Ten Years On…..

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There are the springs the park is named after. Even in the most f-all cold weather, they still flow through the green cress lining their banks

And there are the Mother Maples, still standing after ten years of storms, their roots like knobby toes gripping, digging into the forest floor.

Ahead of us is the river, shining silver in the early sunlight. Oakley and I turn west on the trail, following paw prints that faded from the trail over time but never from my heart.

The last time I was on this trail was ten years ago. Solo, around Labor Day. back. I hadn’t been out there since the next to last week in May when Orion had crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I just couldn’t bring myself to walk there for three months. One of the other dog persons saw me walking alone, guessed what had happened, and threw her arms around me.

I hugged her back. No words were needed.

Before that, before the damned heart condition and the double damned lymphoma took him, Orion’s last hurrah echoed through the park. He caught the scent of a rabbit, the quarry of Brittanys across North America and around the world.  With an unexpected burst of energy, he dragged me down the trail, up the hill to the larger lake, around the west end of the lake, up another hill, then turned us east and slowed to a tentative crawl as we went back to the car.

The final decline began the next day. He had problems getting up and walking and just wanted to lie in the grass in the back yard.

And then he didn’t even want to do that. He stayed in his spot by the back door. I stayed next to him, begging any deity who was listening to please intervene, to please guide me. Was it time to call in the vet?

No, he just had a rally and ate a little banana and a bite of turkey. He was acting more engaged and a little cuddly.

Maybe. He’s not in any pain, but I couldn’t get him out in time.

We’ll try sub-q fluids. That’s helping. He perked up.

And then on the last day,  a Saturday, Hubby brought home a garden cart, one of the mesh ones, put one of Orion’s beds in the bottom, loaded Orion into it, and took him on a ride around the property lines and up and down our road.

We spoke of taking him for a ride the next day at the park, but then he crashed and burned.

I called the emergency number for our vet clinic. No one was able to come out and help with that final act of kindness. The nearest emergency vet was a half-hour away.

If he starts acting like he’s in pain, if he has respiratory problems…yeah. Otherwise…

We took him to his spot. I stayed with him through the night, candles lighting his way. Whispering that I would miss him, but I understood if he needed to go.

I laid on the floor next to him, watching the stars crossing the night sky through the skylights. The classical station played a lot of Bach for some reason through the wee smalls.

Just before the first cracks of daylight opened, I felt my heart get torn from my chest and had a mental image of Orion giving me a play bow, running around our back two acres, then taking off towards the east. I sat up. Checked the pulse points.

That stage of his journey was done.

Mine was beginning. The journey of fumbling through the darkness, the numbness. Not being able to even drive past the entrances to the park without tears scalding my cheeks.

Eventually, while the gaps and holes remained, they shrank, and the raw edges scabbed over and turned pink with new growth. I could walk at the park again.

And then came Oakley. While Orion had been exposed to the outdoors from nearly birth as part of his hunting dog training, Oakley had spent his first six months in a shelter with little exposure to the world outside the building. Walking him and showing him the world of his big brother was nearly impossible due to the anxiety triggered by the overwhelming scents and sounds.

Even with all the training mitigating his early lack of exposure, I just couldn’t take Oakley back to that park. He learned to love the other parks in our area, but the state park I just couldn’t…

But then came the current plague where social distancing became a must. Hard to do at the forest preserves and their weekend crowds. A couple of weeks ago we took a little drive and checked the parking lot to see if it was at 50% capacity or less per safety recommendations.

Deep breath, bite lip behind my scarf. Get out of car. Yes, I’m OK. Oakley’s OK. New playground gear? Great. That tree is still standing. Those outhouses, the ones where Orion and I took refuge from an out of nowhere electrical storm, finally came down.  That final hard wind probably did them in. The flowering trees, the picnic areas hadn’t changed that much. We walked. Oakley sniffed. He may have listened as I pointed out Orion’s favorite places to sit and watch the river go by. But I think he was too busy sniffing to hear me.

Since then, we’ve worked the park back into our rotation. Early morning is best for contemplating the abundance of beauty around us in quiet and semi-solitude while we walk, my feet and his paws padding down the mulch covered trail by the river.

Sometimes in the silence occasionally punctuated by a bird’s call or the wind in the leaves, if I listen with my heart, I can hear an unseen set of paws running alongside us.






Back to the Mat



About three weeks ago, I weighed myself. I weighed my self and oh, holy crap, was that a number I hope never to see again. As soon as I finished cursing myself, my menopausal process, and all the sorrows that had unfolded between the last time I was at a healthy weight (Orion’s crossing; hormones or lack thereof; stress from Hubby’s mom’s passage; stress from Hubby working at home before he retired; genetics; colorful and interesting family issues) and that moment.

And then I started troubleshooting. What was different then:

  • I followed a low-glycemic diet (a/k/a smart carb, low GI, South Beach).
  • I was younger and had something that vaguely resembled a metabolism.
  • I was a lot more active. Oakley likes his walks and playing at day care, but he is not the hiker Orion was. It wasn’t uncommon for Orion to drag me around the four-mile trail system at the nearby state park, then be ready for another walk in the evening.
  • On top of that, I went to yoga and dance classes.
  • I tracked my food intake and weighed myself very week or so.

