Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chapter One "Farm of My Dreams?"

It was a wonderful sunny, yard sale Saturday about eight years ago and we were off to try and catch the proverbial worm. Big Guy had come along to keep me company, (I know he just wanted to make certain I didn't come home with any more furniture since our house already was packed to the gills like an overstuffed flounder), and I loved that he was there to share my treasure hunt.

Armed with the local Friday night newspaper ads, a pocketful of one dollar bills and quarters, a travel mug of my favorite instant coffee and a fistful of the yummiest chocolate iced cake donut, I was ready to negotiate just about anything. 

The first few sales on my list of carefully chosen yard sale ads didn't pan out much; I did score big on a rag rug checker set for a dollar that I knew my grand kids would play with someday. Big Guy pointed out that it was missing one of the black game pieces but I informed him that it would all work out since I had another set from a previous outing that was missing a red piece as well.

As we came to the seventh address on my list, I realized that this one would take us out of the city but not too far out.

"Honey," I started with the sweet talk first, "You don't mind if we take a little drive to the country do you?" after all he was in the drivers seat and I could tell he was already tired after watching me sort through twenty or so tables of cute but useless knickknacks and a few hundred boxes of interesting but easily discarded items.

He gave me that look where his teeth clenched but the corner of his mouth curled upward to make his dimple show sweetly. "Puhlease...sweetheart, this will be the last one." I begged as I cuddled up closer and laying my head down on his big strong shoulder, I looked up with pleading eyes.

"Alright..." he caved and then raising an eyebrow warned, "but this will be the last one!" My Big Guy wasn't really a pushover, he just knew if he scratched my back, I would scratch his. In the nearly twenty years we had been married, we had both learned the importance of taking care of each others needs, wants and even frivolous trifles. If he had a bad day at work, I tried to make it better by serving his favorite meal for supper. If he beat me out of bed on a Sunday morning after an exhausting defeat at a pool tournament the night before, I would wake to the smell of a heavenly breakfast being prepared by someone other than me, and no, he didn't pay the kids to make it!

So there we were, having made another concession and on our way to what we wouldn't know until years later, would become a major turning point in our lives.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Poem #1

No Fishing Here

Tillie the turtle and Franklin frog
had a discussion in Black Lily Bog.

Tillie said, "Frankly, Franklin my friend,
this polution must stop, it must come to an end."

Said Franklin of this, "I agree, my dear,
I'm tired of swimming through cans of beer.

It spoils the taste of the bugs I eat
by making them bitter and no longer sweet.

But not only that, it makes me tire. 
For substance like this I have no desire."

"I know what you mean exactly," said Tillie.
"It makes me act so childish and silly.

And after a while my head starts to pound;
it hurts just to hear the least little sound."

Their discussion continued with further complaints.
A decision was made that there must be restraints.

The two both agreed, "It's the fisherman's fault.
Not only the drinking, the fishing must hault!"

So they put up a sign and here's how it read:

G. S. Lortscher
April 1984

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My 10 Tip's to Help Make the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever

Tip #1
Take your eggs out of the refridgerator about an hour or two before you plan to use them. (Just set them aside, making sure they don't roll off the counter like mine have done. I'm not sure why, but it always makes the cookies better.)

Tip #2
Find something inspiring to watch on the boob tube or computer while you bake. I'm watching Phantom of the Opera right now. (OMGosh, Ramin Karimloo really melts my butter. Sorry Big Guy, no one melts my butter the way you do though!)

Tip #3
Make certain you use the proper measuring cups, dry measure cups for flour, sugars, etc. and liquid measure cups for well the obvious, liquids. I posted these photos so you would know the difference! It also helps to use the same mixing bowls your grandmother used like I have but no biggie if you don't have any, I just wanted to brag!

for Dry ingredients

for Liquid ingredients

My grandmothers mixing bowls

Tip #4
If you can do half Butter (unsalted) and half shortening, do it. The cookies are a little crisper but also stay chewy. I only use good quality shortening, the cheaper stuff doesn't seem to work as well.

Tip #5
Remember, only beat in one egg at a time and scrape the sides of the bowl well. (That's my OCD talkin' to ya!)

