Three years. It has been three years since my last post.
Can you believe it?
Our world has changed a lot in those three years. Fire evacuations. Civil unrest. Political chaos. Covid uncertainties. Toilet paper hoarding…which I still cannot comprehend.
Yet (for better AND worse) so many things have stayed the same.
In my last post, I talked about feeling like I had been holding my breath for all of 2017 and the overwhelming need to exhale, and I did, for a bit.
I’m doing it again though.
Holding my breath.
Only this time I realized that I have been partially holding my breath for much of my adult life. Holding onto circumstances and emotions and stress and tension; like it was my job.
WTF…who would choose that job?
I’m weary and I’m ready for change. On so many levels, I am ready for change.
Breathe in. Hold.
Breathe in again.
In through your feet, out through your head. Deep, cleansing breaths.
Exhale. Back through your head and down through your feet.
Do you feel it? The tension and stress leaving your body. The pull toward the light. It’s there, the light at the end of the tunnel – I promise. Close the chapter.
Over the years and mostly out of necessity, I have learned patience in several areas of my life. I used to think that patience was a virtue in all things.
It. Is. NOT.
Say it again, LOUDER.
IT. IS. NOT.
“Patience” can be procrastination and mental clutter in disguise. I wrote a post about clutter and procrastination a few years ago. You can find it here. Patience can lead to complacency. Have you felt like that before? I’ve been existing in this idle place of patience, especially the last few years. Why? It’s comfortable and when life feels overwhelming, it’s easy to retreat to the comfortable options. A false sense of contentment was my quiet hiding place. It’s easy to say that you’ll make plans, tackle a decision, or work on project next week, next month, or next year. I really wanted to blame the pandemic, but the complacency began before Covid forced itself upon us all.
The one thing 2020 did for me was bring a lot of feelings into focus.
2020 allowed me to create space to admit, out loud to myself, that I often feel like I’m existing, but not always truly living. I still cannot fully put the feelings into words that explain it all, but I think this post is a good beginning.
I don’t want to simply exist. So what now?
Go back to the basics and step forward. One foot in front of the other. I know this. I also know that it’s ok take baby steps, and to pause, but not to stop.
I have heard it repeatedly, so I know I’m not the only one gladly waving goodbye to 2017.
I didn’t make any resolutions this year. I already feel like I’ve been holding my breath for months. I see no need to add to that load of… (feel free to insert your choice of words here).
It’s not that 2017 was all bad, it wasn’t, but this year has left me mentally depleted in a way that I can’t articulate, other than to want to desperately scream “WTF is happening here?” on a fairly regular basis.
January. I went back to school and without elaborating, we had a few unexpected and very heavy emotional moments.
Spring (but really this entire year). I am not deeply invested in politics. I know, I know…but I do vote and I did take a political science class this semester. I learned how much I didn’t know about our political history and structure in the United States and that I actually find the bare bones of politics very interesting. Hmmmph. Imagine that. The 45th president (along with a lot of other politicians) has left me scratching my head and truthfully, in some instances, rolling my eyes. His Twitter feed alone is more than I can handle. I consider myself a “Democrat with a bit of a Republican lean”. Meaning? I don’t agree with everything Democrat and I don’t agree with all things Republican either. I’m an idealist I guess. In the spirit of the Constitution; can’t we all just try to get along and do what is best for our country as a whole? Some people will say that is an impossible request. Maybe it is.
Summer. We didn’t make a lot of headway in any realm. (head·way [ˈhedˌwā] NOUN 1. move forward or make progress, especially when circumstances make this slow or difficult). I didn’t check off a bunch of to do’s and we NEEDED to. We didn’t squeeze a vacation in and we NEEDED it. The girls had summer school and my other half had a double race schedule. I thought we would be able to take off in late July, but before I knew it school was starting again. If I don’t plan it, we don’t get it done/don’t go. I shouldn’t have been irritated by that, but if I’m being honest, a part of me really was.
