's house, he enjoyed visiting with Dakota (the dog from two doors over) when he wandered by, he enjoyed his food, he ran out the door, ecstatic, whenever I arrived home from an outing.

His spirit and his love of life was not yet over.  Clearly.

And this is the dog who, at the expense of his own personal safety, saved my first born son from a severe wasp attack.  I owe him more than I can say.

So I brought him home.

That was back in October/November I think.

Two weeks later, the tumour that could be seen when I lifted his lip was about the size of a field mouse.  In four weeks, the size of two field mice, half of which he managed to chew off.  Ew.  But cool in a wierd way too.

As happens with cancer, his body has become quite emaciated while all energy seems to be pouring into this ever-growing tumour which has now almost doubled the size of his muzzle.  He's actually quite frightening to see but the love is still all there if you can look past the tumour and his ever deepening eye pockets.

About a month ago, I said to one of my co-workers, "When his legs stop working, I'll know it's time."

I said this because I've seen so many of my old animals go and the pattern seems to stay the same.  Their legs stop working, they stop eating, sleep almost all the time and pass away within 12-48 hours... Sometimes even less than that, as with our 18-year-old miniature wiener dog, Gershwin who only lived, perhaps, six hours after his legs stopped working. 

So, you guessed it,  George's legs gradually stopped working on Sunday.

He went out Sunday morning and then some time after that "had a mistake" in the sunroom, where he was lying beside my computer.  But then he got up and moved from his cushion in the sun room to his cushion in the kitchen on his own while we had company.  So I thought, "Okay, an anomally, perhaps he's fine and it was just a freak accident type of thing."

I was was going to go to my friend's house that day but asked her to come here as the few days previous to this, George was clearly becoming more and more challenged by the four steps down from the front door of the house.  So I had an idea that, at some point during the next week, his legs would stop working completely.  So I asked my girlfriend if they (she and her children) could come here instead.

This is a pretty big deal considering our house, no matter how much bleach or orange cleaner I use, since about Christmas, has smelled like death.  This is another thing that is interesting to me about death.  It has a very specific smell.  Aside from infection and feces that may accompany it, it is a completely different odour unto itself.

I remember visiting my Dad, years ago, and though his one dog had some medical challenges, they weren't expecting her to die.  However, after we left his house, I said to my husband, "That dog smells like death."   Two weeks later, the dog passed away, taking my father completely by surprise.  He was understandably devastated.

Perhaps when this smell pervades your living space slowly, you can't smell it so well.  Or perhaps love overrides a bit of the stench.  And it IS a 'stench'.  And so I know what a true test of friendship it was that my friend came to our house.  Either she is truly a fast friend, or she really wanted our sons to have a play date or she really wanted to have her nails done since I do gel nails and that was our grown up plan for our get-together that day.

From my years volunteering for hospice with aged cancer patients, I always knew when they were close to death because the smell of their room would change. It is not a pleasant smell to walk into.  Do-able, in my view but not entirely pleasant.  The only person I didn't sense that smell with was a man whose leg had been amputated but was so profoundly and chronically infected (this seems to be part of the cancer scenario - when it's external, anyway) that the hospital kept it packed with fresh coffee grounds.  So all I could smell in his room were coffee grounds.

I do choose to believe in the fast-friendship idea though because we cannot pack George's mouth tumour with fresh coffee grounds.  And therefore, the odour of infection (though I do rinse it with salt water), along with death is truly overwhelming enough that one would be quite inclined to making alternate plans elsewhere until the source of the odour exited the building previous to one's arrival. ;)

For this I will always be grateful as she is one of the few people who dares to listen to my pontifications about life and choices and philosophies that make other people's eyes roll into the backs of their heads.  On top of that, I know she actually is listening because she gives me some pretty profound feedback.  And at this time, I really needed to talk a bunch of stuff through with someone, including solidifying in my own mind, what the heck I was going to do with George.

George stayed awake the whole time and watched everyone coming and going through the kitchen and had another mistake I had to stop and clean up.  Yet another stench for my friend to endure. Nevermind putting up with me do a complete-with-visuals-show-and-tell regarding the latest development of George's tumour. :D

But he did move from one spot to another in the kitchen again while we were visiting.  Not much for the hours that we socializing but still some independent movement.  When our company left, I thanked them for coming and  waved their car off sans George.  He made no effort to follow me outside, for the first time in eight/nine years.

Later that Sunday evening, I said to the boys, "George's body is emptying itself and his legs are not working well.  By the end of the week they may have stopped working altogether.  So take time to say goodbye and some prayers for his spirit's journey to be quick and kind."

Monday, he did not move from his spot.  What puzzled me though, was that he stayed awake for most of the day and relished his meals and slurped his water throughout the day.  And when I came in from feeding and watering the birds, his ears perked and his tail wagged violently as he seemed tremendously excited that I was "Home again, hooray!".


Before leaving for work the next day, I set him up with a water dish within reach and his bum in a corner, as he seems to shuffle himself backwards and ends up too far from his water dish.

This is another thing puzzling me.  He is drinking quite normal quantities of water and busies himself often with cleaning his front legs.  The entire drive to work (30 minutes) I puzzled over what was different with him that his legs would not be working but that he was still finding purpose, enjoyment and desire in life.

At work, one of my co-workers said, "Maybe he's waiting to be alone to die."  I thought she might be right because he had started moving out of my room at night and sleeping in the kitchen a couple of weeks ago, even though his cushion in the bedroom is four times bigger than the one in the kitchen.  And he has NEVER chosen to sleep away from me in all the years we've been together.

I came home from work to that ever wagging tail and ears perking up, down and all around.  He was as excited as ever to see me and not looking anywhere near death or wishing for it.  So, I cleaned him up, shifted him away from the corner and proceeded to make dinner wondering, "Does God send everyone these philosophical challenges or is it just me?"

After all, I had drawn my line in the sand.  When his legs stopped working, I was going to give him 48 hours and then bring him in since I figured he would be ready for Euthanasia at that point.

As often happens, God has rained on my line in the sand and wreaked havoc with its definition.  So now I'm back in the Gray Zone again.