Tip #6
Divide the flour, salt and baking soda mixture into three separate additions to your batter mixture and use the back of a big spoon to fold it in. Don't forget to scrape the sides of the bowl! (OCD alert)

It helps to have a pink spatula (just my opinion)

Tip #7
Always add a little more chocolate chips than the two cups the recipe calls for and be sure to accidentally drop a few on the clean counter so they'll have to be eaten. (Now that you've been forced to pick them up with your sticky fingers, you wouldn't want them to contaminate the batch now would you?)

(Also I wanted to take this moment to show off this handy little gadget that makes it easier to load and unload the dough but sadly I have no idea where I got this thing and it's possible it isn't really supposed to be used for this anyway.)

Tip #8
Whatever you do, do not, I repeat, do not throw away the burnt cookies! 
(My Grandpa would roll over in his grave.)

Tip #9
Place cookies almost immediately on cooling racks. (My favorite are the ones that stack and take up less counter space. Crumbs are easier to clean up if they're contained to a smaller space!)

Tip #10
Beware of Cookie Thieves! (Some of them come disguised in ballcaps and overalls!)

Friday, January 27, 2012

My Harvest Time

I was born in America's Heartland and reserve the right to be called a Midwest Farmer's Daughter or Granddaughter as it could best be applied to me. I have lived on this wonderful planet called earth for a little more than 50 years. I spent almost my entire childhood without a father present in my home and at the age of 14, had a "Loretta Lynn" moment that lasted for about 10 years. Two marriages, Five children and eight grandchildren later, I am happy to say I have survived divorce, menopause and fudge poisoning. I had decent grades throughout my school career, gave birth to three children when I should have been studying for high school exams, still managed to obtain a High School diploma before I turned eighteen and spent three years in college before the next wave of children started.

I have always thought of myself as being a dreamer and as long as I can remember I have dreamed of becoming an Architect. At the age of eight I started drawing house plans and in college I worked on an Engineering degree that hasn't been completed yet. What I discovered is I am the Architect of my own future and in the blueprint of my life, the floors I laid have not always been as level as I had planned. I have put up walls at times when I should have framed doorways and have had many a roof collapse on top of me, but I will continue to stay in the planning stages of my life until the All-Mighty Contractor says he's done with me.

A big dream from my childhood was to own an amusement park someday and about six years ago we started an amusement business. Although it isn't quite the same as Disneyland, at times it seems like a "Mickey Mouse" operation complete with Goofy!

Another one of my biggest dreams since childhood has been to return to my farm roots. On my last birthday I received the gift of an 1800's farmstead and will share the revelations, tribulations and excavations as we do our best to restore it back to life.

I have accepted the fact that I most definitely am OCD. For those of you who do not know what that is, this is an example of what it is like to be me. Imagine you are shopping at a local retail store. As you are walking down the clothes aisle to find a new pair of jeans, you notice that some of the jeans on a display are not folded neatly and are just tossed willy nilly onto the shelf. You are compelled to take it upon yourself to refold the jeans and place them properly on the shelf. But wait, you don't stop there, you very carefully make certain that every pair on the display, all 110 pairs of jeans, are placed in the correct order of size, style and color, oh, and they must be perfectly folded the same. Eventually the display looks perfect and you are free to look for the jeans you came to buy only to discover that they are out of your size. Being OCD may keep me from becoming a speedy shopper but it does give me brownie points with a lot of retail store managers.

I love all of God's creatures and I do mean all. My sister once sent me the book, "All Creatures Great and Small", and today it's still one of my favorites. At this moment in time I share my home with three small creatures; my youngest daughter's aging Chihuahua named Rocky, my Big Guy's spoiled rotten but otherwise adorable Maltese named Christmas Crumb, (he calls her Chrissy but our kids and grand kids refer to her as Crumb) and my sidekick who keeps me on the move literally, a very funny Bolognese named Cookie.

I have experienced first hand mid-west tornadoes, a flood, a home fire and a hysterectomy. I've been a Karaoke Queen, raced in a Powder Puff Derby, played in a National Billiards Tournament, been a guest on a T.V. Talk show, (no, not Oprah) and I've even ridden a Mechanical Bull and have the pictures and the bruises to prove it! I've never met a piece of chocolate I didn't like and have a passion for all things pink (for which the breast cancer foundations are very thankful I'm certain).

