Nellie, Healing in Style

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Meet Nellie, our rescued Gordon Setter, a beloved family member who fills some of the empty space left by our two grown daughters. She is sweet-tempered, congenial, and gentle, with a beautiful, satin-black coat with golden patches on all four legs, chest, and face.

Several months ago Nellie had two cysts on her back that were causing her considerable discomfort. When they ruptured and left open wounds that wouldn’t heal, and had grown deeper into her body, it was decided she’d need surgery to remove them. After almost ten months of watching these cysts and worrying, we were eager to have them taken care of.

The surgery was fairly minor day surgery, but we knew she would come home wearing one of those torture-chamber devices–the big plastic cone fastened around her neck to keep her from reaching the surgery site with her mouth and messing with the stitches and healing process. 20160222_174359

We’d gone through that once before with her and couldn’t take that anguished look in her pleading brown eyes as she stumbled on the stairs and couldn’t jump up on the bed with us.

We traded the cone for a white tank-top tee shirt. It did the trick.        20151031_185427


This time, however, it was going to be more serious. Nellie would have two healing incisions with about 14-15 stitches that we had to keep her completely away from. We would need something more durable, something we could feel sure she couldn’t get off.

“I’ve got it!” I told Richard, ” I’ll bet one of those doggy coats we see on dogs when we walk in the park would work. They have velcro straps or something and look like they’d stay in place. I need to see one up close. The only thing is, I think they’re ridiculously expensive.”

“Well, maybe we just need to splurge on one if you think it would do the trick.”

“I know! I’ll go to Pets Mart and take a good look at the ones they have, and I’ll examine how they’re made. Then I’ll come home and make her one out of some fabric I have in my stash downstairs.”

“Well, if anyone can sew one that works, you can.”

So, off the Pets Mart I went, and it was my lucky day. Right in the center aisle, on a long sales rack, was an assortment of dog coats on sale. And I mean on sale–half off!  I started pawing through the bright-colored specimens, amazed at the various styles available. I pulled out an extra large. That looks about the right size, I decided. It was amazing. A large flat piece to cover the back, a curved collar section with long velcro straps to attach at her neck, velcro straps to attach underneath her tummy, and two elastic straps to slip over her hind legs so as to keep the back piece from riding forward. The entire garment was of a waterproof-type shiny fabric, with a removable liner made of fleece that also had the velcro straps and could be removed and used alone.

“This is perfect,” I told myself. “It’s like two garments in one. If only it weren’t bright orange.” The original price was thirty dollars, so it was now fifteen. It took me about a minute to ponder if it was worth fifteen dollars to me to go home, make up my own pattern, and create my own version. Nope. This definitely was going to be a worthwhile expenditure.

It was then that a bright patch of turquoise blue caught my eye. Down at the end of the sales rack. I raced over to it, hunter’s orange dog coat in hand, and pulled it out. It was identical to the orange one I’d settled on.

“This really IS my lucky day,” I almost laughed out loud, as I traded the orange coat for the blue one. Turquoise is my favorite color. And I was willing to  wager Nellie would like it better too.

Home I went with my prize, and Richard was as enthusiastic as I was. We’d remove the fleece lining, though, as Nellie had all that thick fur to keep her warm. Richard couldn’t wait. He had to try it on her right away. A perfect fit! And the turquoise was most becoming on her shiny black fur.

Nellie had the surgery and came home with the awful plastic cone, which we promptly traded for the stylish turquoise doggy-coat. Our faith was justified, and the coat worked very well. It stayed in place even when Nellie rolled on her back in the snow. The waterproof fabric kept her incision clean and dry, and everyone who met us in the park commented on the stylish outfit Nellie had on.

Nellie’s incision healed up just he way it was supposed to, she only managed to roll on the ground vigorously enough to get her coat off twice, and even the vet was impressed at our solution to the post-op protective cone problem.

20160104_212331 Guess there’s always more than one way to skin a cat……or dress a dog.






Oh, The Wonder of Children

Kirsten & Heather off to see the world.

The things our children teach us! Our two daughters, four years apart, besides teaching us about open-eyed wonder and unequivocal acceptance, demonstrated what amazing capabilities children often have in the arts, creative use of language, memory, and deductive reasoning.

