Sunday, August 28, 2016

Fall is Coming!

Summer is fighting to hang on.  The blast furnace hot temperatures linger over the area, but signs are everywhere that we're over it and ushering in fall whether Mother Nature wants us to or not.  School is back in session, ads are hawking sweaters and boots, preseason football is on the tube and, thankfully, I had my first pumpkin ale yesterday.

Bye Summer, don't let the door hit you on the way out!

This has been a brutal one.  I am not sorry to see it go.  I'm beginning to think winning the Stanley Cup is a bad omen for us.  I'm trying to banish that thought, but...  Nonetheless, after all the trials and travails of the summer, we're almost settled in to the house - albeit still without a living room ceiling - and we can turn our attention to other things.  Like the fact that my future grandchild is busy making himself ready for his world debut, and it's not that far off!

Somewhere in the midst of all the chaos of this summer, getting ready for the single big event that actually was one of the prime motivators of our moving in the first place took a back seat.  It's not that Baby Harrison was forgotten - how could he be?  He's shoving his mother's organs around in uncomfortable ways and because my daughter is so petite, he seems particularly large.  She's got all the usual last trimester laments:  swollen feet, aching back, overriding exhaustion, and a constant need to pee because he's slamming around in there.  And his presence in the room is unmistakable - he had no where to grow except straight out, and growing he certainly is!

Yet, despite his making sure no one can forget he's around, he's not been the prime focus in a summer of chaos and loss.  Now, suddenly, he has to be the only focus because he'll be here soon.  But past getting an ample inventory of diapers and swaddling blankets, and my making sure he's indoctrinated into the Black and Gold culture from the moment of birth, we're not all that ready.  There are daycares and hospitals to tour, pediatricians to select, and furniture to put together to be sure he's ready to be welcomed.

But for me, there's a lot more to be considering.  I've been with my daughter at most of her appointments, tagging along into the exam room, cheerfully introducing myself as the "overly involved grandmother."  I'm worried that might be a little more true than it should be.  So how do I support my daughter in caring for her infant son while not overstepping my bounds?  Probably a lot of grandparents have that dilemma, made a bit harder when families live together, but for me and my life experiences, it's more complicated still.  You don't need a degree in psychology to see it coming.  Try as I might not to think like this, I can tell that somewhere in my brain pan is the notion that I've got a second chance.  I'm thinking to myself, try as hard as I can not to, that I failed my own kids, so now I've got an opportunity to be fully there for my grandkid and to not fail him this time around.

So how do I balance the need to have my support some of the time without suffocating my daughter's attempt to grow into her own parenting style?

Well that's a great question!

That I can't answer.  But I need to come up with one and soon because things in the mirror are closer than they appear.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sweet Dreams

I couldn't help myself, I had to put Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House on as background noise one day last week.  I love that movie.  I've loved it for years, but it had an odd resonance that it's never had before.  While I didn't build a new house out in the country, this is to be our dream home and it's been anything but a smooth ride to get there.  Some of it I might look back on laugh at - probably a lot of it, but some will never settle into our memory as the stuff of a sweet late 40's comedy.  We've lost two members of our family in the last month, after all.  First our 18 year old cat Charlie slipped out one weekend morning three weeks ago and never came home.  We hold out hope, but he's old and in a strange neighborhood.  The hope is fading.  And of course there's Ripley.  But the rest of it, I'll confess, will eventually just be stories we shake our heads and reminisce over as we, hopefully, enjoy our lives in our happy home.  But, we're not there yet...

I'm needing to think forward - and quickly - to plan a baby shower for my daughter, but I don't have a ceiling still.  I think I'll need to start looking for an alternate venue, but there hasn't been much time to think about it.  This week, the crisis of the week was that the trap underneath the utility sink gave way so we couldn't wash clothes.  But that was okay, because we couldn't dry them either because my not-quite-handy husband couldn't get the dryer installed after impetuously deciding to switch out the old washer and dryer the previous owners had left for our newer, energy efficient ones.  I had to beg the plumbing company to come out this week to do the work so I can get wash done to leave town for work.

