Simply Love

I have no expectation of humanity saving itself. It’s too selfish, too disconnected from what it should be, too far gone. This is depressing, I know it. However, in spite of its poor prognosis, I still find glimmers of goodness and these are something of a balm to the despair of living in death culture. Humans selectively bred animals like dogs to make them something humans could control. This is reprehensible. However, it doesn’t make me love the creatures that are derived from this version of eugenics any less appealing. I live with such wonderful animals. Each and every one of them is unique. Each and every one is simply lovely. Every time I pass something that causes the despair I close my eyes and think of one of them or my dear daughters and I can be okay for the moment. My love for them and for this planet and it’s resiliance is a way to get by.

The Split Begins Early

The Eagle Creek fire is destroying forests all around Mt. Hood in Oregon and across the river in Washington. There are many fires raging, but this one is particularly wretched because it is known that it was begun by a teenager playing with fireworks. The woman who reported his action and the actions of the other teens with him described them as non-reactive to the likelihood they had started a fire in a very dry forest (see the story here). She said the girls were giggling and that they all were encouraging his behavior. They filmed it, like it was something fun to put on SnapChat or something. The woman’s description of these kids sounded like children who are very disconnected from their actions and the consequences for those actions.

In My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization, Chellis Glendinning describes the split, the dissociation from the self, that occurs in humans when they become “civilized.” Civilization is built on abuse and destruction. We began by destroying the land in order to grow things according to our own will. This led to abuse upon abuse upon abuse, to the point where abuse is the norm. Derrick Jensen, in The Myth of Human Supremacy, describes how in western civilization, we are indoctrinated from the moment of birth into a belief system whereby humans rule everything and that all the world is at their disposal. To my mind, the original sin was that of humans leaving the earth to “tame” and control it, bending it to their will, first through agriculture and on to the world we have today, where every aspect of the world is under human control. The Garden of Eden was the world before humans decided that they were “special” and that everything should be as humans decree. Thus, the split was born. Humans disconnect first from their selves, then from others, and finally from the world around them. Humans are the most invasive species, and the world is suffering because of it.

Today, that indoctrination begins practically before a child is born. It is not uncommon in this country for doctors and parents to schedule births induced by chemicals. That such births often result in the death of the fetus or the mother, or in an invasive surgical Caesarean section is no matter; it is a given that in most western births, induction of some sort will be the norm. Those of us who choose to have children at home with no drugs or medical intervention are considered bizarre and dangerous, as if the control of the hospital and the intervention of drugs is the more safe, and therefore, more sane route to childbirth. We are the wild west parents, putting ourselves and our delicate children in danger rather than having a birth controlled by chemicals and machines (or a doctor’s golf schedule).

Once the child is born, it is immediately placed into a system designed to disconnect it from anything remotely resembling connection to the self or its parents. The split is encouraged early. A “good” baby is one that sleeps all night as young as possible, without interrupting its parent’s lifestyle. One of the most common early questions of new parents is whether their child is sleeping through the night (because a baby who isn’t sleeping through the night makes it impossible for parents to sleep through the night, and discomfort of any kind is to be avoided at all costs in civilization).

Thousands of books have been written on the subject of getting children to sleep through the night alone. Doctors create systems such as that of Dr. Richard Ferber, whereby parents let their tiny infants scream and cry until they learn that their cries bring nothing and they finally give up and shut up. It is the ultimate in teaching children from a very early age not to trust that the world around them will be safe and welcoming. The parents hover outside, periodically going in and patting the child, then retreating to let it cry even further, viewing the action from a monitor in another room. It is pure insanity.

Children cannot tolerate sleeping away from their parents, and small babies need to be fed more frequently than once every eight hours, but never mind this. Parents still do it in western culture. Children are placed in cages in separate rooms away from their parents to sleep alone within days of birth. The parents hover over electronic monitors and cameras, rather than have their children in the same room or indeed, even in the same bed as them. In western civilization, a child who sleeps with its parents is considered to be “spoiled,” like a piece of meat gone bad. I have often wondered how bizarre it would be if wolves and bears laid their cubs in separate caves far from their mothers. What if mice placed each bare infant in multiple holes far from their warm breasts? Mammals have breasts for feeding infants. Only human mammals place their children in cages far from their breasts forcing them to ignore their own needs and call it normal (it’s an entire other subject and outside the scope of this rant how our language encourages all this crazy nonsense).

In addition to putting children in cages and ignoring their basic needs, parents feed them fake milk from plastic nipples rather than from their own breasts. In spite of multiple studies showing that this is bad for babies, bad for mothers, and even bad for the economy (which I could care less about, but which is a major force in this culture), breastfeeding children as long as nature intended remains a rare thing indeed among western mothers.

By the time children are two or three years old, they are already completely desensitized from what they were meant to be biologically. With the advent of iPads and other screen devices that further entertain and rewire the brain (see here, and here, and here), screens as babysitters are the norm. It’s no wonder that by the time some children are teenagers, they can toss firecrackers into a dry ravine and giggle as a fire begins to rage.

I could go on and on. This culture is crazy. Civilization is not how life is meant to be on this planet. We are the Earth. The Earth is us. Yet we continue to pretend we are separate and above it even as the obvious fact that we are not and that our attempts to control everything do not work. Mama Nature knows what is best. Sadly, we seem unable to see what is right in front of our faces and senseless destruction is the result.

Sweetheart

My daughter and I were leaving New Seasons, the grocery near our house. My angel trailed behind me chatting up everyone she saw. She is such a sparkly little person. A fellow was getting into the car next to mine. She told him she just “loved” his hat, it was so “beautiful,” then she turned on her million dollar smile and waved.

He was enchanted. His face lit up in a smile. He turned to me and said, “Your daughter is a sweetheart. She is just a total sweetheart.” Then he said, “You must be a sweetheart too, to have a sweetheart like her.” Well, that just warmed my heart. I’m truly blessed. I get to have this sweetheart in my life. She does make me sweeter. I’m grateful for her every day.

Isabel’s Thought for the Morning

This morning I was wiping down the kitchen counters, picking up clutter, moving here and there. Isabel was sitting at the dining table eating her cereal. She turned to me and said, “Maybe our dreams are real life, and real life is our dream.” Yes, Isabel. I’ve considered that myself. I love living with a five year old. They get you out of the space of business as usual and remind you of imaginative possibilities.

Generational Differences

This essay was published on Huffington Post, and can be seen here.

When I was a child, we played outside, rode bikes without helmets, we rode in cars without booster seats, and our parents didn’t organize and supervise play dates.

This is a popular meme making the rounds on social media. It’s usually accompanied by a photo of some kid jumping something enormous on a Big Wheel with no helmet, hair flying maniacally, face full of joy. The implication of course is that today’s children are too coddled. The Atlantic just did a big article on this subject (See here). The article was good. It focused on helicopter parents and people who won’t let their children do anything with risk.

But I think it’s a mistake to revere the way things used to be. When I was a child…keep reading by clicking here.

That’s so Gross, Mom

This is how conversations go in our house:

My oldest daughter was singing “Can’t go to bed ’til you’re legally wed, you can’t you’re Sandra DEE!” I said, “You can’t even go to bed after your legally wed. Just don’t go to bed at all. Or wait. You can go to bed after you’ve been wed for ten years.”

“That’s so gross, Mom.”

Then I amended and told her seriously, “Aw well, someday you’ll go to bed. Just don’t do it too soon, and don’t do it with too many people, and use protection.”

“That’s so gross, Mom.”

Then I said, “If you’re with a guy and he says he wants to have sex and you don’t want to have sex, and he says not having sex will cause his penis to shrivel up and fall off, or his testicles will explode, don’t believe it.”

“Wow, Mom. No one would say that. That’s so gross.”

“No. It’s true. It’s been said. But don’t believe it because it’s a lie.” I said this with assurance, just in case she was thinking of believing some lie about a shriveled up man part.

“It sounds fake. I would never believe anything as stupid as that.”

Good thing, daughter of mine.

The Bratty Puppy

Tonight my daughter, while studying for finals this week, was cuddling in her bed with George the puppy, work splayed out about her. George was under the covers sound asleep. Milla needed to go to the bathroom. She rose, set her papers aside, went upstairs and used the facilities, after which she returned to her room.

On the surface, it appeared nothing had changed. However, when she sat down, she could not locate her algebra study sheet anywhere. Finally, after searching futilely for several minutes, she discovered the sheet shredded under her bed cover, George snoozing soundly next to it.

For real. The dog ate her homework. I saw the shreds. He got up while she was gone for three minutes, shredded the damn thing, then curled up and went back to sleep.

Remarkable.

Winged Gods and Goddesses

I published a story on Huffington Post. It can be found here.

Winged Gods and Goddesses
Little girls and horses. I think part of why girls fall in love with horses is to have someone big on their side, someone on whom they can fly. I fell in love with horses before I had a logical brain, then they just lodged there, between the myelin bulges. Later when I actually acquired a horse, they were my escape from a reality that was less than. Horses were my winged gods and goddesses, flying on four legs. I was naive, silly, and fearful, but with a horse I could forget all that and imagine anything. And I did.

Before a real horse actually came to live with me…click here to continue reading.

Lead Me From the River of Woe

If we wish to turn away from that which torments us, do we also turn away from that which inspires us?

I am concluding that some of our deepest compassion comes from our deepest suffering, yet we must survive the desolation in order to make it through to compassion, and sometimes this can feel impossible.

Some days, in order to turn away from the shadows, I bask in the simple light of my little girl. I’m like a fucking Hallmark greeting card. She glows and I glow in return. She radiates divinity. It is impossible to remain in dark places when my focus is on her.

Do I lose artistry in leaving the banks of Acheron to turn toward my Venusian angel?

Beets Turn Urine Pink

I don’t love beets. I love most vegetables, including many that others don’t generally like, but not beets. It is because of this that I have not eaten many beets in my life and I did not know that eating beets could turn one’s urine pink or red. I had no clue. Last Friday, when my 3 year old went potty and her poop and pee was red, I assumed she had blood in her stool, freaked, and called her doctor. The advice nurse asked a bunch of questions, but not whether she had eaten beets, and then said I should take her to urgent care the next morning (this was because it was after hours on Friday).

Four hours later, my daughter went potty again. This time she only peed and it was red. Further freaking, as this meant the redness came from pee and not poop, and could thus be related to kidneys and whatnot. Again a call. This time, advice nurse advised we go to urgent care that night. As it was 9:30, the only urgent care in our network was a half hour drive away. Yowza.

We all bundled into the car (we all being me, Milla, and Isabel) and headed out to the middle of nowhere to sit in a waiting room. We were finally escorted back and Isabel was urged to pee. She could not. They gave her apple juice. She peed. They tested it. No more pink and no issues. They could not find anything. Finally, someone asked if she had eaten beets. Well, I did not know. She had been to preschool earlier in the day. Although they were not normally on the Friday, perhaps she had eaten beets. The doctor sent us home with 2 prescriptions for bottom cream and a directive to go to our primary doctor as soon as possible during the regular week.

The next morning I called her preschool and left a message asking if she had eaten beets. We were not able to get into the doctor until Wednesday. In the meantime, no more pink pee and preschool did not return my call (she told me later while apologizing for not calling back that she rarely checks her home line messages–oops!). On Wednesday, while waiting for our dear doctor, I decided to call preschool again, this time the owner’s mobile phone. Lo and behold, it turned out that my darling daughter had indeed eaten beets.

In case you didn’t know it, eating beets turns one’s pee and poop pink or red. This is my public service announcement for the day (or maybe it is a pubic service announcement, but that is a really bad pun).

Autumn — Chapter 15

Read Autumn — Chapter 14

In spring of 2003, I graduated from law school. I studied for and completed the bar exam. After taking the test but before getting the results, I was hired by a law firm. Whether I would keep the job was contingent upon my having passed the bar. The firm was in NE Portland, a forty minute drive from our country suburb house in the middle of nowhere.

The reality of consequences was gradually squeezing me into the accepting that some decisions can impact a life for a long time. Less than three years earlier, during my first term in law school, I discovered with a panic that perhaps I had made a grave error. Yet the cost of that error was already well over ten-thousand dollars. If I quit, I would have to repay that sum, and if I wasn’t practicing law, how would I do that? And so I soldiered on.

My dismay grew the remainder of that year. However, second year was an improvement, and I began to believe perhaps the error was not so disastrous as I first thought. By graduation and beyond, I had returned to my original assessment, that I should never have gone to law school. Only after completion I was much further in debt, and much more discomposed. While I loved the academic rigor of law school, I was not enamored of the practice of law. I began to see the entire enterprise as one magnificent, horrendously expensive mistake.

Simultaneously, I was coming to terms with personal consequences as well. I knew three months after meeting Bjorn that we were not the most suitable pair. We were simply completely different. We could spend forty-five minutes arguing a point, only to discover we were arguing the same side. I was extremely energetic, always on the move, and constantly trying new things. Bjorn took life at a slower pace. He preferred hanging out at home and watching sports on television to buzzing around to various events. When we bought the first house, even though it was brand new, I wanted to dive in and start new projects, fixing it up. Bjorn liked it fine the way it was. About our only real connection was the love we jointly shared for our daughter.

Life was forcing me to take a good, hard look at the choices I had made, often on the fly, and determine whether a course correction was in order. I was driving nearly 45 minutes in one direction to my job. I didn’t hate the job, but I didn’t love it either, and making that commute seemed not worth it. I was living in a house and neighborhood with others who did not share my values, my politics, or much of anything except real estate. And sadly, I knew I was no longer in love with the father of my child, and nor was he in love with me. House linked to career linked to relationship, a concatenation of choices was leading me down the path to misery. Change was in order.

Bjorn and I had discussed ending our relationship several times over the course of a year. Early in the pre-dawn hours of the new year, after leaving a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house in Salem, the two of us were rehashing the menu from the evening as we drove along the winding country roads in the dark.

I was always the health nut, eliminating high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil years before it became commonplace to do so. Bjorn liked junk food and fast food, and didn’t feel bad about it or any need to eat any differently. The party food had been mostly junk food and I was lamenting the lack of healthy snacks. I was also hungry.

“If you would just eat the junk, there wouldn’t be a problem,” Bjorn informed me, driving down the blackened, curved highway under the cold, winter moon and low, shredded clouds.

“I don’t have a problem,” I retorted. “We are just different. This is what I have been saying for months now. This is just one of many reasons why I do not think we are good together or for each other.” The passenger seat where I sat was reclined back, nearly touching the car seat holding a sleeping Milla. I slumped there, trying to make myself comfortable.

Bjorn didn’t say anything for a long time, such a long time in fact that I began almost to doze off. Then out of the silence he said, “You’re right.”

And with that, we ended our relationship of five and a half years.

Even though we were no longer a couple, neither of us immediately moved out and on. We had recently decided to sell the country suburb house and move into Portland. We had been looking for a house together, and I simply switched and began looking for a house on my own. Bjorn had been working as an engineer, but wanted to move into another area of engineering entirely, an area in which he was unlikely to find employment in the Portland area. He had begun sending out resumes to companies in other cities.

I wanted an old house, preferably a bungalow. I had been looking and looking, but this was the beginning of the housing bubble and prices were starting to get really steep. It was still possible to find affordable houses, but they usually came with another sort of price in that they were further out, in a less desirable neighborhood, or needed a lot of work. If it needed work, that was fine with me. I relished the opportunity. I was less willing to live further out, and I would not even consider some of the more troublesome neighborhoods because it would be just me and Milla living there. We had the dogs, but there was only so much they could do, and I didn’t want them to get hurt either. Often a neighborhood looked fine on the outside, but Portland had been experiencing an influx of Russian and Mexican gangs. No thanks.

After only a few weeks of searching, I found my house. Built in 1920, it needed tons of cosmetic work, but was structurally quite sound. With a few changes, the house would be perfect for us. It also had a lovely, floral back yard, as well as a side yard already fenced and lined with bark chips for the dogs. The support beams under the eaves were carved with loops and bows. This house was charming and perfect, so I bought it.

I had major plans for renovating and started immediately, before we even moved in. Bjorn moved to the house as well, and the two of us demolished the kitchen. It was the only place in the house that was truly awful. The counters were covered with tiny brown tiles that had not been installed properly. There was more grout than tile and each swipe of a sponge brought up a handful of dust, dirt, and goo.

In the four and a half years I lived in that house, I made many changes:  I installed an entirely new kitchen, put in a new kitchen window with rising double panes, to replace the former single-paned window that did not open at all, a travesty in a kitchen. I replaced the floors in the kitchen with new tiles. I removed the ugly, industrial grey tile in the bathroom, covering the floor with small, square white tiles. I removed a wall in the second room that opened into a small room with no real purpose, creating one giant bedroom. In that larger room, I installed a closet and discovered space above the stairs in the wall and turned it into a cupboard, using period knobs for the doors. I built a wall along the far side of the bigger second room, then opened a door into the master bedroom, creating a walk-in closet in a room that formerly had no closet at all.

While making the place for the door, I discovered newspapers from 1925 under the wallpaper advertising “Paris Frocks for Only $25.99!” I moved the front door from the master bedroom back into the living room where it belonged. I designed and installed built-in bookshelves in the living room, matching the woodwork at the base and along the top edge with the woodwork throughout the house. I painted the entire interior of the house with many lovely colors. I replaced all the light fixtures with period fixtures, and replaced a couple of windows that were no longer functional.

I also removed the jungle that covered the front of the house and built a rock wall, then covered everything in flowers. This was quite a chore as there was a 75-foot tall camellia bush that was so close to the house, it hung over the roof. I advertised the bush for free to anyone who would come and remove it. Two men arrived with a trailer and tools and excavated it over the course of a week, before driving it away on a flatbed trailer. There were also many scrubby azaleas who found new homes via the internet. For some reason, someone had installed sheep fencing in the front yard between the camellia and the maple tree near the sidewalk. Twisted and rusting, it was covered in ivy that used the sheep fencing as a ladder to higher reaches in the trees. All of it I removed and replaced with grass and smaller shrubs and flowers. I built a rock wall along the sidewalk, dragging the stones in three carloads from a rock quarry nearby.

Every job was done with the period of the house in mind, and in the end, it was charming and engaging. It was the perfect project. I did not have the money to hire contractors for most of the work, and therefore I did it all myself. I hired an electrician to replace the wiring and update that, and my dad installed the new bathtub fixtures and the front door, but everything else was done with my own two hands. It was a lot of work, but I loved that house and loved the end result.

Four months after I bought the house, Bjorn was offered a job in Florida doing exactly the kind of engineering he wanted, designing medical implants. Within three weeks of the job offer, he packed his truck and set off, leaving me alone with our daughter and the dogs.

On the one hand, I was relieved to let go of the tension between us. On the other, life became much more difficult. First there was the house. Even though it was a project of love, it was still a lot of work, especially for a full-time, working single mother. Milla was attending kindergarten and would go to aftercare there after school. Because of the hours at aftercare, I had to cut back one hour per day at the office, leaving at 5 instead of 6. This did not change my workload, only the hours I sat in the office doing it. In spite of the fact that the workload remained unchanged, the firm cut my pay, which I could barely afford.

I was also now the only person available to ensure Autumn was given her daily insulin shots twice every day. No matter where I was in the evening, I had to plan to ensure Autumn was medicated. I chose 7:15 as the time for these shots because it was early enough in the morning that I had not yet left for work, late enough that it would not be horrible to wake up to on the weekend, and early enough in the evenings that I could still do something after.

At times, I would take her with me in the car if I had to be somewhere and could not be home to give her a shot, a cooler in tow for the insulin, which had to be refrigerated. I also had to be careful not to shake the bottle because this could cause the insulin to become unstable and unusable.

In spite of the difficulties, we managed and forged a comfortable routine. Six months after Bjorn moved away, I left the firm and started my own practice. This brought its own stresses, but it was still easier setting my own time and getting work done at odd hours. I was freed up to attend more events at Milla’s school during the day, and it gave me much more flexibility for dealing with Autumn.

Over the next year, we settled into our lives with Bjorn far away and working at my new practice. I worked on the house on weekends and some afternoons during the week.

I took both dogs out of the house nearly every day. We lived near a dog park with a wide field where the dogs could run without leashes. Even on wet days, I would go and let them romp in the muddy grass, then wipe their paws before having them ride in the back of the car to home.

Autumn couldn’t get up into the car by herself, so I would lift her and get her situated. She would ride, watching the world go by, tongue lolling, ears perked, her happy face on. She loved car rides. Molly didn’t mind the car, but she preferred curling up in the corner or on the back seat.

Autumn actually didn’t seem to notice the poking of the needle into the skin at the back of her neck anymore. Every shot was followed immediately by food and she soon figured out that my shuffling around in the refrigerator door meant food was soon to be had, so she would wait right at my heels, eyes up, perky and expectant, waiting for that shot.

Needles. The funny thing about giving a shot is that the first few times you do it, it’s terrifying to think of the pain it’s inflicting. After you’ve given fifty shots, then a hundred, then several hundred, you can do it in your sleep. I suppose it’s like that for anything new. There is just something rather odd about doing something that becomes so familiar that is actually poking into another living body.

I will never forget those little orange tipped needles. I bought them in bulk from various pharmacy stores. I got to know where the deals were. The shocking thing was the difference in price from one store to the next, for the exact same needles of the same brand. It gave me some insight into what diabetics or others with chronic medical conditions face every day. The same box of needles would be ten dollars less than the cost somewhere else. The cheapest I found were about $17 for a hundred needles (they had to be thrown away after each use), but I found places that sold them for $33 for an identical box. I had the benefit of being strong and fit, so driving to another store where I knew the needles were cheaper was a fairly simple proposition. I could see how a mostly housebound senior would have a lot of difficulty shopping around.

After administering shots to Autumn twice daily for over a year, giving the shots became mundane and completely routine. On weekend mornings, I would wake up, stumble to the kitchen, roll the bottle in my hands, pull the shot, give it to her, feed her, and head back to bed, all in about three minutes flat. I don’t think I even really woke up. All the dogs knew the wake-up time, and if for some reason there was no alarm and I failed to awaken, one of them was guaranteed to rouse me from sleep.

One morning on a Saturday, I staggered into the kitchen, pulled the shot, and the phone rang. I squinted at the caller id, wondering sluggishly who would call at 7 a.m.on a Saturday. There was no way I could read the screen. I am ridiculously farsighted and my eyes were full of sleep.

I answered the call. It was Officer So-and-So from the Milwaukie Police Department. Did I have a golden colored dog? I informed him that I did, looking blindly around the kitchen for the neck I’d planned to shove a needle into not thirty seconds previously.