Our eldest daughter, K—, having been at Custer Battlefield Cemetery for my brother’s funeral when she was two and a half years old, remembered it and sang out, “I’ve been at that place,” when a documentary came on television a year later.

The previous Christmas K— been told to open the door when we knew Santa was outside waiting. Later, in August, when I asked her to answer the doorbell (I was five feet away bogged down in packing boxes for our impending move), her memory surprised me. That summer day she put two and two together and asked, “Why? Is it Santa Claus”?

At age nine, after one year of piano lessons, K— was to compose a melody of her own. When she created a complex composition using augmented chords, I was astounded. With almost perfect pitch, she could sing almost any song that she’d heard a few times. Lyrics, though, could be troubling. She sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic, assuring me her teacher had sung it the same way: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, He is trampling down the village where the grapes of wrap are stored.”

Words, music, and memory still fill her life today, as a musician and speech pathologist. The lyrics of her life are inspiring and beautifully expressed as she meets life’s challenges with grace, new ideas, and hope.

Our younger daughter, H—, had an unabashed acceptance of all people and life’s opportunities from an early age. her elementary teacher wrote on her report card that she was inspired by how H—accepted every person equally and seemed a born diplomat. “I want to just be myself, and I think everyone else should be themselves too,” H— said.

At age five, when I interrupted her fuming and throwing toys in her room, she told me, “It’s okay to be mad. I just need to express it and get it out.”

H—was undaunted by life’s challenges. When she knew Gramma had given her older sister a camera for Christmas, and given her a sleeping bag, she asked Gramma why she didn’t deserve a camera too. Gramma explained that a camera would be coming to her when she was older, but she was too young. “But,” H— reasoned, “You can’t take pictures with a sleeping bag!”

Once, visiting Gramma on the farm, H— had gone across the road to two boys her age (six) she saw playing in their front yard. Off she went, boldly expecting acceptance. My brother and I watched through the window, fearing her rejection and bruised feelings. We had grown up on that farm with an alcoholic father, and had suffered social isolation and awkwardness as a result of it. “Look at her,” my brother said. “I could never, ever do that!” I agreed I couldn’t either and held my breath as H—came back home alone. We asked her what happened. She matter-of-factly shrugged, “They weren’t that friendly, but I’m going right back. With that, she popped her red baseball cap on her head and crossed the road again, this time to stay and play with the boys for an hour.

When H—, as a first grader, got in trouble on the playground at school for attacking a fifth grade boy who had been picking on her fifth grade sister, she was philosophical about it. She stated the facts adamantly to her teacher, decrying that her actions were justified and that she should not have to go to the principal as she’d been ordered. Her teacher, to her credit, told her that she had a good argument and should present her case to the principal. H— trotted down to the principal’s office and calmly stated her case. He was impressed, and he exonerated her, with a mild warning that she should bring concerns about bullying on the playground to her teacher or him, rather than solving it herself. The principal told us how impressed he’d been at her articulate self defense. We all predicted this girl was going to be a lawyer. Turns out we were right.

Lessons my children taught me are, I’m sure, similar to what other parents have learned. Without children’s open-minded curiosity and acceptance, enthusiasm, compassion, and unfettered deductive reasoning, the world would be a worse place. May we celebrate and cherish the special gifts they bring to our lives, that they may lead us to a better tomorrow.

Radio Memories



Old radio

The Old Family Radio

This handsome, polished wood-cabinet radio was a member of our family when I was growing up. It stood in one corner of the living room, dignified and proper, waiting its chance to be the center of attention. Silently surveying the family goings-on, it was like an elegant queen ruling over the shabbier second-hand furniture lined up along the other three walls.

Not only was the radio wonderful to look at, but it was wonderful in the way it enriched our lives.  The majestic radio offered us a virtual trip to other lands to see and experience things we’d never heard of before.  It was 1950-1955, and there were no televisions, video players, smart phones, or even phonographs in our house to offer competition.

The magic offered by the radio inspired our imagination, curiosity, and love of music as we heard newscasts about New York City or Paris, stories about African safaris or dangerous sea voyages, and learned to sing Mockingbird Hill.  I heard, “When I say coffee, I mean Folgers,” so many times I thought there was just one type of coffee in existence–Folgers. Yes, Edward R. Murrow taught me to always want to consider the “other side of the story.”