Fall is normally a time that I really look forward to. The leaves, sweaters, crisp mornings, the sweetness of the upcoming holidays. This year, fall brought a succession of WTF moments slathered on top of a really busy semester. We lost our Ava girl in early September. That was a significant blow to the whole family. You can find my post about Ava here (I’ll warn, it’s pretty raw and I have been told it’s a difficult read. Just have tissues handy.) In October, our hometown was hit by a massive firestorm, triggered by winds I have never experienced. I remember laying in bed listening to the howling. It was spooky – 70 mph gusts – not the norm for Sonoma County. We were evacuated twice. We live about two blocks from the foothills. We can see the hillside from our backyard. Our home was spared and we know we are lucky. Had the winds been blowing in another direction that night, things most certainly would have been different for our neighborhood.
I have tried to write about it several times and I just can’t wrap my head around it all. I think I don’t want to. The devastation is unreal. Thousands of homes. THOUSANDS. Entire neighborhoods incinerated. We are talking about 4,658 homes wiped away – in a matter of hours – just in Santa Rosa and it’s immediate vicinity! Homes of so many friends. It’s still very fresh and yet, oddly, it feels like a lifetime ago. The photos, news stories and videos don’t do it justice. They can’t. The reality is truly so shocking and surreal that it takes your breath away.
That said, I must also add, the strength and sense of unity, born from the ashes of this disaster, will also take your breath away. Our city was covered in signs expressing gratitude for first responders and our community showed up in force to offer support to those affected. I have never been more proud to live in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County.
With everything else happening, the holidays came and went in a blink. We hosted Thanksgiving and I was grateful to be able to do so. For me, our Christmas tree was the bright spot. It is always about the small joys. That is especially true this year.
We usually visit a local farm and cut our tree, but this year we went to Tahoe and cut it down for the first time. If you haven’t done it, I highly recommend it. We had breakfast at our favorite spot (The Red Hut) in town, hiked through the forest in search of the perfect tree, and there was snow on the ground.
It was a beautiful day!
I finished up school just in time to pull everything together and slow down to enjoy a few family traditions we have (decorating gingerbread houses, baking, Christmas movies, hunting for holiday light displays, and T’was the Night Before Christmas). I truly appreciated those moments more than ever this year.
I still feel like I am holding my breath a little, but I am looking forward to what the coming year has in store. I believe there are far better things ahead than those we are leaving behind.
Yes, I am purposely not using the exact C.S. Lewis quote. His was not about optimism.
My glass is still half full.
EXHALE. I guess that’s my resolution for this year. Simply to #exhale. Then I can step back, breathe in all the possibilities for 2018, and see where they take me.
WARNING: My heart is on my sleeve in this post and I did not edit. I just need to pour all of this out.
So many weeks have passed since my last post.
I learned a long time ago that the world doesn’t stop turning when something significant happens in your life. I wish it did and it sure feels as though it should. We lost our sweet Ava girl last week. It was so unexpected, for a few days, I really needed our world to stop turning.
Reading through my last post, I can’t help but be numbed (and maybe just slightly humbled) by how unpredictable life is. I wrote that post mindful of our “borrowed time” with her. I was feeling so grateful that her February blood work had revealed nothing out of the ordinary and I really just hoped to simply have her with us for, at the very least, another year. Not for a moment would I have believed our time left with her could be so short. The reality feels cruel. Our hearts are broken.
Our last day with her was one of the longest of my life and yet, it wasn’t long enough. Watching our family say their goodbyes to our beautiful girl. Knowing what the right decision was, after watching her struggle for more than two weeks, and still second guessing myself out of desperation. Telling the vet, through tears, about when we first met her and her endlessly gentle nature. Remembering the sixteen pound (they aren’t small for very long) ball of fluff we brought home. How quickly nine years went by. Feeling guilty about a few times when I was so tired, I skipped her walk and grateful for everything she brought to my (our) life. Listening to her fade away, with my face buried in the top of her head, thanking her for being such a good dog and telling her, over and over, how loved she was – how our hearts were so full we couldn’t have loved her more. All the while silently wanting to be able to take back what was happening, and just take her home.