Are his legs not working due to a nutritional deficiency?  What with the cancer taking everything and his body becoming so emaciated, his muscle mass is almost completely gone.  So I have bumped up his vitamin regimen to therapeutic levels for a 100 lb dog, even though he is no longer anywhere near that weight. (100mg B complex, 25 mg zinc, 3000 mcg methylcobalamin - Do dogs have conversion issues the same as humans?- higher magnesium, C, etc.)

If this vitamin therapy should get him up and ambulatory again, I will be extremely relieved that I did not consider Euthanasia too soon!

Another question that crossed my mind:  Are his legs not working due to pressure on a message centre in his brain?  When I lift him, his toes point.  And when I put him in a standing position, as when I drape him over the side of the tub to wash him off, I have to actually reach down and put the pads of his paws in the proper position, as though he has no sense of where his pads are located or what they are touching.  I have seen this in one of my antique dogs whose breed is prone to myelin issues that stop the message centre in the brain from working effectively, thereby resulting in a loss of control of the legs, specifically leading to this 'pointed' or 'curled' toe position.

This could also explain why he is still enjoying life, though his legs are no longer cooperating.  So do I wait until he seems to not have enjoyment in his life any longer?  Is it misery to just lie there?  Honestly, it really doesn't seem to be a misery for him.  He seems to enjoy watching the day go by.

I remember, working for the Provincial Government (Property Management Division), doing rounds and coming across old men sitting on our benches.  They had been dropped off by their families as this was where they chose to socialize.  They would sit there, all day long, just watching people and the day go by.  I would talk to them sometimes.  They truly seemed to enjoy this lifestyle day after day.

I miss my Grandmother.  She passed away last fall and because she was quite old (in my view), I used to always ask her perspective was on what I should do with my old animals.  I think her advice was always well thought out and almost always followed it.  Actually, I can't think of when I didn't follow it, since I figured she'd know better than I what it felt like to be old and exactly how much meds/surgery/illness was tolerable for old 'folks'.

And so this morning, here I sit, with a quadriplegic dog, who I draped over the side of the tub this morning to give his back end a good washing, who is now all clean and blow dried and smelling better than he has in months, who is not sleeping much, who is revelling in his breakfast, enjoying his water, washing his front legs and warning away any other animals who come near his food... Essentially, doing all the things that an animal waiting for death does not do.

You might remember that my philosophy about the pain was that for migraine sufferers and cancer sufferers, we don't euthanize them.  We find pain therapies for them.  And so at first, we decided we wouldn't euthanize George, we would look for pain therapies.

And so by extension, we don't euthanize quadriplegics, we take care of their physical needs for them and they continue on, finding enjoyment and a sense of purpose within their lives, sometimes, as with all humans, even achieving great things.

Of course this brings to issue the whole idea of human Euthanasia.  I know there will be people out there who think... but it's a DOG.  I quite realize this.  However, I've always believed in the right of my family members to have a certain influence in the household decisions that are made that will affect their lives.  He is a member of our family and his life choice does not appear to be that of one who is preparing to die.

And if you follow the Desmond Morris theory in "The Naked Ape", an animal's primary desire is to survive.  This is what kept me alive in my late twenties.  I knew there was something innately wrong with wanting to die.  It had to be an anomally.  And also, I couldn't leave my dog (my big bouvier-cross, Sonja, back then) and cat unprotected in what I viewed to be a big, bad, horrible, not-worth-being-in-world.  I had to stay and suffer, even if only to protect them as best I could.

Also, I couldn't kill them first to put them out of their misery because I didn't want to take that choice away from them (life or death) and it was clear to me while I was not wanting to be alive at all, they seemed to be doing quite fine with it.

In fact, it was the dog who finally bugged me enough to get me up off the couch and running again (endorphins and transcendental meditation are powerful healing tools when combined with some pretty strong anti-depressants) albeit in the rain, at 3:30 in the morning to begin with, thereby reducing any chance meetings with other humans, who were clearly the scourge of all evil on this planet.

And so, since George is still seeming to enjoy watching the world go by and finding a sense of purpose for himself, how can I bring myself to think about Euthanasia?  How can I bring myself to take that choice away from him?

This is why we don't have human Euthanasia and why the argument about it is so profound.

Who gets to decide if a person gets euthanized?

Doctors?  If that were so, George would have missed out on some wonderful days that he has had since last fall. Though highly trained, they are, in the end, both human and fallible.

Relatives?  Who may just want the life insurance policy to kick in?  Or who are just sick of having you around because you're too much trouble?

Patients?  How can we be sure that they are not just suffering from clinical depression that can be overcome?

Honestly, I'm not against Euthanasia altogether.  In face, I'm all for it.  I'm just puzzled about who gets to decide and when the time is right.

At 5:30 this morning when I heard George huffing and yuffing and wuffing (if you've ever heard Bill Cosby's imitation of a woman in labour, you'll know the sound of which I speak) I ran to the sunroom as these are the sounds he makes when he is in pain or uncomfortable.  I thought perhaps he was calling me to be with him while he passed.  In all honesty, I was hoping it was for that reason he was making those sounds.  Then I would not have to do all these mental gymnastics anymore.  The choice would have been made and the end result would not be any responsibility of mine.

Indeed, this was not the case.  He had shuffled his way off his pillow and away from his water and he had gone to the bathroom.  (Thank you Pergo for being so easily cleanable!)  I shifted his front end onto his cushion and got him some fresh water.  He had a big drink and then proceeded to clean his front paws, all sounds of discomfort ceasing to exist.

I proceeded to fold a large towel that could be bleached into eight layers, draped it over the edge of the tub and picked up George to drape him over the side of the tub to get him lovely and clean again.  Once I finished, I turned him around and did his front legs, thinking perhaps he would enjoy having them well and truly clean (in my view).

I put him back in his spot in the kitchen, cleaned up the bathroom, the sunroom, put the towels in a bleach wash, blow dried his back legs while he was busy grooming/drying his front legs and proceeded to wash his face.

Oh!  I forgot about washing his face.  As the tumour pulls his eye sockets out of shape and since the infection in his sinuses has to go somewhere, it generally gunks up his eyes.  So, I clean all that up.  And he clearly looks forward to it.  Not the cleaning itself, I think, so much as the rubbing.  I'm not sure if it's itchy or what, since he doesn't appear to be in any pain at all anymore.  But when I clean his face, he closes his eyes, makes mph-ing sounds and pushes into my hand when I clean his eyes and face.  It appears to be quite heavenly for him.