My hero's are the ones that no one ever hears about in the news but if you stick around long enough to read my stories, you will get to know them and understand why.

And saving the best for last is the one true love of my life; my husband, my best friend, my lover and the best part of me, otherwise known as my Big Guy.

One Smart Cookie

My favorite cookie recipe has always been the one on the back of the yellow chocolate chip bag. When I was a little girl, my grandmother bought these wonderful miracle morsels and made them regularly. Even the burned ones would cause a fight. My grandfather would not allow my grandmother to toss them out, claiming they were his favorite. He even went so far as to dig them out of the trash if she had managed to scrape them off the cookie sheet before he discovered them. Yes, they were that good!

My favorite  Cookie, however, does not have to be baked; it's not a tasty treat made from a recipe of sugar and flour. This Cookie is a very clever canine ingeniuosly disguised as a 12 inch cottonball, aka. a Bolognese dog.

Cookie has been my sidekick for about 6 years now. She tricked me into taking her home after a visit to an animal shelter. I wasn't there with the intention of making any new friends, especially one I would need to feed and walk on a daily basis, but the book of life has a funny way of causing new chapters to be written and Cookie has become another chapter in my book. Someday you'll hopefully read my book and know more about my life with this wonderful creature but for now you will just learn of how she came to be my friend and got her name.

I was visiting my oldest daughter Maryanne who at the time lived in a larger city which was a two hour drive from us. My husband, my Big Guy, was having ear surgery there, so we had driven down the night before and his surgery had been scheduled for early that morning. When my Big Guy had come out of surgery and we were able to visit him in the recovery room, we found him prone but slightly propped up in a reclining chair. He was covered almost completely from head to toe in a warm blanket and a white sheet and the only tell tale sign of ear surgery that I noticed was a giant wad of cotton stuffed in his ear. As I looked at him for some sign of life, he slowly emerged from under the white sheet, opened his steely blue eyes and then grinned at me with the funniest, drunken grin. Just as quickly though, his eyes closed and he disappeared again under the white sheet. The nurse attending him said due to the anesthesia he had been given, he probably needed a few hours to sleep it off. Hearing this, my daughter suggested we run over to her local animal shelter. 

The shelter had a web site that my daughter had been trolling almost daily in her search for the perfect female dog. She had noticed a new litter of cute and small breed puppies that they had posted and insisted we just visit to "see" if they were as cute in person. Her husband was at work and she wouldn't make any decision to add to their family unit without talking to him first but the shelter would be closed by the time he came home so I had to go as his proxy.

We walked around the dozens of kennels that were full of large and medium breed dogs, many who were showing their eagerness to be petted or begging with loud barks to get out. Finally the woman who was in charge finished talking to another person about an old Bulldog and asked if she could assist us. My daughter inquired about the cute puppies she had seen on the web site only to be told that they had all been adopted the day before and the web site needed to be updated again. "Puppies are the most popular", the woman said, "and never stay longer than the release date.".

Then the woman looked straight at me and asked the question, "What kind of dog do you want?" and for some crazy and unknown reason I told her I would need a dog small enough to be portable since my husband and I had a business that caused us to travel quite a lot, and then I said something I can't believe I said.  I told her, "maybe something fluffy and white!".

Where did that come from? I had never owned a "foofoo" dog in my life. As a child, our dogs had all been sturdy mutts; usually scruffy mixtures of whatever came our way and needed a home. Later in my adult life, there were working class dogs like Collies, a Dalmation and even a huge Bouvier Des Flandres. Two separate times we raised floppy eared Basset Hounds and once we even had a Beagle. The closest my family had ever come to having a small "foofoo" dog were the smooth coat Chihuahua's two of my daughters had fallen in love with during the famous Taco Bell commercial era and If you have read the first post of my blog, you have learned about one of them named Rocky.