Most days at 4:15 p.m. my twin brother and I would settle ourselves in, side by side, to listen to the children’s show, Twinkle Time, on the radio. A half-hour of children’s stories and songs kept us glued to two low stools where we perched close to the radio to listen, clap, and sing along.

Other favorite shows my brothers and I often took in were: Bobby Benson and the B Bar B Riders, Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, and Inner Sanctum.  The beckoning call of the Lone Ranger‘s theme song was a reminder to gather around the radio for another action-packed story of cowboy escapades. I remember being shocked when I first encountered the William Tell Overture by Rossini in my piano lesson books–it was what I had known as the Lone Ranger theme song.

The radio brought us close together in that small living room, to sit in one another’s company, to be spellbound by suspense, charmed by a song we learned to sing, or entertained by a great story or drama. Every Christmas Mom would gather all of us kids  to listen to Loretta Young read aloud the beautiful Littlest Angel. The beauty, tenderness, and compassion Loretta brought to life through her voice was enough, every year, to bring me to tears.

By the time I was in sixth grade, however, Dad’s drinking began to take over the living room. He sat in his worn-out blue recliner chair, that no longer could recline, in the living room right across from the radio. There he would deliver frequent drunken rants, thrown out into the space around him. Anyone hoping to listen to the radio was out of luck if Dad was home and had been drinking. The radio was not that portable, so it remained in the corner, silenced. And the shame of Dad’s alcoholism, as we tried to keep it secret, silenced all the rest of the family as well.

This grand old radio, after years of being stored in the basement or barn, was rescued by my eldest brother quite recently. No longer functioning, she still has an elegance about her. I still can see her standing in our tiny living room, next to the floor furnace, ready to transport us to another world if we cared to stop and listen.

Ah, if she could speak, what stories she’d have to tell.

Hello world!

Here I am! After a year of dibbling and dabbling at writing a blog, I am re-launching. It’s my journey as an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, a journey toward wholeness, that calls me to connect with a world I hid from for years. As I take down walls I built long ago, I find me standing there; a person just like all persons, shaped by what I learned from my past, am living through today, and am dreaming for the future. I believe we all have much to share and much to learn from one another.

“You need to claim the events in your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”    A quote from Florida Scott Maxwell.


Mothers….How do Some Do It?

Mothers’ Day has just passed, but every day should be Mothers’ Day, shouldn’t it? My mother has passed on, but she is still with me in everything she taught me, helping me become who I am. She taught me to question what I hear, to seek my own truth. She taught me to love reading, as it can entertain, teach, and take you around the world. It can inspire you to discover and heal yourself. Her attitude for a life’s journey was: Look for goodness in others, and it will rise up to greet you.

Some mothers have to deal with an alcoholic spouse, as mine did. Dad wasn’t always alcoholic, but by the time I was eleven, there seemed to be no turning back. We all walked on eggs those last six or seven years I lived at home. Normally a gentle, soft-spoken man, when drunk, Dad delivered both verbal and physical abuse. Mom showed up with bruises at times, claiming she’d bumped into something. I knew better.

In spite of living in a marital combat zone, Mom always managed to keep family rituals intact and timely. We didn’t have the rituals that church-going families have, but we never missed celebrating birthdays and all holidays as a family.

Research has found that if an alcoholic’s family continues to celebrate significant family rituals faithfully, the damage the children bear is less than if those rituals are forgotten or trashed in the drunken chaos. Children who can count on those rituals happening as always, are reassured that some normalcy is still there for them. In the midst disrupted meals, cancelled outings, and delayed bedtime, life with an alcoholic becomes completely unpredictable. A child’s sense of security is ruptured, worry and fear move in. Though I lived through many an ugly alcoholic melee, the one that stands out yet today as painful was when Dad knocked down the Christmas tree in a drunken brawl.