It's kind of the same as it used to be, scratching his bum above his tail, as it is for many dogs.  He would do his rottie-rumble and do a dance with his back legs that shifted his rear end back and forth while you gave him a vigorous scratching.  Essentially, he is doing the same with his face now.

From start to finish cleaning up him and the rooms, took about an hour.  Honestly, it was a lot of trouble.  And one more hour-long chore is just not what I need as any full time/part time [remember I've got two at home and one living in another city who I track with her cell phone and Skype :)] Mom who also works inside and outside the home can tell you.

And all that bleach and hot water is going to ruin-my-nails-before-their-time that I just finished doing yesterday.  Although again, gel nails are awesome so they're still fairly passable.  But the skin on my hands is chapping from all the cleaners and though I wouldn't call it painful, I'm quite aware of some not-positive-sensation emanating around them.  And even way back in grade one, my best friend Cathy told me my hands looked like old lady hands.  This is really helping.

A bit fickle sounding, isn't it?

Which brings me back to the last part of my developing theory around death and Euthanasia.  (I know, finally, is it really all coming to an end???)

What if part of the process of saying goodbye for both parties is the gradually increasing test of endurance that just becomes too overwhelming. So that at the very end, emotionally and perhaps chemically, something in the brain occurs that says, "Okay.  We're just done.  You're ready to go and I'm ready for you to go."  Kind of like a team decides together whether they should forfeit the game.

Perhaps it's even a chemical synchronization, so-to-speak.  Like how women in the same household will eventually have synchronized periods and how you can sub-consciously smell the difference between someone who is a compatible mate and someone who is not.  What if part of the process is the synchronization of brain chemstry between the dying and those-who-are-caring-for-the-dying?

With my other old animals, this was the case.  They were ready to go and honestly, it was more with relief than regret that I met with their end.  It seemed the same for them too.  It was not that they were in any kind of pain.  It was just as though they were too tremendously tired to put up with any of this anymore.

And I don't have the same level of profound regret and sadness that I experience if an animal dies as a result of an accident.  As an example, I can think of one animal in particular, a dog, almost ten years ago, who died too young.  And though the feeling is fading, it is still, over ten years later, still quite profound.

So I worry about my decision-making abilities with regard to our 'team forfeiture'.  I began to think.  If I decide upon Euthanasia now, will it be for his sake?  Or for mine?

Continuing with the greyness... in the Gray Zone.


Links for further reading about composting, for those so inclined. ;)
Bring Out Your Dead and Compost Them
The Humanure Handbook  (There are some very funny bits in this one.)
Overview of Mary Roach's book about human cadavers and what we do with them.
Composting:  A Unique Solution to Animal Waste Management  A rather nuts and bolts article about 'how to' with safety mechanisms and their reasoning.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Beginning of a School Boy's Adventures

This morning I'm sitting at my sunroom window at the computer watching my second child wait for the bus at the end of our long driveway.

After homeschooling him until the age of ten years, we've come to the conclusion that this year school might be a better option for us.

Last week, his first week, I asked him if he wanted me to wait at the end of the driveway with him.  He did.

Today, the first day of his second week, he said, "No thanks, Mom."


I watch him wait as I click around my keyboard.  On the odd occasion he looks back at the house.  Mostly he doesn't though.  Sometimes he hides behind a tree.  I wonder what he's thinking or pretending.

Nevertheless, he's clearly busy thinking his own thoughts and anticipating his own day.  When the bus arrives he gets on and goes quickly to his seat with no thought to look back at his home.  I know that he is more concerned about whether his friend Mitchel will be on the bus this morning and what they will do at school today.

I could not have wished for a better First Teacher for him.  She's not only the 5/6 teacher, she's also the theatre arts specialist in the school.  My one kid who is tremendously shy one-on-one but loves stage performance landed the teacher of a lifetime.  It carries the same feeling that I had when I was a little girl, reading Cinderella, finding out that the Fairy Godmother shows up to make sure all is well.  Pure relief.  As a matter fact when she was first talking to him about the class, I stood out in the hallway and almost wept with tears of relief and joy.

School has so much potential for him and so many opportunities.  I really want it to be great and I really want him to love and revel in each and every experience. I know if anyone can help it be great, Mrs. Dumais can.

So, it's all as it should be.  I feel like I've done what I've supposed to do.  The time is right for him to go. He's secure enough not to worry about home anymore.

For a long time it wasn't that way.  Sick kids like to be at home. It's their safe place. It was the place he wanted to be most of all.

It's been a long time since he's been 'a sick kid' though. (Knock on wood.)

As a result, his focus is going outward now.  I am scared he will get sick out there again but I don't tell him that.  I remind him to wash his hands lots and have fun.  I'm guessing he doesn't need me to remind him to do the latter.  Really, I keep telling myself, he'll be fine.  If he was going to get sick, I think I would have seen whispers of it in his first week.  But I didn't see anything.  Really.

It all began this year because, at the age of ten, he's finally sleeping in his own bed.  Honestly, I think it only happened because his five year old brother decided to sleep in the new bunkbed set I put together upstairs for them, and he didn't want to be overshot by a little kid.  He's always had his own bed.  He's just never wanted to sleep in it.  It's the 'safe' thing again, I think.  And it was for me too.

When he was sick, if his temperature suddenly skyrocketed in the middle of the night, the heat coming off him would wake me and I could make sure to wipe him down with a damp cloth, at least keeping him in the 'safe' range.  If he was in another room, I was always afraid I wouldn't know, he would skyrocket, begin seizing and die alone.  These are the thoughts that go through the head of a mother with a 'sick kid'.

For the last eight years on his special diet he hasn't had a fever.  But his first three years of life, it was a case of being constantly vigilant, and performing our 'wiping ceremony', sometimes several nights a week.  It makes fear sit in a mother's gut like slab of concrete with spikes sticking out of it.  It does erode with time... but it takes a while.  Apparently it's the same for 'sick kids' so I didn't want to force him to be alone at night if he wasn't emotionally 'ready'.