I would give anything to jingle her collar and have her meet me at the door, or bury my face in the top of her head one more time.
I wrote the following in an email I sent, to my friend Laura, over the weekend. Right now, there really are no better words to sum up how I am feeling… “It’s really difficult not to have her here with us. The ache in my heart, at times, is overwhelming. There are moments I think of her and for a minute, I can’t breathe. John and I both found ourselves looking for her this last week. During the thunderstorm, I immediately scanned for her and began to tell her it was ok. She really was our third child, my right hand gal, and heart dog.”
There is a piece missing from our every day. When my family leaves in the morning, I am filled with a gnawing emptiness. I am not lonely, but for the first time in twenty-two years, I am all alone. The house is still. The silence is palpable and the quiet makes me so sad.
Some will say “she’s just a dog”. It’s ok for them to not understand. Many friends have texted, emailed, and sent cards saying they have been there and they understand our despair. I know people are going, or have been, through far worse. Especially right now. Still, it doesn’t lessen the sorrow in our little corner of the world.
This weekend we received a card from our veterinary office. When I opened it, there was a small(ish) piece of paper inside. I flipped it over to find her paw print. It was such a surprise it took my breath away and before I could blink, the tears were spilling down my cheeks. I know, as with anything painful, the flood of emotions will lessen over time. In the midst of it all, I hear my girlfriend Jessica, “this too shall pass”.
For now, it’s right in front of me and I really miss her.
If you had said those words to me ten years ago, I would have acknowledged the idea, but I would not have given it much thought. The idea simply would not have carried any considerable weight for me.
Then we met Ava.
I’ve had pets before and loved them. I grew up with horses and dogs. Truth be told, I have never had a dog entangle my whole heart. If you have ever had a pet like this, you know exactly what I am talking about in this post.
She is family.
She is also aging and THIS. IS. HARD.
Ava is a Bernese Mountain Dog. I can’t count how many times I have been asked if she’s “the dog that carries the barrel around her neck and rescues people?” Let’s get that question out of the way now.
She is not. That’s a St. Bernard.
The Bernese Mountain Dog (German: Berner Sennenhund) is a large-sized breed of dog, one of the four breeds of Sennenhund-type dogs from the Swiss Alps. The name Sennenhund is derived from the German Senne (“alpine pasture”) and Hund (“dog”), as they accompanied the alpine herders and dairymen called Senn. Berner (or Bernese in English) refers to the area of the breed’s origin, in the canton of Bern. This mountain dog was originally kept as a general farm dog. Large Sennenhunde in the past were also used as draft animals, pulling carts. The breed was officially established in 1907. In 1937, the American Kennel Club recognized it; today, the club classifies it as a member of the Working Group.
Before you scroll down and see all of the other photos, I must relay one very significant piece of information. On average, these dogs are short lived. When we brought her home the average was 8 – 10 years. Sadly, it is now 6 – 8 years according to the AKC Berner page and I will tell you this…IT’S NOT LONG ENOUGH.
It had been four years since our Boston passed away (he was almost 15) when I began to toss around the idea of another dog. Yogi was my husband’s dog before he was our dog and he was a lot of work. It turns out, he came from a puppy mill and sometimes you just can’t take the puppy mill out of the puppy. After Yogi, I had been very reluctant to consider another dog. Instead we got a cat and at the time, he was just the right amount of commitment for our family.
We met two families in the same year who had Bernese Mountain Dogs. Before then, the only time I had ever seen a Berner was on the universal dog breed poster. If you have pets, you know which one I’m referring to. It’s on the wall in every veterinary office you have ever visited. After meeting their dogs and talking with the families, I did a lot of reading about these gentle souls.
I was sold and I began researching breeders. I found a gal who seemed like the right fit. She didn’t work out and I found myself disappointed. Then a friend mentioned a local litter she had heard about.