The officer went on to say that a yellow dog had been seen “wandering in a daze” down the road. She looked lost and starving. He responded to the call and found my number on her collar. He offered to bring her to me.

I explained that she had diabetes and that this was why she was so thin, that I had no idea she was out, that she was an escape artist of the highest order, and that I would be most grateful if he returned her to me. And please, I begged, don’t feed her anything.

Five minutes later, Autumn walked in the door, that diabetic-glazed look in her eye. I poked the shot into her neck, barely glancing down, I had done it so many times. I talked to the officer for ten more minutes, telling him Autumn’s story and about her magical ability to get out of the yard, and thanked him profusely as he drove off. I did not mention that I had failed to replace her underground fence collar after her bath the previous evening.

I was grateful Autumn was back, but I was really glad I did not get a “Dog at Large” ticket. Those can be expensive. I knew. Autumn had given them to me before. Even though the dog yard was fenced with underground wiring, it did not guard against escapes out the front or back doors, and I lived with a 5-year-old who had a habit of running out without making sure the latch had clicked. Autumn knew this and followed Milla around, waiting for any opportunity to slip out the door.

I was also extremely grateful he had not given her any food. On one occasion when Autumn escaped, a well-meaning yet misguided neighbor fed her two huge bowls of food before she keeled over in the woman’s kitchen. Why she waited to call me until after giving my dog a meal I’ll never know. Maybe she thought I was starving her on purpose or something, as if someone who was careful enough to tag a dog would be careless enough not to feed it.

In any case, when I went to retrieve Autumn from the neighbor’s house, the lady started to scold me for letting my dog get so thin, but I cut her off and explained that she had a chronic illness and that the food she gave her could have killed her, which is why she had keeled over.

I wanted to scream, “Why would you feed someone else’s dog, you idiot?” but did not. She didn’t know, and she thought she was helping. I used my glucose monitor to check Autumn’s blood. I ran the test, gave her an insulin shot, and she was back to normal within a half an hour. After that incident I went to the pet store and bought a tag that read, “I have a disease. DO NOT FEED ME!”

The glucose meter was a godsend and really the only part of all the illness-related activities Autumn endured that she seemed really to abhor. Other than testing urine, it was the best way for me to get a reading on Autumn’s insulin levels, especially if she had broken into the trash cupboard and found something to eat, or escaped and gotten something.

We had a strict food routine in the house whereby any food-based garbage went into the compost bucket, which was kept on a high shelf with a lid. When it was full it went into the compost bin out back, away from the dog area. The rest of our waste was separated into two containers, one for trash and the other for recycling. Autumn loved to get into the trash version and lick through whatever was in there, such as butter wrappers or soiled plastic wrap. Once the new cabinets were installed in the kitchen, I put in a double-garbage-can rack, placing the recycling in the front bin, and the trash in the back. There was a childproof latch on the door. When that was closed and the trash in the back, she was not able to get into it. However, Milla had a knack for leaving the door open and the whole thing pulled out. Autumn would then remove the can from the rack and go through whatever was inside.

One time shortly after we moved in, I arrived home to discover that Autumn had gnawed through the bottom corner of one of the kitchen boxes sitting stacked and unpacked on the kitchen floor. She had discovered all the dry good baking items and ate them. Molly had joined in on that escapade. I caught her because I discovered powdered sugar on her ears and muzzle. Naughty things.

Another time both dogs managed to get onto the table and eat a pan of chocolate cake.  I had heard the warnings that chocolate supposedly killed dogs, but this simply was not the case.  I read somewhere that it was only dogs who had an allergy that had to worry about eating it, but who wants to be the person making this discovery the first time?  It makes sense to keep the chocolate away just in case your dog is the one who is allergic.

However, potential life-threatening allergies did not stop my dogs from climbing on the table and eating an entire chocolate cake.  When Dan and I lived at his parent’s, Murphee climbed onto the island in the kitchen and ate a pan of brownies.  In all cases the worst thing that happened was the dogs came away with some really nasty gas, and we no longer had any dessert.  Apparently none of them suffered from chocolate allergy.

The glucose meter was a big help for these non-diabetic dog food eating sprees. However, in order to use the meter, I had to obtain a drop of Autumn’s blood. One end of the meter had a sharp lancet with which to pierce her skin. At the other end of the meter was a test strip onto which I smeared the blood to obtain a glucose reading. Autumn hated the pricking part. There was not any part of her body where it was easy to get a blood sample, mainly because she was furry. Only her lips and the pads of her paws were bare. The lips had to hurt; she yelped whenever I tried drawing blood from them, the skin was so thin and soft. But the pads of her paws were thick and extremely difficult to pierce enough to get blood. When I was able to poke them hard enough, it usually caused way more bleeding than was necessary for the meter, and this made her cry out as well. Digging that deep into the pads was painful. For this reason I only used the test when I knew she had eaten something she should not have. In addition the test strips were really expensive, so I didn’t want to use them up quickly. Humans would use the meters daily, because they could control their levels fairly precisely with diet. Autumn could only eat her prescription diabetic dog food, so it wasn’t necessary to monitor all the time.

Autumn was always so patient with the medical interventions she had to endure, but the lancets and subsequent rubbings were the one procedure for which she refused to sit still or comply. She would pull away and yelp, making it that much more difficult to get blood. But she was a dog – as much as I told her it would all be over soon, she just couldn’t get it. Sometimes I would be frustrated because she had gotten into something and made a huge mess, and then wouldn’t sit still so I could check her blood.

“If you wouldn’t get into anything, I wouldn’t have to do this,” I would scold, obviously more for my benefit than for hers.

I would read the meter and if the levels were high, give her more insulin. On occasion, the meter simply read HI, in its blocky digital letters. This meant her glucose levels were so high, they were off the chart, and insulin was required immediately.

Within a few months after her diagnosis, I noticed tiny white flecks in Autumn’s eyes. The flecks increased as the weeks progressed. I went online and discovered that Autumn was developing diabetic cataracts, a condition that is extremely common. I read somewhere that 75% of dogs with diabetes develop cataracts, and that their presence did not necessarily imply glucose levels were not under control.

In a normal eye, the lens is round, clear, and hard. It is connected by fibers that move so the eye can focus. It is enclosed in a capsule and gets fluids from the eye. The lens does not have its own blood supply. One of the fluids the lens absorbs is glucose. If there is too much glucose, the excess is converted into the sugars sorbitol and fructose. Sorbitol and fructose pull water into the lens which makes the lens cloudy, and a cataract is formed.

Some dogs develop complete cataracts fairly quickly after their diagnosis. Autumn’s developed slowly in comparison to some of the stories I read, and her cataracts were never completely solidly white; they were slightly less opaque than that. However, a year after the diagnosis, she could not really see. She would tilt her head and look at me as if she were peeking out the side of her eye, trying to see around the cataract. A couple of times she ran into the doorframe around the back door, but she quickly adapted and learned where her world was at. I could have had the vet perform surgeries to remove the cataracts, but we discussed it and ruled it out. The cost was over $1000 per eye, and the average life span of a dog with diabetes is two years from diagnosis. Even if Autumn lived another three years, the result did not justify the expense or the upheaval of a surgery. Blind dogs adapt quite well to living without sight, and Autumn was no exception.

After Autumn had been living with diabetes for nearly two years, she was almost completely blind, but she was lively. I would take her to the dog park and throw frisbees and sticks for her. I would set her up, touching her muzzle with whatever I was throwing, then guiding her head in the direction of my toss. Autumn would head out and look until she found what I’d thrown. Her sense of smell was fully intact, and she would find anything, no matter how far I had thrown it, as long as I pointed her in the right direction. She loved the game, turning and running right back to me to throw again, in that familiar trot she had inherited from Cody. She wore out easily though, and would lie down to shred the stick after only three or four passes letting me know she had had enough.

Read Autumn — Chapter 16

Lifting Their Legs on the World

When I was a girl, my family took car trips around the country. I know there were many long, uninterrupted and rather boring stretches where my sister and I complained and asked, “Are we there yet?” Five minutes later, “Are we there yet?” I used the time to read, still a favorite pastime, or to stare out at the landscape.

Yet as time has ebbed, it isn’t the long drives I remember so much, it is the places along the way. I have several ethereal, out-of-context memories, such as an intersection in the middle of nowhere stopping us at a light in the middle of the night. I was in the backseat. It was dark. We were in the desert. That is all I know. Or the Native American roadside stand in New Mexico or some other southwest place, selling strange toys and dolls covered in actual fur. We stopped at a place to go to the bathroom, and I was given a plastic pony covered in grey felt. It was short and fat, a Thelwell style thing. I can’t remember if I was given the pony before or after my crying fit, the one that seems as if it lasted hours, because I hadn’t gotten something I wanted. I remember the stickiness of the car seat, my raw facial flesh from the salt and water and rubbing. It was cloudy, but it was also hot — our cars never had air conditioning. It seems unlikely my parents would have given it to me after crying in such a manner, but I also seem to have some vague notion of there being some unfairness too, and so I was given this trinket. This episode was obviously linked to some emotional overflowing, and therefore this is the reason it sticks in my brain. I know it was summer and I was 10 or 11.

Mostly though, I remember the places: the museum at the petrified forest, the fluorescent lights shining on off-white, speckled formica tile, the bits of hardened wood under glass on tables, and the signs explaining the geological phenomena. I remember a roadside dinosaur we could climb inside. I remember campsites in far flung places, usually the desert, because we traveled every summer to visit my grandpa and uncles and aunt in New Mexico. I remember Los Alamos and the mesa stable, walking out and looking over the cliffs at what seemed to be vast canyons. I remember the Grand Canyon, and the Great Hoover dam and its unbelievable, terrifying, breath stealing bridge. I could see the water, trapped on one side and then far, far below, the canyon on the other, empty of water. I would marvel that the water caught on the far side could be that deep. I remember the Glen Canyon damn, and riding wide boats among the sheer rock faces. We roamed wax museums, and visited the pretend old west in Carson City, Nevada. We stopped at roadside attractions showing the path of the pioneers along the Oregon trail, and visited ghost towns that had thrived in the heyday of the gold rush. I remember passing billboard after billboard, announcing the coming attractions, as well as signs you had to read as you passed by. Roadside poetry. So it went. Summer after summer, we took our yearly drive. Sometimes in the winter we also visited, and skated on iced-over ponds, or hiked through snowy forests.

Last summer, I took my daughters to Europe. We trekked through several cities. I found myself feeling sadness and a little frustration that in city after city, the same corporate shops dotted the landscapes. Museums were large, crowded, and expensive, certainly not the best option for my then 2 year old. I could not find a small chocolate shop in Antwerp. A shop owner in the Netherlands told me it was because the multinational corporations had driven up the cost of real estate and all the small shops had gone out of business.

When Milla was three, we trekked to our annual family reunion in South Dakota. It was the first time I had been to the small pioneer cemetery where one part of my family has been buried since settling on the plains in the mid-1800s. Many of those buried there were born in Scandinavia. I have a great, great, great aunt who was one of the only white people Sitting Bull befriended. She brought food to them because the American government was purposely starving them. She ignored the prohibition against it and fed them. There is a book about her. These hardy (and hard) people moved from a very cold, harsh place to another cold and harsh place. Some of them were run off their Scandinavian farms by political unrest in their countries. For this, I think some of them identified with the Natives on those plains and perhaps this is why they became allies.

The trip was a complete and utter disappointment on one level. I expected it to look like South Dakota. I expected a “South Dakota-ness” to the place. No. It was Target. It was Walmart. It was Burger King. It was the same ugly, conforming corporate crap we have where I live. Later I traveled to several other US cities. The same thing.

Something erased these individual places and made them homogenuous and boring. I know what it is: capitalism. Capitalism took away the South Dakota-ness, and the Oregon-ness, and the Arizona-ness and replaced them with bland, ugly sameness. There are no little shops selling trinkets made by locals. If there are, they are now in the upscale, “artsy” places and the people making things sell them for a small fortune to tourists whose tours are to shop. Tour brochures in motels feature the “best” malls and the “best” shopping. Going to places and finding things to do that are not shopping is difficult. Oh, you can pay a fortune to ride on some guided boat, or to rent some piece of equipment you likely own at home such as a bicycle or kayak, but it’s rare to go to places and find things about that place that you can’t find in every other place all over. Even Europe has lost its uniqueness in each city. Family trips are taken to destination resorts that are exactly the same as every other corporate resort. Even the lines are the same. All that might change is the weather. Too bad the corporations can’t control that.

Bill Bryson, in his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid describes rides in cars visiting places in the US. I’ve read many memoirs where the author remembers such things. I have also read stories where such summer trips played a key role in the plot. Driving around in the backseat as a child is a key cultural memory for those of us born between the 1930s and early 1980s.

Since taking vacations as an adult, I have spent many trips trying to find places like those I visited as a child, unusual places that I can take my children that define the place they are in. I’ve been frustrated by the search. I’ve raged against travel brochures that feature shopping as a tourist attraction. What, so I can buy the same shit made in China that is sold all over the world and then lug it home? I drove across the country in 2009. Every single roadside, every single town was monochromatic, exactly like the one before. Nothing had its own identity.

In another favorite book of mine by Bryson In a Sunburned Country, Bryson describes a town called Alice Springs, Australia, near the site of an Aboriginal holy place at the base of the MacDonnell Mountain Range. It is overrun with McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a Kmart. He says that Americans have created “a philosophy of retailing that is totally without aesthetics…” He also says it is totally irresistible, but I do not agree. I absolutely hate it and I do resist it. I avoid these places like the plague.

I’m currently reading Roger Ebert’s memoir Life Itself. In it, he describes perfectly how we are losing the identities of the world’s places. He describes his love of London, his visits there for thirty years, spanning from 1966 to 2006. Every year he went at least once, many even more. Yet in the last decade, London is losing itself because of the corporations “lifting their legs along London’s streets.” Oh, my good man, what an apt description. In it I had an Ah ha! moment that identified what has been missing from my vacations and visits to places that are not home. I thought it was something about me, that maybe I have lost my luster, and that this is why I haven’t been able to fully enjoy these places I’ve gone. I had an expectation of that feeling of newness, visiting something different from myself that I experienced as a child vacationing in the backseat of our family car.

Yet it wasn’t me at all. It was this erasing of individual identities from the places in the world. It was all the hideous conformity, with no regard whatsoever for the place that had been there. It’s the chasing of the almighty dollar.

We have to do something to change this. We have to stop the reign of capitalism. Something has to shift. People have to believe it is possible before we all become Stepford robots keeping up with the Joneses to buy ugly, plastic junk that destroys our planet. We need to go out of our way to find the few places that still exist where homogeneity isn’t the rule and take our children to these places.

Last summer I visited my friend in Ephrata, Washington. There isn’t much there; Walmart took care of that, although some small shops are trying to make a go of it. Yet they are shops, not tourist destinations. My friend took me for a drive out to the Columbia Basin plateau, a site of magnificent geology, where lava flows and massive floods created incredible landscapes. Up on the edge of one of the cliffs over a coulee there was a little museum telling the story of the geology, the ice age, and its effect on the land. My 13 year old actually read the information on the exhibits. It reminded me of the places we visited as a child. These places do exist. Find them. Take your children. Give them memories that are worthy of reminiscing. Don’t let us all turn into monochromatic robots, shopping our way around the world.

Autumn — Chapter 10

Read Autumn — Chapter 9

The spring Milla was born, we decided to move to Portland. Living in Corvallis had worn thin for me. It was too small and too far from the activities we enjoyed. I liked bigger cities and had mainly stayed in Corvallis because first Dan, then Bjorn attended university there. Bjorn had grown up in a suburb of Portland, and during a visit shortly after Milla’s birth, we realized we could move.

I remember clearly the moment it occurred to me that we could leave Corvallis and live somewhere else. We were driving along in the car in Portland near Bjorn’s childhood home. I was a passenger in the back seat next to the baby (because I was always a passenger in the back seat next to the baby), and as we slid past orchards and neighborhoods, the idea we could actually leave where we were and go somewhere else popped into my head, and I said to Bjorn, “Let’s move. Let’s move up here now.”

Milla wasn’t even yet a month old, but I wanted a change, wanted out of Corvallis with its memories and limitations. Bjorn had one year left towards his engineering degree, and I was planning to apply to law school. We held a garage sale, packed a moving van, and headed north. Autumn was six years old.

We started out renting a room in Bjorn’s dad’s house, but this proved unsatisfactory nearly immediately. I had learned the hard way what living with family can do to a relationship, and within a month we had rented our own apartment on the third floor of a complex that had been, only months before, a filbert orchard. There were still filbert orchards across from our apartment, and we taught the dogs to run out the door, down three flights of stairs, and out across the median to the trees to do their business.

In spite of the fact the apartment was rather small, near Christmas the year we moved in, my brother Derek asked if he could stay with us for a short time while he looked for a place to live.  He had been living with our parents in Jefferson, a town about sixty miles south of Portland.

For years, Derek had struggled with drug addiction.  He would go to treatment, move out on his own and get a job, then for various reasons end up back living with our parents and near the people who always helped him get into trouble.  This cycle had run through about four times at this point.

At the time Derek wanted to live with us, he had been back to our parent’s, and we all believed that if he could just get away from the area, he would have a better chance at success in beating his addictions.

Bjorn and I discussed whether to allow Derek to stay with us.  Bjorn actually didn’t have any problems with it, but I was worried if we allowed him to stay, we would have a difficult time getting him to leave.  Unless he did something awful, I didn’t want to have to call the police simply to get him to move on.

We finally decided that we would allow him to stay, but with certain limitations.  Namely he had to get a job and he could not stay with us longer than two weeks.  We also did not want his girlfriend to live there.  Neither of us I liked her very  much, but we did not tell Derek this.  Even if we had loved her, we simply did not have the room.

Derek moved in. We let him sleep on the couch and keep his belongings in Milla’s room because she slept with us in our bed.  Nearly immediately, he was able to secure a job during the swing shift, so we didn’t see him very much except in the late morning before he left for work.  One afternoon when he did not have to work, I took him over to the management office to help him fill out an application for an apartment of his own.

For Christmas, I invited my parents and my sister and her family to our house for Christmas.  The apartment was tiny, but I had decided after Milla’s birth that we were not going to do the usual holiday run-around anymore.  On Christmases past, we would drive to my parent’s, then Bjorn’s dad’s, then his mom’s family, and often to my sister’s, or some other version of it.  No one ever came our way.  I did not want my baby to spend her holidays driving all over the place.

We pulled out the leaves to the table and made room for everyone. The kitchen was not large, but it served its purpose, helping us to serve dinner to eleven.  Once the family was satiated, we all opened gifts, our families left for home, and I straightened up the mess.

For years I had gone to the movies on Christmas day, me and many others.  Apparently Hollywood figured out this trick because movies started opening on Christmas, which was great since we saw a lot of movies and frequently needed new choices.  During movies, I would breastfeed Milla and she would fall asleep in my arms.  Derek was with us so we all bundled up and headed out to the car and off to see a show.

Three hours later when we arrived home, things were not in order.  We had only opened gifts for my family and one another, but there were still many gifts left for Bjorn’s family and for our friends.  The wrappings to most of these gifts were now spread throughout the house.  Little pieces of ribbon, bows, wet wrapping paper, and tags lay everywhere, in the living room, across the rug in the dining room, down the hall, and in both bedrooms. The cork stopper to a jar of nuts was half shredded, bits of cork speckling the carpet.  Pieces of candy cane were littered everywhere, the chunks obviously sucked on because they were coagulated in their plastic wrap.  A thorough mess.

Normally if we had arrived to a scene like this, Autumn would be standing happily in the middle of it, tongue out with some incriminating evidence on her muzzle, and Molly would be hiding, but both dogs just stood there, looking at us.

“What in the world is going on?” I asked them sternly, knowing of course there would be no response.  “Did you eat our gifts?”

Looking further, we discovered several food items in the hall and in our bedroom.  It did not look like much was eaten, but they had certainly seemed to have had a party opening all the presents and spreading them all over the place.

“What in the world were you thinking?” I hollered?  “Why did you do this?  Do you really think I want to clean up a mess like this on Christmas?”  They ignored me.  Neither of them seemed in any way concerned, which for Molly was completely strange.

I began picking up the pieces and pulling the presents together to rewrap.  Bjorn and Derek took the dogs out on our patio to keep them from getting into anything else.

It wasn’t until years later, after Derek had been to rehab a couple of more times, and long after Bjorn and I were no longer a couple, that I learned the real truth of what happened that night.

Apparently my brother had hidden in his backpack a rather large, brownie-sized cake of hashish.  When the four of us returned home to the mini Christmas disaster that night, Derek quickly realized what was up.  His bag was askew, the pocket in the front of the bag where the hashish had been stashed wide open.  The hashish had been wrapped in aluminum foil with a sticker on the front that read Acapulco Gold!  This foil was lying smashed and spitty in a pile on the cream-colored carpet, the Acapulco Gold! label torn in half.

Derek immediately pulled Bjorn aside and told him he thought the dogs had eaten his hashish.  The two of them dragged the dogs to the patio to confirm their suspicions.  Apparently what I failed to notice was that our dogs’ pupils were the size of platters and rimmed in red.  The reason neither dog had reacted in any way to my tirade was that they were both completely stoned.

When I heard the story, so long into the future, I laughed, recalling the picture of both dogs baked and confused.  I can only imagine how it must have been from their perspective, discovering Christmas goodies while they were high on hashish.

Yet Derek and Bjorn were right that I would have blown a gasket if I had known at the time. Even later, the implications were not lost on me.  Derek had kept drugs in our apartment, and had done so with our small daughter there.  She was mobile by then, crawling about and getting into things.  He assured me the stuff had been zipped up tight in his bag, and that Milla would never have been able to find them, but his concealment had not been enough to keep our dogs from making their discovery.  They were very lucky they didn’t get sick.

Ultimately, Derek fulfilled his end of the bargain.  He moved into his own apartment in the complex and got a job.  His story then continued on its own trajectory.

Meanwhile, Bjorn and I were both ready to move less than a year later.  The apartment was so tiny and located in a suburb that seemed designed to stop all drivers at every traffic signal, which drove me crazy. It was also too far from the university where Bjorn attended classes and the law school where I planned to attend classes a year later. I wanted more than an apartment. I wanted a yard where the dogs and baby could play. I wanted space, and not to be able to hear our neighbors arguing.  Bjorn, nearly 6’7″ in height, wanted room to stretch his legs without banging them on another wall. And so, less than a year after moving north to Portland, we moved again into a high-ceilinged duplex with a rambling yard. An ancient oak shaded half the yard and kept our home cool.