So all of a sudden he's ready, to conquer the whole world, it seems to me.  I know I have to let him go.

He's bright, clever, witty, good at school and the kind of kid who, despite a couple of minor ticks, other kids think is really cool and want to be around.

My final, almost overwhelming feeling as I watch the bus disappear beyond the treeline is that my chest will explode with pride and excitement.  He is on his way toward a new adventure and loving every minute of it.  After years of feeling like I didn't have a clue, it brings tears to my eyes to see I've done right by him.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Idi-Odyssey: Stage Left!

One of the parents in our homeschool group decided to get an acting class/troupe together for our kids.  It was a lot of work for her and my hat's off.  I don't think I could've done it.  I'm sure I'd have been spitting nails half way through.  It's not easy to co-ordinate classes, a show, multiple families and more PLUS she works full time.  So yup, I've got a new source of inspiration. ;)

It was a great experience for us but as with all experiences, not without its rough spots.  As usual, I'm glad we did it.  After all, nothing prepares us for life, like life experience. :)

My son can tend to stutter a bit and my daughter was hating the experience.

The instructor, who is a professional director, gave us some good information/advice and we put it to use when we were practising at home and helped to psychologically prepare the kids.

And what an invaluable experience it has been!

Here's the overview of the play:

Homers epic poem, The Odyssey, is the basis for this fun, yet educational play packed with nothing but silliness!  Set off on an entirely new journey with four students of assorted personalities — jock, nerd, cheerleader and Goth — as they experience the strangest review session led by a mysterious and strict tutor, Dr. Hamilton.  Odyssey characters come alive onstage in the wackiest of ways — the poet Homer is compared to Homer Simpson, Hermes is an air-head UPS delivery person and the Lotus Eaters are now the Lettuce Eaters!  The God of the Sea blows a fierce wind that wreaks havoc on Odysseuss ship...  and also just plain reeks (his niece Athena gives him a few Tic Tacs for the fish breath).  This romp still stays true to the original journeys but in a comedic, contemporary way, with the students even becoming intertwined in some of the episodes.  After Odysseuss return home, Dr. Hamilton retires for the day, leaving the students engrossed in their reading.  One things for sure, this unforgettable retelling will help your students forever remember elements of this timeless classic while also evoking epic laughter! 

I must say, it really is quite a good play.  I enjoyed it enormously and of course, saw it several times.  I think I blew over $100 on tickets.  No, parents don't get in free. It just wouldn't be professional. :D

The children began building their team and skills in September.  They began practising the play itself around January.  In the last two weeks, they put on six performances during the London, Ontario Fringe Festival.  No, this was no one show deal.  It was like being a real actor on a real stage performing multiple times for multiple audiences.  Cool.

My 12 year old daughter played one of the main roles, the cheerleader... and hated almost every minute of it.  There was nothing she liked about it.  The process, the social activity, the fun... None of it created the least spark of interest for her.

Still, she sucked it up and did a good-job-no-matter-what.

I'm always preaching to the kids, "No matter what you do, even if you hate it, make it the best experience for yourself that you can.  Learn EVERYTHING you can from it.  Keep in mind, once it's over, it over. 

I never think they're listening when I say that.  It must have sunk in though because she did a FABULOUS job and I'm tremendously proud of her.

The compliments were still coming in an hour after the last show. People could not believe that she hated it.   And with a main role that was on stage for the whole play, it was no mean feat to expect of a 12 year old.

"But you were so GOOD??!! How could you have hated it and still been so good?!!  How old are you? etc." is how they would respond.

So kudos to her. The confidence and skill she has built is amazing. Let's face it, it's easy to do a good job if you like something. It's really tough to do a good job... over and over... when you hate it. We're really, really proud of her!

My ten year old son loved every minute of it and is feeling very mixed now that it's over.  He loved his role, loved the process, loved everything.  He doesn't care to talk to people one-on-one but we've known he likes stage performing since he was four when he had to do a couple of solo dance performances.  He doesn't care a whit about the compliments afterward.  He generally puts up with the compliments them BUT really for him it's all about the process and the show.  Being on stage seems to feed something in him.  He, of course, can hardly wait to get back up there again.

Usually, as I said, he doesn't like talking to people after the show.  He gets very self-conscious and appears somewhat embarrassed.  However, after these shows were over, one of his favourite things was talking to strangers and telling them that he was "The Nanny". He absolutely *adored* the astonished looks on
their faces... since he's normally in army fatigues after the show.

"I'd never have known she was a BOY!" is what they would usually shriek... and then laugh madly and say, "You were AWESOME! You were one of my favourites! You were SO FUNNY!"

There was a little bit of luck involved there, as he was privileged enough to land a bit of a cameo role.

One of my favourite parts was near the end, sitting at the kitchen table rehearsing, when he said, "Mom! It's like I'm really turning into Eurycleia when we do this!"  See what I mean?  He internalized this stuff on some level... and enjoys going through the process to get there.

A couple of times, people said to me, "So this is a homeschool group, eh?" And would nod in a way that made me think... Aha... they're processing good things about homeschoolers/ing. So that was pretty cool too.

As always, there were some rough spots.  You can't put a group of humans together every week for months and not have someone's feelings get hurt.  They managed to get through it, which may have been one of the more important lessons for some of them.

Our big lesson was not to attend any social events for at least two weeks or maybe the month before a show.  We almost got glutened twice.  Both times were completely unforeseen.

First, we went to a party and I thought bringing cake would be enough.  But there was candy at the party too.  So my 12-year-old, as anyone with a pubescent-food-sensitive-kid knows, has hit that stage where she almost HATES being different.  And will punish her body for it when she hits those irrational moments.  Usually, those moments occur when she's psychologically unprepared to be strong about her food choices.

So as she stood with the other kids around the table watching them shovel this stuff into their mouths, she suddenly grabbed one, unwrapped it and shoved it into her mouth.

Of course I ran over and told her to take it out of her mouth and about how she has responsibilities to meet with an upcoming set of performances, nevermind the upcoming trip to Canada's Wonderland for our family and our visiting guest from France.  We sweated it out for the next 48 hours waiting for gut pain or something to set in.  We got lucky.  She was fine.