I didn’t bring friends home, because I never knew if Dad would be drunk enough to assault them. I prayed Dad would not show up for my concerts or graduation, for fear he would be drunk and embarrass me to tears. The whole family became isolated, keeping our shameful secret and learning a code of silence. Keep everything to yourself. Pretend all is normal. When family rituals were still celebrated on time, we could believe we were going to be okay.Some ask why Mom didn’t divorce or leave. Economic reality of having only a two-year teaching degree at the time was one reason, the other the fact that women who leave abusive partners increase their risk of danger from the abuser by seventy-five percent.

I often wonder how Mom did it. She worked hard milking cows, gardening, canning, doing household chores and child care.  In addition she helped with homework, inspired all of us to love learning, and planned wonderful celebrations for our family rituals. We were all impacted by Dad’s alcoholism, it’s true, but Mom mitigated the damage with her true grit and love for all of us, including my dad. She never quit hoping he would recover. It never happened. His alcoholism took his life when I was in college. Looking back, I am sad at abuse Mom experienced and regret I didn’t really thank her adequately for her strength, love, and vision in my life. She is the reason I survived to go on to heal, find myself, and find happiness. Thanks Mom.

A Song of Spring

High overhead, the call to spring was loud and clear. We stopped in place and looked skyward. There they were!  The geese were flying in a gigantic V-formation, honking excitedly to each other. Perhaps they were exchanging delighted greetings. Or maybe honking out a summons to the next one to lead the formation, as they shifted leadership regularly so no one goose did all the hard work of breaking through the air as others followed.

I watched closely, trying to pick out pairs. I have always known that geese mate for life, and it makes me worry about them. I don’t want a hunter to kill one goose’s mate and leave him or her alone, mourning the loss of their life partner. When I see a goose flying separately, all alone, I feel its sadness and loneliness as though he/she were a friend. I look to the heavens and say a little prayer for all animals, tame and wild, who are so much at the mercy of us human beings.

The sky directly overhead is one of the primary flyways  geese use to come  north from their winter respite in southern climes, as well as to fly south again in about six or seven months. We walk daily in this park next to the Missouri River, and today we are smiling and exclaiming our joy at seeing this seasonal rite once more. We stand in place like statues, our necks stretched to take in the full panorama overhead.

Nellie, our dog, looks up too, sensing something important is going on up there. She doesn’t speak the language, but her animal instincts are in tune and she sits her butt down on the path so she can easily gaze at the shifting black pattern in the blue sky. Wagging her tail happily, she seems to understand. She knows it is a happy sight, something all of creation takes time to celebrate.

No matter what the calendar says, spring has not arrived until we see and hear the geese overhead. The noisy, eager honking of the geese heralds the arrival of glorious spring, the season that awakens and excites those who live in these northern parts more than any other season does. We feel successful, gratified we have survived another winter of long, dark days of snow, ice, and cold temperatures. Spring’s arrival, bringing warmer temps and a greening of the grass, trees, and plants, is our reward. Hearing the geese makes me want to chant along with their honking, celebrate their faithful return, and join in on their Song of Spring.

On writing a memoir……Who will care?

Writing away on my own memoir, I have stopped to ask myself what perhaps others like me have asked themselves along the way:  “Who will care if I do this… it enough that only I care?”   And yes, it is enough that I care…because I am learning so much about myself by doing it.  However, when I read the following words by Peter Hawkins as he introduces a chapter of “Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner, well-known author and writer of several memoirs, I was so inspired I knew I HAD to keep writing!  Perhaps anyone else out there who may have asked him/herself the same question will find the reason to carry on.

In Peter Hawkins’ introductory notes in “Listening for God” (Vol. I), Peter says of Buechner that he tells his story so readers might recognize in it something of their own.  He writes: “Buechner tells us that our lives are themselves sacred narratives, dramas, histories.  Much of the past may be as painful as a father’s suicide, a mother’s withdrawal, a child’s illness.  But through the redeeming powers of memory, ‘even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.”

Peter continues with, “Buechner wants his readers to discover that all moments are key, that life itself is grounded in the mystery of God and shot through with divine grace.  Each person’s life story, therefore, is a scripture waiting to be read and interpreted, a sacred text capable of revealing nothing less than divine truth.  All that is needed are eyes that see, ears that hear.

I cannot forget those words and give thanks for the renewed energy and purpose they have given me.  I hope anyone pondering writing their own life story might find these words or something as meaningful to spur them onward.  Let’s keep writing!     Sunshine