I loved that duplex. Too bad there were drug dealers in the park next to it. We could hear shouts and shots and all sorts of unmentionables there, at all hours of the day and night, which frightened me somewhat, considering the blonde, curly sprite living with us. The dogs also barked at all hours, warning off interlopers, causing us all to jump as we studied and played.

Finally, after witnessing a police officer throw a half naked woman and several baggies filled with white powder across the hood of his patrol car, cuffing her and tossing her carelessly into his backseat, we decided that it might be best to move on yet again.  During the years Bjorn and I were together, we had a knack for moving into places that suited one need and not another.

Our next choice was the perfect little farmhouse. Charming and comfortable, the house was yellow with white trim, and sat on two acres in the middle of one of Oregon’s wealthiest suburbs. The acreage was grandfathered, allowing us to keep livestock, so we fenced it and brought home my old childhood pony, as well as some ducks. We could have stayed there forever. Unfortunately, the little house was a rental and the manager a son who was waiting with bated breath for his mother to pass so he could develop the property, which he did not long after we moved out. There was a five-story cherry tree in the front yard, which was promptly chopped down, along with the house, in his zealous desire to destroy the land and fill his greedy hands with cash.

Our next place was our first purchase and horribly ill-suited for us, too far from town, and too much suburban sameness, block after block. In purchasing this house, Bjorn and I took the advice of a well-meaning, but misguided friend who assisted us in making the purchase. It was only years later after Bjorn and I broke up that I finally bought a house that was suitable to me. We learn with age that which we will no longer tolerate.

However, at the time we chose the duplex, we were a long way from buying our own home. Bjorn was in his last year of school and I was in my first of law school. We both worked and studied and parented our child. The duplex was spacious and shared only a small wall with our quiet neighbors. Built in the sixties, it had sloping, vaulted ceilings and two bathrooms. After the dinky, third-floor walk-up, this was paradise!

During our move from the apartment to the duplex, I saw a sign over the mailboxes at the apartment complex advertising a free cat. According to the sign, the cat liked children and other pets.

Milla and I headed over to visit the prospective cat. The apartment was on the third floor. The people who owned the cat ran a daycare service out of their home. The lady of the house wanted to find the cat a new home because her husband would not allow the cat to come into the house, and he had therefore been living on the balcony for his entire short life. She had gotten him from the humane society when he was a kitten. Except for a few visits with the daycare children where he was dressed in doll clothes and pushed around in a stroller, he had spent eleven months living on a 3 by 6 balcony with one other cat. His name was Friday and we fell in love with him on the spot.

For the rest of his life, Friday adored us. I swear he was grateful to his bones we had released him from the prison of that godforsaken balcony and the daycare children dressing him up in baby clothes.

Autumn had never been a big cat chaser. There had been cats living at the apartment complex in Tennessee and in every neighborhood we had lived in since. She and Molly were both nonplussed by the newest member of the family. After some initial sniffing, the three all ignored one another.

I suppose after Milla, as far as the dogs were concerned, any new family members were acceptable. The two of them had both settled into life with a tiny person running around. First she was a lump they could sniff and mostly ignore, but then she began moving about and carrying food with her, and suddenly she was a much more interesting prospect.

They also relished her diapers. Their’s was a disgusting and foul habit, this desire to eat diapers. No matter what steps we took to keep used diapers away from them, they would somehow manage to get into them and eat them. This would be followed by yellowish turds filled with chewed up plastic and diaper innards.

We had purchased for Milla’s room a widget called a Diaper Genie. The thing had a weird hole in its top through which one placed a used diaper. The diaper would slide through a convoluted plastic contraption and into the bowels of the Genie. A door on the front of the Genie allowed access into the bag which held the diapers. Its point was to ensure that the smell of the diapers did not escape into the room where the Genie was placed.

Both our dogs could open that Diaper Genie and get the diapers out. We would come home from wherever we had been to discover diaper shreds, baby shit, and pieces of soiled diaper spread from one end of Milla’s room to the other. Molly, of course, would be hiding in our bedroom under the bed because, in spite of her biological urge to eat diapers, she knew that our discovery of them would result in lots of hollering and hand-wringing, and this terrified her half to death. Autumn would sit among the diapers, her tongue lolling, breath smelling foul and wrong, wondering where she could find some more.

We attempted to avoid this problem by placing the Diaper Genie into the closet in Milla’s room. To no avail. Autumn was always a clever getter into things, and she would simply open the closet and proceed to dismantle the Genie in there instead.

Finally, I went and purchased an industrial strength, outdoor garbage can, the kind with a lid and bungee cords for closing. We put the Diaper Genie in this, put the whole contraption in the closet and, as long as we remembered to keep Milla’s bedroom door shut, the closet door shut, and the lid on the industrial garbage can securely fastened, we could avoid diaper catastrophes. It was also imperative that we remove the filled bag from the diaper genie to the outdoor garbage can once it was full. On a couple of occasions Bjorn left the full bag on the floor in the bedroom, which may as well have been a giant, flashing invitation to the dogs to come in and have a diaper smorgasbord at their pleasure. It only took a couple of misses on this one for Bjorn never to make that mistake again.

Milla celebrated her first birthday at the duplex.  I invited our family and our closest friends to a little garden party.  I baked a cake that looked like a caterpillar and covered it with fondant.  I sat up half the night stringing together green and yellow, construction paper, daisy chains, which I hung all over the kitchen and living room.  Clearly, Autumn’s birthday parties were just a warmup.

Within weeks of her first birthday, Milla walked across the living room.  She had been cruising for a while, walking everywhere as long as her hands held a couch, the wall, or some other support.  Then one afternoon while holding a marbly green, plastic ball, she took off and walked twelve steps across the room.  It was as if the ball were her support.

Once she began walking, she kept going, and only became faster.  Up to this point, the dogs were interested in her usually only when she sat in her high chair.  Both Milla and the dogs had discovered that the high chair could be quite fun.  Milla would toss whatever food item she happened to be consuming, and then laugh hysterically as the dogs pounced on it like starving lunatics.  Occasionally this would cause arguments between the dogs, which only made Milla laugh more.  First lessons in cause and effect.

During her crawling phase, when things became a little too silent, I would often discover her on all fours, both hands in the dog water dish.  She was also quite fond of making dog food soup, mixing together whatever food stuffs were left in the dogs’ dish with their water.  I kept the dishes on a place mat in the kitchen, and after these escapades, the floor around and under the mat would usually be a watery mess.  Autumn especially loved eating the soupy mixture, and would wait to one side while Milla mixed it for her, then dive in as soon as the baby crawled off to explore elsewhere.

When Milla began to walk, she also began to carry different food items with her.  I usually put her in her high chair to eat, but sometimes, especially if I was busy trying to study or straighten the house, I would pour some cereal in a little dish for her to carry around, or give her a cracker.

One night I sat at the kitchen table studying.  Milla had finished her dinner, but was wandering around with a sandwich in her hand.  Molly was hiding under the dining room table, doing her best to remain as unobtrusive as possible.  Autumn, of course, was following Milla, trying to get the sandwich she held in her hand.  Milla kept telling her “No!” and holding the sandwich up, trying to keep it out of Autumn’s reach.

Finally, frustrated at her inability to get the food, Autumn jumped up and tried to grab the sandwich, snapping at it, shoving Milla backward into the cupboard.  Autumn tried again to snatch the sandwich, but she got Milla’s cheek instead, high up, underneath her eye.

Milla cried out in pain.  I jumped up and raced over to her, shouting, “Autumn!”  Autumn ducked and backed up as I gathered Milla into my arms, sobbing.  Bjorn raced into the kitchen, screaming “Autumn” in a loud and ferocious voice.  He grabbed her by the ruff of her neck and threw her across the room.

“I could kill that dog!” he shouted.

“Leave her alone,” I screamed.  Milla wailed.  “She was trying to get the sandwich.  It was an accident.”

“I don’t care if it was a fucking accident,” Bjorn raged.  “She bit my daughter in the face!”

“It wasn’t on purpose.  She just wanted the sandwich,” I answered.  Milla hugged me and sobbed in my arms.  I grabbed a washcloth and set her on the counter to investigate the damage.

“Go get some antiseptic cream,” I instructed Bjorn, hoping that a project would separate him from his anger.  He stalked out of the room to go search for the medicine.

I wet the washcloth and gently rinsed Milla’s face.  She had suffered a small scratch under her right eye.  Thank goodness the bite was on her cheek and not her eye.

I looked around to see where Autumn was at.  She was cowering in the corner near the glass back door.

“Autumn, it’s okay,” I cooed to her.  “I know it was an accident.”  She was trembling.  I opened the back door and let her out.  From wherever she had been hiding, Molly came running and scooted out past me as well.  Neither dog was comfortable with yelling and violence.

Milla calmed down.  I swabbed some ointment on her small wound and then took her into the bedroom to nurse.  She was none the worse for wear, but Bjorn was still quite angry, and never forgave Autumn for this bite.  For days he told anyone who would listen that he should have killed my dog.  Eventually his anger wore down, but I made took extra care with Milla and food to ensure nothing like this event ever happened again.

Read Autumn — Chapter 11

I’m a Funnel Web

I don’t text and drive because if I died, the tenuous little family I have would splinter apart and lose not just me, but one another. There is nothing here holding us together except me. Here is how my funeral would be: my small number of friends (who aren’t friends with each other so who knows how some of them would even find out), my parents, and my sister’s family. There would be no looming aunts or uncles or cousins who would pull my daughters aside and tell them to hold on to each other because they are all the other has anymore. The consequence of being an immoral and wanton woman who has not had a traditional family for herself (not because it isn’t what I wanted, but because I made choices in partners that were not the best for me), is that I have two children from two fathers — GASP! Say it isn’t so! Yes, I’m afraid it is. One of their fathers lives three states away with his new wife. The other lives here in Portland alone in a basement studio apartment. The older would ship off to Arizona; the younger would remain. They would not see one another. I highly doubt my family would make much effort to see them more than once a year, if that. The phone calls to them would dwindle. Over the years they would lose touch with my family (but my family doesn’t know me anyway, so I don’t know that they would be losing much there). Really, the only way the younger would even know her mother would be through the older and the older would be far away, living her teenage life, probably nursing her grief, but it would fade and soon they would have their own singular lives. There was a mother, but there isn’t any more.

I am tenuous. If I were a web, I’d be the small one in the corner, or even in a funnel. I would not be one of those magnificent orbs connected to 30 flowers and grasses in the meadow. I have thought of this over and over and over. I really first thought of it a few years ago when the son of a woman I know died. There were hundreds of people at his funeral. I’m not exaggerating. I realized then that I would never have hundreds of people at my funeral. I am not gregarious or extroverted. I get an evening off from my children and I go to the library or the bookstore and bury myself in someone else’s fake life or study something scientific that has caught my fancy. I don’t actually feel grief at being the sort of person whose funeral would not be heavily attended, but I can’t bear the thought of my daughters losing one another because I am not here and for this, I won’t text and drive. I also drive the speed limit, to the consternation of those on the road around me. I’m not ridiculous in avoiding pitfalls, but the car seems to me the most likely catalyst for my demise at this point in my life. I’m not going to increase its odds, that’s all.

Autumn — Chapter 7

Read Autumn — Chapter 6

In November 1994 my parents called me and asked for my help getting a dog for my brother Derek.  For years he had pined for a Rottweiler.  Every chance he got, he would go to breeders or shelters to look at Rottweilers and swore he would get one of his own someday.

Derek’s birthday is November 7.  For his 15th birthday our parents decided they would buy Derek his own dog as a combination birthday and Christmas gift.  This was before the internet had taken hold for such purchases, and even after it became more ubiquitous, my parents never really used it anyway.

To make their purchase, my parents relied primarily on the classified ads in the newspaper.  There was a pet section in the classifieds.  It was usually two or three columns long.  Breeders would advertise puppies for sale.  Over several weeks, my parents contacted several breeders, and through this process, they ultimately chose a puppy who would be ready to go home right at Christmastime.  The breeder was located in Portland, an hour north of my parent’s house.  They asked if Dan and I would drive up and get the dog and bring him home the day after Christmas.  Of course we agreed.

The night we drove to get the puppy was rainy and dark.  Visibility was difficult.  We were following the directions the breeder had given my mom, and as is often the case when one gets information third-hand, the directions were not easy to follow. Combined with the terrible weather, we had difficulty locating the house where the breeder lived.  Finally we called my mom who gave us the number for the breeder.  We contacted him and he directed us to his house, two blocks from the street we had been circling for twenty minutes.

The breeder’s house was a simple 1950s ranch, with low eaves and small windows. The home was cheery and clean however, and festively decorated for the holidays.  The puppies were kept in their own bedroom, but were running loose when we arrived.

As soon as we stepped in out of the rain, we were mauled by a wriggling black mass of six puppies.  They wiggled and writhed and jumped all over our feet.  Dan and I squatted to pet them.  One puppy in particular was desperate for our attention.  His fur was shiny, thick, and black.  He had orange eyebrows, and an orange throat and belly.  His tail had been docked, and he wagged his stump as he clambered over his siblings and into my lap so he could lick my face.  I held him against me, smelling his sweet puppy breath.  The breeder stood off to one side smiling.

“That’s your dog,” he stated, matter-of-factly, hands on his hips.  The man was slightly balding with a comb-over, his short-sleeved, oxford shirt tucked into his trousers.  “it is like he knew you were coming to get him tonight or something.”  He grinned at us as he said this.

The dog did indeed seem particularly excited by our visit. The others were playful, but within minutes of our arrival, they dispersed to cause mischief elsewhere in the house.  Our puppy, or rather, Derek’s puppy, hung close, trying to lick our faces and sniff our shoes.  We always thought Autumn’s paws were large, but she turned out to be a mid-sized model.  In comparison, this puppy’s paws were enormous.  There would be no mistake that this dog would be massive.

The breeder spent several minutes showing us his papers and introducing us to his mother and father, both of whom were on site.  He came from a long line of German dogs.  His grandparents were all still in Germany.  We could see from the papers that he did not have any inbreeding, which I thought was unusual for a purebred.  Many of the thoroughbred horses I knew had at least some crossing with cousins.  Years after this I adopted a greyhound who had several cousins who showed up in the lines of both her parents.

The puppy’s bloodlines mattered little to me; I knew he would be neutered eventually.  But I also knew Derek cared, and actually so did my parents.  His breeding was a primary factor in my parent’s choice of this dog over other Rottweilers they looked at.

A half an hour later we were back on the road, the lumbering fur ball asleep on my lap.  Our visit had worn him out.  Before we left, the breeder had spent a few more minutes describing his diet and medical history.  He had noted all this information on a sheet he attached to his registration papers.

For this trip, we opted to leave Autumn at my parent’s house.  We did not want her to overwhelm the puppy on the long drive home.  We called my parents to let them know we were on our way.  The plan was that our dad would take Derek into town shortly before our arrival, then return a short time later to the best gift he had ever received.

As is often the case, because we were not searching for our destination, the ride home seemed shorter than the drive up.  As we wound up my parent’s mile-long driveway, the puppy sat up and yawned, then stretched.  He was so cute.

We could hear Autumn barking as we exited our car.  I knew this bark — it said I know your car and you’re my mom and I want you!

Holding the puppy close to my chest, we dodged raindrops and raced into the house.  Shedding water left and right, we burst through the door, pulling our wet coats from our heads, plopping the puppy to the floor.  Autumn shut up long enough to give the puppy a sniff before she dashed over to me, shoving her nose into my crotch and wriggling and woofing in delight at my return.

Dogs.  No matter where we have been or for how long, they are always so happy to see us.  This must be one of the top reasons people love having them around.  Where else do we get such complete adoration on all levels, simply for being ourselves?

The puppy was sniffing around, looking like he wanted to pee.  I recognized the circling and sniffing.  It could also have been that this was a new place, with lots of new smells, but rather than take a chance, I scooped him up and headed back out onto the porch to see if he would go.  Autumn followed.  She lowered her head and ducked into the rain, squatted, peed, and jumped back under cover.  The puppy watched her, and then followed to squat and pee in the same spot.

One advantage to a mile-long driveway is that those at the top of the driveway can see visitors coming several minutes before they arrive, should they choose to look.  In this manner we saw the headlights to my dad’s truck and were able to settle in the house with the lights low in order not to give anything away. The plan was to just let the puppy roam, and see how long it took Derek to notice him.

We hovered in the living room.  Autumn lay at my feet.  The puppy had lain on the floor near a window and was snuffling in the carpet.

The back door slammed, and my brother called out, “Hello?”

“We are in here,” I said.  Autumn stood, barked once, and went to greet Derek before returning to my side.

Derek walked into the living room, my dad close behind.  He stood there for a minute, then his eyes grew large.

“Oh,” was all he said, before he walked over and kneeled by the puppy, pulling him up into his lap.  The puppy licked at his chin.  Derek, always averse to spit or other bodily fluids, leaned his head back to avoid the tongue washing. My parents smiled like schoolchildren who had successfully pulled a prank.

Only a few times in my life since he has grown have I seen my brother cry, but he had tears in his eyes as he sat and held his gargantuan puppy.

Derek named his dog Kaine after another Kaine in his ancestry.  Within months he weighed over 100 pounds. Like his forebears, he loved herding cattle and rambling around our parent’s farm.  Like Ferdinand the bull, Kaine would lumber down into their fields, then lie down and watch the world, his nose twitching, occasionally chomping at a fly as it buzzed overhead.

He was extremely smart, and learned quickly.  One of the rules in my parent’s house was that dogs were not allowed on the furniture. Autumn was occasionally allowed to get up on the couch, and periodically attempted to thwart my parent’s rule.

One afternoon while we were visiting, Derek was in his bedroom. I sat in the living room with the dogs, and Autumn jumped up next to me on the couch.  Kaine immediately ran into Derek’s room and woofed.

“What do you want?” Derek asked him.  Kaine woofed again, then turned and bustled out of the room before returning to woof yet again.  It seemed to Derek that Kaine wanted him to follow.  He stood and Kaine turned to walk out of the room, looking back to ensure Derek was behind him.  Kaine entered the living room, trotted over to Autumn, turned to Derek and woofed.  Autumn was on the couch, and this was against the rules!  Derek and I laughed and laughed.  I asked Autumn to get off the couch and lie on the floor.  This seemed to satisfy Kaine.  He circled and lay down in the corner, sighing. All was well with the world again.

Derek was fifteen years old when Kaine came to live with him.  Within a few years, Derek moved in and out of my parent’s house several times. He was never able to move anywhere that allowed a dog of Kaine’s size, or there would be silly breed restrictions that forbade tenants keeping Rottweilers.  For this reason, he lived his life at my parent’s house.

In addition, the summer of his seventeenth year, Derek began a decade-long struggle with drug addiction, a horrible, life-siphoning disease.  When he was using, he didn’t care about anyone or anything, and could be cruel.  Kaine sensed this and avoided him during those times.  When Derek was clean, Kaine was his loyal follower.

The result of this was that ultimately, Kaine adopted my mom as his person.  Although he had been purchased as Derek’s, a piece of paper is meaningless to a dog.  He decided who was his person, and although Derek was near the top, along with me and my dad, my mom was his choice.  She was the person he would follow from room to room, if only for even a few moments.  At some point, Kaine decided that this meant my dad could not hug my mother.  He would bark furiously and shove his head between the two of them.  They would laugh and separate, but unfortunately, this seemed only to reinforce the behavior.

Kaine also never seemed to understand that he was bigger than a miniature pony.  Derek held him in his lap when he was a puppy, and when he grew up, he still wanted to sit on one of us.  If we sat down where he could reach us, he would come over and climb in our lap, whether or not he was invited.

Kaine’s biggest shortcoming was his tongue. It was a constant battle to keep him from licking our faces, our hands, our legs if we were wearing skirts or shorts.  His licking drove Derek to distraction.  He absolutely hated spit of any kind, and would shout “Stop licking!” at Kaine when his tongue dared slip past his lips onto Derek’s skin, which happened all the time.  Kaine was almost pathologically incapable of stopping, in spite of Derek’s ire.  After a scolding, Kaine would turn his head to the floor, but his eyes would stay on Derek, as if to say, “Ooh, I’m so sorry, but I can’t help it.  Now can I lick you again?”

At about age 8, Kaine began to show signs he was unwell.  He would be struck still by debilitating fatigue and weakness in his back and legs, lying in a lethargy for hours.  Frightened by this behavior, my mom took him to Dr. Fletcher for tests.  It turned out that Kaine had Addison’s disease, a serious health complication whereby a dog does not produce enough cortisol.  Interestingly enough, it was the exact opposite condition of Cushing’s, the disease I believe Autumn suffered, although she never tested positive for it.

Addison’s is treatable through periodic cortisone tablets.  Kaine was prescribed cortisone to take when he began displaying Addison’s symptoms.  However, as with any steroid, the cortisone could cause side-effects, including long-term problems, so the drug had to be given sparingly.  Near the end of his life, Kaine was taking his medication daily. Without it, he would quickly relapse into dreadful lethargy and pain.  He would whimper if made to move, and he would not eat.

In February 2005, Kaine gave up eating and lay in a corner.  Nothing could coax him to take food or to move.  For two weeks, he worsened, showing interest in nothing, least of all the will to live.  My mom did not want to believe that he was dying.  I know her heart was broken; she loved Kaine like her own child.

Finally though, on President’s Day, my mom called me and asked if I would contact Dr. Fletcher and ask him to come to the house.  I spoke to him and he arranged to meet me there that evening.

The night was cold and clear, diaphanous clouds floated high in the sky.  I could see an exact half moon through the gauzy altocumulus formations.  Kaine lay on a blanket in a darkened room in the basement of the house my parents were building.  His sides heaved, and he did not look up as we entered.  My mom was so upset, she could barely speak.  Dr. Fletcher spoke quietly to Kaine, feeling his glands, running his hands along his prostrate form.

“He’s done,” he informed us.  “It’s time for him to go.”

My mom just stood there, tears on her cheeks. She could not bear to lose her friend.  She asked me to stay with him.  Dr. Fletcher opened his small toolbox and pulled out a syringe, filling it with a clear, pink liquid.  Kaine’s breathing was irregular and ragged.

“Talk to him,” he whispered to me. “Tell him it’s okay.  Tell him you love him and that he can leave now.” Dr. Fletcher administered the shot.

I leaned over Kaine and held his large, head in my hand, kissing his face and whispering to him as Dr. Fletcher had instructed.  Milla sat next to me, kneeling.

“It’s okay, boy,” I said. “We love you.  We will miss you.”

Gradually, over the next several minutes, Kaine’s breathing evened out and slowed.  It was not obvious when he stopped.  His breaths became slower and shallower until they could not be detected.  Every few moments, Dr. Fletcher would check his forearm for a pulse.  Eventually, he said, “He’s gone.”  My mother turned wordlessly and headed upstairs.