Then, just before the third of the six shows began, one of the cast member's Mom's decided to bring a 'nice surprise' for the kids.



First of all.  Gluten.  The potential hospitalizer.

Second of all. Sugar. The sleep disturber cum brain fart contributor.

And we *really* don't want those happening when there are no back up actors.

Let me add that there was an after-party scheduled after the last show.  One of the parents was kind enough to invite everyone to her house after the last show.  The kids knew that the treats would eventually come.  So I really hadn't expected any junk food to show up before the end of the last show.

I was completely unprepared.  And of course, so were the kids.

Back when I was competing in sports. For at least a week before the event, I made sure to eat clean.  No junk.  No nothing that wasn't absolutely healthy.  DEFINITELY not during competition.  When you've been training all year for a three day event, you just didn't screw it up by eating wrong.  So now, in adulthood, this way of thinking about 'performance periods' is second nature.  Sometimes I forget that other people don't really know how much the chemistry of this stuff can bring a body/brain down.  What can I say?  I'm an idiot.

Worse, the kids were completely unprepared psychologically.  All I could think of was the candy incident that occured recently.  A cupcake mistake, even if only one bite that was immediately spit out, would end up with a missed performance for sure due to pain.  We'd be lucky to avoid the hospital.  So of course, I was in an absolute tizzy!

I was tempted to run out and buy them some kind of equivalent junk but then thought, "What?  And possibly ruin their chance of the best performance ever because their sleep has been messed up with sugar... knowing they have three more performances to get through?

No, I thought, I want my kids to learn that when they have to be in top form, they don't fill their bodies with junk half way through.  No matter what anyone else does.

You know... that whole 'If somebody else jumps off a bridge...' scenario that all of our mothers taught us. ;D   That day I relayed the message down through the ranks to the next generation.

Luckily, one of the kids in the cast walked by.  I grabbed him and asked him to send my two out so I could talk to them.  They came.  We talked.  I gave the the bridge message. They were prepared to have to watch the other kids eat cake while they had none. Phew.

By the skin of our teeth, the fourth show was not placed at risk.

One of the saving graces for us was that there were possibly three other kids in the cast who couldn't eat them either.  And my kids, if nothing else, will not leave anyone out to founder.  They'll stand beside them and go without, even if it's something they can have, so the other child won't have to suffer alone.  They do it quite bravely and willingly actually.  I think maybe it's because they've been left out so often that they know how crummy it feels.  And how much worse it is when you're suffering alone.

So after that, we had an extra long talk about how, whenever people gather, there's probably someone who's going to want to bring junk food into the picture, and how they're getting old enough now that they're going to have to just remember to be psychologically prepared for it to happen at any moment.

As usual, we talked about how people just don't get it.  None of the other parents, I'm sure, realized that those cupcakes might have meant the loss of one, for sure, and possibly two of their cast members for at least one of the performances.

Shrug.  What can I do?  I talk about healthy diet until I'm blue in the face.  Some people love me for it, some people hate me for it.  No cupcakes for kids is not exactly going to win me any popularity votes with most people, I know.  But then I'm not in this parenting or the health game to be popular.  I'm just there to do the job and do it right.  Anyone can tell you, I can unsell something as fast as I can sell it if someone gives me the least bit of an idea that they shouldn't be consuming it.

So lots of great skills and lessons learned.  I'd do it all again if I could.  My son would too, of course.  My daughter...  well...

She said, "The show's over." And proceeded to take a bite out of her long-awaited gluten free cupcake. ;)

Photographic credits:  Robin Saylor (Homeschooling Mom and Photographer Extraordinaire)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Try Again

Try Again Video

Please do click on the link above and watch this video on YouTube BEFORE reading this entry. It is well worth it and what I write after this won't be anything at all without first witnessing the 3 minute video.

This video was going around Facebook today. I was touched to the point of tears and inspired to the point of wanting to share this man's message with everyone I care about.

Of course, the two people who I wanted to show it to the most were my, largely unschooled, (almost) 10 and (almost) 12 year olds.

Since I'm always harping on the value of EFFORT as being of far greater consequence than SUCCESS, I thought this the perfect opportunity to show how one begets the other, eventually, in real life... from a real life inspiration.

Expecting something to the effect of:

"Yeah.... that's what you're always telling us Mom!"

"Wow... I know you're always talking to us about effort... but after listening to him, I really get it now!"

Instead, what I got was:

"I wonder what the toilet looks like at his house?"...

Then began all the pontifications on accessible toilets for a person without legs:

"No, I think it's probably just a hole in the floor like Asian toilets..."

"Yeah or toilets from the 1700s."

"Yeah, why should he have to work so hard just to get onto the toilet? Nobody else has to work that hard to go to the bathroom..."

After they had come to the end of this particular discussion journey, I asked them,

"So, do you know what his message was?"

"Uh... yeah...(like, didn't you get it Mom? It was pretty simple)... It was try again."

As they left my office, they once again picked up on their conversation about different toilet design possibilities for people with physical challenges.

I must admit to being torn... Sigh... I should be happy about this...

After working in the Human Rights field before being a SAHM, I should be proud that they think along these lines at such an early age without my guidance. But somehow, it just feels like the power of his message was lost in the midst of all the toilet ethics.

I have to wonder, have I wronged my children somewhere in my teachings and guidance?!

"The world may never know..." 

(Tootsie Pop Owl)

That's unschooling at work for you.


You never really know what they're learning... here in the Gray Zone... or anywhere else, for that matter. ;)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quitting Smoking

I quit smoking 13 years ago. I was at a pack a day and was 30 years old, so I had been in-that-place for a long time.

I remember starting in December because my goal was to be 'clean' by January 2.

I moved to a lighter cigarette and started decreasing until I was down to my one in the morning and one in the night. January 1, just after midnight was my last one. I truly turned it into a good-bye-forever-my-love kind of thing. :D

It had to be that way though because I did really like it... but like a bad relationship, it was very one-sided and so Cig(arette) had to go.

That was the year we decided to start a family too and I couldn't expose a baby to that kind of bad relationship.

I missed Cig quite a bit for a while (a couple of weeks) but then I got pregnant and focused on that. There certainly were times that I was lonely for Cig. Every time I would start to think about how nice I felt when Cig was around I would have to remind myself that when he wasn't around, and I was desperately needing to be with him, that he couldn't really care less. He would only come around in exchange for money.