So back to low-GI eating and increasing activity. More importantly,  tracking it. I found a free app called FatSecret (godawful name for a very useful tool) through a friend whose dietitian recommended it. Not only can a user keep an eye on carbs, calories, and fat, but it sends an email every two weeks to remind you to weigh yourself. The low-GI plan is flexible enough that the journey to a healthy weight may have a few pit stops for cookies or ice cream here and there. Not many. But a few.  I lost seven pounds in the last couple of weeks. You will sleep better not knowing how much more I have to go, but at least the numbers are going in the right direction. This will be slow, but I will get there.

With nutrition squared off, the next challenge was exercise. I started taking yoga again. I found a small studio near my home with small classes (three of us, usually). The instructor is about my age.  She understands how to move a body that survived the battles of daily life. Today, savasana (a/k/a corpse pose); tomorrow the headstands. Or maybe next week. We’ll do it when we do it. No hurry in the meantime.

Much of it felt good, right, and lead to better sleep. Some of it lead my body to express its displeasure about not moving consistently the last few years. The extra magnesium and Advil negotiate the truce between mind and back, hamstrings, and rear end.

In addition to the gentle but through workout, yoga helps to balance the endocrine system and to relieve stress while making you aware of your body’s wants and needs for movement as well as sustenance. Sometimes it’s as simple as a glass of water or changing to a more comfortable position.

And sometimes a person really does need a bit of chocolate. Not often, but sometimes you just do,

Sometimes It’s Just That Simple

Sometimes it seems as if biohazards are the meaning of my life: Orion and his food allergies; Oakley and his acid reflux and intolerances. Running the County Home for Canines with Sensitive Tummies must be my dharma.  Did you know that licking can be a self-soothing method when a dog has intestinal cramping? Now you do.

It didn’t cross my mind. Oakley’s acid reflux issues have been under control, or so I thought. Just before Christmas, Oakley started licking himself in the middle of the night. Not just a gentlemanly lap or two in order to ensure cleanliness, but long, loud, repetitive schlurrrrrp, schlurrrp between two and five a.m.

He also started licking the sofa and the bed in his crate. Was he bored? I started giving him puzzles, walking him more.  An article about canine acid reflux came up in my newsfeed. That’s how I learned about the licking as a form of self soothing.  Changed up his acid reflux medication.

Schlurrrrrrrrrrp…….What the…blood work that included digestive function came back normal. But now (don’t read if you’re squeamish) he was passing a lot of mucus with his poops. (I told you not to read that, didn’t I?)

Before subjecting Oakley to any further testing, I set up a quick session with a nearby friend who’s a communication facilitator for a check-in. Not the acid reflux, but cramping. The herb used to balance it out had outlived its purpose, and now was causing cramping. I took him off it immediately.

Slurp, slurp, slurp…better, but you do not want to know what he was still passing. Poop test came back clean. What next?

Mentioned it to the owner of our healthy pet food store. She suggested taking him off the goat yogurt, cutting out the cheese, and no added fats or oil, even coconut or omega-3s.

The only sound between two and five the next morning was the low rumble of the train running about a mile from the house and the snoring of a peaceful pooch.

Midweek Mumbles, Marvels, and Miracles

Oakley’s at day care, so I’m catching up on domestic duties in five- or ten-minute increments. Just put away a basket of laundry that had been hanging out there for over a week. Easier to do without canine assistance. Oakley’s favorite variation on the keep-away theme involves grabbing a pair of my underpants and running through the house with them until he’s tired or been bribed to drop them with a treat. Still need to do the kitchen and vacuum. It will be done before I go shopping today.

Just saw something food related that appalled me to no end. Not the food itself, mind you. It was the price. Through Amazon. Some wraps made from coconut flour that could be used in Mexican recipes or as crepes or in any other cuisine that involves tidy bundles of food. It came out to $9 for a package of seven. What I do: 2 t. coconut flour, 4 eggs, 1/2 c. arrowroot powder, 2 T. water, 2 t. melted coconut oil, dash salt. Whirl in a food processor, then cook in a lightly oiled nonstick pan for about 30 seconds on each side. If intended for dessert, throw in a little vanilla. Not sure how the numbers break down, but sure as heck less that $9 and change. Here’s the link: http://stupideasypaleo.com/2013/08/23/simple-paleo-tortillas/. I think that you could make a lovely dessert with them, and see no reason why they couldn’t be used as noodles in lasagne.

Another recipe I had fun with: http://www.satisfyingeats.com/breakfast/10-grain-free-cereals/. It’s coconut chips mixed with spices, stevia, vanilla, and enough water to make everything stick. Toast in the oven, and voila…it really does have the same mouth feel as cereal. I’ve been having it with cashews or walnuts and fruit. 

