The Dog Pack

When you’re a two-dog household, there’s this delicate balance to maintain. Long, long ago, when I first had Maggie, my roommate Lisa went out and got a rescue dog, Rita. Those two became best friends, spending all day together while Lisa and I worked. When Lisa and Rita moved out of state, Maggie cried for two months straight. All day, all night. I started sleeping on the couch just so she had company through the night. It was horribly sad. And thus started my search for a puppy — it was time.

Suzie came on the scene shortly after, an 8 week old darling little pup, full of energy and love. Maggie and Suzie were two years apart in age. They grew old together and were best of friends. Maggie, for all her faults, loved Suzie fiercely. She turned into a blubbering mess if I left the house with Suzie and she was left behind. I’m pretty sure she needed Suzie more than she needed me.

Two years ago, I sensed Maggie was nearing the end. She was 13 and though there was no specific illness, I just knew it wouldn’t be long before she exited the scene. So I brought home 12-week old Daisy in April, and in August, I had to put Maggie down. For the summer, three dogs was a lot of dog, but the overlap was good. When Maggie died, Suzie was depressed and only got up because there was an energetic puppy jumping on her head and dragging her outside to play.

I’ve realized in the last two years that a 10-year gap between dogs ages is harder than a two-year gap. Daisy is in her prime- full of vim and vigor- and Suzie is fading, more interested in napping than anything else.  She’s approaching 13 now and isn’t doing so well. She could still stick around for awhile, but I don’t think it isn’t going to be terribly long. Time to grow the pack and get the next pup trained up and ready to go before Suzie leaves us. I shudder at the thought of 65 lbs of terribly sad, lonely Daisy on my hands. I also realize exactly how much work a new puppy entails. In fact, having just done this two years ago, I remember too much. And yet…

Meet Izzie.

     
She’s a rescue dog so it hard to say what kind of dog she is exactly. Mom looks like a Pharoh Hound mix and is a petite 40 lbs (similar to Suzie’s size). I suspect Izzie will end up in the 40-45 lb range which is awesome. Clearly, this pup fits the mold for the Little House. Eeeeeeekkkkk she’s cute!
Introducing Izzie means I’m going to be home for lunches for a while, cutting back on outside commitments, and cleaning up a lot of puppy messes. I will re-learn how to put away my shoes and keep everything out of the puppy range to limit the damage from little puppy teeth. And I should probably plan on getting nothing done for the next couple months…
I brought her home Saturday and over the weekend we got lots of visitors. My people love me well and have been so generous in celebrating the new puppy with me- even if it isn’t their thing. I’m the luckiest.
Everyone loved Izzie — of course — because how could you not?!?!? Daisy wanted to make sure no one forgot that she is also quite lovable, and Suzie came around for all the scratches. It was a busy weekend in which I basically accomplished nothing. And it felt just right. Sometimes we all need that. Not to mention needing an excuse to be outside for the gorgeous 80-degree sunny day in mid-September. Mmmm. Yeah, just about perfect!
 
Daisy is a bit confused but loves having a pal. She doesn’t realize just how big she is though and those first couple days she sometimes scared Izzie a little with her rambunctious affection. Suzie is taking it in stride- between giving me long, hard judgemental looks, she’s put up with most of Izzie’s shenanigans. She does not appreciate being woken from a nap (stay off her cushion) and she actually nipped when Izzie stuck her face into Suzie’s bowl while she was eating – fair enough.
Prepare yourself for a lot of puppy spam in the weeks and months to come.  