Then the smoke alarm decided 3:30 in the morning (after a very late night at work) would be an excellent time to malfunction.  At least that's all it was - I woke up thinking there was undoubtedly a gas leak from the thwarted attempt to connect the dryer and wonder how much time I had before the whole place blew.  That would be about par for the course.  After opening all the windows onto a warm. muggy night and checking every nook and cranny for any signs of something amiss, it finally occurred to me to check the back of the smoke detector and find out it was just beeping to tell me it had crapped out.  But I immediately was expecting the worst, because so far we've had a plumber out twice with a third service call scheduled for Monday, an electrician out to restore power to half the kitchen, including the outlet the fridge is plugged in to, and we've had two contractors scheduled to try and help with the ceiling - both seem to have a problem remembering to actually come do the work.  We got so far as cutting away the damaged part and drying it out, but that company was supposed to repair and reinstall the plaster this week and never showed.  And we've had small little things perplex and confound - pictures falling mysteriously off walls, limbs crashing down in the yard.  Any time we hear a noise, we wonder what just happened now.  It's an edgy way to live.

I've decided, however, that if the house thinks it can beat me into submission, I'd just fight back and show it who is boss.  I'm relentless when I want to be.  And I am determined.  You want to send my things flying off my walls?  I'll just put more things on the walls (I've always held that empty wall space exists for one purpose and one purpose alone - to not be empty anymore).  Slowly, very slowly, with the exception of the living room, the house has started to become ours and to feel like we belong.  For the very first time this week, I sat outside for a while and worked on the computer so the dogs could get some air and play a little and had it actually feel like home.  Then today, at just the oddest moment - I was washing my hands in the utility sink after pulling some weeds - I was struck with the image of my grandson having friends over and hanging in the little nerd cave we've created down there (all the Star Wars toys I doggedly hauled from Texas finally saw the light of day in the basement - it'll be a boy's dreamscape at some point) and thought, okay, we'll be happy here.

I hope I'm right.

No, I am right.  I'm going to try for optimism this week.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Asking the Why Question

I suppose an overcast, humid Sunday morning is as good a time as any to confess I'm having a crisis of faith.  Before anyone gets in a twist - that really has nothing to do with my belief in God.  I'm firmly convinced the two can be mutually exclusive.  You've got to think more than one priest in Germany in the 30's and 40's had a substantial crisis of faith wondering how God could let a Hitler happen.  I've wondered that myself, but then I've always answered it myself with the idea that God didn't: men did.  And you can equate that to the current Presidential election if you want, I certainly will not stop you.  But, I digress...

Anyway, back to the point at hand:  what it has to do with is the underlying concept of "everything happens for a reason" or "some good can come from bad things".  I've relied on those two sentiments to push me through a lot.  Maybe I don't know that there is a pre-ordained Fate for all things and sometimes crappy things just happen, but I've always held steadfast to the belief that you can find a purpose, learn a lesson and pass it forward, or become resolved to do something good to help others as a result of a tragedy.  All major events in our lives have repercussions - it's up to us to determine whether those repercussions will be for good or not.  Or so I've always believed.

And that's held me in good stead.  I think I'm on pretty solid emotional soil after the tumultuous years between 2000-2009, which, as we know, ended in the largest tragedy that can befall a parent.  Yet, it wasn't always the case.  A little time and distance was needed to process it all, and there had to be a little break with sanity on my part before I could.  I remember one night pretty early on in Kelsey's illness, but far enough in for things to be serious and highly emotionally charged, that I decided I was going to go to the nearest church and demand of God why this was happening.  For some reason, I couldn't get in the car (I think I was blocked in), so I decided to walk because I just had to have an answer right then and there.  I headed off in the direction of the church I was most familiar with because it was right across from Marissa's school and my mom's assisted living center, not really thinking that there was actually a church not very far in the other direction from our house.  I didn't even make it close.  I got outside our neighborhood to a quaint little park by day, but a notorious drug hand off spot by night, got freaked out by that, turned around and walked home.  But even if I had made it to either church, did I really think the doors would be open, and I could waltz right in?  And if I could have, would God himself really have boomed down the answer from on high?  Of course not.  And even, let's just say, I got the answer to the question.  Then what exactly was I going to do that information?

I'm sad to say I had more than one crazy lady night like that before I realized losing my shit wasn't helping anybody, and just learned to accept the reality, roll up my sleeves and get to work to try and change it, which of course I never did.  But I never had as bad of a moment again after I reached that acceptance point until, naturally, that fateful early morning in West Virginia when the trooper knocked on my door.