Read Autumn — Chapter 8

Autumn — Chapter 6

Read Autumn — Chapter 5 here.

The fall after we returned to the west coast, I attended the University of Oregon in Eugene. Four days a week, I drove south 45 miles to campus. Autumn would lie in the passenger’s seat, her forearm over the console and across my elbow. There were some lectures where it simply was not possible to take her with me, and for those Autumn would wait for me in the car. For the smaller classes, Autumn would attend, lying under the desk at my feet. She was so well-behaved, many people were not even aware she was there.

As was often the case if the weather was dry and the grassy fields were not too muddy, as I walked along with Autumn on her leash, I would find sticks for Autumn to fetch. I would toss the stick, Autumn would chase it and bring it back to me, and so it went.

One afternoon while doing this, I tossed the stick and was waiting for Autumn to return to me when I noticed another student taking off his belt and wrapping it around his dog’s neck. The dog had no collar or leash. Autumn ran back to me with her stick and as she did so, an officer walked up to me to give me a ticket.

“You are going to give me a ticket for letting my dog chase a stick, when she is wearing a collar and leash, is properly licensed, and comes when called, yet that guy over there doesn’t even have a collar on his dog and you aren’t going to give one to him?” I asked incredulously. “You must be kidding!”

He wasn’t. He handed me the ticket and walked off. I must have looked an easy target, or at least a responsible one who would probably show up in court and pay the damn thing. I did go to the court date and did pay the ticket, but I let the judge know exactly what happened and he reduced the fine. Going to court for such an infraction required that one license their dog. Giving me a ticket ensured the officer had won half the battle, and Mr. Belt Collar likely wouldn’t have shown up. I was easy revenue, at least for that first infraction. I never threw the stick for Autumn anywhere near campus again unless I made sure there weren’t any officers lurking about with nothing better to do than extort money from a reliable income source.

About a month after her first birthday, Autumn took the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test. I did not know anything about the test before I signed up for it. Somehow, I had heard about a dog carnival at a park in our town. The carnival was to have booths selling dog paraphernalia, dog games, agility, and other dog-related activities. In those days, I always sought out anything dog. Autumn loved playing games and I thought she would really like agility because she was light and built well for it, plus she was extremely well behaved.

The day of the carnival was cloudy, and although rain seemed likely, it did not seem imminent. The two of us headed over to the park in my green Mazda. Autumn wore an orange scarf around her neck and sat in the front seat, as she always did when there was only one of us in the car with her. I had purchased a harness that I clipped to the seatbelt so if we got into an accident, she would not go flying through the windshield. As we drove up, she looked around at all the dogs, ears attentive, her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth.

Autumn stayed close to my heel as we walked through the various booths and activities. I bought her a new yellow scarf with pink polka dots on it. After meandering about for a half an hour or so, the two of us headed over to the agility course.

Agility is one of the few dog competitions in the United States where the breed of the dog does not matter. It is comprised of a series of obstacles such as tunnels, fences for jumping, teeter-totters, and other events requiring agility in the dog.

As we worked the course, Autumn wore what I considered her doggy happy face. With her mouth slightly open, her tongue out, and eyes bright, she looked like she was smiling. She would look at me, then walk up a ramp to a bridge five feet off the ground. She would look at me, then walk across the bridge. She would look at me then enter a tunnel. Throughout the activities, I would point to something and Autumn would follow. She loved this!

After the agility, we wandered around the carnival some more, when we came upon a table and fenced area. A sign at the table indicated that this was the place for dogs to try and pass the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test. Oh, what was this? It sounded fun.

I asked one of the ladies sitting at the table what it was? She told me that the Canine Good Citizen test is designed to reward dogs who have good manners at home and in the community.  The Canine Good Citizen test is comprised of ten “tests” that the dog and handler must complete in order to receive certification that the dog is a good citizen. In order to receive a certificate, Autumn would have to complete all ten tests. Would I like to try?

Well of course! I paid the small entry fee and Autumn and we waited our turn. We looked over the requirements as we stood off to the side until our names were called.

The first test required the dog to allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation. The second test required the dog to allow a friendly stranger to touch it while it is out with its handler. The third test required the dog to welcome being groomed and examined. It also required the dog to permit someone, such as a veterinarian, groomer or friend of the owner, to do so.

The fourth test would demonstrate that the handler was in control of the dog. The dog’s position during this test could leave no doubt that the dog was attentive to the handler and responding to the handler’s movements and changes of direction.

The fifth test showed that the dog would move about politely in pedestrian traffic and remain under control in public places. The sixth test demonstrated that the dog had training, would respond to the handler’s commands to sit and down, and would remain in the place commanded by the handler. Test seven required the dog to come when called by the handler.

The eighth test showed that the dog would behave politely around other dogs. Test nine demonstrated that the dog was at all times confident when faced with common distracting situations such as joggers or something being rolled by on a dolly.

The final test required the dog to be left with a trusted person, and that it would maintain training and good manners when it was left. The owner would then leave the dog’s sight for three minutes, and the dog was supposed to remain calm and behave.

After quickly skimming through the list of requirements, I was confident that Autumn could complete all of them. This would be fun!

After waiting for several minutes, it was our turn to begin. The evaluator explained the rules of the test, which included the rule that the dog could not relieve itself during the exam. Funny rule, I thought.

We began the exercises. Each time, Autumn passed. The only test I thought we might have trouble with was number ten, the final exercise. I was not sure whether Autumn would remain quiet after I asked her to lie down and then went to hide behind a tree for three minutes. During the test, I peeked around the tree to see what she was doing. Autumn was lying still, her head alert, looking towards where I had walked. She did not get up, and she did not make a peep. After three minutes had expired, the evaluator came and got me from behind the tree.

“Your dog passed,” he said. “Congratulations.” He smiled as he handed Autumn’s leash to me, leading me over to retrieve our certificate.

“Thank you,” I answered him.

“You know, your dog, she is completely devoted to you,” the evaluator said, looking down at Autumn as he spoke.

“Really?” I asked. I always thought Autumn loved me too, but it was pleasing to hear it from someone else. “How can you tell?”

“Watch her,” he answered. “Every other step she takes she is looking at you to see where you are, what you want her to do. You can always tell a well-trained dog and one that completely loves its owner when it keeps checking in with its owner like that.”

I beamed. I knew Autumn was my best friend, my dog child. I loved her as much as she loved me, and it showed.

Years later when the internet was much more ubiquitous than it was at the time Autumn took the CGC test, I looked it up and discovered that some dogs train for years to pass the CGC test and never pass, that it is a real honor and achievement to receive the Canine Good Citizen certificate. My little dog had passed it on her first try.

Not only was Autumn good at the tests required by the Canine Good Citizen test, she had managed to learn a lot of tricks.  I have read arguments by people that humans should not force dogs to perform tricks, that it undermines their dogness or something.

Yet such assertions ignore certain aspects of canine character, namely that some dogs, like Autumn, truly seem to enjoy performing these feats of skill.  There was no force involved.  Most of the tricks she learned because we were goofing around and she figured out that certain actions resulted in a reaction from me, which she sought.  Many times Autumn would come to me and perform a trick when there was no food around.  Usually she just wanted my attention, and it worked.  She got it.

Autumn performed all the usual manner of dog tricks, such as shaking or giving five.  She would shake with her right paw and give five with her left.  She also sat up on command, balancing on her haunches, her paws curled on her chest.  Sitting up was one activity she absolutely came up with on her own.  I never held her and taught her sit up, she just started doing it when she wanted something.

Autumn’s best activity by far was playing dead.  I would pull out my finger pistol, aim it at her, fire, and cry, “Bang!”  Autumn would slump over on her side like a dead dog.  Sometimes she would lift her head and look at me with one eye.  I’d cock the gun and shoot again.  Her head would fall with a thump and she would lie there until I told her to get up.

Mornings before I left for school, I would spend a couple of hours studying at my desk.  Most of the time, Autumn would come and lie at my feet, dozing until I packed up and left for school.

As was her habit her entire life, if I left my desk for even a moment to use the bathroom or to get a glass of water, she would follow me, no matter how brief the interruption.  I would stand and head into the bathroom or kitchen.  Autumn would pull herself to her feet, follow me into whatever room, and lie down beside me sighing heavily, her tags clanking on the floor.  A minute later when I headed back to my desk she would rise again and follow, lying again at my feet. This is how she behaved most of the time.

Other times, she woke up ready to play, and she would make every effort engage my attention.  Usually this meant digging through her basket to locate the toy of her choice, then dropping it in my lap or on my feet.  I would kick the toy or toss it, trying to focus on my work, but this only encouraged her to try harder.  She would bring the toy back and drop it again and again until I either ignored her or stopped working to play for real.

If I ignored her, she would then increase her efforts, bringing in the big gun:  the rope.  Autumn’s rope consisted of two thick cotton ropes, one red, one white, woven around one another and through a hard piece of red rubber.  First, she would bring the rope to me as she had with the other objects, dropping it in my lap or at my feet.  When this failed to elicit a response, she would pounce on the rope and shake it vigorously, whacking me in the shins with the piece of rubber.

“Ow!” I would holler.  “Stop whacking me with the damn rope!”

Autumn would stop and pant, eyes bright and tail swinging.  If she was feeling especially fresh, she would lower her front end, holding the rope and shaking it, growling.

“I’m going to pummel you again if you won’t play with me!” she seemed to say, brandishing the rope like a club, ready to bludgeon me again if I failed to join in her play.  Unless I was under a serious deadline crunch, this usually worked.  It was hard to resist someone so determined to have fun.

That fall I purchased a sewing machine.  As my first project, I decided to sew Autumn a little coat.  I purchased a red, green, and cream colored fabric.  I lined it in red and trimmed it with green piping.  Autumn looked smart in the coat, its colors complementary with her creamy tan fur.

I also sewed Autumn a Halloween costume.  Using bright, colorful fabric, I sewed a ruffled clown collar, and ruffles for each of her paws.  I also made a ruffle to go on her tail, but every time she wagged, which was frequent, the ruffle went flying.

On Halloween, we dressed her in the costume, and I painted colorful circles on her fur with washable fur paint from the pet store.  I encircled one eye in blue, the other in red.  Dan dressed in a clown costume as well, and I dressed as a ringmaster, using my riding breeches, coat, and boots.  We made quite the festive trio as we handed out goodies to trick-or-treaters.

The children loved Autumn. Always a fan of anyone who would play with her, Autumn wagged her tail and snuffled the visitors at our door as we handed out candy.  The way she sniffed at their various Halloween bags, I think she hoped someone might offer her a treat.

Later that evening we all went over to Dan’s parent’s for a small party.  We brought along our fur paint and covered Murphee in colorful circles as well.  We may not have been frightening in the traditional sense, but I think some of the other guests thought we were pretty scary to go to such lengths in dressing up our dog.

Not all of my friends shared my canine enthusiasm.  Elizabeth, a friend I had known for years, lived with her husband and son in Eugene, south of us by about forty-five minutes.

On occasion, Elizabeth would ask me to watch her four-year-old son.  I would drive to their house, Autumn beside me on the seat.  I spent one cloudy Sunday afternoon babysitting for Elizabeth while she and her husband went out for a few hours.  They owned a beagle named Lucy.  I always liked Lucy, but Elizabeth thought she had neurotic tendencies.  I never saw these tendencies, but was assured they did exist.

I arrived for my babysitting and spent the afternoon playing with Elizabeth’s son and the two dogs.  Later in the day it began to rain, and we spent the rest of our time together playing in the house.  Near evening, Elizabeth and her husband arrived home.  Her son had fallen asleep next to me on the couch where I sat watching a movie.  The two dogs were sleeping on the floor until they arrived home, but once they came through the door, bedlam ensued as both dogs barked enthusiastic welcomes.  I gathered my things, rounded up Autumn, and headed home.

A month later, Elizabeth called and asked if I could watch her son again.  I checked my calendar and agreed, noting the details in my day planner.

Elizabeth paused for a moment, as if she wanted to say something, then said, “Would you please not bring Autumn with you?”

“Um,” I answered, “Okay.  I won’t bring her in the house, but I want her with me, so I will keep her in the car.  it is a long way away and I don’t like going that far alone.”

Elizabeth said that was fine, we said our goodbyes, and got off the phone.  I didn’t say anything at the time, we had known each other for years and it wasn’t worth a disagreement, but the request irritated me.  I didn’t so much mind not bringing Autumn in the house, but I was, after all, helping them out; allowing the dog to visit seemed a small concession for the assistance.

I knew though, that Elizabeth’s husband was picky about cleanliness, pickier even than I, which says a lot because I’m pretty particular in that regard.  it is one of the reasons my dog got baths every few days.  It was only years later after their divorce that I understood some of the difficulties going on in their marriage, and I’m glad I didn’t make an issue out of it at the time.

Read Autumn — Chapter 7 here

Autumn — Chapter 5

Read Autumn — Chapter 4

Autumn shared her birthday with anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, August 16. I found it remarkable that decades after the man’s death, the date was still so publicly memorialized. Ah, the cult of celebrity. While many lamented the day, we were going to celebrate.

In hindsight, I realize that some of the way I cared for my dog was a little over the top, but I loved her. I did not have any children. To both Dan and me, Autumn was our child.  I had many friends with dogs, our parents had dogs, and having a party meant we could invite the dogs, but also see our friends and family. After a year across the country we welcomed this opportunity.

Just as with any birthday party, I sent out invitations to the party to be held in the park near our house. I purchased gifts and wrapped them  I bought food, made Autumn a dog food cake, and bought a human cake as well. I also got several balloons. We had celebrated Dan’s birthday when Autumn was five months old. At that celebration, Autumn was thrilled with balloons. She would pounce on them and pop them with her nose. I don’t know how she did it; balloons frighten me, especially near my face.

The day of the party was sun-kissed and warm. The park where the party was to be held was six blocks from our house.  I loaded the cakes, food, party favors, and gifts into a wagon and lumbered down to the park to reserve a table. Because of the season, tables were a rare commodity, and one had to arrive early to get one. Autumn was excited by the presents. She kept sniffing in the wagon and trying to remove the packages. I made her wait, pulling her from the toys and asking her to heel.

In spite of the fact that the purported reason for the party was Autumn’s birthday, nearly all the guests we invited showed up to see us, many without their dogs. Both sets of parents, Dan’s grandma, and a half dozen friends arrived to celebrate Autumn’s birth.  I played Frisbee with my friends while Dan and his played a mini version of softball.  Autumn ran back and forth between both activities, alternately chasing the softball, the Frisbee, or other dogs. Murphee hovered at our feet, willing us to throw balls for her.

When the time came to open gifts, Autumn tore into them. She loved presents. She had discovered at Christmastime that presents meant treats and toys. In fact, for every Christmas for the rest of her life we had to be careful about what gifts were placed under the tree. Even if they weren’t hers, if they contained something she liked, she would root around and find them, tearing off the wrapping to see what was inside. My heart swelled watching her; she was so dear to me and obviously enjoyed her presents.

None of the other dogs were really interested in the cake. They weren’t much interested in Autumn or one another either. Like toddlers at a first birthday party, they were in it for themselves. All the dogs were given treats, and all were allowed to share in the cake, so they went home happy.

I celebrated birthdays for Autumn for the first few years of her life, then we got Molly, and later Milla was born, but for the time, they were a fun way to get together with friends and enjoy our canine friends.

That fall, Autumn started limping after long days at the park or after I took her running with me. It got to be that my runs were take the dog out for a drag rather than taking the dog out for a run. After some months like this, we decided to take Autumn to the vet to find out what was going on.

Since we had arrived back in Oregon, I had taken Autumn to a veterinarian’s office near our house. I had a lot in common with the veterinarian there. His name was Dr. Ken Fletcher, and over time, we became friends.

I adore Dr. Fletcher. After him (who wanted me to go to vet school, and still does in spite of having chosen to go to law school), no other vet could compare. Dr. Ken treated me like a partner in my pet’s care. He told me honestly what I could do myself and what I should let the vet do. He told me how much things cost the vet and what was just junk profit. Basically, he gave me credit for having a brain and for being able to do some things on my own as a collaborator in my pets’ health care. He was not a director who acted as if I could not possibly understand the intricate undertaking of a shot or even more complex aspects of veterinary medicine. He was my partner, and he treated me as someone capable of managing my pets’ health.

When Autumn started having hip problems, Dr. Ken referred me to a specialist in Eugene named Dr. Barclay Slocum. Dr. Slocum was considered the top hip dysplasia doctor in the United States. He had developed the technique used to replace failing hips in dogs, and had performed the surgery on hundreds, if not thousands of dogs.

Dan and I made the drive south to meet Dr. Slocum and to look at Autumn’s hips. Dr. Fletcher had explained to us that if Autumn did indeed have hip dysplasia, the cost would run into the thousands of dollars. We were apprehensive because we knew if she did have the problem, we would not be able to afford to fix it, and we doubted our parents would lend us the money.

Dr. Slocum’s clinic was slick and professional. There was a room with a glass window where we could watch as they anesthetized our dog and took the x-rays of her pelvis. Autumn had to be asleep because they would lay her on her back and press her pelvis open, which would be difficult and painful if she were awake.

An unassuming man with careful bedside manner, Dr. Slocum spent some time with us explaining what would happen that day, as well as what would follow. During our conversation, an assistant came and took Autumn away. She was apprehensive, turning to look back at Dan and me as she was led into the other room. Tears welled behind my eyes. She looked so vulnerable and frightened.

Watching as the technicians worked on Autumn while she was anesthetized was heartbreaking. She lay on her back, her head tilted, her tongue pulled out to one side with a tube protruding from her mouth and throat. My chest tightened in apprehension; she was so still, and with her tongue out, she looked dead. Dan decided to wait in the other room, unable to bear watching, but I could not leave her. I held my fist to my lips, watching as she lay there, prostrate. She looked dead. It killed me.

The tests revealed that Autumn did indeed have hip dysplasia. Not only did she have the disorder, she had one of the most severe cases the doctor had seen. He explained that the hip sockets were supposed to be round so they would hold the head of the femur at the joint. Autumn’s were flat. Every step she took, her femur rotated back and forth across the flat plain of her pelvic bone.

Dr. Slocum displayed Autumn’s x-rays for us to see. The image looked like a Rorschach blot. As the doctor pointed out to us what the hips were supposed to look like, it was obvious that Autumn’s were a mess.

The cost to perform the surgery was several thousands of dollars. In addition, recovery would take nearly a year, as first one hip had to be replaced, then recovery, then the second hip.

We waited for Autumn to wake up from her anesthesia. She cried and yipped, kicking her feet. Both of us pet her and held her even though the technician had assured us that such behavior was normal when anesthesia was wearing off. It still scared me; she sounded in pain. Once she was up and awake again, at least somewhat, the technicians took her vital signs and pronounced her ready to go. Leaving the clinic and driving north to home, Dan and I were heartbroken. We knew it would be difficult to come up with the money, not while we were both full-time students, and working minimally. We were also really worried about the intensity of the surgery and the recovery time. Autumn would essentially be out of commission for a year. I held her in my lap and stroked the fur on her head. I loved this dog.

Once we arrived home, I made an appointment with Dr. Fletcher to go over the results. A week later, Dan and I met with him to discuss what to do.

“You know,” Dr. Fletcher informed me, as we sat with him in his office, stroking Autumn’s bunny soft ears as he spoke, “There is research out now that suggests that sometimes the best thing to do with dogs like Autumn is to wait and see.”

I raised my eyebrows at him and looked at Dan. This seemed to be an odd approach.

“I know it sounds strange, but you won’t lose anything by waiting. Her hips are what they are and the bones are not going to change shape for the worse. Basically you strengthen Autumn’s muscles by taking her swimming,” he said. “There isn’t any impact and over time, the stronger muscles keep the head of the bone in place where the socket can’t.”

It was worth a try. We couldn’t afford the surgery, and even if our parents were to lend us the money, the surgery would have meant Autumn would have to stay in a kennel for months, and then allowed gradual exercise for a year. I could not see putting her through that.

In the end we decided to try Dr. Fletcher’s approach, not only because of the cost of the surgery, but also because of the length of recovery, and we could change our minds if her situation worsened. Primarily it came down to the impact it would have on her quality of life during the prime of her youth. We just couldn’t do that to her.

I began walking Autumn down to the park near our house where a medium-sized creek ran into the swift Willamette River. Up the creek a half mile or so, there were several swimming holes that were ideal for taking a dog. They were off the main path where people liked to congregate, and Autumn loved the water, probably more than anything other than eating. She would jump in any puddle, any pool, any lake, any river. Basically if it was wet, she wanted to be in it. Since the diagnosis came in the middle of the summer, the timing couldn’t have been better.

Nearly every day I took Autumn out to swim. At first, she tired pretty quickly, but as she became fitter, she could swim for a couple of hours without tiring. She would chase any stick, no matter where we threw it, and retrieve it. We would toss colored balls or frisbees into the water and tell her which one to get. Always smart and attuned to our body language, she quickly figured out which was the green ball or the red frisbee, and would swim out to wherever to bring them back to us.

One scorching summer, in an effort to escape the heat vibrating off the cement and buildings in the city, I took Autumn along with my friends Debbie and Robert, and we drove out into the countryside.  As we wound out into the hills, the air became cooler and more tolerable.  We came upon a rocky stream, and pulled over to wet our feet.

Autumn jumped from the truck and scurried down the embankment straight into the water.  We followed more gingerly, seeking to protect our ankles and backsides from a fall down the gravely ridge.

The edge of the stream was covered in lumpy, grey river rocks.  Another fifteen feet in from the bank, trees hung low.  The water was runoff from the nearby Cascade mountains.  Even in late August, the water remained icy cool.  Logs littered the bank, evidence of winter storms and raging water, days when the stream was not nearly so docile.

I was wearing a bathing suit under my t-shirt and shorts, and quickly stripped down before wading midstream to my waist.  Debbie and Robert simply waded out in their clothes.  At its middle, the stream was about four feet deep, and fifteen feet across.

On days such as this, it was as if Autumn had been reincarnated from a fish.  She swam and swam, lapping and biting at stream bubbles, her legs churning under the water.  I would throw sticks for her, she would calculate where the stick would arrive as the water moved rapidly downstream, and meet the stick before it passed her.  On the few occasions the stick made it past before she reached it, she would swim faster, chasing it like a mad beaver determined to create a dam. Debbie and Robert laughed at Autumn and her water antics.  She was obviously having fun.