Discovery of the week: Oakley likes cantalope. I bought one last week, and we’ve been working on it. He also likes raspberries and apple slices. Orion liked his bananas, so why not?

So we go on with this day.





My Furry Valentines


Both Oakley and Orion adopted us around Valentine’s Day. Orion in 1998; Oaks in 2011. 

Orion would have made a great canine cast member on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” He threw himself into the middle of any situation with a wagging tail and confidence bordering on recklessness. Much to our chagrin and the amusement of vet’s office staff, he ate damned near anything offered. Regardless of species, everyone was his friend until proven otherwise, and the top of a picnic table was the best place to sit while he waited patiently for tidbits. He slept on his back and could snore and wag his tail at the same time. Most days, the peace and acceptance over his crossing settle like a cloak; others the pain rebounds as if he’d just left yesterday.

Oakley is more like Michael Palin in the post-Python years: a bit reserved, analytical, willing to wait until the moment is right to jump in with his contributions and observations. He has discriminating tastes in cuisine and with whom he chooses to keep company with, and is protective of me on walks at the park. If he doesn’t like a vibe he’s picking up, he stands in front of me. At 75 pounds, this sends a pretty strong message to squirrels, other dogs, one rather creepy person who chased after us to talk to me, and a giant snowman. Once on the A list, a person will get leaned on and Pyr-patted to no end.

Because of them, chestnut and white have replaced pink and red for Valentine’s, and I am the better person for it.





The Great Tripe Debacle

In his later years, Orion started having digestive problems. He couldn’t tolerate yogurt and wouldn’t eat food sprinkled with probiotic/enzyme powder, so after some research I decided to give him tripe as part of his meals. 

He loved it. It was a natural extension of his one bad habit: cleaning up the yard, shall we say. The canned wasn’t as odorous as I had thought it would be.

I usually warmed Orion’s food to enhance the aroma, except for the tripe. One day, I’d neglected to scoop out the dinner portion in enough time for it to come to room temperature at its own speed, so without thinking, it went into the microwave without further thought. Set it for a minute and turned my back.

At :45, I swear that I saw the paint in the kitchen peel as I gasped for breath. I pulled the dish out. Orion did his dinner dance, so I just put it down for him and opened all the windows in the house. 

A couple of hours and a pack of pachouli incense later, the house was livable again. I went to work on my and Hubby’s dinner, something with lots of onions to mask anything not hidden by the pachouli.

Orion exercised discretion with the whole matter, and would have even without the extra banana that I slipped him to buy his silence.



The Road Without a Map

Today is a snow day, one of respite and rest.

I hope. Please, Great Mystery, let it be both.

Last week felt like swimming though a tsunami of grief. Since the beginning of February,  social media friends and one who lives locally had to take the sad and sacred walk to the Rainbow Bridge with their companions. I wept, sent (((hugs))), hugged in real life. Along with the tidal wave of grief came ripples of anger–anger at the diseases that claimed some of them, at the aging process, at untenable circumstances.

Orion made his passage from lymphoma at 13 1/2. Nothing, between his age and his heart condition, could be done, and even if he were eligible, was I willing to put him through hell for six months of questionable quality of life. He wound down, still insisting on two walks a day at his favorite park until he lost the ability to walk. I stayed on the floor next to him until the very end. That was the weekend before Memorial Day.

I spent that summer trying to keep walking, breathing, doing yoga, anything to stumble into the new normal through the fog of shock and grief. Labor Day brought the light that dissipated the mist. I went to the Fox Valley Folk Festival. As I sat beneath a tree enjoying a hummus wrap for lunch, I realized that I was still here, that I still felt the old maple’s support behind my back, and that the sky was still blue. I sighed, and just sat for a while. 

Later that week, I dreamed that I heard Orion at the back door. When he wanted to come in, he would let us know with a deep “wooooooof.” As I approached the door I saw the most exquisite chestnut and white puppy between his front paws.

When Oakley and I adopted each other, I found out that he’d been born that week. He was scrawny and semi-feral and had a lot of un-adorable moments, but what teenager doesn’t? With the grace of a good trainer, we moved through the challenges. 

Oaks walked me as I finally surfaced on Sunday. The clear sky hinted at spring.

I still occasionally find my nocturnal wakings smeared with the last vestiges of guilt and grief over Orion. …switched vets sooner…recognized grain allergies earlier….titered sooner or not done as many vaccs…I should have hosed him off more often to get rid of the runoff from the neighboring farm…and then Oakley’s snoring jolts me back to the present. The questions about grain based food and doubts about vaccines had only recently started to surface in the collective questioning. 

Perhaps the objective of the grief process is not so much one of getting everything sewn up into a tidy bundle. Perhaps, instead, it is a question of acknowledging the holes, accepting that they will shrink and settle over time, but still be there. 

Oakley snuffled the old snow edging the trail at the crossroads. He tilted his head upwards, and sniffed the air. We walked off to the right, into the wooded portion, not sure of trail conditions, but knowing that we would get to its end in t