Stick Day 2016

Stick day sort of happened naturally last year. My gang of eight nieces and nephews were coming for a sleep over. I had the idea to have a stick picking up contest – we split into two teams of 4 (boys vs girls), I gave each team a tarp and set a timer for 15 minutes and whichever team had the bigger stick pile on the tarp won. As it happens, the piles were too close to call so everyone got a dollar (because I hadn’t planned ahead and do have a big coin jar in the laundry).
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Now, I may have a “usual sleep over gang,” but there are also a lot of other awesome kids in my life who I certainly don’t want to exclude! So this year I planned Stick Day in advance and invited a few other little friends. I told them about the stick contest (which is a mere 15 minutes) and then told them the rest of the day they can just play. Monica (age 7) wanted to make sure if the losers got prizes, they would be smaller than the winner’s prizes. James was suspicious that it sounded like work. Avery nagged her mom about it for weeks and the week of Stick Day, in her list of awesome things in her life, Stick Day was up near the top. AJ practiced picking up sticks in his own yard just to be sure his skills were up to par.
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Stick Day was actually postponed because the original date ended up being 34 degrees and snowing. The rescheduled day was perfect! 72 and sunny. Absolutely amazing. The crowds began arriving… I divided the kids into teams – there were 9 kids in attendance for the stick contest part. Assigned team captains. And started the timer. We went to the back corner of the yard where there were a ton of sticks because I neglected it almost entirely last year. The kids barely had to move the tarps once they started because there were sticks and logs galore. I loved watching them try to move huge logs, and break off branches. And how they pulled together making new friends and picking up sticks furiously!
 And we had another tie! Everyone got to choose three mini chocolate bars.
One of my favorite things about this little corner of the world is how much joy it brings to the little people in my life. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but this place has it’s own kind of magic. As my niece Lucy told me this weekend, “I love this yard so much because there are all kind of ecosystems here! Pine forest, fields, regular woods… EVERYTHING!”  Yes, I imagine that’s what it is: all the ecosystems. Or something. I think about how rarely kids have hours on end to just roam around outside creating forts and games and tribes and messes. It was one of my favorite things about visiting friends in the country and growing up in the country. I love that I get to share that adventure with these darling people.

After everyone had chocolate and snacks, they scattered. Kitty made war paint using ashes from the fire pit and soon had almost everyone painted up. Maria and Avery and Monica had an elaborate mud pie making operation. Norah wanted me to release the “Cannonball” (Daisy) so she could “skitter up a tree”. There’s something about the thrill of an energetic puppy to escape. Michael ground corn into flour by smashing corn kernels between paper plates on a stump (Norah brought the corn and directed the operation). At one point, I was helping the little boys build a hide out and Michael found the perfect stick for a bow and wanted string. (Apparently I need more string). I apologized that I didn’t think I had any. Lucy swoops in “What do you need?” “String for this!” He holds up the perfectly curved stick that just HAD to become a bow. “Oh I always bring my emergency kit when I come here. I have string, yarn, this elastic string, rubber bands…”  The teepee had sticks added and a clothesline set up (the girl with the emergency fun kit may have been behind this). Tribes were formed. Signs were made. Poetry was read.

It was Benjamin’s (almost 4) first time to stay for a play day (without his mom) and he was thrilled. He is usually wary of dogs after having been bitten in the past (by other dogs), but he and Suzie were fast friends and he even made friends with the energetic Daisy. I tell you, there is magic afoot.  Of course Suzie could be a therapy dog for kids afraid of dogs. She LOVES her kids. She always runs to see them and then stands there so they will scratch them. Once the kids discover that it is the secret to calming her down and making her happy, she gets scratched pretty much non stop. What’s not to love about that? AJ said several times “Suzie loves me the most because I give her nice big hugs and I’m a really good scratcher.” True story.

Daisy did mostly fine. One small person got scratched because I was in helping another person pee on the potty and she got too rambunctious. She spent the day in and out of her crate. Mostly out with us, with some occasional breaks when she got too rambunctious. My tribe for the event consisted of the three little boys. We played with the dogs, clipped branches, built a boy’s hideout, climbed a fallen tree. All the good things in life.

At my house we have a few rules:
We are kind.
We are helpful.
We are inclusive.

Next time, I’ll add “We never sit on the couch.”  After the gang left, I found charcoal war paint all over my couch. Thank God it came off easily with a magic eraser.