But for some strange reason, I told that woman, "maybe something fluffy and white!". I also told her, "But we've looked at all of your dogs and haven't seen anything that fits that category." which is when she informed me I must have missed the one that had just been brought back from being spayed. 

This being said we followed this woman back to the front of the facility where she pointed to a large, aquarium type display full of white paper shred. Looking closely through the glass, I tried to see anything at all that might be identified as a dog. About to ask what I was supposed to be looking for, I stopped at "What..." and watched closer as some of the shred began to move. Suddenly it shook and two dark, doe-like eyes were staring at me with a glassy eyed stare.

"What is that?" I asked.

"We're not certain," the woman said, "but we think she's some kind of a poodle mix." 

As I looked into those eyes I noticed a small mouth that begin to appear and then recognized the same drunken grin that I had just witnessed on the face of my Big Guy back at the clinic. Then this goofy thing fell back into the pile of shred, disappearing once again and leaving us only with the sound of a muffled doggie snore.

The woman from the shelter explained that it was probably a result of the anesthesia given for her surgery that caused the dog to behave so loopy. She offered to hold her for me if I paid a deposit and could come back later when the drugs had worn off. Maryanne loved the idea and before I knew what was happening she had paid the deposit and agreed we would return the next day to see this comical creature. I wasn't quite sure at that moment if I was adopting this dog or if my daughter was, but out of curiosity more than anything, I hoped I would be seeing her again the next day.

Later that evening at my daughter's home, with my Big Guy tucked comfortably into the guest room bed, I climbed in next to him and began to tell him about the dog. As tired as he was and still not feeling even seventy five percent normal yet, he patiently listened with his one unstuffed ear as I detailed every minute and gave a very descriptive story. As he listened, his eyes grew big and he nodded his head. Occasionally one eyebrow would lower but then I would say something that would make it return upwards and level with the other one again. 

"Well, what do you think?" I asked eagerly when I finished.

"About what?" he looked at me with eyes now squinting and lips firmly pierced.

"About going to see this dog tomorrow, what do you think?" I worried that the thought of getting another dog so soon after we were just recoving from a major financial crisis in our life, (another chapter of my book), might not be the right thing to do. 

"I'm not saying we adopt her, afterall, Maryanne may get her since she really wants a female dog. I just think we should consider it since I really miss having a dog in my life and this could be one that we could take with us everywhere; she's small and portable."

"Let me sleep on it." he moaned  as he turned over to be more comfortable. "I love you goodnight!" those words ran together quickly and then he was asleep.

The next morning after waking to the sounds of four rambunctious boys and a very alert chihuahua all doing loudly what they do best, we were discussing our trip to go home. My Big Guy was feeling much better and even agreed we could stop by the shelter since it would be on our way out of town. My daughter, who also had a discussion with her husband the night before, announced to the family during breakfast that they would not be adopting another dog, at least not this one. So we would go back to retrieve her deposit if for no other reason.

At the shelter later that day we were greeted by a different woman who looked up the deposit and then exclaimed, "Oh, you are here to see Pinky!". She explained how they gave each dog a nickname when they came to the shelter and then had us wait in a small room while she went to find the dog. 

"Pinky!" I looked at my Big Guy and smiled as I thought, with my love for all things pink, this just might be divine intervetion. I mean really, what are the chances that she would give this pooch a nickname that just happened to be my favorite color! The dog was white and fluffy so she could've just as easily called her Snowball or Cottonball. I wasn't quite sure the name Pinky would stay if she were mine but then again I wasn't quite sure my Big Guy would agree to adopt her either.

Finally after a few minutes the woman returned holding a creature that resembled a small lamb. Tightly matted curls that pilled up in places covered a wiggly, skinny torso and a feathery tail that wagged in circular motion so fast that I expected her to fly out of the womans arms. Her head which seemed to have the most hair was malapportioned to the rest of her and as soon as she was put on the floor, she immediately stood on hind legs and danced continuously for a good 5 minutes.

"She dances? How funny!" my Big Guy laughed as if warming up to this idea of having a dog again.

"Where did she come from?" I asked, scooping her up as she was on her back feet again performing a ballet.

The woman said she had been picked up off of the street just four days earlier. Even though she had been microchipped which allowed them to find records from a vet in another state, the only phone number that he could supply them, was no longer in service so her history stopped there. 