I had to stop my relationship with anyone who still had a relationship with Cig. Why? Because he has a way of really making you want him when he's around. He can be very sexy to some people, as I'm sure you are well aware. ;)

So, even my relationship with Coffee ended for while too, though now we have a nice casual relationship on the weekends and I look forward to long weekends when I get an extra day to spend with Coffee.

And now, at 43, I'm relieved that I did end my relationship with Cig. He really was everything to me at one time and now looking back, I realize that there were some great things that I missed out on because of his 'draw'.

Heck, I remember at the very beginning, sometimes all I could focus on was making it to the next minute without breaking down and going to Cig. Then I focused on the next minute... and the next minute... and the next. Then I focused on days, then weeks, then months.

Sometimes, I would go to a restaurant or party and Cig would be there. I would say to my partner, "We can't stay here. Cig. is here and I can't deal with that right now." It was worth it though because I stayed strong that way. Eventually, the 'draw' of Cig went away and now I don't like him at all, even though I still remember how much I used to like him...

In the end though, like with any past relationship gone bad, I learned a lot about myself through the process. Most importantly, I learned that I am strong and do not have to put up with one-sided relationships in my life. I can move on and though I will experience loss for a little while, I know that eventually those feelings will pass and my life will be better than it ever was before.

So keep it up. I know it can be a minute-by-minute struggle. When you finally decide to end your relationship for-once-and-for-all, you only have to make it to the next minute... and then the next... and then the next.

It will get easier as time passes.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Gentleman's Passing

Czar has finally passed on.

We got Czar, a beautiful GSD (German Shepherd Dog) from the Sarnia Humane Society in October 2001. He was to be a partner for our big old Bouvier, who had lost her partner the week before.

He was 66 lbs, about 20 lbs too light for a Shepherd of his height and mostly blind due to the brown clouds floating over his pupils. He didn't really seem that interested in people... or me.

Anyway, a big German Shepherd was not my first choice. But one of the techs at the Humane Society urged me to have another look at him and give him a chance. Then he met my daughter and bent his head down to brush it on her 4 year old chest. We knew we couldn't leave without him. He was claimed to be 6-7 years old, already grey around his muzzle and had heartworm. Being the deal-maker I am, we got him for half price.

His first night home, he was outside while I was making dinner, when my husband came home from work. The car headlights spooked him. Not yet knowing this was his home, he jumped the four foot high fence and was gone. We called all the area Humane Societies and Dog Pounds, we searched and searched, and we took notices around to the neighbours letting them know that we had a GSD, still wearing a seatbelt harness, wandering around. What a mess!

We would put a dish of food out each night. Each morning it would be gone but we never knew if it was Czar eating it, or some other animal. Then the farmers around us began taking down the corn. We were in a panic but still could not find him anywhere and no one had seen him.

One day, I was holding my one year old son, looking out the front window and saw Czar crossing the neighbours driveway. I threw my son on my back, grabbed my daughter, grabbed a piece of leftover steak out of the fridge and ran out to get him.

As I approached him quickly, he began to hurry in the other direction. I panicked, knowing that if he disappeared into the corn field, I wouldn't be able to find him or track him, having the two children with me.

I quickly realized the problem was that he still didn't know me, didn't know his new name, didn't trust strange people and had no idea where he was. Top all of that with the heartworm infection that made it hard for him to breathe properly and of course he was afraid.

So I sat on my haunches, holding the steak out toward him, coaxing him gently to come get the steak, praying that he would get close enough for me to grab his sea
t belt harness. Well, it took a while but eventually he did. Then I was praying that he wouldn't bite me when I grabbed the harness. He didn't... thankfully.

And so this was where life really began with Czar.

Because of the heartworm infection, he did not run, he did not play. After about a week at our house, he realized this was home and no longer had any desire to wander off. So, we began the heartworm treatment which he just barely survived. Then his recovery really began... and boy did he recover.

After the heartworm was gone, if he knew he was in an open space, he would run like the wind. Over time, we managed to pack about another 20 lbs onto his lithe frame, bringing him to around the 85lb range, which was book-weight for his height. He still ran like the wind and with his back floating above the ground, you could barely see his feet touch the earth.

Finally, when our house went gluten free, the brown clouds in his eyes (pannus) receded to the outer rims, leaving his pupils clear for him to run anywhere, as he wished... And run he did.


Most documentation of pannus notes that it is common in GSDs and no known cure exists. A lot of documents claim some relation to the sun. When his pannus cleared via diet, I posted his/our story on the internet at a place called "BrainTalk" where both medical and lay people talked science stuff about the brain, challenges and how it all related to every day living. Sad to say, this site is no longer in existence.

Eventually, a vet from the U.S. saw one of my postings about Czar and contacted me to compare notes. He had resolved a pannus issue in a much younger GSD and believed the removal of all corn to be the deciding factor.

In reality we had both put the dogs on diets where only minimal amounts of rice was allowed, so there is no way of knowing if it was actually gluten, corn or some other grain related item. For more information, contact Dogtor J, he's very good about responding and happy to tell great recovery stories. Though we have lost contact over the years, I know he is still working full force to help people understand food intolerance in animals:

Czar spent time on soccer fields watching his kids play and enjoyed sitting nicely while the other kids made a fuss of him. He enjoyed visits from various canine friends. He liked to wander out to the road to say hello to the lady around the corner who always stopped to pet him as she passed our house during her evening walks. He loved making visits to Granny's house to get special treats and hang out with his friend Molly. His last visit was just five days ago. When he knew we were going for a visit, he was pacing behind the van, waiting to be lifted in.

The last two years, he really began to show his age. At night, he would sometimes wander out into a field next door and seem to forget where he was. We would have to go out with a flashlight to search for him in the dark. We would find him just sitting quietly. It was like he was waiting for someone to come fetch him because once he saw us or the flashlight, he would come quickly and happily.

This was also around the time he developed a brain (myelin) disorder that began to render his back legs difficult to manipulate. This didn't seem to cause him any pain but created difficulties doing stairs and eventually, because of the loss of sensation creeping up his back, we knew it was only a matter of time.