After tossing sticks for a bit, I sat down on one of the logs in a sunbeam to dry and warm my legs.  Autumn dragged herself out of the water and shook vigorously, sending droplets every which way.  She then bounded over to me and grasped a rock from the pile at my feet, picking it up and tossing it in my lap.

“Ow!” I exclaimed.  That hurt!  “I will throw rocks for you, but don’t hit me with them.”  I stood and chose a rock for Autumn to chase, locating one the size of a plum.  Autumn danced at my feet, barking.  Throw it! She seemed to say.

I tossed the stone into the river.  Autumn turned and hurled herself into the water, dove beneath the surface, then reappeared nearly immediately, a rock in her jaws.

Debbie, Robert, and I stared at one another.

“Do you think it is the same rock?” I asked.

“No,” Robert answered in his baritone, grumbly voice.  “She just found a rock.”

“But it looks like the same rock,” I stated, and Debbie nodded, agreeing with me.

“Let’s throw in another one and see if she gets it,” I said, already choosing a rock.  I looked at it closely to see whether we could identify it as the same rock, then threw it into the water.  Autumn had dropped the original rock at my feet and turned to race back into the water after the second one.  She plunged into the water, disappeared for a moment, then popped up a moment later, swam to shore and dropped the rock at my feet.  She didn’t even shake off the water, but stood dripping expectantly, waiting for another throw.

I examined the sopping stone at my feet.  There was no way I could tell if it was the same rock and told Debbie and Robert as much.

Robert pulled a pocket knife from one of the many pockets covering the overalls he wore, his default uniform regardless of the weather or occasion.

“We can use this to mark the rock, then we can tell if it is the same one,” he said as he picked up a rock and carved a long groove into pale grey surface.  He then dunked it in the water to see whether the mark was still visible.  It was.

Robert handed the rock to me and I threw it out into the water.  Autumn zoomed in after it.

Moments later she dropped the marked rock at my feet.  Amazing.

We played this game for a while, then I went out into the water with her.  I wanted to see what she looked like under the water as she retrieved.

Robert found and marked a rock, tossed it, and just as the rock pierced the surface of the water, I held my breath and went under.  I could see the rock as it slowed dramatically and settled onto the floor of the creek bed.  I also saw Autumn watching the rock as it landed.  She kept her eyes open underwater so she could pick the correct stone!  The dog loved water, there was no denying it.

In time, it became apparent that swimming was ideal for Autumn’s hip problems. Gradually she stopped having episodes of pain and limping. Over the years as she aged and developed other health issues, I was only able to take her swimming a couple of times a year, but she never experienced problems with her hips again. Dr. Fletcher still uses her story as an example to patients who come to him with dysplasia dogs as proof that surgery may not always be necessary.

Read Autumn — Chapter 6

Autumn — Chapter 4

Read Autumn — Chapter 3

After a year, Dan and I were ready to go home. We were still homesick, and also the school I was going to was extremely expensive and not all the programs were as good as had been advertised when I applied. Dan had finally met the requirements for residency to obtain in-state tuition at the University of Tennessee, but we were both tired of the differences, and missed Oregon and our families. We wanted neighbors who would not look at us as if we were aliens. We longed for our friends.

Though we had not told our families, the two of us had gone to a justice of the peace in December and gotten married. The main reason we did this was because Dan could not qualify for financial aid based on his parent’s income and assets, yet they could not afford to pay for his university studies. After the marriage, we announced to the family that we were engaged and that we would be getting married the following summer. No one seemed surprised. Only Dan’s grandma seemed pensive at the scheme, believing we were still too young for marriage. We ignored her portentous concern, especially since the deed had already been done.

When Dan’s parents called to tell us they would allow us to live in their basement apartment for no rent if we stayed in Oregon after the wedding, we did not even think about it, agreeing immediately. I would attend the University of Oregon in Eugene, Dan would go to Oregon State in Corvallis, and we would live in Albany with his parents.

In retrospect, the decision to live with Dan’s parents probably sealed the fate of our marriage, but at the time, it seemed like the perfect solution. Living with Dan’s parents would not matter to financial aid since we were married, and paying no rent would allow us to go to school without having to work full-time. Considering I had worked full-time for my first two years of college, this part was especially appealing.

Once school let out for the summer, we set about selling all the furniture we had acquired during our year on the east coast, and boxing and shipping our belongings back to Oregon. This part was easy. Our biggest concern about the move was the drive back home in a car without air conditioning. We were leaving in late June, driving across the bottom half of the United States, and it was going to be hot. We also wanted to bring as much with us as we could manage to save on shipping costs.

Once we figured out how we were going to pack the car, the only room left for Autumn was at our feet in the passenger’s seat. This wasn’t going to be fun for either the passenger or the dog, but we were so happy to be heading home, we did not care. When we were ready to go, we got up at dawn and drove away, stopping only for breakfast since all our cookware was gone.

We drove straight for 25 hours into Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dan drove all of it.  He was so eager to get home he flew, breaking speed laws in five states. By the time we hit New Mexico, we were all exhausted and the heat was overwhelming. We arrived at noon and decided our best plan for the remainder of the trip was to sleep during the day and drive at night. We crossed Arizona in the dark, then drove north through Nevada during the early part of the day. The temperatures were staggering, near 120 degrees Fahrenheit, yet we had no complaints, gratified that the warmth was dry heat. After the dripping east coast humidity, we were fine with arid wind blowing in our faces.

Autumn managed the trip well. She was used to riding in the car, and since it was so warm, content to curl like a caterpillar, nose to tail on the floorboards. I was the passenger for most of the trip, propping my legs on the dash or in the edge of the yawning window.

When we finally arrived back in Oregon, we were exhausted, but happy. After the tawny deserts, Oregon was lush and verdant in early June. Driving north on I-5, the mountains were corpulent and green. Trite but true, there is no place like home.

Dan’s parents lived in a stucco, Pepto Bismol pink bungalow. Squat and square, from the outside the house didn’t look very big, but was actually quite spacious. They had renovated part of the basement and rented it out to some of Dan’s friends. This space was to be our new home. We would have our own entrance at the back if we chose to use it, or we could go through the house. We would share the upstairs kitchen.

Dan’s parents had a dog of their own, a black and white Border Collie named Murphee. To call Murphee neurotic would be an understatement. Typical of her breed, she wanted to herd all the time. She would skulk around, head parallel to the ground, a tennis ball gripped in her jaws. If she saw a human, she would drop the ball, then stop and stare intensely at it, her brown eyes occasionally flicking up to see whether the human was going to make a move to take the ball and throw it.

Autumn had not turned out to be the enormous beast we all predicted based on Maude and her paws. At just under a year old, she was only about twenty-five pounds. By the time she was six months old, it was clear to us that she was Cody’s daughter and not Jasper’s. Having spent many hours in the presence of the two potential fathers, we had witnessed Cody’s mannerisms in Autumn since she was quite small. Her trot especially was identical to his, their gaits like a Standardbred, front legs straight out in front as they moved. Cody was a very small Border Collie. I found it amazing he had managed to impregnate Maude, but such are the miracles of the animal kingdom.

Murphee, two years older than Autumn, was not much bigger, although she was much more filled out and thicker. Autumn was as tall as she would ever be, but still looked like a lanky dog teenager, with long narrow legs and a slim body. The two were destined to be nearly the same size, although Murphee was always heftier. Autumn’s fur was much softer than Murphee’s. Murphee’s hair was wiry and course. I often called Autumn “bunny ears” because of the blissful softness of the fur on her ears. All her life, rubbing those ears would bring me comfort.

We settled into the basement apartment. The space was open like a loft, only it was mostly underground. There were windows at the tops of the walls on both the east and west sides of the house, so we always had outdoor light. We set up the space like rooms, our bedroom at one end, an office in the middle, and the living room at the other end.

During Autumn’s entire life we had kept pet rats. She was used to them and was careful around them, having been bitten in the nose by our rat Shasta when she was only three months old. Sometimes if we were lounging on the bed or couch and holding a rat, Autumn would want to play with it or sniff it, but mostly she just left them alone.

Murphee, however, was entranced with our rats to the point of obsession. She would stare at the rats like they were tennis balls or sheep. If they were out when she was nearby, she would nose them roughly. I was certain that given chance, she would have eaten one of the rats. Because of this, we left the door to our apartment and the rest of the basement closed. Dan’s parents also used the other portion of the basement for laundry, and I wanted to maintain some semblance of privacy.

We kept the rats in a cage on top of a dresser in the “office” portion of our apartment. The dresser was one I had purchased used as an 11-year-old and refinished. One afternoon, I returned from my day at school to discover that Murphee, in her efforts to get to the rats, had scratched deep gouges all along the top of the dresser.

I was furious. Murphee was not supposed to be in our apartment, and she sure as hell wasn’t supposed to ruin my dresser.

After this, whenever Murphee would come down to whine at the door because she wanted to get to our rats, I would say, “Murphee, get out of here!” in a sharp voice. She would whine and claw until I either chased her away or took her back upstairs.

“Murphee, leave!” I would shout.

Over time, Autumn learned that “Murphee, leave!” meant that I did not want Murphee downstairs. She would growl a warning at the door. Because her growl sounded so fierce, we started saying the phrase when Autumn was terrorizing one of her stuffed animals. “Get Murphee!” we would growl, “Murphee, go away!” Autumn would shake the stuffed thing to death, growling like a crazed fiend, spittle splattering everything in her mock fury.

Over the years, even long after we had moved away from Murphee and the basement, saying the words, “Murphee, go away!” would turn Autumn into a crazy frenzy. I taught her a hand signal to go with the words. I would hold my arm down to my side and shake my hand really hard up and down, saying the phrase. Autumn learned that when I did this, she was to act like a crazy dog. When I stopped, she would stop abruptly. My thinking was that if anyone ever grabbed me around the body and arms, I could still make the hand signal so Autumn would act nuts, hopefully scaring the attacker away.

A few years later, I called into a radio program where the hosts gave out prizes for doing silly pet tricks on the air. “Murphee,” I hissed. “Go away!” Autumn snarled and shook. I stopped the movement. Autumn went silent. I made the movement again and she turned into a raving lunatic. I stopped and so did she. We won a DVD for our efforts.

Sometimes Murphee’s neurotic herding had unintended consequences. Dan was close friends with the two guys, Steve and Brian, who had rented the apartment from his parents for two years before we moved into it. They were a typical group of guys who had known one another since childhood. They liked hanging out and drinking beers, playing sports, and telling each other dirty jokes.

For Steve’s birthday the summer after we moved into the apartment, we decided to get him a crass, pornographic toy in addition to his real gift. After searching the local triple X store, we settled on a plastic labia. It barely resembled its intended design. The thing was baby mouse pink, with brown painted on the plastic to look like hair. There were also several nylon hairs that had been added for effect and a tube of plastic in the middle. It was hard to believe whoever designed the thing ever intended it to be anything except a joke.

We wrapped the toy in wrapping paper and gave it to Steve at his party, which was being held at our house. Dan’s parents had a fine backyard for entertaining, and we often invited Steve and Brian over for events like this one.

Steve opened the gag gift and reacted as we expected he would, with laughter and revulsion. The thing was perfectly hideous. The guys began tossing it back and forth between themselves. Murphee, as was the case anytime anything was thrown that she might catch, started tracking the thing in her Border Collie way, head low, one foot slightly in front of the other, never once taking her eyes from her prey.

Laughing hysterically, we threw it for her to fetch. She ran it down, retrieved it, then dropped it at Steve’s feet, staring at it rapturously. Over and over, we played this game, laughing until our sides hurt and tears ran down our faces.

In the house, we heard Dan’s parents come home. Murphee picked up the thing and ran into the house. We waited to see what would happen. A couple of minutes later, Dan’s mom and dad walked onto the back porch.

“We walked into the house,” Dan’s mom informed us, “And Murphee brought us this wonderful gift.”

She held the thing up for us all to see. “Can anyone explain why our dog is carrying around a plastic vagina?”

Read Autumn — Chapter 5

Autumn — Chapter 3

Read Autumn — Chapter 2

Our lives were extremely busy.  Dan had his job and was waiting to attend school until he had lived in the state for a year so he could pay in-state tuition at the University of Tennessee in Johnson City.  Dan worked the day shift, which began at 6 a.m.  His workplace was about 45 minutes from our apartment.  He car pooled for most of that distance, but we had to drive to meet his car pool at a location twenty minutes from where we lived.  We owned only one car, so Dan’s work hours meant that I had to get up and drive him to meet his ride.

Every morning in the pre-dawn, before it was even light, Dan would rouse me from bed when he had to leave. Without changing out of my pajamas, I would pick up Autumn and carry her to the car where I would fall immediately asleep. Once we arrived at the vacant, eerie parking lot in the middle of nowhere – and it really was in the middle of nowhere, a parking lot plopped in the middle of some farmer’s field – Dan would kiss us goodbye and leave us to get into the car of one of his coworkers.

I would clamber into the driver’s seat, Autumn on my lap, her head across my arm as I held the stick shift. When we returned home, I would climb into bed and Autumn would nestle under my arm, burrowing under the warm covers. It was the only time she wanted to sleep in the bed, preferring the floor under the couch for the main part of her sleep.  Autumn began what became a lifelong habit when she snuggled together with me in the bed. She would lie with her head across my neck.  Her fur was so soft, it was like wearing a warm fur stole. Two hours after returning from dropping Dan at his ride, I would rise for classes and Autumn would stay in bed until we were ready to leave.

I loved life at this time.  I was so naive and confident.  I thought I had everything all figured out.  I spent my twenties believing I knew it all; that I was invincible.  Oh, I knew there were facts of which I was not aware, other countries and places to discover.  But I thought I was pretty on top of things when it came to fearlessness, strength, and inner knowledge.  How little I knew, how much pain I had to experience to figure out just how clueless I really was, but that was years away.

In spite of my sophomoric confidence, I did know that I would love my child when I had one, but this did not stop me from loving Autumn with every bit as much devotion.  Watching her and experiencing her was pure glee.  My heart would fill up, and I would feel my chest tighten loving her.  When I had my human child, I truly experienced parental selflessness when, days after her birth, I realized my ego had to go and she had to become my center.  Until I had Milla though, Autumn was my child. Everything she did brought me delight.  I adored her.

Every couple of days Autumn would go out to run and play in the creek down the hill, regardless of the weather.  This meant that she was often muddy or wet when she came into the house. If only her paws were wet, she would stand at the door and wait while we wiped her feet.

“Towel,” I would say to her, picking it up when she arrived at the door, begging to be let in.  She would stand and lift each paw until all four were dried and wiped of mud.

If she was a real mess, I would carry her in the towel to the bathroom for a bath. Autumn loved baths, and would jump in, waiting for the warm water.  Sometimes she even snuck past the shower curtain and jumped in while we were showering.

When she was done with her bath, she would shake off in the tub with the curtain closed, then jump out onto the mat to wait for her toweling off.  As I rubbed her fur all over, scrubbing her face and behind her ears, she would wiggle, hopping her back end up and down and side to side, shoving her butt into the towel for a good scratching.  After she dried, the hairs on her rear became fluffy, white pantaloons.

I had been taking French and Political Science from a wonderful professor from Rome named Dr. Riviello.  He had a lilting and appealing accent, and taught with brilliant clarity and depth.

Dr. Riviello loved Autumn.  He too had a dog he considered his child, a Dachshund named Baci.  The two of us would talk endlessly about our wonderful dogs.  He was the only professor who allowed Autumn free roam of his classroom.  She would lie quietly under my desk as I worked.  Together we commiserated over our love for our dogs.

During first semester, Dr. Riviello invited me to apply to an honor’s program in political science. There would be an intensive history course studying the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, beginning with Hitler’s birth. The course would culminate with a study during May term in spring at the University of Munich. We would attend seminars in english three times a week with leaders in various aspects of political science. Our lectures would be in the late afternoon, allowing us to explore the city and surrounding areas during the day. We were also to take day trips into various places such as Berchtesgaden in the Alps, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a Bavarian village where Christmas is experienced all year round.

I applied to the program and was accepted. I was exhilarated at the thought of returning to Germany. I had lived in Hamburg for a short time in 1990. This time I would be staying in Munich. While I was excited to be going, I did not want to leave my little dog. I knew she would not understand. The two of us spent every waking minute together. When she wasn’t with me, she was with Dan. While I was in Europe, Autumn would have to stay alone while he worked. My stomach turned at the thought of her anxiety and fear at being left alone for long periods for the first time in her life.

To help acclimate Autumn to the change that would be coming, I started leaving her at home periodically. At first, she was a wreck. She chewed up several of my shoes and stuffed animals. I scolded her, but the scolds were half-hearted.

After several weeks, Autumn seemed to adjust to staying by herself. Our neighbors never complained about barking or whining, so we assumed she was okay.

In the days leading up to my departure, I left piles of clothing and traveling items around, organized according to my own system. Autumn would root through the clothes, then roll on them. I would chase her off, scolding. Moments later, she would be back in another pile, knocking it aside and mashing the carefully folded clothes.

Like a mother leaving her children, I filled my wallet with photos of Autumn before departure. I wanted to bring her image to mind at a moment’s notice. I also thought that at eight months of age, she would likely change dramatically in the time that I was gone. I was right about that. When I left she still looked like a puppy. When I arrived home she looked like a lanky pre-teen dog.

The day finally arrived for me to leave to go to Germany. We took Autumn to the airport with us. I held her the entire way, trying not to cry. I was excited to be going, but I was going to miss my baby. At the airport I kissed her goodbye and flew across the ocean.

Upon landing, I immediately called to check in and to let Dan know we had arrived safely. He told me Autumn had been sniffing all over the apartment, and that he was sure she was looking for me. She only finally settled down when he went to bed.

I asked him to put the phone to Autumn’s ear so I could say hello to her.

“Hello, Autumn,” I spoke into the phone. “Brown, Brown? How are you puppy? Are you okay? Mommy loves you.”

Dan came back on the phone. He said Autumn had cocked her head to the side, looked quizzically at the phone, then jumped down and started sniffing at the back door. Apparently the sound of my voice was confusing to her, so we decided that I would not talk to her like that again.

Professor Riviello also missed his dog Baci. I took Autumn’s photo everywhere I went and showed it to anyone who would look. My professor would show his as well, and the conversation among many of the other students would turn again and again to our perceived bizarre behavior. Some of the students on the trip had never been outside of the small town where the college was located. It seemed to me that they had a pretty narrow perception of acceptable behavior. They certainly considered our dog nostalgia as completely eccentric. They just did not understand. We both thought leaving our dogs was worse than leaving our partners; yet our partners could speak to us on the phone and knew where we were. Our dogs did not.

The weeks passed quickly. The lectures were fascinating, and I was having an amazing time. Too soon, however, the term was over and we were headed back home. Dan knew when I would be arriving. I told him to be sure and bring Autumn.

“Of course,” he said. “You know I wouldn’t leave her home for this!” I knew it, but I just missed my dog so much, I did not want to wait one second longer than necessary to see her.

Even though these were the days before major airport security when loved ones could meet their travelers at the gate, Dan had to wait outside because of Autumn. I raced through the airport, through customs and baggage before heading out into the warm spring afternoon.

Dan was parked at the curb, waiting with a lanky puppy on a leash. She had grown since I had seen her last. She looked like a teenage dog, and less like a little puppy.

I kneeled and called out, “Autumn!” She turned and looked at me, then squatted on the sidewalk and urinated. Oh, my little baby. We knew in that moment that my leaving had most definitely had had an impact on her. She must have thought I would never return, yet here I was.

She ran to me and jumped on my lap as I knelt next to her. She licked my face and arms and chest, her entire body writhing with her tail. Her mommy was home!

Read Autumn — Chapter 4

Autumn — Chapter 2

Read Autumn — Chapter 1

Autumn ran. She would start at one end of the field near our apartment and run to the other end of the field, turn around, and run back. Down to the creek! Through the water! Under the fence! Across the field! Back through the fence! It was like she was a study in the personification of prepositional phrases.

I could stand and watch her run like that for over an hour. I checked out a video camera from my college and videotaped her running. We made copies and sent them home to our families.

“Did you like the movies?” I would ask, hopeful. “Isn’t Autumn adorable?”

“Well,” came the invariable response, “It would be nice if there was more of you two in them and less of the dog.” But why would they want that? She was our baby.

Every day I would let Autumn out to play in the fields behind our house. She would go and play in the creek or chase cows. The cows didn’t really run. They would stand in a herd, heads down, looking at the dog playing in their midst, snorting and weaving their lumbering heads back and forth.

After she had played a while I would call out, “Brown Brown!” the nickname I pulled from nowhere and a term of endearment I used for her the rest of her life. I could lean out over the deck railing and see her in the field below.

“Brown Brown!” I would call. “Autumn!” Autumn would stop whatever she was doing and race up the hill, around the apartment building, up the stairs, and across the deck to me, tongue lolling and panting in happiness.

Life with our puppy was like most people’s lives with puppies. Autumn had a penchant for chewing, particularly our favorite shoes. Probably because we wore them more frequently and they smelled more like us, she gravitated to the shoes we wore most often. Several shoes were destroyed in the cause of raising our puppy to a dog.

We owned one of those fake-wood finish particle board entertainment centers. It lived in the living room and housed our television, VCR, movies, photos, books, and some small knick-knacks. One of the items on the shelf was a small, fuzzy bear with a shiny, green ribbon around its neck that I had purchased in a gift shop somewhere along our drive from Oregon. It sat on the bottom shelf under the television in front of a row of books.

Autumn loved it. She wanted this bear more than any other forbidden item in our home. I would come into the room and discover Autumn, a brown lump between her jaws.

“Autumn!” I would bark, making my voice deep as our dog training book recommended for scolding. “Drop that!”

Autumn would slink down, dropping the bear onto the carpet. She would look to the left and right, avoiding my fierce gaze.

This went on for several weeks. One afternoon, I was lying on the carpet with Autumn, holding her on my belly and snuggling her. I looked over at the bear. Autumn loved sucking on that bear, and I loved her so much, I decided she could have it. I reached out and removed the bear from the shelf, placing it on the ground in front of her nose.

“Here, baby,” I said while setting the bear down. “You can have it.”

At first, Autumn just looked at me. She had been told over and over that the bear was not hers, yet here I was offering it up. Finally, after some coaxing, she took the bear and started sucking on it. As was her usual m.o., after she sucked on it long enough to loosen the fabric, she tore a hole in it and ripped out its guts, leaving puffles of stuffing all over the apartment. Such was the fate of stuffed animals in our household.