"Who knows how long Pinky had been wandering before she was picked up?" the woman said. "She was very dirty, very hungry and eager to be found." As near as they could tell, this dog was around four or five years old. Beside's a couple of pesky fleas and breath bad enough to stop a group of new and anxious oral hygienist's, she was given a full bill of health. 

Due to strict rules of the shelter, all dogs are spayed or nuetered on the third day after coming there. If her previous owners had kept her microchip records updated, maybe she would have been reunited with them and I would have never seen that goofy grin! As I sat with her, getting to know this strange pooch a little better, my Big Guy slipped out of the room to take a stroll around the kennels. I was beginning to think he was not relating to my new found love of a "foofoo" doggie. And then he returned and with a twinkle in his eyes and a big smile on that wonderful face he said, "Ok, lets take her home."

All the way home I was thinking of a good name we would call her. I could see why they nicknamed her Pinky since under all that white fluff was a skintone as pink as a pig's snout. But I wanted to give her a name that fit her personallity more than the color of her skin. 

"What about Cottonball?" my Big Guy asked and then quickly shrugged it off after I shot him a disapproving look. "I may need some time to figure this one out." I told him as I watched her stand on my lap and balance her front feet on the arm rest so she could see out the window. She seemed to take it all in and at times her tail would begin to wag at the sight of a person, bird or any living creature. Eventually she settled down and curled into a ball on my lap but would occasionally look up at me with those dark, doe-like eyes and I wondered if she was wondering what she would call me too.

Within a few days my fluffy white foofoo was learning all about our world. She traveled everywhere I went, enjoyed visits to our local petshop and had already walked the neighborhood with me several times. She knew almost immediately that she could go to the back door and sit in order to be taken out. She also knew that if the water bowl was empty, she could go to the sink and bark. She seemed to be very smart and I wondered if I could teach her some tricks, so on one of our shopping trips, I bought a bag of special doggie treats. When we returned home I placed the treats in a lower kitchen cabinet and closed the door. Later, while I was working at my computer, I looked down at my side and was surprised to find my little friend with that bag of treats between her front paws, trying hard to tear it apart with her teeth. As I proceeded to pry the bag from her playful but snarly teasing grip, I asked her, "How did you get this out of that cabinet? You really are one smart cookie, aren't you!" and that's when it occurred to me, I had finally figured her out and also needed to buy locks for my bottom cabinets.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

3 Silly Secrets

1.  I know it's silly but I am obsessed with socks! Not those white fruit of the loom types your mama made you wear, I like the ones that say something; socks with attitude! Knee highs, tie dyed or argyle patterned and soft pink thigh highs with a feathery cuff at the top are fun to wear or how about Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor Man themes. No one has to see them if you wear boots! I have socks for holidays too like Valentines Day; some really cute ones that have the sweetheart candies all over them and for St. Patricks Day I've got a cute pair that has Leprechauns and clovers, green of course. My favorites aren't always the socks with cartoons or characters though, I like the ones that feel really comfortable best even if they are the most putrid of colors. They don't always match what I am wearing however, so if you see me on the street and have the urge to yell, "You're Momma dresses you funny!", I just want you to know that it ain't my Momma's fault!

2.  I know it's silly but I think I'm a closet hoarder of pink stuff! If I see anything and I do mean anything, that is that soft, light pepto bismol pink color, I am drawn to it like a horsefly to cattle dung. I have pink sweaters, pink tops of all types and lots of other pink clothes that I really can't wear because they don't match my skin tone at all. I even bought a mini teflon "Pig" shaped pan and matching mini spatula one day just because it was pink. You can fry only one egg in the thing and I don't know when I'll ever use it so of course I hid it away in my closet next to the pink salad tongs, pink letter opener and many other interesting items that are all pink. My husband is still not happy with me for the purchase of a pink garden shovel over two years ago since I refuse to use it and ruin the pretty blade. I also bought the pink KitchenAid Stand Mixer when my old white one burned up, but I tell everyone I did it to support the fight for breast cancer which is more than a reasonable explanation. Now if I can just find some use for the giant stuffed, pink Energizer Bunny that I won at the local hardware store the other day; at least I didn't buy it!