For more info. about GSD and peripheral neuropathy:

When he was 10 or 11 years, he had more time under his belt than many GSDs see, so of course we began to expect his passing.

Well, he continued on for another 4 years. Even though is back legs were not cooperating the way he would've liked, he could still go in and out but no longer slept upstairs in our bedroom. For several years, he didn't get better but he didn't get worse either. Then in the last week or two, I noticed his back end seemed to suddenly lose a drastic amount of control.

No matter, even a couple of days ago, he was very excited to see his friend Dakota from two doors over, who comes to visit our guys every once in a while. We all look forward to Dakota's visits because the three dogs (and any visiting canines we may have) are always so excited to see each other.

They all say hello in their doggie way, then George (our 9 year old rottieX) and Dakota run and play for a bit and then all three dogs sniff around together like they are in search of something crucial to the very continuance of our planet... until Dakota hears his Mom calling for him out their window.

Another dear friend who he always enjoyed seeing was Peter. Peter is a retired school teacher and one of the neighbours we met when my husband was delivering notes, all those years ago, about our lost GSD. Whenever we went away overnight, if Granny couldn't come to stay with our animals, it was Peter who would come to take care of everyone for us.

Just two days ago, Czar was lying in the yard when Peter came to visit. Peter went to where Czar was lying to stroke his head and talk to him and I wondered, at the time, how many more times I would see that familiar scene.

Last night, I took the kids out to the drive-in while my husband stayed in to do some work. My husband, this morning, told me that when it was time to go to bed, Czar wouldn't come in. He was pacing the yard slowly.

When I got home, I found him lying in the grass looking fairly comfortable but a little too close to a ladder. When I called him, he didn't get up. I figured his back legs needed some help getting into the standing position, which was becoming a common scenario. But as it turned out, his back legs could no longer stand even when I placed them in position under him.

I was able to carry him to his usual spot in the yard but the pressure on his chest from being carried took his breathe away. He has never, in the eight years he's been with us, spent the night outside. I was caught. It was a beautiful night... but would he feel like I'd left him? I was pretty sure he wouldn't make it until morning and to carry him all the way inside might be too hard on his breathing.

My daughter, almost 12 years old now, was still awake so I brought her down to say good-bye. As we went outsi
de, we found his breathing had calmed. He tried to get up. So, I managed to get hold of him again, and carried him into the house, putting him in his favourite sleeping spot in the living room, near the bottom of the stairs. We made sure he had water nearby and that he was as comfortable as possible, lying on his side. Then I sent my daughter to bed.

He did struggle through part of the night with his breathing and getting comfortable. I kept bringing him water and rubbing his ears the way that always calmed him. Finally, his breathing calmed substantially and eventually, I couldn't stay awake any longer.

Before I slept, I prayed that he wouldn't make it through the night because it did now seem he was in pain or at the very least, very uncomfortable. In the morning I would have to make the difficult decision of taking him in to be put down. I really didn't want to do that because he would've hated going to the vet.

The vet terrified him to the point that we always joked around, even in his younger days, that after all he'd been through, he'd die from a heart attack just going to the vet. Through the years, home was always his favourite place.

Thankfully he passed sometime between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m right there in his favourite sleeping spot after eight wonderful years with us, at the generous age of 14 or 15 years old.

A special thanks to all who have acknowledged Czar to be the special gentleman that he was through all the years he spent with us.

Yes, that is a chicken riding on his back in the attached photo. Her name is Blackie. It was taken last year.

Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. I've not proofed this yet and had some difficulty when to use the past tense and when to use the present tense.

Adopting senior animals can be a truly wonderful and rewarding experience.

Czar was a bird hunter when he came to us and still learned to live with chickens and ducks shortly after his arrival without the use of any corporal punishment.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Do Or Die

It's tax season. Yes, there is an element of "do or die" when it comes to taxes... Death and taxes, eh?

Need I say more? Well of course!

To say that trying to implement a new accounting program during tax season isn't bothering me would be a lie. I'm in an absolute panic to get it done on time so I don't get thrown in jail. And of course there is NOT enough time to get it done. There is never enough time to get taxes done in the day to dayness of running a business and raising children.

But it's not the reason I'm writing today. As always, I like to be a little 'gray' with my introductions and let the reader's mind wander a bit. ;)


I'm writing because last night something happened that is distracting me, on and off, to the point of tears. I can't focus properly on inputting my 400+ inventory items, which turns tax season into a do or die thing for me. But this 'do or die' by paper, is nothing compared to the images rolling around, heedlessly, in my brain.

So, perhaps if I get it all down, I will be able to let it go and get on with my paperwork in a more focused manner.


Now, it begins with me being pretty hard-nosed about my kids learning how to defend themselves. I guess it comes from a lifetime of being female... and a fairly small female at that. (I didn't break the 100lb mark until I was in my early twenties.)

And let's face it, just being female who reaches the age of 20, means that, at some point in your life, you've had a big, smelly, unpredictable man attempt to attach himself to you in ways that do more than make me shiver.

Fortunately, there are more gallant men out there than not who will come to your aid. But you can't always count on them being around... or being tougher than the guy with his big grubby paws on you.

Working in a couple of bars for a while in my late teens and twenties didn't do much to reduce these unpleasant occurrences. But you can't live your life being too afraid to do new things. And when a good paying job comes along... you take it, worms and all.

These experiences made me realize that I wanted to learn how to defend myself in a constructive way. I just never knew where to go to learn what I needed to know.

And I think, since so much of my life, I've depended upon my wits to get me out of uncomfortable situations, combined with a difficulty believing that I really would be able to
effectively defend myself no matter what PHYSICAL skills I developed, I've never pursued self-defence classes.

Add to that being carjacked in 1998 in front of a courthouse and barely managing to get my 13 month old daughter out of the car before the very large, six foot (+) tall man could zoom away with her, and you've got a good recipe for a somewhat paranoid, 5'4", 120lb human-wandering-the-planet-till-death-do-us-part-thank-you-very-much.

It also creates a mother who is determined that her children not feel the same helplessness in their lives, that she has felt in hers.