For the holidays, we made an appointment and took Autumn in to JC Penney for a family photo. Dan and I dressed in our Christmas clothes and looked like complete dorks. Autumn looked flashy in her Christmas ribbon and bell. The photo I have from that day is of her in a Christmas box, the two of us grinning behind her as if we’d just opened a gift to find a lanky puppy inside. Her tongue is lolling and her eyes are shining. She looks so pleased to be alive.

Autumn traveled with me wherever I went. When classes began in the fall, I took her to school with me. Some professors did not mind the puppy who laid at my feet during lectures. There was a main campus with a central courtyard, and across the street from the main campus there was a long row of buildings that housed the English and Political Science departments, the rooms I frequented most. Generally, the professors in the buildings away from the central campus were the most willing to allow a dog to attend classes.

One afternoon when it was still hot, I left Autumn in the car with the windows rolled halfway down. I had a meeting with a professor in the political science department. Five minutes into my meeting, I heard shouting in the hall and a woof. Uh oh!

I ran into the hall to see a couple of women chasing Autumn down the hall away from me.

“Autumn!” I called to her. She skidded to a stop and turned towards my voice, then she gamboled towards me, her paws slipping on the linoleum. The two students almost ran into her and each other.

“Your dog crawled through the window,” said one of the women.

“It’s not safe,” the other scolded. “You should have left her tied up at home.” Was she nuts? I would never leave my dog “tied up at home.”

“She came in to find me,” I explained. “Next time I will bring her with me or close the windows further.” I was rather surprised that Autumn had escaped. The windows were only open about five inches, but apparently that was enough for my little dog to wriggle through.

“You better,” said the woman. “She could get killed on the highway.” I blanched at the thought and cuddled Autumn close to my chest. I would do anything to protect my puppy.

Not long after that, I was walking Autumn with me on her leash. I had been reading the Barbara Woodhouse book No Bad Dogs and working with chain training Autumn. She was a quick learner and had taken to leash training easily. She seemed to enjoy walking beside me, and would look up at me every few steps as we sauntered along.

By this time, Dan and I were both experiencing fairly extreme culture shock, as well as homesickness. We had been in Bristol about four months, and were constantly amazed how different it was from our home state.  I think part of the problem was our assumption that because the town was in the United States, it would be pretty much the same as where we had grown up, in Oregon.  This presumption was an error on our part.  I had lived in other countries, but moving to those places, I had expected radical differences.  Dan and I had not considered that living in our new town would be almost like moving to another country entirely.  The food, the politics, the religion, the dialect, and more were all quite unlike what we were used to.  It was a completely different culture.

One of our biggest adjustments to Bristol was the cigarette smoking. Tobacco was still a thriving cash crop in Virginia and Tennessee. Smoking was allowed in grocery stores. The non-smoking section in restaurants often comprised only three or four tables, usually in a place with no ventilation, making the fact of the section being non-smoking something of a joke.

There was also a major difference in how local people treated their animals. Sure, there were people in the part of Oregon we were from who tied their dogs out, but it was the exception rather than the rule. In Bristol and the towns near it, we saw dogs tied outside homes everywhere. During that winter, there was a cold spell where temperatures dropped below zero degrees Fahrenheit, and all of the local newscasters urged people to bring their animals in for a couple of nights because of the cold.  It simply was not the norm to do so.  In our apartment complex, the other tenants were shocked and surprised that we kept Autumn in the house with us, and told us as much. We also had a pet rat, which was nearly unheard of.

Another major difference between Bristol, and indeed the whole east coast it seemed, was the rain. In Oregon, we would get occasional downpours, but for the most part, it drizzled most of the year. In contrast, the rain on the east coast would arrive suddenly and fill every available space with running, rushing, swirling water. The drainage systems were different as well, with fewer ditches and runoffs for the water. The result was that when it rained, there would often be small floods. The creek down the hill from our apartment was especially inclined to overflow its banks during these rainstorms.

Across the parking lot from our apartment, there were three mobile homes that the owner of the property also rented out. One of them kept a doghouse about twenty feet from his door, down the hill in the field towards the creek. There were two dogs tied to the doghouse – a frighteningly skinny hound and one of her older puppies. She had given birth in the summer when we first moved in. Gradually all the other puppies had been sold off or given away. The landlord had told us the dogs were supposedly some fancy hunting breed, but you could not tell by looking at them, at least if their care was any indication. They were both sacks of bones and covered in fleas and dirt. The soil in the area was a reddish clay that turned almost sandy when it was dry. Flecks of it filled their fur, giving them both a reddish tinge.

One night in late fall, it began raining like crazy. Huge, splattery drops came down by the bucketful, drenching everything within seconds. We could see the dogs standing in the rapidly rising water. The puppy especially was having a tough time because the water rose nearly to his neck.

Dan and I ran through the dark, first to the apartments, then from one mobile home to another asking who owned the dogs. Everyone said they did not know, but thought they belonged to the mobile home closest to the animals. We banged on the flimsy door. No one answered. We could hear a television over the pounding rain and the lights were on, so we banged again, both of us soaked to the bone. Finally, a man came to the door, eyeing us suspiciously. He was wearing a tattered flannel shirt and dirty, baggy pants. His hair stuck up all over his head, his chin covered in sparse hairs. His cheek was filled with tobacco, with some brown spittle clinging to the hairs at the edge of his mouth.

“Are those your dogs?” I shouted over the deafening rain, pointing to the two sodden creatures down the hill.

“Yeah, so?” he sneered at me.

“That puppy, he’s going to drown,” I turned and pointed at the dog. “See? The water is already up to his neck. And it’s really cold.”

“That water ain’t agoin’ a hurt it,” the man snarled at me, slamming the door in my face. I looked at Dan.  Now what? The dog was tied to a leash only maybe three feet long. There was no way he could survive if the water rose even a couple of more inches.

Without even discussing it, Dan and I ran and untied the dogs. We could not see taking them into our house. The apartment was so small and the dogs so filthy and wet, they would probably have ruined the carpet, and we could not afford to be evicted. Instead we took them up the hill to a small shed that was built on stilts about three feet above the ground. We tied them to one of the stilts under the building.

I stayed with the dogs while Dan ran back to the house to get them some food. The puppy was shivering so hard, I was afraid he was going to have some kind of an attack or something. He was pure black, bone skinny and his fur covered in mud, but he had kind, brown eyes and looked up at me as if to thank me for getting him out of the mass of running water.

Dan returned with two heaping bowls of food. The dogs gulped the food down so fast, we were worried it would make them sick, but after the bowls were empty, they just wagged their tails and came towards us, cowering and wriggling, rolling over to show their bellies. We pet them and rubbed their ears, pleased the dogs were okay.

When we got back into the house, we called Jeannie and told her about the dogs. She lived with three other women, all of them dog lovers.

“We are going to come and get them,” she told us. “I don’t care if they arrest us. That man should be shot for animal abuse.”

“He probably won’t even notice they are gone,” I told her. “We never see him have anything to do with them. And the mom dog is so thin, you could put your fingers between her ribs.”

The next morning, the dogs were not there. Jeannie told me that she and her roommates had come and taken them both away. Sadly, the puppy later died. He had a case of canine leukemia and was too far gone to save. The mom dog, though, grew to be fat and happy. The girls had her spayed and found her a new home.

The man in the trailer never said a word to us. He did not ask if we knew what happened to the dogs, and didn’t get any other dogs while were living there.

Read Autumn — Chapter 3

Autumn — Chapter 1

July 19, 2005
As I write, Autumn is lying on the floor beside the desk in my office. She is dying. Her body is shutting down. We have an appointment with the vet this evening. I keep thinking it will be like the last few times I thought she was done, but she is so much more DONE now.

It reminds me of getting ready to give birth. I would feel the Braxton Hicks contractions, and they would hurt, but they were nothing like the real thing. Autumn has had some bad moments, moments that made me drive her down to Dr. Fletcher, only to have us sent home – thank God, a reprieve – but this is it, the real thing. Her life will be over; mine will start something different. I am looking forward to some of the differences, but I would take all the bad just to have her in my life, have her the way she’s been until recently.

She barks too much. She gets into trash and takes food she shouldn’t. But she’s also my shadow and my friend. She loves me with a devotion I do not deserve. All of her life, she has followed me wherever I go. She is my guardian angel. She will be gone too soon.

Chapter 1

Pigs danced in sequins and cowboy hats, corpulent tubes in clothing, their mistress equally as lovely, with cowgirl boots and a twang.  As our send off to college, we were watching pigs dancing.  Was this for real?

I wanted to go to school in the south.  Yes, there would be writing and riding, my two very favorite things, but the real allure was that the school was in the southern hemisphere.  What the hell was I thinking?

My boyfriend wasn’t coming for writing, riding, or the south. He was following me.  What the hell was he thinking?

As part of our goodbye, his parents planned a party and invited all of our closest friends and family. They insinuated that they had planned an incredible surprise.  Dan and I were certain it was air-conditioning for our car. We were crossing the country in July and the car had none. This seemed like the perfect gift to us.

We were wrong. As we sat in the cool midday sun watching the pigs crossing mini bridges wearing mini skirts and fringe, Dan and I eyed one another, despairing that we had not purchased the air conditioner ourselves.  The pigs had certainly been a surprise, just not what we expected.

The following day, the car loaded with everything that had not already been shipped, we waved goodbye to our family and prayed to one another that the drive would not roast us alive.  But really, we were not worried. We were excited about the upcoming journey, and I was all the more so because I knew, deep in my bones, that I would get a dog. I saw her sitting in the front seat of my car, going everywhere with me. I felt her presence there on the seat beside me. I had no doubt that she would exist. Driving across country, I brought it up several times that my top priority upon arrival would be finding a dog.

“Don’t you think we should think about jobs and things first?” Dan would ask.

“We can look for jobs with a dog, or we can look for both at the same time,” I replied, undeterred. “Plus I will have the work study job at the barn already, so I can look for a dog while you look for work.” Dan did not look convinced, but did not argue with me.

Once we reached Bristol, the town that lay on the border of Virginia and Tennessee, finding a dog remained my top priority. Dan had not yet experienced my enthusiasm. I think he really did not want to get a dog and thought having one would be a hassle.

I was adamant though, and I told anyone who would listen that I was going to get a dog. This proved to be a fruitful tactic. Jeannie, one of my new coworkers at the horse stable, had a roommate with a pregnant dog. She offered me one of the puppies when they were born. She warned me though, that the puppies were likely to be very large dogs, as Maude, the mother, was a beast.

“She is half mastiff,” she informed me, pushing the broom up the aisle. “Half lab, half mastiff, we think,” she added.

“I don’t care if it’s a big dog,” I told Jeannie, helping her to scoop the sweepings into a dust pan. Dan, at the stable with me to help out until he found gainful employment, only shook his head.

“We can at least look!” I exclaimed to him.

I told Jeanne that I wanted to investigate the so-called beast, but that I would likely take a puppy anyway.

The apartment we lived in was not large, by any stretch of the imagination. I marvel now, that we had managed to locate and rent an apartment across country in those pre-internet days. I had somehow figured out the name of the local paper and subscribed, then located the apartment through the classified ads. Over several telephone calls with the landlord, we rented it, sight unseen.

Considering how we procured the apartment, it really wasn’t as awful as it could have been, but it wasn’t that great either. It was out of town about five miles, lying nearly on the border of Virginia and Tennessee. We were on the Tennessee side of the line, but could actually throw gravel into Virginia, we were that close to the state border.

The owner and landlord had turned an old shop into eight apartments, four on each end of the building, two on top and two on the bottom. He did not have much imagination in using the space, and each apartment was designed like a single-wide mobile home. Our apartment was on the second floor. We climbed stairs to a wide deck we shared with our neighbors and entered through a sliding glass door that opened into the dining room and kitchen on the left, and living room on the right. A narrow hall ran the length of the apartment up the right side of the building, with a bathroom and bedroom opening to the left of the hallway. Our bedroom was at the end of the hall, its width that of the apartment. The walls were covered in mobile home wallboard, the fake wood kind with brown stripes. The place was carpeted in pure 1970s gold shag. I could not complain, however; there was a washer and dryer in the bathroom.

The landlord’s own actual mobile home sat up near the street. Our apartments and the parking lot next to them were in the field behind his trailer. Beyond our building were pastures full of cows and deciduous trees. A bubbling brook ran through the field next to the fence separating our field from the cow pasture. While the apartment was rather small, there was a lot of space outside, which reduced my concern about the size of whatever dog we obtained.

Dan continued to advise me to wait, and continued to insist that we should get a smaller dog. Through the phone and thousands of miles away, our parents counseled us against getting a puppy, and they certainly felt we should not get a big dog. They had heard us complain all too frequently of our diminutive and ratty apartment.

I ignored them. I cannot say what single-minded determination drove me on. I did not care if my new dog turned out to be an elephant. I wanted a dog and my new friend had puppies coming. It wasn’t rocket science.

I wonder now at my intensity. Was Autumn’s spirit out there, forcing me to make the choice? Did she want me to choose her after her birth? I don’t know. I had wanted a dog in Oregon, but for some reason, the move across country gave me the encouragement to make sure it happened.

We also were not one-hundred percent certain the dog in question would be huge, in spite of Maude’s size. There were two potential fathers in the litter. One was a German shepherd mix named Jasper. The other was a border collie named Cody. Both of these dogs were smaller than Maude. Genetics worked in both directions.

When I went to work at the barn the morning of August 16, 1993, Jeannie looked like the cat who swallowed a mouse. One look and I knew – the puppies were born. Dan still had not found a job and was helping me at the barn. We all worked impatiently to finish, then drove quickly to Jeannie’s house.

It was already hot when we pulled up the winding, dusty driveway late that morning. Jeannie’s house was also out from town, near the end of a gravel drive. A rambling, green, two story house with pointy gables, it was surrounded on three sides by a wide, wraparound porch.

On the porch, away from the front door, Maude was stretched on her side, twelve puppies in various states covered her body. Some were suckling. Some were sleeping. Some were crawling over the others. Some just lay there like lumps letting the others romp all over them. None had eyes. None had ears. Every dog color was represented. They were utterly adorable. I had no idea how I was going to choose.

What finally helped me choose was the moon. One wee puppy had a white, crescent on the back of her neck right behind her ears – a moon. It was about three inches long and a perfect arc. The rest of her body was a creamy golden brown. She had white tips on her paws and a funny, white hourglass on her chest, but the tiny moon stood out, a beacon ensuring I would choose her.

On our drive home after making our choice, I asked Dan, “What should we name her?”

“I have no idea. Mooney?” he answered.

I laughed. “Should we give her a human-type name like Edith, or a doggish name like Spot?”

“I don’t know. It depends on the name,” Dan said.

I thought for a minute. “She is such lovely autumn colors. Maybe we should call her Autumn,” I mused. “All that beige, with brown, and some white. She is colored like the end of summer, with the moon shining over all of it.”

“Maybe we could call her Summer?”

“Summer,” I said. Then, “Autumn.” Autumn seemed to flow from the tongue.

“I like Autumn,” Dan told me.

“Me too. I think that is what we should name her.”

Over the next few days, we made some other suggestions, but Autumn stuck. The name seemed to suit her. After we spent some time visiting her and calling her Autumn, no other name fit.

Two days after the puppies were born, Jeannie called to tell me her roommate’s father had cut off the puppies’ tails. We were both furious. These were mutt dogs, why cut off their tails? I went immediately to see and discovered that, thank heaven, Autumn’s tail had been spared. The guy had only cut the tails of half the puppies. One had bled to death as a result. What an idiot. Unfortunately, Jeannie’s dog was one of the dogs chosen for a docking. He now sported a stubby, black lump.

How different some things in my life would have been if Autumn’s tail had been cut. I would still have some Christmas tree ornaments she wagged off the tree, and several beverages whacked from low-lying tables would not have had to be cleaned up. But those mishaps were small compared to having a dog who showed her emotion so readily with her tail.

Over the next few weeks, Dan and I went to visit Autumn every day we could. We would sit with Jeannie and her roommates and watch television or movies in the evenings and hold Autumn in our laps.

At first, her eyes and ears were sealed shut. She held her four legs out stiffly, her claws splayed until we settled her next to the warmth of our bodies. She would fall asleep in our laps until we rose to leave.

A little over a week after she was born, we could see tiny slits in her eyelids, shiny brown eyes peaking through. Not long after that, it was obvious she could hear us. When we would make noises she would turn and look at us. The girls had moved Maude into their basement and off the porch to escape the ravaging humidity and heat, and to keep the puppies dry during the near daily rainstorms. Pretty soon the puppies were waddling around in the makeshift pen in the corner.

When Autumn was five weeks old, Jeannie called to tell me it was time to take her home. I had not been expecting to do so until she was eight weeks old. But apparently Maude, tired of feeding eleven babies, had stopped allowing them to nurse. They had been eating puppy food for over a week. They were rambunctious and growing, and the girls wanted them out of their house.

I was thrilled, and Dan had come around as well. All those visits to see our baby had warmed his heart, although I think the size of her paws had him nervous. She looked like her paws were going to be huge, which meant she would probably be large as well. We still weren’t sure if she was Jasper’s or Cody’s, although it was obvious from the puppies’ colors and various sizes that both fathers had impregnated Maude.

The two of us had gone shopping and bought Autumn a new, grey collar and matching leash, dog dishes, and toys. Like parents waiting to give birth, we were ready to bring our new baby home.

When we arrived to pick Autumn up from Jeannie’s house, she asked, “Are you sure you want Autumn? Because if you don’t, we have lots of puppies looking for new homes.”

I stared at her, incredulous. Why wouldn’t we want her? Was she kidding? We had gone and visited her nearly every day. I had held her for hours, even before she had ears that could hear or eyes that could see. “What makes you think we would want another dog?”

“My roommates want you to take another dog because Autumn is the friendliest of all the puppies. You know that she is the first to come running whenever anyone goes into the basement,” she informed me, smiling. “And she most loves cuddling and petting.”

It was true. Autumn loved people and had no reservations about visiting anyone who was nearby. I read later that the younger a dog is exposed to humans, the more socialized and happy the dog will later be. I believe that all that hugging, cuddling, and petting I did when Autumn was little made her the friendly, sweet puppy who came running ahead of the pack.

Jeannie knew there wasn’t a chance we would leave Autumn in favor of another puppy. She smiled as we gathered Autumn in our arms for the ride home.

Dan drove. I rode in the passenger seat, my little baby on my lap. She had on her huge collar. She put her paws on the edge of the door and looking out the window. I snuggled and cuddled her, thrilled she was finally with me.

First thing upon arriving home Autumn had her first bath. She was covered in fleas. The fleas were so dense it was like she had a second, dark, wiggling skin. I had to lather her up about three times to kill all of them. She also had a little pot belly, so I was sure she had worms. I had purchased dewormer ahead of time, knowing that with all those fleas, tapeworms were a guarantee.

We had planned that Autumn would stay in the bathroom for her first night. We were worried about potty on the rug. I bundled together some towels and blankets and made her a bed. I brought in a ticking alarm clock because I had read that the ticking reminds puppies of their mother’s heartbeats. We snuggled and kissed her, placed her on the floor, and closed the door.

She began immediately to howl and yelp. Loudly. We climbed into bed and waited for her to calm down.

She didn’t. The howls only grew in intensity.

Dan, finally employed, had to get up at four in the morning for his job. He was never going to get any sleep with this noise, plus I was worried about the neighbors.

“What are we going to do?” he moaned, trying to cover his head with a pillow.

I could not stand it. I could not let my baby be so sad. I clambered out of bed and went down the hall to let Autumn out of the bathroom.

“If you give in,” Dan informed me, “She will never learn.”

“If I don’t give in, neither of us will sleep,” I retorted. I snuggled Autumn a bit, then tried again to leave her and go to bed. I did not even make it down the hall to my bedroom before the bedlam began again.

I decided to erect some walls at either end of the hall and place newspapers all over the hall floor. I looked around for something that would work as a barrier and finally settled on cardboard boxes.

“What are you doing?” Dan hollered from the bedroom.

“I’m trying to make a place for her to sleep,” I informed him, cutting into the boxes and attempting to tape wide sections to the wallboard. The tape would not stick. Damn.

I then used push pins to attach the cardboard to the walls. This worked to keep the walls up. However, the pen I created did not make Autumn any happier. As soon as I placed her on the newspapers, she sat down and howled and yelled, louder this time.

I headed back into the bedroom to wait and see if she would quiet down. Amid the screeching, we heard some rustling coming from the hallway.

“What is she doing?” Dan asked me.

“I’m not sure, but I don’t want to go out there because she will see me and it will be worse.”

We waited. After a few minutes, there were some rustlings again, and then I heard Autumn immediately outside our bedroom door. I opened it to see our puppy, the cardboard walls felled behind her, waiting to be picked up.

In spite of the fact that I did not want poop or pee on the rug, this wasn’t working. I brought her into our room and into our bed.

Dan and I settled down into the covers with Autumn between us. She was so small, I was afraid she might fall and hurt herself. I turned off the light.

Within minutes, she started whining and then yelping.

“Seriously?” I asked her. “You don’t want to sleep with us either? What do you want?” Sighing heavily, I sat up, holding Autumn close. This seemed to be the only way to keep her from crying. After a time, I laid back down with her between us. She yowled for a few minutes, shuffling around in the darkness. I then heard her jump off the bed, but she wasn’t barking. The silence continued unabated and we fell asleep.

The following morning, I discovered her slumbering beneath our bed. There was a piddle on the rug. I ran Autumn to the patio and down the stairs. When she squatted again, I shouted, “Good dog!” Autumn regarded me as if I were a fool then sniffed the place she had peed.

We repeated a shortened version the next night. I tried the bathroom, but Autumn yowled before I even closed the door. I skipped the failed hall kennel and took her to our room. We started on the bed, and she barked until she jumped off and crawled underneath. It seemed that under the bed was where she wanted to be.

Over the next few days, whenever she slept, she went under the bed or under the couch in the living room. We had purchased some drops to place on newspapers that mimic the smell of urine so puppies will pee on them. This worked about two-thirds of the time. During the day especially, we could see that she was going to pee because she would sniff the floor and circle. We would either toss her on the newspapers or outside, whichever was closer. Sometimes she peed in response to our hollering when we saw her circling.

The floor in that apartment though, especially the hallway, was getting peed on. The carpet was smelly anyway, and the pee covered in various chemicals wasn’t an improvement. I finally broke down and bought a small carpet cleaner. It wasn’t much help, but it covered the chemical pee smell.

Autumn was so tiny. I have pictures of her standing on the edge of an upholstered chair, looking down at the floor that must have seemed so far away. I would put her in the laundry basket on the dryer when I was doing laundry. She would sit in a pile of clean clothes and watch me work. She was too small to jump out, and seem disinclined to do so anyway. Her paws were enormous in comparison to how little she was, so we were certain she was going to be a very large dog, but I didn’t care and neither did Dan; we were in complete love with her. She had won our hearts. Forever after she came to live with us, I described her as my first child, this little dog we plucked from a litter of twelve on the day she was born.