3.  I know it's silly but I like to hide chocolate candy in strange places so I will forget and then find them later, feeling like I've just won the chocolate lottery. You know, kinda like a good old Easter Egg Hunt that you do for yourself. Imagine how grand it is when you are getting ready to go jogging with your dog and you score a mini Muskateer that had been tucked away in a sneaker! The only drawback to this that I have experienced was one morning while I was at the gym. I had grabbed my overnight bag to carry the nice clothes I planned on wearing to a meeting later that morning, forgetting about the dark chocolate kisses I had tossed in a few weeks earlier. I was wearing only my work out shorts and top and after my routine of stretching, treadmill and Zumba group, I decided to spend some time in the sauna before hitting the shower. Because there were no empty lockers available that morning, (sucks when you're late) I carried my bag into the sauna with me. You guessed it! By the time I was showered and was done with my hair and make-up, I reached into the bottom of my bag to find my nice cream, j.crew cashmere sweater, looking like a Keebler Fudge Stripe cookie. 

More secrets later, when you get to know me a little better and won't think I'm a total nutcase!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Refrigerator Dream Catcher

I have had this and most people I know have too. A collection of things, usually drawings from one of your kids that leave a lot for interpetation, plastered by magnets on the front of your refrigerator.

Maybe you have photos on yours, notes about the next dental appointment or parent teacher meeting. If you're trying to diet, you might have a message like, "Warning: opening this refrigerator could effect the outcome of your health!!!", or if you just made dessert for the Wednesday night church banquet and don't want anyone to eat it, "Anyone who DARES to touch the Peanut Butter Fudge Delight, will incur the Wrath of Mom! May the Good Lord help you!", might be written in red on a small white board.

Why do people use the refrigerator as a means to express their childrens artistic talents, as a message board or place to show off a collection of magnets they've picked up from every city, state or historical landmark they have ever visited? Who first invented this idea and where did the first refrigerator magnet come from?

I'll start with the last question first since the majority of items posted on the fridge are more than likely done with a magnet of some sort.

Upon googling "refrigerator magnet", I was sent to many sites that sold them so I added the word "history" and still did not come up with any better results. Wikipedia had no dates as to when these things came into existence but did share the differences in styles and how they went from common cylindrical or solid rectangular magnets to a flexible magnet, composed of a high-coercivity ferromagnetic compound (usually ferric oxide) mixed with a plastic binder, whatever any of that means! I also found out that there are people who collect these things and have over 30,000 of them. They must have a very large refrigerator!

I myself have had quite a collection of magnets in the past, everything from a boring one with a clippy to hold several items at once to the more interesting "quote" magnet with the important saying, "...nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with CHOCOLATE...".

To answer the first question of why people stick all of this stuff on their refrigerators, I can only say it could be another retail trick to prop up the sale of magnets by the creation of a fad. Afterall, what else do we actually use magnets for? The only time I can recall ever using one was in my second or maybe my third grade class as we learned about magnetic poles!

When my children were learning their ABC's, we had magnetic alphabet letters plastered all over the front of the bottom of our refrigerator door. I'm sure many of you remember them and may still have a few left holding up the trash bill today. You probably found the letter "y" that had been missing for years, underneath the bottom tray buried in a giant dust bunny, which if cleaned much earlier would have kept your children from constantly asking "why" z at the end of the song (at this point you will be compelled to sing the alphabet song and I'm sorry if you are reading this while in public). The Freezer door, which was at the top of our old refrigerator, always held the notes of anything important we needed to remember. Since the ice cream was kept there, it was a sure bet no one in our household would ever miss an important appointment.

The children grew up and moved away and soon the many pieces of proudly displayed art and A+ math tests were replaced by photos of much enjoyed vacations and yes, matching travel magnets. The clip that once held parental signature slips for school outings now holds a variety of favorite recipes. But something new has just been added; something that came from a story that inspired me. Allow me to share.