By the time the parents arrived to pick up the troops, there was a crowd of the dirtiest kids I have seen in a long time. And absolutely happy from their wild day in the ecosystems. On the way out, a few kids asked “Can we come back next weekend?”

And that my dear readers, is the magic of Stick Day.
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My life the circus: just add chickens

It was a nice Friday night and I borrowed my dad’s car with the hitch. I headed down to Saline to pick up a trailer from the C’s to pick up the coop. My community of people are a delightfully interconnected bunch. It happened to be their daughter’s birthday so they were having my brother and his family for dinner. I got to meet their delightfully chubby baby (finally!), visit for a bit, and then drove off with the trailer.

My brother in law and the kids helped me load it and a rototiller to borrow onto the trailer. I drove home and another friend came to help me unload it. He lives close by and is personally invested in this coop being ready since his family would be bringing their chicks to live there the next day. This particular friend happens to be a brilliant woodworker so I showed him my attempt to hack a new light fixture and he gave me some advice on how to solve the final steps. I love my people!!

IMG_0625Saturday was an all out circus at my house. While I had the borrowed trailer, I picked up a bed from my friend’s house for my Grandpa who lives with my parents. So I visit with Bob, we load a bed, and I visit with my mom while we unload a bed. Then I head back home where Donal, Lindsey, and CK  are already at my house and running the hills with the pups. They were over for a work day in the yard. An hour later, our friend Nick swings by. We were signed up to cook this meal for charity on Sunday (Nick and I each cooking part of the meal). He needed to drop off his portion on Saturday and I’d make the delivery the next day with my portion. So Nick stops to visit for a bit and then heads out.

We get back to our stick retrieval program, driving trailer load after trailer load down to the burn pile. Even CK got in on the stick picking up. You’ve got to start them young! Maybe next year he’ll be ready for the Official Stick Day. We ate lunch and then CK went down for his nap, Lindsey went to get a shot, and Donal and I continued on with the yarding.

Somewhere in the middle of this Cora and her kids show up to deliver the chicks to their new home. I knew this was going to be a sad parting (for the kids) so I made sure they did all the chores to get the chicks settled: they put them in the coop, filled the food and water. Thomas did a thorough inspection of their new digs. “This is a pretty nice coop! It’s a lot bigger than I was expecting. But it does need some more paint.” IMG_0605

I told the kids that I will need them to come back and help me build a bigger chicken run and do some chicken chores. Thomas plans to pitch his tent right next to the coop for the next sleepover (okay he actually thought maybe we should put the coop down next to the “tent spot”. Um no. We aren’t moving it every time people come sleep over). The kids picked them some delicious dandelions and we all were delighted at how much they seemed to really like their new home (and the dandelions). Seeing the tractor out, the kids needed a few laps around the yard in the trailer. They promised to visit again soon and Maria’s parting show was to ask me to please try to keep the dogs from eating them (her mom obviously prepared her for the possibility).

IMG_0609Suzie got quite excited and pawed at the coop a few times. I brought Daisy out on her own and did some down stay practice near the coop. Allowing her to see it but not go nuts about it. She was interested but much calmer than Suzie over the whole thing.
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 Donal and Lindsey offered to return the trailer to the C’s house while their kid was napping upstairs at my house and I hauled out the borrowed rototiller to get started on my new vegetable garden area. Naturally as soon as I hauled the tiller up the hill to the garden spot, it started raining so I didn’t even get started on the garden. Moments later CK woke up from his nap so we braved the light rain to see the new chickens and check out the fort in the pine “forest.” As we walked by the fallen tree in the back of the yard, he commented casually “Dat’s a really big stick dere.” Yes. Yes it is. Then he asked where the tractor was, so we had to open the barn and peek at the tractor. Even with the tractor off, CK wanted to stay a safe distance away. He wants to love it and is clearly fascinated, but it is kind of scary when it is running.