I never got the answer to the question why.  People had theories they liked to share and some had a certain validity - even some of the cruel and small minded ones - but in the end, why didn't matter.  The fact that it was really happening (and not to me - that's the other lesson I had to learn the hard way, it was SO not about me) was all that needed to be learned and, once learned, accepted.  Once I gave up asking why it was easier to just try and deal with the what.

However, by nature, humans ask the question "why".  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it's caused humans to explore and discover, build and invent.  So not being able to know the reason why to something is counter to our very nature.  And that leads me back around to my current crisis.

I picked up Ripley's ashes yesterday.  I brought them home to my house without a living room ceiling which, by the way, also does not have a working dryer currently - long story in a long line of long stories in the short month we've been here.  I'm running out of pep talks to give myself about why this happened to Ripley, and why I'm left to mourn my young dog.  No real crazy lady stuff.  Just a tired old lady trying to reason out the why of something to try and move on past it.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Alien in the House

Aliens, 1986 20th Century Fox
We named her Ripley after Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise.  I love those movies (well, the first three) because they have everything I require in a movie:  stuff blows up, it's either sci-fi or fantasy, and the tension is sufficient to keep my attention deficit at bay.  And this franchise also boasts a strong female lead.  Back in the day when I was in my 20's there were some strong roles for women (Silkwood, Out of Africa, Coal Miner's Daughter, Frances to name a few), but in action movies, the main hero was still always the man until Alien.  I loved that kick ass strong female character, so it seemed fitting for our new tricolor rough collie, who was notably intelligent, slightly willful and confident from an early age.  But, if you really think about it, Ellen Ripley is a truly hapless individual - she defeats this monster over and over again, only to have it come back again, kill everyone she loves and it just will not die.  But even if I had thought about that aspect of it, I wouldn't have worried that the name would have become a self fulfilling prophecy.  But it looks like, in the end, it will be.

Ripley has something called vesicular cutaneous lupus erythematosus or "VCLE" for short.  It's easiest to boil it down to an auto immune disease.  It's unique to collies and Shetland sheepdogs and, while never an awesome thing for your dog, it's rare and usually controllable with treatment.  But every so often it's systemic.  And fatal.  I had one of Ripley's specialists tell me the other day in all her years of practice, she's only seen it twice with 50-50 results, and she's never seen a case as bad as Ripley's.  Ripley is just about to turn four.

I'll spare you the literally bloody details - they don't matter.  Suffice it to say we've been battling this since February, at first thinking it was just an annoyance, then really scared for our dog, then jubilant when we seemed to have turned a corner and now I'm sitting here literally wondering if I have days left with her or hours.  She was struggling to breath earlier, and I thought it was time, but she rebounded a little and is resting peacefully now, so we're holding on.

There will be some of you who read this and naturally think, "Well, that's what you get for having a purebred dog."  But, purebreds deserve to be rescued too, don't they?  Others will say, "She's just a dog."  But that's not how I feel about any of the dogs we've had - they're family.  

I like to take my life's foibles and turn them into parables, as I've mentioned before.  But I'm struggling, in all honesty, to find a bright side to this.  I unpacked the box containing Cheyenne's ashes the other day.  Kelsey's are on the mantle (in the living room with no ceiling at the moment).  I wasn't really anxious to add another container to the group for a long while, but I had not one but two specialists spend a lot of time talking to me this past Tuesday to explain to me there was nothing more I could do but accept the inevitable.  They told me to take a few days to think about it.  I've spent the few days hoping for a miracle.  I can tell one's not forthcoming.

So, why lay all of this on you, you wonder?  Fair question.  And here's the moral to this story:  over the last few weeks, we as a family have all been awful to one another.  It's the stress and exhaustion of the move, followed by us trying our hardest to destroy the house we just bought, have our 18 year old cat go missing a week ago, and all coupled with trying hard to save Ripley.  But here's the day we all need to stop and realize:  life is so uncertain, is that really how we want to be treating one another?