I am pragmatic, if nothing else, and completely aware that most of these situations are simply a part of the life experience. The difference in the impact upon the psyche is more about YOU than about the person offending you.


So, it' s been really bothering me that the kids are still not learning how to defend themselves.

I've been contemplating calling up a man, locally, who I know teaches self-defence classes. I know he keeps the classes extremely affordable. It's not too far to drive. And after some socialization time with his family a few years back, I found them to be a wonderfully dedicated family unit.

So what stopped me from calling? Doubt.

There's a part of me that just doesn't believe that any amount of physical skill is going to help in a truly (or even somewhat) frightening situation.

Wits (and a good dollop of street smarts) work. That's what I've learned.

the kids have taken Aikido before and it didn't really seem all that effective. Eventually, it was so far away and so expensive that we stopped going.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I ran into this local-self-defence-instructor-man's wife at the library.

"What the heck?" I thought. "Maybe the universe is sending me a sign."

So I asked her about his classes, fully expecting her to give me their phone number, and tell me to call for details from her husband.

I knew that I would take the phone number politely and probably never get around to calling.

Guess again...

She knew ALL the details.

She said NOW would be the PERFECT time to join because there are other new people who just started. She told me we could JUST SHOW UP and try a class. She told me the next class was tomorrow night. And she told me more...

Now aside from being in awe that she knew all the details (as many spouces/spice have no idea what goes on in their mate's point of self-employment), I also considered it to be a slap in the face from the universe.

I was being spoonfed all the information I'd been wishing for.

When this kind of thing happens, I worry that if I don't sit up, pay attention, and take advantage of what end's up in my lap... the universe will punish me for being stupid, unaware and COMPLETELY unmotivated.

And I become especially motivated regarding messages from the universe when my children's future safety may be at risk.

So, it was time to get off my butt and focus on getting the task of self-defence in order.

"What the heck." I thought, "
If nothing else, the children can at least become more familiar with how their own bodies work. And it's so affordable, it seems silly not to sign them up."


So the next night, I packed all the kids into the van so the older kids could try a class and I could watch. Ho hum. I really still wasn't thrilled about two evening classes a week. Life is so busy...

But I was resigned to it. After all, we mustn't ignore messages from the universe.

All I can say is... AMAZING!

I could not avoid signing up the children.

The "master", really is a "Master". That about sums it up.


Now, fortunately or unfortunately, my eldest child is going through a phase of not wanting to join in on anything. Even if I
make her join and go, she will just stand in the middle of the floor, like a lump, bringing the whole class down about 500 notches.

She doesn't get that from me, those are her father's genes coming through. And you better believe he 'got it' that night when we arrived home after I had to pull her out of the class for being a lump.

Nevertheless, onward and upward, I decided if she wasn't going to take the class with her brother, then
I would. For over ten years, if we had any extra money, it always went to something for the kids... no matter how much I wanted something for myself... as is the way with motherhood... as it should be.

But this time, the instruction of that class, moved me enough to not want to miss out on this rather rare opportunity for self-development... So, I have taken her place in the class.

And I am not just taking-her-place-la-dee-da.


I feel like I'm doing something that I should've done a lifetime ago!... Two lifetimes ago!

I feel like another piece of my life puzzle has dropped into place.

Somehow... I feel the universe is at work again.


The "master" not only shows the moves in slow motion, he shows what will come next and explains all the physics behind why the moves work.

THIS is why I am moved enough to put the money out to take this class. He has won my faith. I now believe that, indeed, perhaps I CAN physically defend myself effectively! I GET it!


Which brings us to last night... my third class... and the reason for my focal undoing today...

We were doing wrist hold escapes. Of course, always the cynic, I wanted to really see if they worked. The Master saw my need to see 'proof' and came over to let me experience, first hand, the receiving hand of the defensive technique.

Granted, he is much taller than I, and it goes without saying, much stronger. But what he did, was go through the move in slow motion, with me as the attacker.

He showed me that I was doing a lot of things wrong as a defender.

He showed me that being far away from the attacker was not very effective. He couldn't get away from me.

Then he showed me that getting close to my attacker was more effective.

So again, I grabbed his wrist as tightly as I could.

And, as the defender, he swung around me (again, in slow motion) and his chest actually brushed past my shoulder. As he did that, I could smell him.

Don't get me wrong, he didn't smell bad. He smelled like soap, actually... but I'll get back to that.

Then, though I could not see it, he followed through with the next move, using his free arm, which was, at that point, behind me, to reach around and lock my head (giving him the ability to also snap my neck).

What was so unnerving was that I could not
see his arm come around but I felt it.

The air moved... and I felt it.

It was astounding in a creepy kind of way.

The next thing I knew, I was completely under his control with no way out.

And this is why I cannot focus today. All I can think about is how helpless I truly am.

I'm in a sheer state of panic.

Why? After all, I'm learning the techniques. I'm obviously being taught by an effective teacher and master.

The Master is a kind and thoughtful man who cares enough about people to help them avoid getting hurt. He is an excellent instructor, a good husband (I see his happy, involved wife, so I know he is a good husband), a great father (I see him out and about with his happy kids) and a man who is predictable to the point of explaining the "where's and why's" of everything he does... and he does not smell bad.

Well, something clicked, being touched by a man who is not my husband... and feeling the air move... and knowing how much bigger and stronger than me he was...

I was slammed by the dichotomy of the Master in relation to a few old, previously forgotten, unpleasant memories of bigger, stronger men who were not so predictable and did not smell like soap (who all seem to be looming over me while I sit at my desk today)...


Of course, what happens from the point of view of a somewhat creative, somewhat paranoid person, such as myself?

I then lie in bed thinking about how helpless I am. How most (if not all) men are bigger and stronger than me. How many of them are unpredictable. How a lot of them smell like alcohol or worse. It's about remembering having to 'wit' myself out of situations and the smells of those situations like it was only yesterday...

And I think about how, if those old smells get behind me, I won't be able to see them coming either...

And I think about how I'd like a few less 'old memories' looming over my children when they are sitting at their desks doing taxes when they're all grown up.

I cannot get a blackbelt or learn these techniques fast enough.

I am committed.

And all my children WILL learn to defend themselves... like it or not.

For once, there's nothing gray about it... in what is usually
"The Gray Zone".