I was at a business convention once and heard a gentleman speak of how he had amassed great wealth. He had been looking for a way to just get ahead in life, pay his bills and not feel broke every day, (this was BDR , Before Dave Ramsey). Someone had suggested he focus on one thing that he could acheive over a period of one to two years. If he could think about this one thing on a daily basis, it might propel him in the right direction. For him, it would be a monetary item; something he would need to save for. He chose a very expensive sportscar that he had seen on the cover of a magazine and although he had never dreamed he could ever make the kind of money to buy a car like that, he was encouraged to always think that anything is possible. 

He tore off the front page of the magazine with the photo of the car and placed it on the door of his refrigerator where it was a daily reminder for him to see. As weeks and months went by, he pushed himself to work harder at his job and even took on extra work as a night janitor to pay off all of his bills. He prayed daily that God would give him the strength to keep going and smiled each time he opened his refrigerator door. Due to his hard work, he had been given a promotion at his job and had been able to pay off all of his debt, allowing him to save the money from his night job. Then almost a year to the day that he had first seen that sportscar photo, he was at a used sportscar dealership with enough money in the bank to meet his goal. To his surprise, there on the dealership floor was the exact same sportscar that he had looked at every day on the torn cover placed on his refrigerator door, the actual car that the magazine article was about and yes, he did purchase it!

I now have a couple of new items added to my refrigerator, a picture of the home I have dreamed of living in for half of my life and the other, a family reunion photo that was taken last year with all of our children and grandchildren surrounding my husband and I. What will you be using your refrigerator magnets for?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Old Dogs and the Fountain of Youth

A member of our family is losing his fight with Father Time. We know this by the way his body has changed so drastically in just a few short years. His legs that were strong and muscular, allowing him to run, jump and climb are now weak, thin and wobbly. His once soft brown eyes are now clouded over and instead of watching a bird soar across a clear blue sky, he struggles to recognize the face of those dear to him up close. He has lost much of his hair and his skin has become paper thin allowing the cold air to become an enemy on a chilly Winter afternoon. At times we find him staring blankly into space; possibly wondering where am I, who am I or what am I doing.

I could be describing a grandfather or a great old uncle but I'm not. I'm telling you about a well loved Chihuahua named Rocky who has lived for 16 human years. In doggie years he is more than 76 years old.

A once "spunky" little fellow, Rocky sniffed his way into every mealtime gathering. He watched carefully from his perspective under the table for the tiniest crumb of human delicacy that just might fall with-in his reach. What he prided himself in the most, was his job guarding the front door relentlessly against any intruder who might cross the threshold. At the slightest sound of a footstep more than 20 feet from the door he sounded his alarm with such indomitably that one would have thought he was a mighty Mastiff. He was quick to his feet at the mere mention of "walk or ride" anywhere and always eager to do a trick such as, roll over, play dead and sit pretty for a piddly morsel of cheese. The adventures he has had I'm certain he thought were grand. Chasing a squirrel through the yard to defend his territory; the discovery of a garden snake under the porch; trips in the car with the family to new and interesting places like Texas, New Mexico or Taco Bell all are on his timeline.

But Rocky no longer is as active as he once was. Now he spends the majority of his days curled up in the center of a small dog pillow in our family room. When I am watching tv, I welcome him as he cuddle's up asleep next to me on the sofa earning his keep by keeping me company. As far as his job guarding over our home, Rocky has lost his hearing so the only way he knows when someone has entered the room is due to the vibration he may feel from the door being opened or closed. We have to wake him up often to take him out so he can "relieve" himself, but occasionally we aren't quick enough and depending on whether he makes it off the carpet or onto the tile floor, we end up with a mop bucket or Little Green Machine in hand.  And yes, he smells funky; an unwelcome but common plight that seems to go with the territory of old age.

On a good day he seems alert and content to follow us around the house, bumping into obstacles and sometimes practically tripping us as he gets caught circling our legs. If the sun is shining he will find that sunny, warm spot and roll around vigorously on his back as if he is saying "I feel good!". On a bad day he may struggle to stand as he eats from his favorite food bowl that ironically has a cartoon of the day in the life of an active dog displayed on the side. 