Ava was two weeks old when Laura invited us to meet the litter of eight beautiful puppies. They were so tiny! Their eyes weren’t even open yet and they had round little milk bellies. They were like snuggly little sausages.
It was love at first sight.
We learned that the placement process was very in depth and that Laura would choose which puppy we would be offered. Placement would be based on multiple criteria. We were one of MANY interested families, so if we chose to move forward, we were not guaranteed a puppy. On our second visit, we filled out a puppy questionnaire. It asked about our household, lifestyle, what we were looking for in a dog, and various other dog related concerns. Laura spent time during our visits observing the girls with the puppies and with their mom, Sadie.
I spent the next few weeks reminding the girls (they were 9 and 13 at the time) that we did not know for sure if we would be offered a puppy. I knew that even with preparation, the girls were going to be really disappointed if we did not make the list. We crossed our fingers and I hoped for the best.
When Laura called a few weeks later, we were lucky enough to have our choice of the “blue” or “peach” puppies. Breeders use different colored collars, or yarn, to tell them apart. I was leaning toward the peach puppy, but on our next visit, we chose baby blue. She was the smallest and there was something very special about her.
Ava came home at just about 9 weeks old. From the beginning we were smitten. She melted right into our family and it was as though she had always been there. We took her everywhere. She loved to go to pick up the girls from school. Everyone wanted to stop and scratch her and Ava would eat up all of the attention.
She was easy to train (housebroken in ten days!) and with the exception of rolls of paper towels, she has never chewed anything she wasn’t supposed to. I have no idea why, but to this day, she loves to shred rolls of paper towels. She never eats them. She just shreds them into a big pile. I can leave a bag of leftover vacation or soccer snacks on the floor, open bag of beef jerky and all, (I have done it more times than I can count!) and head out to run errands. She wouldn’t dream of raiding the bag. Well, she’s a dog, so maybe she dreams of it, but she would never touch it. A roll of paper towels is a different story. Oh well, if that’s her at her worst, I’ll take it.
As a family, Lake Tahoe has always been our happy place. We used to make a lot of winter day trips to snowboard when our girls were young (off season for soccer).
On those days, we would load Ava up and she would quietly hang out in the back of our suburban with her toys while we were out on the mountain. Every two hours we would come down to let her out so she could run around and play in the snow. She is truly in her element when we visit Tahoe.
Ava will be 9 in a few weeks and we will celebrate with some dog bakery treats from our local pet boutique. Over the last several years, we have nursed her through several physical ailments, including two torn ACL’s. Through it all, she continues to be her smiley, happy self.
According to many breeders, we are already on borrowed time and truthfully, I have begun to notice her slowing down. Laura has always said “Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, three years an old dog. Anything beyond that is a gift.”
I know some people would probably consider me a borderline “crazy dog mom”. I’m not, but that’s OK. I can own it.
After several discussions with our vet, acknowledging that we are slowly entering our final stages with her has been far more difficult than I would have imagined. Maybe it’s how gentle she has always been. All the evenings we have spent together when my other half was traveling. The way she always rolls over for a belly rub and her way of accepting new friends is to sit on their feet (as long as you’re not wearing a hat). Or the long walks we would take together after the summer sun went down.
Maybe it’s the way she needs to be laying right near whichever family member is in the room. That she always sleeps on my husband’s side of the bed. How tightly she hugs your arm, with her front paws, when you rub her head and ears. That she lays in between my husband and I at the kitchen table every morning, presumably so we can scratch her equally. That she will look over the arm of the sofa when we watch TV to make sure you know she’s still there. Or that she still believes, even at 100 lbs., she’s a lap dog.
Or maybe it’s simply that she has always just been such a “good dog” – the best dog – and when she looks at you, you can see the love in her eyes.
I can only tell you that she is embedded in my heart in a way I cannot completely put into words. I never expected to be this attached to, or emotional about a pet.
Like I said, if you have ever had a pet like this, you can relate. If you haven’t, I hope someday you do.
Today it might seem I am rambling more than usual.
Can I be honest for a minute?