Read Autumn — Chapter 2

February 29: Leap Day

February 29. Our odd little calendar balancing act. I feel as if I ought to commemorate it in some way. Today is leap day. Rather than take a day away from a 31 month here and there to give February 30 all year round, it gets only 28, but every four years it gets this unusual and special friend. I know it has to do with equinoxes and whatnot, but still. It does seem that it wouldn’t be difficult to let February have 30 days and maybe March and July could share one of their 31s or something, and become 30s, and it wouldn’t mess things up too terribly. Oh well, what do I know. It’s weird, but I always see this day as kind of green and kind of red. February is always red to me, mainly because of Valentine’s Day. Yet Leap Day seems green to me, mainly because of frogs. I associate it with frogs because of the leaping. It could just as well be some lords, but I don’t see them, I see frogs. Okay, I’ll stop.

I still want to move to Australia. I think about it periodically, go look up immigration rules and whatnot, but it’s a pipe dream I know.

My littlest dear is developing language skills so rapidly. Every day she takes it a step further. She can basically communicate nearly anything she wants to. Her words are vividly clear. Mainly at this point she leaves out determiners and prepositions, although sometimes they are there. For instance, she just took her doll to knock on Milla’s bedroom door, and she said, “Baby knock Lala’s door.”  She calls Milla Lala. She can say Milla. She sometimes calls her Mimi. She also sometimes calls her Mimi Lala.  She can say, “Milla.” Then she calls her Lala. I think she likes calling her Lala. We’ve taken to calling her Lala too. It’s sweet.

I found my diary from when Milla was this age. Isabel is quite similar to her sister. She loves counting and referring to things in twos. In my diary I read that Milla, who called her breastfeeding “Milky,” said she had “two milkies,” which meant my two breasts. She would tell me this all the time, just like Isabel now tells me all the time that I have one “Maa maa.” This is what she calls breastfeeding. Maa maa. It sounds like a sheep’s baa baa. I’m Mama and the boobs are Maa maa. Cutie.

Tomorrow is a big day for baby. She starts preschool in the morning, which she’ll go to every Thursday for four hours. Then later in the day she has her first swimming lesson. I expect all will be fun.

I’ve been personal training. It kicks my ass. There is no other way to describe it. I’ve been doing it a month now and I don’t notice that my body is any different. I don’t feel fitter. However I’m able to do many of the exercises with more ease, so the muscles must be strengthening. My trainer pushes me hard. Really hard. He has way more faith in my abilities than I do. He pushes me until my muscles are basically at fail. We do many different strengthening and cardio exercises for the full hour. I vibrate for hours afterwards. Tomorrow I have to go and then go to baby swimming lessons in the evening. I hope I can manage. I expect baby swimming lessons will be low key.

In any case, this is my update to no one. I don’t understand the urge to post goings on in my life in this manner. I have a private diary, but of course I won’t share what I say there here. No.

Time to go take Milla to get a bus pass. Fun stuff.

More Stupid Things I’m Thinking

Yes, unfortunately, there are more.  It’s how I roll.  Stupid thoughts running in and out all the time.  For instance, tonight the local bankruptcy bar in which I practice held a CLE, a thing to go to and learn legal things, continuing legal things.  Hence the C in the CLE. A judge, a court rep, and a couple of trustees instructed us on the ins and outs of the new bankruptcy rules.  Good times.  After they invited us for snacks and drinks.  I thought, free snacks?  Sure.  Social hour with adults. Why not?

Well.  I never feel more a fish out of water than when I attend lawyer functions.  I am terrible at small talk and stand around feeling self-conscious.  Stick me in a room full of lawyers and judges and theoretical “peers” and I simply feel, well, peerless.  I’m terrible at it.  If there are issues to discuss, cases to analyze, things to talk about with a question to argue, basically communicating with the same people in my job, then I’m fine.  But take any of that away and I’m just pathetic.  I stand there holding a drink and feeling foolish.  I think things like, “I’m standing here thinking this,” and “My pantyhose are too tight,” and “I can feel my ears,” and also sometimes things like thinking another lawyer is hot, although tonight that didn’t happen.  I was too sidetracked by the tight panty hose.

Today while I was getting dressed, I posted a status update on facebook that said, I go for lawyer, I end up librarian. This about sums up how I am as a lawyer overall.  I’m not suave; I’m frumpy.  I actually asked a judge tonight whether he would kick back a brief because of bad grammar because I have gotten some really awful briefs from lawyers with terrible grammar and thought to  myself that if I were a judge I would send back a brief for bad grammar.  He kind of paused as he answered, “Well, um…” And I knew the answer was no. He probably realized in that moment that perhaps I wasn’t a normal person, but he did seem a bit tipsy, so that might have helped my case a bit.  I like it when most of the people at such a function start to take on a bit more alcohol then they probably should. Then I figure they aren’t going to remember my standing there like an idiot holding some glass and repeatedly crossing and uncrossing my legs because my feet hurt, and not because I have to go to the bathroom.

I’m not sure why this is.  When I was first a lawyer, it was lack of confidence. I had no experience and felt like everyone around me had tons.  Now I don’t feel inexperienced. In fact I feel quite confident about my practice skills for the most part, and I don’t care when I don’t know.  I just call someone up and ask.  No big deal.  It isn’t that I don’t have anything in common with anyone either. There are people in this group with whom I have enough in common to manage a conversation, and some of them interest me quite a bit.  I really want to know about what they do.  I just don’t schmooze well, and a lot of legal activities seem to be all about just that.  Ah, such is life.

Tonight Isabel pooped on her bed.  I have been letting her run around with a diaper because she has never pee-peed or poo-pooed anywhere except in her diaper or her potty.  Tonight I think the poop surprised her.  I heard her holler from her room, POOP!  I went in there and low and behold, that is exactly what had taken place.  She looked surprised and kind of scared, sitting there with a little turd on the bed and stuck to her bottom.  Okay, honey, I said, I’ll clean it up.  I was laughing so hard, I could hardly breathe, especially because I was trying to do it without her knowing I was doing it and it was strangling me.  Poor little pooper!  I got her all cleaned up and she helped me put on a new diaper and then take her bedspread to the washing machine.

On New Year’s Eve, I had the opportunity to venture outside my comfortable inner NE Portland bubble and visit the suburbs.  My friend Rita invited me to a party at her friend’s house.  Why not?  I could bring the baby. We could hang out, bring a small hostess gift, and then head home after.  My other option was movies at home on the computer after Isabel went to sleep. Not so fun.  Life is kind of boring around here when Milla is gone.  No one is around for me to boss around.

So out into the land of McMansions I trekked.  Rita asked me to meet her over at her neighbor’s house because she was picking up her son.  I parked at Rita’s house and bundled Isabel in her coat before trundling to the neighbor’s white colonial.  Bundled and trundled. The door bore the words WE_COME.  The L was curled up so it looked like a little dash.  I knocked and waited.  From within the house I could hear the sounds of children running and hollering.  A moment later, Rita’s son answered the door, followed closely by Rita, carrying another son.  Immediately in front of me were stairs up to the second floor of the house.  Each stair displayed a word or an inspirational saying in different fonts and letter sizes.  LOVE.  KEEP Faith ALIVE.  HOPE. God ANSWERS those who ask.  Okay, I thought.  Not my decor choice, but whatever.

Rita introduced me to the neighbor and we headed back over to her house.  Inside, I noticed Rita had Faith, Hope, Love in stick-on letters on her dining room wall.  Hmmm.  I thought nothing more of it.  We changed diapers, gathered diaper bags, bundled up children further, and headed out to drive over to the friend’s for the party. It was nearing 10 and we needed to get going.

I followed Rita’s Highlander as we drove out of her neighborhood onto a main road.  A half mile up the main road, we turned and drove along a road with countryside on one side and houses on the other.  We turned and turned and turned again. Mostly the roads stayed partially housed and partially country.  Rita lives in Washington county.  It is my opinion of Washington county that its perspective is to cover every available green space with a building, so it was actually quite refreshing that this countryside had not been tainted.  The night was clear and the moon was bright, so I was able to see the grayed landscape.

Finally we drove into a neighborhood.  Neighborhoods like the one we were driving into are popular in Hillsboro.  I think it is Intel; its base is there.  These neighborhoods are filled with houses that nearly obliterate their lots.  They are mostly snout houses, meaning the primary feature one notices when looking at them is their rather large garages.  We passed several such houses with three garages.  Who needs three garages? I thought to myself as we twisted and turned, twisted and turned.  Every house looked the same to me.  I would never have been able to find my way there if I had been alone.  Rita used to live in a neighborhood like this one, back when she was married to a man who worked at Intel.  I kind of pride myself on my ability to find my way and that I rarely get lost, but every single time I visited Rita when she lived in that neighborhood, I made at least one wrong turn.  It was uncanny.

In any case, eventually we arrived at a whole lot of cars and I knew the party could not be far.  We parked and walked a block to a nondescript suburb house.  Very large. Very snouty.  The cars were parked outside, which I later learned was because the garage had been turned into a storage facility.  Maybe that’s the purpose of the many and large garages, storage!  Fill your garage with things you never use and won’t see just in case someday you might need them, but you won’t know you have them so you’ll buy more of the thing you can’t find, use it once, then lose it in the garage again.  I get it!

I digress.

The point of this little tale is that upon entering, the very first thing I noticed was that all over the walls, in between the photos and floral hangings, were more stick-on, inspirational sayings!  Lots of them.  A little lightbulb popped on above my head right in that moment and I realized that this must be the in suburb thing.  I’m really out of the loop about in things, and I’m especially out of the loop about in suburban things.  I wondered, standing there, whether my many suburban Vancouver and Washougal and Camus had special sayings on their walls.  Probably.  Wow, I’m not in.  But I knew that.  I think about my pantyhose at lawyer functions, what the hell would I know about inspirational writings on suburban walls?

Now it is time to go to bed.  Isabel has been very patient as I write this.  Milla has been hiding in her room.  She came down to sit on my bed and scold Isabel because Isabel wants to touch Milla’s homework and Milla doesn’t want her to, but rather than ask nicely or move to a place the baby can’t get to, Milla is acting all teenagery.  Get a grip, Milla. Now baby wants to be on my lap.  I have to brush my teeth.  The stupid thoughts will just have to hang out in my head for now.

 

More Pithy Observation

Why is it that so many people think that for a woman to be self-actualized and equal — in the workplace, in the home, in her sexuality — she has to act like a man? I don’t see how sleeping with a bunch of men and ignoring them later makes me any stronger or wiser. I don’t see how shattering the glass ceiling by working ridiculous hours and ignoring my children gives me any sort of independence. I don’t see how ignoring household chores and letting my children care for themselves before they really understand who they are offers me freedom. So often what is held up as equality isn’t equal at all, it’s reduction of the female self to an outdated patriarchal view of how the world ought to operate. And I’m simply not on board with it.

That’s all.

Isabel, a Polar bear, and a Giraffe

Isabel went to the zoo with her cousin Sarah yesterday.  We saw lots of animals because it was early and the sun was hiding behind clouds (as opposed to the last time we went in the middle of a sunny day when they were all napping). I felt sorry for the animals.  Many of them were exhibiting behaviors associated with severe boredom.  Also I found it ironic that the zoo was filled with many signs describing the effects of climate change and the corruption we are causing our planet, and begging us to redefine our behaviors, yet at the same time they were selling tons of plastic junk.  Something of a hypocrisy there…

Anyway, here are photos I took of Isabel, a polar bear, and a giraffe.

Introduction to Brain Rules for Baby

This is an excerpt from Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina.  I have fallen in love with his book Brain Rules, and discovered the baby version on his website.  I wish the school system would read this and stop trying to stuff reading in five-year-olds like they are pate’ geese on the way to slaughter.

From the introduction.  See it here:

Scientists certainly don’t know everything about the brain. But what we do know gives us our best chance at raising smart, happy children. And it is relevant whether you just discovered you are pregnant, already have a toddler, or find yourself needing to raise grandchildren. So it will be my pleasure in this book to answer the big questions parents have asked me—and debunk their big myths, too. Here are some of my favorites:

Myth: Playing Mozart to your womb will improve your baby’s future math scores.

Truth: Your baby will simply remember Mozart after birth—along with many other things she hears, smells, and tastes in the womb. If you want her to do well in math in her later years, the greatest thing you can do is to teach her impulse control in her early years.

Myth: Exposing your infant or toddler to language DVDs will boost his vocabulary.

Truth: Some DVDs can actually reduce a toddler’s vocabulary. It is true that the number and variety of words you use when talking to your baby boost both his vocabulary and his IQ. But the words have to come from you—a real, live human being.

Myth: To boost their brain power, children need French lessons by age 3 and a room piled with “brain-friendly” toys and a library of educational DVDs.

Truth: The greatest pediatric brain-boosting technology in the world is probably a plain cardboard box, a fresh box of crayons, and two hours. The worst is probably your new flat-screen TV.

Myth: Telling your children they are smart will boost their confidence.

Truth: They’ll become less willing to work on challenging problems. If you want to get your baby into Harvard, praise her effort instead.

Myth: Children somehow find their own happiness.

Truth: The greatest predictor of happiness is having friends. How do you make and keep friends? By being good at deciphering nonverbal communication. Learning a musical instrument boosts this ability by 50 percent. Text messaging may destroy it.

Research like this is continually published in respected scientific journals. But unless you have a subscription to the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, this rich procession of findings may pass you by. This book is meant to let you know what scientists know—without having a Ph.D. to understand it.

Cracking a Head on a Barcelona Stair

We are in the Philly airport now. We will be home in about 9 hours. Nice flight home…unlimited movies chosen from our seat. 

Yesterday we spent our last eve in Barcelona riding in an ambulance to the hospital. Milla slipped on some stairs right after it started to rain and banged her head on the cement. She required two stitches. Quite the ordeal, but two bright spots. One was the cost, only $53 euros for the entire thing, INCLUDING the ambulance ride. Two was the incredibly handsome Spanish men who were our paramedics. Both of them were handily some of the most incredible looking men I have ever seen. I can’t believe humans are that lovely in person.  (: Anyway Milla is recovering and has an interesting story to tell her classmates.

Barcelona

I have noticed since being in Barcelona, and indeed I have noticed in all of our European travels this summer, a lot more men carting around children than I see in the states.  And here in Spain I have noticed many, many sets of grandparents or a grandparent caring for young children.  I wonder if instead of placing children with daycare centers, more people here utilize family for childcare.  I’m talking about babies and very young children.

Today while swimming in the Mediterranean I was drifting in from a swim out a ways from shore, when a turd floated by.  I immediately exited the water, packed up the baby, and went to take a shower.  I just could not swim with turds.  Call me particular.

Düsseldorf

We spent 2 days in Düsseldorf, Germany.  Actually, we stayed in a suburb called Ratingan at the in-laws of my friend, Anne. However we went into Düsseldorf both days we were there.  The weather the entire time was pretty abysmal, especially for August, but this did not stop us from exploring.  Sunday morning in Ratingan we were all soaked on our way to breakfast at a lovely bakery.  Breakfast, while damp, was quite delicious. There was a lot of construction going on downtown, which Anne says has been going on for years.  I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing.  I don’t know enough to judge.

In any case, we made it around the construction zone and wandered up and down lovely alleyways to the Rhine. At the Rhine, the sky in the distance looked quite menacing, so we beat a fast track back to the car.  We seemed to miss the rain, which was a first for the trip.

I snapped some photos of my beautiful daughter along the Rhine and with her umbrella.  Her smile is truly breathtaking.

Milla on the Rhine, August 14, 2011

Milla in Düsseldorf, Germany, August 14, 2011.

Amsterdam, I love you.

August 15, 2011:

Magical, magical, magical.  I fell in love with Amsterdam nearly immediately.  Exiting the central station and moving out into the sun was no more unusual than any other such exits, except that the sun was shining and we’ve been trudging through thick raindrops since we arrived.  This alone made the departure special.  We had planned to take a boat ride around the canals, but after a snack, I wasn’t so interested in sitting in a plastic, encased tube, which is how the canal boats are, so we headed off towards Dam Square with the intent to catch a boat ride later.

We wandered down a busy thoroughfare that was much too touristy, but fun in a campy way.  Marijuana smoke drifted in and out of the crowd, and Milla wrinkled her nose and smiled at this.  We smell marijuana when we visit the Last Thursday festival in Portland, but it’s not legal.  We also passed a sex museum.  Milla found this quite salacious, marijuana smoking and sex shops right out in the open, which of course gave her another giggle.

Dam Square was crowded and full of life.  A Scot danced and played, then asked for tips.  Around the square various persons stood attired in an array of costumes that must have been hotter than hell.  One was a knight, covered in shiny, green stones, with a brilliant, diamond encrusted shield.  Every few moments he shifted slightly to his left, then again, then again, until he circled and faced us.  As he turned away I could see beneath his helmet. The skin there was red and sweaty.  He must have been roasting there in the sun wearing such a heavy costume.  Nearby Poseidon posed with a family of three. He allowed one of the sons to hold his pearly blue, shell covered staff.  Darth Vader stood alone to one side.  No one seemed much interested in him; modern gods pale in comparison to Poseidon and knights.  I can only imagine the level of sweltering under his black cape and hood.

As we passed through the square and crowds, pushing Isabel in her stroller along the bumpy cobblestones, I felt a gradual welling of desire for this place in my chest.  I wanted to get past the tourism and into the very old city. I did not so much mind the crowds, but had no desire for McDonald’s and other hideous modern entrapments.  Come, I said to Milla. Let’s head off this way.  We took a narrow road away from the square and moved along until we came to a quiet street along a canal.

As in Delft, a small town we visited a couple of days ago, cars parked right along the canal.  There were no fences or other obstructions between them and the water.  Surely parking must be a stressful affair, even when one is used to doing it.  Later on our boat tour, we heard that an average of one car per week falls into a canal.  Yikes!

We rambled along and came to a busier street with another, larger canal running through it and decided then to take a boat tour.  We stood and purchased our tickets, and proceeded down onto the wooden boardwalk to wait our turn on a bench.  The sun was really warm and I commented to Milla that I would take being warm any day over the rain.  Isabel peeked over the edge of the boardwalk into the water, turning to tell me about the sloshing water and ducks.  Hoo? she asked, pointing into the depths below.

We sat for ten minutes before a boat came to pick us up.  The best part about getting to such a tour before the boat arrives is that you are near the front when it boards, which affords you the opportunity to choose the best seats. The boat was long and narrow, an aisle running between booths of vinyl benches with tables between.  The entire thing was encased in a plastic windows.  Two sets of the windows were open on top, and at the very front and the very back, windows were open on either side as well.  We chose a booth at the very back next to an open window, and for the rest of the ride, i was so grateful for this choice and opportunity.  The boat groaned, its engine grinding and smelly as the contraption turned to begin its journey, turning and snaking along the wider canal.

Moments later the boat turned down a smaller channel and as the sun shined upon us, the breeze gently pulling at our hair, with Milla smiling and Isabel giggling, I fell completely and utterly in love with Amsterdam.  The boat ride was completely enchanting.  We passed crooked, skinny houses, built on uneven piles driven into the sticky muck that is the city’s base.  Our guide recited in four languages the story of early taxation based on a building’s width.  He pointed out overhead the wenches attached to gables and used to swing furniture through open windows because the doors are too narrow to admit anything of consequence. We heard stories of ancient merchants and mariners, and cars falling in channels, and the cost to build small fences, and as the boat moved along, I thought, I would love to live in this place.

As we floated along, my 22 month old daughter waved at everyone.  We passed groups of young men hanging out on the edge of the canal.  Isabel waved and they all broke into bright smiles.  We passed two old people snuggling together on a bench.  Isabel waved and waved, and they smiled and waved vigorously in return.  We slid beneath a stone bridge.  A handsome, dark skinned man ambled along its side.  Isabel waved at him and his smile was so genuine and lovely, my heart nearly broke at its beauty.  My sweet child was making many people happy, if only for a moment.  Her wave is flat-handed, like a royal waving to her subjects.

After 45 minutes, the boat moved out of the canal and into the broad channel near the central station.  It passed a bicycle parking garage filled with thousands of bicycles, and the central train station.  As we rounded the corner into the main channel, we looked up up up at the bow of a giant cruise ship.  We thought we were going to hit it, it was that close!  At the last moment, our boat curved round the ship and made its way further down the channel.  It then turned back into the canal and back to where we began.

I loved Amsterdam.  Then entire time we floated through the beautiful canals, I was in complete bliss. After our ride we wandered until we came across the Waterstones Bookstore.  More bliss.  Four stories of books, which for me is like putting a drunk in a bar, I’m such a book addict.  I could never give up paper and covers in favor of some electronic reading device.  There is so much more to the experience than the reading of the words.  Milla and Isabel settled into the children’s section and I was able to have some free moments wandering by myself, which was heavenly.

After making a few purchases (of course), we left Waterstones and discovered two more bookstores, the American Bookstore and a small local shop.  All were in Spull Square, a delightful place full of trees, birds, sun, and visitors.  Dogs romped.  Birds chirped and ate crumbs.  Groups congregated.  The sun shone.  We sat for a while on a bench eating our purchases from the AH grocery.  This was a fine discovery, minus the vomit on the stairs out front–ewww!  We were able to purchase lunch meat, cheese, bread, and fruit.  We ate these in Spull Square until a yellow jacket decided to chase us away.  Milla screamed and some locals laughed at her.  It was kind of funny.  We then waited for Anne at a coffee shop and drank decaf Americanos.  Isabel played and nursed.  Once Anne arrived, we caught a train to the theater where we watched her fiance in an opera.  It was all wonderful fun.

Good:  Trains are fast.  Weather is lovely.  Buildings are charming and crooked.  There are hooks from the tops of the buildings with which to swing furniture in through the windows of narrow old houses.

Not so good:  Vomit in front of the grocery store and the smell.

Sublime:  Isabel waving at people on the shore and their smiles and waves in return.  She took them by surprise, this tiny person waving at them from a boat.

Isabel in front of a canal in Amsterdam.

Milla in Amsterdam.

Anticlimactic

The interesting thing for me in finally finishing one of my books is how anticlimactic it has been.  I finished it, then sat here and thought, Okay, it’s done.  I will have to read through it and edit, but the bulk of it is complete. It seemed as if the occasion deserved something more, but it really didn’t.  If there has been a sincere shift in my thinking over the last few years it is this:  life is about the ride, not the destination.  This book just proved to me how much this has sunk in and become a part of me.