His parents arrived to take him home and I figured I would return my dad’s car and run some errands since I couldn’t keep working in the yard right now. 2.5 hours later, as I pulled up (still raining), I was shocked and horrified to see Daisy in the yard. She had been in her crate!!! (Well at least she was until I let her outside to pee and forgot her out there in the rain). She was wet, muddy and frantic from being left alone in the rain. I was frantic because I was sure I was about to find half a dozen dead chicks in my yard. Noooooooooo.

I raced out there to find all the chicks still in tact and in the coop. Daisy had clearly dug one or two paws full of dirt in a couple places in an attempt to get in. But the big hole was 3 feet away from the coop. Because she IS that smart. Or because she dug a paw or two full of dirt next to the coop, which reminded her about how much she likes digging big holes and she gave herself a little more room for that endeavor. Oh Daisy. Thankfully her stupidity or easily distractable nature saved the day and the lives of six chickens. I was very relieved.
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The chicks have all their feathers but I left the heat lamp on in their coop for a couple days while they adjust to the great outdoors (and the cold rainy weather). Daisy runs out to see them when I let her outside, but she’s not lunging or digging or trying to get in. I know it is too early to call this a success, but it has been a successful week and for this I am grateful. And the adventure continues.

And in case you want cuteness overload, here’s some letters from cute kids about their chickens: FullSizeRenderIMG_0642FullSizeRender_1FullSizeRender_2FullSizeRender_3

Game Changers

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There are times it sometimes feels like God is very far away. Or at least that my prayers are going unheard, unanswered. Last year around this same time, I had a couple very clear signs that God hears me – oh the prayers aren’t always answered the way I want, or when I want, but He hears and answers. And yet, like the people of Israel in the dessert, I grumble and complain and forget the marvels of the Lord. So he reminds me.

DSC_1171It is no secret that February (and winter in general) is hard for me. I’m sure I have some low grade Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and some high grade “I hate being cooped up” disorder. Add into that normal seasonal blahs, the fact that work has been insane and exhausting and you’ve got a perfect storm of tired, cranky, wants-to-hibernate-Reenie. Not awesome folks, not awesome at all. On Friday when I finally extricated myself from the office I was bone tired. Not just kind of glad it was Friday but exhausted to my core. I got home and actually said, out loud, to my dogs “We have got to get some flowers for this place.” The $1 potted primrose I bought on a whim at Home Depot last week wasn’t enough.

DSC_1195Saturday morning I roused myself, made coffee, and got Suzie out the door for a vet appointment. When I got home there was a box on my porch. Huh. I don’t
think I ordered anything. I opened it up and to my great surprise and delight there were two dozen gorgeous roses from a dear friend who thought I needed flowers to make February suck less. I actually teared up. I am so incredibly blessed to have friends who know and love me that well. What a gift. And the flowers are breathtaking!! They are going to make my life happier for at least the next week or two (maybe even until I get on a plane and head to visit some other sunshiney people in Phoenix for a long weekend).

DSC_1168That same night I went to a dinner auction with friends. At the end of the evening, we all took home flowers from the table. So exactly one day after I was majorly funked out and recognized my desperate need for flowers – God provided three gorgeous bouquets. Amazing. He hears. And this isn’t like one of those life changing “Please heal so and so of this terrible disease” prayers – the prayers I consider “important”. Nope, this was a little thing (and I didn’t even ask): flowers. And maybe, more importantly, what they symbolize for me: hope. And God’s abundant faithfulness.

So wherever you are and whatever little thing you need right now to give you that little push, ask God for it. He hears and provides with abundance! And then look around and take note of the things He provides – because it is incredible what we find when we take the time to notice the gifts He gives. And if He is nudging you to send flowers to someone, go for it – flowers are never a bad idea.

And in the answered prayers department: I’ve been praying for a small health issue for a young godson and it cleared up and they were able to cancel the surgery. Hooray! God is good!

Now if you could all join me in praying for a couple miraculous healings: a friend of mine undergoing chemo for his brain tumor and for a friend struggling with addiction and mental illness. Thank you!