I know everyone is “entitled” to it, but truthfully; very few things in life aggravate me more than another person’s one sided, the world owes me, my way or the highway, black and white opinions. Particularly when it feels personally directed.
You DON’T know me.
You know the pieces I have shared, the parts I have allowed you to see, and the opinions you have derived from those. We all curate parts of ourselves for public viewing. You don’t know about the events that I have dealt with, the choices that shaped me into the person I am today, or how I got here.
You don’t know that if I had taken the easy road and followed that chapter in the psychology textbook, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
I chose the opposite path. The harder path. The road less traveled. It wasn’t always easy, but I did it. I am a relatively private person and I have never really been one to be railroaded. I was often referred to as headstrong, independent, obstinate, strong willed, or stubborn.
I spent my teens, twenties and most of my thirties dodging opinions and criticism, feeling the need to prove myself…Proving I could fit in and choosing a lot of the wrong people to befriend when I was young. (Do you ever really fit in as a tween or teenager anyway?) Protecting myself in the only ways I knew how, because there was nobody to protect me. Proving that I didn’t need anyone and letting go of several good people that I should have valued more. Proving that I could make peace with my childhood. Refusing to self-destruct. Proving I was worthy of love. Proving that being independent doesn’t mean I’m a bitch. Proving I wasn’t “just another pretty face”. Proving I wouldn’t live my life angry. Proving that I could be a young mom, a wife, and do them both well. Proving I would not allow alcohol or drugs to consume me, the way they had consumed several people in my life. (Honest and very humble horn toot: I have bad genetics with regard to drugs and alcohol, so I never took the risk. I have never tried drugs and with the exception of a margarita on my 21st birthday, and a few sips of champagne at our wedding, I stopped drinking at 18.) Proving that I could learn how not to repeat past mistakes.
Proving I am a good person with good intentions.
I do not expect anyone to abandon their personal convictions, but I value open-minded thinking and empathy. So while I respect the idea that we are all entitled to an opinion, if you are only interested in your own, I ask that you kindly stop talking. Listen. Listen and try to hear.
Bill Bullard said, “Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.”
That passage speaks to me in a way no other has. Ever.
What you discuss within your personal space is your prerogative. Outside of those walls, the world isn’t black and white. There are circumstances you know nothing about, things that have happened and are still happening to the people around you. Shaping those people. Your own circumstances and choices have shaped you. Shape has a different meaning than define.
You might consider looking it up.
Who are we to make another person feel as though they aren’t enough, based on opinions derived from what we see on the outside.
We need to understand that our opinions are the product of our personal experiences. There is no personal growth when we hold on to our opinions and believe them to be the only possible truth.
There will be times when our personal experiences are the truth, but we must make the conscious choice to try to understand this world from other people’s perspectives. To be open to knowledge and growth. If we do not open ourselves to knowledge and #empathy, we risk ignorance, and sadly ignorance just breeds more ignorance.
Forward movement is one of my personal themes for 2017. Part of my forward movement is continuing to acknowledge that I no longer allow space for anyone who makes me feel as though I am not enough. I love to see people succeed. When I give, I don’t keep score. I am a fan of quiet contemplation. If I say that I envy you, stop and take a moment to listen. I promise you it’s not in the way you might think.
Envy: verb(usedwithobject), envied,envying. Toregard(apersonorthing without malice)withenvy: Heenviesyouforyour hard-earned success.Ienvyyourwritingability.
Do not make the mistake of thinking I envy who YOU are, or your material possessions. I envy the ease in which you make decisions, or your ability to consistently live with a carefree nature. I will not purposely place myself in anybody’s crosshairs, but I will advocate for myself loudly when forced. I have learned to speak my personal truths gently, because I know what it’s like to be misunderstood, or not to be heard at all. If my attempts to be genuine aren’t taken at face value, I’m not malevolent or angry, I just change the amount of space I allow that person to occupy in my life.
I know who I am. I have worked long and hard to become the person I am today and today is what matters. Happily, I am still evolving.