Time to rouse baby and get her dressed.  I love the smile she gives me when she awakens.  This morning before I got out of bed, I was lying next to her and she wakened for a moment, then patted my chest for milky, and gave me her lovely smile before latching on and going back to sleep.  Ah, baby love is the best love of all!

Pointless Rambling

Do you ever have a day where it feels like there is a burr in your ass?  I didn’t start out the day feeling that way, but ever since I woke from a midday nap I have felt increasingly cranky.  I’m sure a lot of it is that I did not get enough sleep last night, and the other part is that I’ve got a damn cold again, and my voice is nearly gone, and by the end of the day I’m frankly sick to death of squeaking rather than speaking.  I finally decided it would not even be a good idea to work on my book because my attitude would more than likely worm its way into the text and I don’t need that.

All this said, I have the cutest, sweetest, most adorable baby on the planet sleeping next to me and just seeing her fills my heart with love and joy.  She is perfection.  Tonight in the car, she picked up her chubby, sandaled foot and held it to her head like a phone.  “Lo?” she said into her heel, her toes to her ear.  What could be cuter than that?  Sweet adorableness.  I’m in baby love.  Older daughter was actually kind today too.  She had me come in and cover her with blankies before going to sleep, then I cuddled her and accidentally poked her in the eye.  This required kisses and loves.  At least she didn’t snarl at me.  I’m not in love with this snarly, surly age. I hope we get through it intact.  I foolishly believed I would be immune from adolescent angst in my child.  Oh how wrong I was…

Miscellaneous Blatherings

I have finished two chapters in two days, but now I have to work at the job that makes me money.  I don’t want to.  I’m burned out.  I took a small break, but I think I need a vacation where I leave the continent.  We are planning one of those, but it will not arrive soon enough.  There are other things happening in the meantime that I look forward to.  I just need to keep plugging away at the day job until I get over the funk.  It will happen; it has before.

Isabel has taken to letting her dollies nurse on her, or nurse on me before she nurses.  She is very generous, that one.

I have also been working on the second book at the same time as the first. Both are right there, in my brain, so when I want to work on one, I start typing and out it comes.  The problem is that I want to finish both and there isn’t enough time in the day.  But it will happen.  I’m glad enough for the work that is coming.

Milla is getting taller and growing things like breasts.  She complained about the bra I bought her so I just bought her some bigger ones.  As has been the case since she was tiny she likes her clothing five sizes too big.  I have to say that I prefer that to the opposite alternative.

Our next door neighbor is moving away.  Ours has not been a cordial acquaintance.  Mostly it hasn’t been an acquaintance at all, but what contact there has been has been unfriendly. She does not seem to like us, and we really don’t like her in return.  We have vowed to take a pie to the new tenant, hoping that a beginning kindness will at least give rise to the possibility of a friendly acquaintance.  We shall see.  I am glad, though, that the neighbor who does not like us is leaving.

It is sunnyish today, which is an improvement over downpours.  I’m glad that it is not brightly sunny or I would lament leaving work until the last day.  As it is, I will get it done without grumbling that I’m doing it in exchange for good weather.

My baby

My sweet baby holds a doll and rocks it back and forth and up and down exactly as I rock her, holding it in the same position as if it’s being nursed.

She then drops the doll with a thunk and goes and picks up the cat by the neck.  There is a limit, I suppose, to the similarities.

Love

My little daughter is perfect.  I have moments sometimes, when I’m holding her hand or looking at her, when I think to myself that I am a human and she is a human, she is my cub, my baby.  I held her hand tonight as she lay against me in the crook of my right shoulder. I could smell the warmth of her body wafting upward, see the tiny curls forming in the sweat along the base of her neck.  She held both my hands with her hands, each of her fingers warm and soft.  I picked at her baby fingernails with mine, catching the ends and pulling off the sharp places.  This is my cub, I thought. This is my little human.  Here we are, two humans, lying together in this bed in this house in the twilight as she moves into sleep.  The moment was so basic, so contented, so perfect in its simplicity.  I love my human child.  I love every moment with her.  She brings me grace and contentment.  She is perfect.

Life Goes On…

Man, it’s pathetic how little I write on this anymore.  It seems like my days start so early and are filled to the brim until late and then I fall into bed completely exhausted, only to start it all again the next day.  Work has been a living hell.  I have been hating my job so much, trying to focus on what I like about it, trying to help people, but shit just keeps coming up that I have to deal with and it takes time away from the stuff that actually feels useful.  Today a client told me she thinks I’m wonderful and that she knows I’m fighting for her, and that part is true, I do want the very best for my clients.  But I’m not so sure about the wonderful part and I am barely keeping my head above water.  It was nice to hear though.  She brought a smile to my face.

My infant daughter brings the most smiles to my face.  She is so happy and growing and changing so much.  She smiles and makes a little hoo sound all the time about everything.  She call me Maa Maa and says bye bye when she waves.  She is the most adorable little person.  She laughs all the time. She loved Christmas.  She opened her presents one by one, handing me pieces of wrapping paper as she went.  She and Milla are the reason for the holiday for me. They enjoy themselves so much and it is utterly delightful to watch them enjoy and experience everything.

I can’t believe how tall my Milla is getting.  She has passed my friend Rita and is on her way to passing my friend Sara. She’s lanky and tall and completely gorgeous.  Luckily she is also still very much 11 and into dogs and knitting and being as comfortable as possible so she goes around dressed like a hippie all the time, which is totally fine with me because I don’t need the boys chasing her yet.  I think she will manage to be taller than they are for several years to come so by the time they figure out how amazing she is, she will be older, which can’t hurt.  She is a smart girl.  She knows how these things roll.

I have to go to bed.  It’s 11 and I get to work all day tomorrow. Lucky me. I’m grateful to have a job, but I sure wish it wasn’t such a pain in the ass sometimes.

Ewww

Someone asked me how many times a day I have to change Isabel’s diaper, the implication being that I must change cloth more than I would change disposables. It should be the same.  If someone is changing their child less frequently because the child is wearing disposables, that means their child is sitting around in plastic soaked urine. That is just gross.

Baby Love

It doesn’t matter where I’m at or what I’m doing, rubbing my baby’s back is like mainlining bliss. There must be some kind of direct Oxytocin hit for moms there or something.  Same with rubbing her head.  I could sit and rub her head and her back and get that blissed out feeling all day long.  She is heavenly.  Who needs the afterlife when this is available?  Ahhh, I love it.  I love her.

I Just Can’t Stand It

I’m so frustrated with this country.  I wish I had never heard the results of the Massachusetts election.  I can’t stand the stupid, short-sightedness in this country.  If anyone thinks Republicans are going to do anything to fix anything, they are fucking crazy.  This country would not be in this mess if it weren’t for decades of conservative thinking.  It never works.  People think the middle of the road Democrats need to fix things immediately or they will just vote in the bastards who created the mess in the first place, and things only get worse.  Problems take years to accumulate and they want changes to happen in minutes.

Conservative thinking has made a concerted effort to make Americans believe government is the problem, then they set out to gut government in order to back up their goals, getting people to believe that laissez-faire, market-driven capitalism is in their interests.  After their jobs have been sent overseas, their homes taken from them, no healthcare, no food, gutted schools, and no social programs to speak of, Americans blame government for the problem, rather than blaming the tiny elite who manipulated them in the first place using issues like abortion and same-sex marriage to get people to vote against their economic interests.  It’s terrifying.  In reality, governments work well in many countries, countries that let governments run effectively and don’t let big money run loose to do as it pleases.

I find it ironic that the same people who lament the giant banks and their big bonuses and corrupt business practices vote in the same people who ensure these policies stay in place and their actions will become even more blatant.  It makes me crazy.  People listen to uneducated fools like Sarah Palin, think she’s “like them,” in spite of the fact her bank account is nothing like theirs and she makes our nation look like a country of fools.  They get caught up in the hateful ire of Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, without considering the motivations of these very wealthy, very hateful men.  They blame Obama for the bailouts, and he wasn’t even president when it happened!  I’m so sick of the ignorance, I can barely manage to follow politics in this country anymore.

I know the people I admire urge me to continue to try and make the world a better place, that in giving up hope, those hateful bastards win.  But seriously, how is one supposed to cope knowing things are only going to get worse and knowing I have two children for whom I want the world to be a better place, and for whom I want a planet for them to live on and prosper?  It almost makes me ashamed for having brought them into this place.  I love them more than life itself.  I only hope there is a planet for them to live on that isn’t as bleak and horrible as it seems doomed to be.

Day 16

Fifteenth day of life.

Not much exciting to report.  Today we went over to Gramma’s house for dinner because Daddy’s birthday was the day after Isabel’s.  We had turkey dinner and Gramma, Aunt Sarah, and Cousin Caroline held Isabel.  After dinner, Isabel and I took a nap that felt amazing.  I’m so tired all the time, so any nap is welcome.  Milla dressed doggy Ava up in baby clothes, then retired to the basement to play Rock Band and sing.  Isabel and I slept through this.  Other than that, we didn’t do much today.  It was nice to relax.  Isabel is beautiful.  I took a lot of photos of her, but then left the camera at Gramma’s so I could not download them as I had hoped to do tonight.  Ah well.  I will get it done later.

Two Weeks Old: Pumpkins

Today Isabel is two weeks old. She had an adventurous day, of sorts.  Considering she slept through most of it, I’m not sure how much of an adventure it really was.

photoFirst we went to Sauvie Island to the pumpkin patch.  We were going to go to the main big one with the giant corn maze, but when we arrived at about 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday a couple of weeks before Halloween, we discovered that everyone else in Portland had the same idea. There was a line of cars a half a mile long on the road to the patch so when we got there, we just kept driving on past the patch.  We told Milla we would come back during the week when things would likely not be as crowded.  She was amenable to this when she saw the crowds and lines.  We drove on around part of the island and in the process, discovered another, more unknown pumpkin patch with animals, caramel apples, a smaller corn maze, a hay maze, hayrides, orchards, and flowers.

Milla and Daddy went off in search of a pumpkin while Isabel nursed on my lap as I sat on a hay bale under a fruit tree. The sun was beaming and warm, and sitting under the heat nursing baby Isabel was quite pleasant.  After she had milk I changed her diaper in the shade under another tree.  By then Milla had found her pumpkin.  She and I and the baby went to check out the corn maze and animals, I picked out a pumpkin for me, and Milla picked out a little one for Isabel. Milla pulled the wagon up to the checkout where we stopped first to buy caramel apples and cider before heading on our way.  It was certainly an enjoyable afternoon.

Later in the day, Daddy was playing with the Portland Jazz Orchestra doing a tribute to Buddy Rich.  Isabel and I went to watch him.  The Jazz Orchestra is a 17 piece big band.  I sat in the way back because I expected the music to be loud.  It was loud, but Isabel slept through the whole thing.  The only time she wiggled a bit was after a piece when the audience erupted in applause.  She was not terribly fond of the clapping.  The music was fantastic and the stories from the band member who played with the Buddy Rich band in the sixties were entertaining.  It was a fun show.

After the show, right after I got Isabel strapped into her car seat, she pooped.  I removed her from the car seat and changed her diaper in the front seat of the car, bundled her back up, strapped her in the car seat, whereupon she promptly pooped again.  Silly girl!

Overall the day was lovely. Milla is looking forward to carving her pumpkin.  I’m looking forward to sleep.  Isabel is looking forward to milk.  Easy goals, I think.

Day 13

Twelfth day of life.

I love my baby.  She is lying her on my arms as I type, completely sacked out.  She is so cute.  She just drank a bunch of milk and crashed.  She loves her milk.

Today she had her second checkup with the midwives.  They weighed her (8 pounds, 15 ounces) and pronounced that she would likely be back up to birth weight at two weeks after birth (this Saturday).  They checked her belly button because it has been kind of oozy and said it looked normal and the ooziness would heal.  They had to perform the second half of the heal stick test where they take blood to send to the state.  Isabel did not like this but she didn’t flat out cry.  Rather she whimpered.  This was not fun for Mommy and Daddy.

I called a friend today who has been expecting a baby to adopt.  It turns out his baby was born on the same day as Isabel!  He and his wife have been waiting for a baby for nearly two years.  I am so happy for them that they finally have a daughter to love.

I have been having baby loss fears like I had with Milla, where I worry about SIDS and other disasters taking my baby from me.  I force the thoughts from my mind and do my best to avoid dangers, but the thoughts still lurk there, worries unbidden. I just love this little person so much and do not want anything to happen to her.

Today I bought her a night light for her changing table and some pictures of duckies to hang there as well.  Cute stuff.

Oh, she just made me laugh.  She is lying here sleeping on my lap and started to squirm a bit then pooted a big poot that made her jump, her eyes flying open in surprise.  This made me giggle.  Now that the bubble is out she is sleeping soundly again.

Isabel has more and more alert awake times.  She coos and talks, waving her arms and making faces.  She is a sweet baby.  She is wonderful to sleep with. She wakes up to drink milk then falls promptly asleep.  She hasn’t awakened to chat in the middle of the night in a few days, probably because she has been having an alert, awake time right before we go to bed.  I am going to check and see if the next time she doesn’t have an alert, awake time right before bed if she wakes up in the middle of the night.

In spite of these mostly sleeping nights, I am still really tired and have been taking daily naps with her.  I just can’t feel completely rested when the longest sleep stretch is three hours, but that will come later.  I am enjoying having her this age.  She is delightful.  I love her so much and am so thankful she was born.

Day 11

Tenth day of life.

Oh, tired.  Tired to the bone.  I sleep.  I actually sleep many hours.  I just don’t sleep that many in a row, so I’m tired.  Isabel and I took three naps together today.  I was falling over in my soup I was so tired.  I had to just get up and go into the bedroom and lie down on the bed.  Normally I tend towards insomnia and cannot sleep deeply without earplugs.  Since my baby sleeps with me I am not using the earplugs and have learned to sleep without them.  This is useful.  The funny thing is when I had bad insomnia and was a walking zombie I could not fall asleep without them.  Maybe it helps to be flooded with baby love hormones.

Isabel has a cold.  I have instituted a no visitors policy.  When visitors do come again, they cannot touch my baby without first washing their hands.  She has congestion and this morning she had a fever.  She is so tiny, I hate her feeling ill at this age.  Apparently it is good for the immune system, but I still don’t like my babies to be sick.  Breastfeeding helps, considering it has immunities in it she doesn’t have and won’t for a couple of years.  She has been drinking a lot of milky.

Cutting the frenulum helped immensely with nursing.  She gulps her milk now.  I have also discovered that I basically cannot eat sugary things at all.  It gives us both gas. Since making this discovery both of us have felt better in the gas department.  I wasn’t even eating that much, just dessert after a meal.  I don’t sit around forking candy into my face or anything.  But the amount was enough to bother both of our digestive systems, so no more for me.  I’ll have fruit for dessert instead.  It’s healthier anyway.

Thoughts certainly fritter off into the ether when I’m tired.  I had a thought about something I wanted to write when I was writing about fruit for dessert and by the time I get here the thought is gone.  This is how it has been for me, but oh well, I have a baby to love so I don’t care.

One Week Old: The Land of Cuteness

Lara Gardner’s Weblog, so long full of angst and loneliness, heartache and concern, now a lovefest to her new baby.  I’m giddy in love with this little person.  She is lying here nursing right now and making these little hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm noises between gulps.  Her little right hand is resting on her cheek, her left hand on her chest. She is so relaxed, so content, such a delightful little human.  She sighs, then hmms, then takes another drink.  Pure and utter bliss.  How boring I must be to read right now!  I don’t even care.  How wonderful it is to be bathed in gobs of loviness.  I cannot complain.

Today we went to the little shop where I bought her g diapers because I could not figure out how to use them properly.  I bought a couple of newborn sizes, and received several small sizes from Daddy’s mom.  The newborn ones didn’t work.  The small ones were too big.  It turns out that the cloth inserts really don’t work that well when they are really little.  There are disposable, biodegradable inserts that work for these little ones.  We went and bought some of these inserts and lo and behold, they work!  I’m pleased because we have been using some disposable ones, but they just aren’t as soft. They are supposed to be biodegradable.  Maybe that is why they aren’t very soft, but the non-biodegradable ones aren’t soft either, so that’s probably not it.  They just aren’t cloth, which is softer.  That’s all there is to it.

Our little dog Ava is very curious about the baby, but she is also very good.  She sits a bit of a distance away and leans her head forwardly, cautiously sniffing.  What is that thing? she seems to ask.  She looks at the baby, then looks at me, then looks back at the baby, giving her a good sniff.  Between Milla, Ava, and Isabel, we live in the land of cuteness. It is nice place to be.

Day 7

Sixth day of life.

Tomorrow it will have been a week since Isabel was born.  Wow.  What an amazing week.  The first days with a baby are so visceral, so present.  I love it.  I spend time simply looking at her, memorizing her face, her hands, her feet, her body.  Baby love is wonderful.  Pure bliss.

Today was an eventful day for Miss Isabel.  She had her first pediatrician visit, and because she had a short frenulum, her first surgical procedure.  I really like our new pediatrician.  He is a naturopathic doctor, very practical and down to earth.  I adore his bedside manner.  He’s been a physician for years, and his relaxed manner and confidence is evident in all he does.

As I said, Isabel had a short frenulum.  The midwives pointed this out the day she was born, but I didn’t think anything of it.  After five days of nipple hell though, I decided to look up the ramifications of it.  One of the most common is the inability to latch on properly.  Isabel was doing her darndest to try, but it just wasn’t working.  Her little tongue didn’t reach far enough.  No wonder she was nursing all the time–she was hungry!!

All the websites on short frenulums (otherwise known as being tongue-tied) said clipping it was quick and painless.  I’ll agree with the former, but to call the procedure painless isn’t quite accurate. The doctor takes a pair of scissors and clips the skin under the tongue, the frenulum.  It is a cutting and it stings and bleeds.  Isabel cried for a minute until she was able to get on my breast, but I have little doubt the mini wound was sore for a little while.  I’ve cut that skin before and it smarts.  Things seemed to heal up quickly though, and the differences while nursing are remarkable.  The procedure was definitely worth it.  Isabel gets tons of milk now and her constant nursing has stopped.  The nipples appear to be on the mend, although they are still very sore.  They had cracks and scabs on them. Ouch!

Later this evening  my friend Sara came to visit, bringing her little daughter Leah and dinner for the two of us.  Daddy had a concert tonight and Milla went to watch him, so it was girls’ night here with my friend and our daughters.  It was a pleasant way to spend the evening.

Milla came home excited from the concert.  She apparently fell asleep at the end of the first set and then danced through the second!  Silly girl.  She loves big band music.  She also loves dressing up, so the evening provided her with pleasure on both counts.

Tomorrow it will be a week.  This has been one of the best weeks of my life, filled with baby love.

Day 6

Fifth day of life.

Today was fairly uneventful.  Miss Isabel decided to be awake again last night, which was actually pretty wonderful.  She woke and ate around 1:30, then woke again around 3:30 and was up for about an hour and a half.  We went into Milla’s room to hang out because Milla has some pretty butterfly lights she leaves on at night. The light in her room is cozy and warm, perfect for a middle of the night Mama/Daughter hangout.  Isabel cooed and kicked, waved her arms, stretched her neck, and looked directly at me, practicing using her eyes. Long-legged Milla snuggled next to us, the dog at the foot of the bed.  It was a most pleasant manner in which to spend the darkened hours.

Once we went back to bed, Isabel awoke again around 7 for some milky, then fell promptly asleep until 11.  We both slept until 11 actually.  When she woke up she stayed awake for several hours.  We went for a quick visit to the store and she slept the entire time in the front-pack carrier.  We also had 2 visitors.  My friend Rita came for an hour at 2 and my friend Kathleen came for a couple of hours at 6.  Both times she slept through the visits except to have a small bit of milk.  I guess those long stretches of being awake just wore her out.

Seriously?  I am in love.  I know I have said it before, but it is true.  Baby bliss is truly blissful and amazing.  I love it.

Isabel goes for a ride in the car.

Isabel goes for a ride in the car.

Day 5

Fourth complete day, starting the fifth.

Today Isabelle pooped.  The funny thing about babies is that it is easy to be happy about things like poop.  She has not pooped since the first day of her life when she pooped a bunch of meconium. This isn’t much of a surprise since my milk really didn’t come in fully until yesterday so she has only been eating colostrum, which generally doesn’t make poop.  Today she pooped really early this morning, like 3:30 a.m.  Then she did it again this evening.  Sweet darling little pooper.

Last night was very different than the night before.  Something I learned with Milla is that the only thing one can count on with babies is that the will always change patterns on you.  Isabelle is too young to have developed any patterns anyway, so I’m just observing how she is.  The night before she was awake for several hours.  Last night she ate at 12:30, then woke up at 3:30, fell promptly asleep after, then woke again at 7:30 and fell promptly asleep after.  She had a couple of days where she was awake a lot. Today she was asleep a lot.

Today was also her first venture into the world outside.  I needed several baby things and also really just wanted to get out of the house so she had her first car ride and visit to the store.  She slept the entire way to the first store and through the whole visit.  I wore her in my front pack and she snuggled against me.  Oh, I love her so much.

We then needed to go to JC Penney because we need a curtain to cover this high window in our room, the light through which really bothers Isabelle.  It is in the wall behind our bed so when I sit and nurse the light comes right in at her face.  I also needed some nursing bras.  This trip was exhausting.  I fed her in the car before we went in, but she did not want to be in the carrier anymore and was awake.  I did not want her hanging out in the mall.  I hate malls and especially did not want my tiny baby there.  We sat in the curtain area and she nursed some more, but when we tried putting her in the carrier with Daddy, she got upset again, so I just carried her to bras.  They did not have a bra with a normal fastener.

An aside here.  Why is it all the maternity bra companies have gone to these horrible clips that cannot be opened with one hand?  Is it a conspiracy by formula companies to keep women from breastfeeding?  Damn annoying.

Anyway, I nursed her a bit again in the bra section, then just put her in the carrier.  She fell promptly asleep.  We decided to look for bras at Motherhood Maternity since we were already there, I was tired, and wanted to get something and get it done.  The trouble is that store is at the other end of the mall.  The walk there and back wore me out completely.  Motherhood Maternity bras had the same unworkable clasp as every brand at Penney’s so I just gave up, resolving to look on the internet.  I fell asleep in the car on the way home I was so tired.

Now we are home and Isabel is still asleep.  After I get off the computer I get to snuggle and nurse my little baby again.  Right now Isabel, Milla, and Ava the dog are sprawled across the bed sleeping together.  I love my girls. They are wonderful.