Happy February.
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Family Vacation (aka It's the most wonderful time of the year)

dont messI think we can probably go back for as long as I’ve had this blog and read the same post about my vacation week with the extended family, so I’m sorry for the monotony, but here it goes: I LOVE VACATION WITH MY EXTENDED FAM.

In the interest of finishing some plumbing and about a dozen other things, I went up Sunday night instead of Saturday afternoon. It was the right decision but of course hard to miss even a day with this crowd.

Vacation was, as always, fabulous. This was our 21st (I think) year of going up there with my dad’s extended family and it is fun to see how the family grows and changes. Yet somehow it is the same. We love each other and people make time to come up on vacation together to spend some good quality time together. The whole week is kind of a game of musical chairs as college and post-college cousins come for a day or two as their schedules allow. You want to squeeze in good quality time and conversation with everyone- which is impossible. So you just resolve to enjoy every minute of it. The early mornings with the nephew who doesn’t sleep in on vacation. The late nights playing games and talking about how we work on balance and care for the world around us. The daytime card games, domino games, watching the kids on the dangerous slide, holding babies, trading babies (SO MANY CUTE BABIES!)… It is all the moments during that week that make it so great. It is about the people. None of us is perfect, some of us say stupid insensitive things sometimes or don’t know how to best respond to a situation, but love covers a multitude of sins and we dearly love one another.
One of the best parts of spending time with this crowd is that I always leave with a sense of being known. These people get me at my core and I don’t have to be anyone else, they love me – broken, chubby, silly, genuine, baby-hog, never stops going me. What a gift! I am so blessed to be part of this clan.

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My grandparents on their wedding day

My uncle reminded me while we were up there that it was the 15th anniversary of my grandmother’s death. It is hard to believe it has been that long. And yet whenever we are together as a family, I can sense her there with us. Sometimes I can hear her laugh. I can see her twinkling blue eyes. I remember her sense of fun and adventure. Her love for family. Her absolute delight in being surrounded by her people. I always remember her laughing in delight at some silly antic or a story or when someone comes to show her something brilliant they did (and let’s face it, she thought we were all brilliant and told us so). I still miss that wonderful lady, but it is an honor to be part of her legacy and to share that with each other.

And now for a barrage of fun people:

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Time with my girl

IMG_7483IMG_7514[1]We were overdue for a Jane and Aunt Reenie adventure. I’d planned to be in town for a baseball game and figured I’d bring the puppy and snag the niece to accompany me. When the door opened, she handed me this little square she had embroidered for me. Obviously this is Daisy. As it happened, torrential downpours cancelled the game (much to Jane’s delight) and the three of us made our way to a cute cafe for ice cream and puppy time, hoping the rain would let up so we could take the pup for a walk afterward.

I love having my nieces and nephews over in a crowd and it happens fairly often. But I do love some one on one time with these awesome little people. You get to really know them one on one in a way it is hard to do as part of a pack. At the coffee shop, over ice cream, Jane and I discussed their recent trip and the museums she saw, I teased her about being able to finish that huge ice cream cone, we played a game of Sorry, and I found out she is a dark chocolate girl like me.

IMG_7485 The rain finally let up so we took Daisy to Millpond Park, a big park along the river (which gets very swampy after a big rain), and there’s a dog park there so you can let the pup run free. Jane was SO excited. I mean, Daisy is her favorite dog (poor Suzie has been bumped I’m afraid). Jane was the first person I told when I got IMG_7484Daisy and she believes she named Daisy so they have a very special bond. As I handed Jane the leash (a bit nervous because Daisy isn’t very good at the leash yet), she looked up at me, eyes sparkling with delight. “Reenie, this is the best day ever. This is my very first time walking a puppy!”  She and Daisy took off across the field, flitting to and fro, splashing through the puddles and delighted with life. So stinking cute.