I was asked by a well meaning friend not too long ago, why we didn't proceed to the inevitable now and not allow him to suffer any discomfort he might have any longer. In other words, why not have him euthanized! Euthanize: a verb meaning to kill (a person or animal) painlessly, especially to relieve suffering from an incurable illness. I don't know if I had a good answer for her or not but I simply told her that I wasn't qualified to make that decision. Frankly, he doesn't seem to be suffering and the only thing that I can tell is wrong with him is he's getting old.

Becoming old has always been something that humans have had a difficult time dealing with. The "Fountain of Youth" has been searched for throughout history. The majority of the human race has embraced the idea that our youth is the prime time of our life. And it probably is, after-all, we are the most active, the most attractive and the most productive during our younger years. But like Rocky, everyone ages. We can age more gracefully and in better health by the way we maintain our bodies and our lifestyles but can we really stop the process of getting older? With all of the vitamins, skin care treatments, extreme make-overs and daily exercise, the body still continues on the path of aging and we seem obsessed with it. Is it because we are afraid of death that causes us to be so fearful of aging? The fact of life is that we are born, we live for whatever time we have and then eventually we die.

When I was about 5, I asked my Grandfather if he was going to die someday. I had just discovered death after finding the body of a Robin laying lifeless and stiff in the dirt. I had asked him why the Robin died and he told me that everything dies in time and that the Robin was probably too old. To me my Grandfather was the oldest person I knew and so the idea of him laying quiet, stiff and forever lifeless like the Robin was almost too much for me to bear. When he saw how sad I was, he quickly reassured me that he would not die until he was no longer useful and had accomplished all that he had dreamed of.

Knowing that my Grandfather was a very high spirited and hard working man, I imagined that he would live forever, so when he died at the age of 94, I was terribly sad and had to accept what was reality. But my Grandfather hadn't been ill. He had decided to move into a retirement community after Grandmother had passed away the previous year. He still kept himself active by tending the garden in front of the home and even offered to help out in the dining room for those less mobile. But one morning he miss-judged his reach and fell out of bed, breaking his hip. We rushed to the hospital where they had taken him for surgery and although the surgery went well and he smiled as he came out of it, there was something missing in his eyes. A couple of weeks later while he was being cared for, still bed ridden in the nursing ward of his retirement home, he discussed with the nurse, a letter he had received that day from my Mother. She told him about her retirement party at her job and how wonderful all of the Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren were doing. According to the nurse, he was beaming with pride as he read parts of the letter. An hour later as the nurse returned to see if he needed anything, she found him peaceful and silent forever and the letter placed carefully on his nightstand.  At the moment he finished reading that letter, I think he believed he was no longer useful and had accomplished all that he had set out to do.

Just as any other normal human, I have given much thought to my own aging and mortality. In the past few years I have changed some of my eating habits, spent more time exercising and even stopped climbing trees.  I have decided that wrinkles tell tales of life experience and silver hair is an angelic disguise God has blessed us with to prepare us for heaven. With that being said, I am still wondering what it would be like if we were to finally discover the fountain of youth.

Today on the news they reported the findings of  Factor X, a mysterious substance that scientists claim contains the fountain of youth. It has been shown to fight off certain diseases and therefore extend the life of sick mice. According to the news report, Factor X could be on our pharmacy shelves in the form as a pill for humans with-in five years. It could be a miracle or it could just be another medical breakthrough like others in the past. 

Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine around 400 BC, taught the prevention of disease through a regimen of diet and exercise, yet I can only remember this being acknowledged as an important way of daily life in the past twenty years or so. And think of all of the medical discoveries that have been known to cure and eradicate diseases in our history, yet we still die.

What I think about the future of this new found fountain of youth and what lies ahead? I will remain somewhat skeptical to any fruit it may bear. I will continue to look at life with the realization that it will eventually come to an end. I will spend each day whether it be cold and dark or warm and sunny, making the best of every second I have left. I will do what I can to bring meaning and purpose to my life and share with those who care. Of course I will want to stay as long as possible since I still have many new dreams that have yet to be accomplished. 

As for Rocky, he has taught me a lot about growing old and I can only hope that he will continue to stay by my side, suffering no pain and living his life happily til the end as any old dog should.