We practiced some finer points of dog training (practicing Come, Sit, and Down). I explained to Jane some techniques like “If she is hurting you or jumping on you, don’t be afraid to push her off. She needs to learn.”  Jane was in heaven and so was I. Such a nice evening spent with one of my favorite kids and my favorite puppy too.

IMG_7500As we flitted back to the car after a lot of park fun,Jane turns and said to me “Reenie, Daisy would be the PERFECT dog for me!”

Reenie: “What do you mean ‘would be’? Daisy IS the perfect dog for you! All the fun and none of the work!”  

Jane: “YES!!!”

When I got to her house to deliver Jane back to her family, the other kids wanted to play with Daisy. So they took her for a short walk around the block and Jane was clearly the dog expert. “Lucy, if Daisy is hurting you or jumping on you, don’t be afraid to push her off. She needs to learn.” “I know Jane.”  “Geno, here’s how you hold the leash – hand in the loop and then hold the leash like this.”  “I know Jane!”  It was pretty awesome.

I am so thankful for the wonderful little people God has put into my life and for moments like this to just be together. Life is good.

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Joy Hoarding

My friend coined the term “joy hoarding” when her cat would gather all of her favorite toys: string, feather, catnip mouse, etc and bring them all to the middle of the floor and then lay among them, tail twitching in delight as she purred and encouraged my friend to play with her.

This image often comes to mind because I realize that I do quite a bit of joy hoarding myself. Like that huge party I had a few weeks ago. Sure, it was a lot of work getting ready and as the hostess, I felt like I barely got to really visit with anyone. But there I was, in my gorgeous yard, surrounded by most of my favorite people, drinking good beer, enjoying the beautiful summer weather… joy hoarding.

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Photo credit: Sara Kennedy

Last week felt like a joy hoarding week for me as I got to spend time with a lot of friends all in one short week. Tuesday with my grandparents, Wednesday with a couple girlfriends, Thursday a couple other girlfriends, Friday catching up with a friend, Saturday working at my house on the fence with my brother and his wife, dinner out with a friend, Sunday brunch with friends, some quiet down time, softball (my teams playing each other which is always my favorite), and then friends over afterward. A very full week of joy hoarding!!

Last night I had an unexpected weeknight off (I should have known it was coming but forgot to take my regular appointment off my calendar). I call those bonus nights. Because to have an unexpected evening free feels like winning the lottery. BONUS!!! It was hot and humid, and somehow I still love it. I pulled out the cabinet I’ve been stripping for weeks and dragged it onto the patio. I removed the back and doors and did a lot more sanding. And then painted the first coat of paint on it. So there I was, on my own patio, enjoying my gorgeous yard, the birds singing, pigeons flying overhead, the dogs lounging on the patio nearby, lime in my ice water, a soft breeze on the humid air, some much needed alone time after all the socializing in the last week– joy hoarding.

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Sometimes I hesitate to write stuff like this because I feel that it makes my life look unrealistically charmed. It isn’t. There are hard things, heartbreak. There’s that empty bank account and relationships that need work. There’s the loneliness of the single life, the exhaustion from my job, my house, my life. There are days I just cannot get my act together (in countless ways) and those two baskets of unfolded laundry wrinkling as we speak. There is frustration of constantly running headlong into my own weakness and limitations. So I’m not saying that I live some kind of charmed, idyllic life. Far from it.

What I am saying is that there is joy to be found every time I look. So I am intentionally looking and finding the many, many blessings in my life and thanking the Father who loves me with such abundance.

“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”  John 15:9-11

What are you joy hoarding today?

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A few moments of lovely

Sometimes in the midst of the push to get things done, I forget to stop and take in the beauty all around me. Or while I’m out there pruning (can you tell I’ve been doing a lot of pruning?) I keep thinking I should take a break and take some photos of all the loveliness. So here’s a few shots from my photo walk the other evening. I am determined to take the occasional break and share some of the loveliness. It really is breathtaking. I am so blessed.

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