And I'll say the same to you.  Yes, she's just a dog to some of you so the parallel might not resonate, but what this makes me realize and what I want everyone to realize is your family is precious.  Appreciate them.  Make sure they know you love them.  Act like everyday might be the last time you get to see them because you never know.  It just might.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Finding the Lipstick

Miss me?  I miss me.  Rather, I miss my life.  This existence currently is consisting only of getting up to unpack a little, then off to work, then unpack some more until exhaustion tugs at you to stop and then repeat.  In the meantime, life goes on around me, and I an vaguely aware I am missing it.  I've only seen a couple of Pirates games start to finish this summer, the two major party conventions were sort of a buzz in the background - even though I recognize this is a vitally important election.  I received an invitation to hear Hillary Clinton speak today, and I didn't even consider it.  All means to an end, right?  Yes, but we sure have made it hard on ourselves to reach that end.

Take for example our day two Sundays ago, which was our second full day in the house.  I'm in the downstairs bath, so Greg uses the upstairs and we head off to go grocery shopping while our daughter was spending time with her boyfriend.  An hour and half later we come back, laden with $300 worth of groceries to restock the pantry and open the door to find it raining inside the house.  The main floor and the basement were flooding from the upstairs toilet that had overflowed due to being calcified.  Long story short, the ceiling has to be torn out now in the living room.  This has been made more interesting by the fact that the first contractor I called is in the wind (no, I had not paid him anything), my insurance adjuster is an ass who likes to tell me what I'm doing wrong, but has not offered any concrete help, and, while he may be an ass in how he points it out, he's really not wrong - I have no idea what I'm doing.  You know how something happens and you think to yourself, "Someday I'll look back on this and laugh."  I rather doubt this will be one of those times.  But I can see someday maybe viewing it with a sense of bemusement.  When you move into a new home, you dream of all those "firsts":  your first rainy day, your first meal cooked in the kitchen (which, I literally only turned on a burner myself for the first time two days ago), your first morning to come sit outside on the big front porch and curl up with a cup of coffee and a book, and so on.  You don't really envision trying to overcome your first flood.

My daughter's comment when she came home to see the wreckage was to say with a sense of resignation, "It figures.  We just can't have nice things."  I didn't really have a retort that in the moment.  I think I sort of snorted out a, "Mmph."  It was really hard, I have to confess, to do as the old saying goes and "put lipstick on the pig."  For one thing, even if I could, any lipstick I might have was in a box somewhere.

I thought about that comment later.  It could mean so many things:  that we've made so many dumb ass moves in our life that our karma is messed up and bad things keep happening to us, or we're just incredibly unlucky.  Or we set ourselves up to somehow booby trap our lives because we secretly don't think we deserve anything good.  Maybe a combination of all of those things.  In the moment, finding Ripley, who still could not lift herself up at the moment, laying in a pool of water and realizing not only how scared she must have been, but that she could have drowned had we been gone longer, I just couldn't argue.

But time serves to add a little perspective.  And what you have to realize is that, as bad as it was and still is, it could have been so, so much worse.  For one thing, we could have been gone longer and the damage, that is isolated now to the living room ceiling, could have spread.  The fact that most of our things were still in boxes in the garage was a godsend.  Ripley's okay, as are all of the animals.  As a matter of fact, she is now not only lifting herself up off floors, but going up and down the stairs on her own.  This sounds trivial, but it's actually a bit of a miracle given where she was just a couple of weeks ago.  The other dogs long since shed any trauma, and I'm not sure that Tum Tum even knew anything was amiss, curled up like a queen, atop a box in the dining room.

This is all fixable.  Granted, it's a hassle.  It's preventing us from getting fully settled in, which means we're a few more weeks away from reconnecting with life.  But, you know what, we'll move past it.  And why not?  This whole summer has been about moving.  This is just one more move to make.  As the iconic Pittsburgh portrait famously pointed out, however, we can do it.

J. Howard Miller

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Unpacking 2.0: Making Order out of Chaos

"We adore chaos because we love to produce order."
- M. C. Escher

I'll make this quick.  I've got an entire house full of boxes and somewhere in there is my work computer that I need to find and set up by tomorrow morning.  I worked all day on the kitchen and I'm still not done (the downside to a larger kitchen is that's a lot of shelving to line).  We're two days in, and the bag with my toothbrush and brush still hasn't shown up.  But we're here.  The house we've been working for these two chaotic months is ours.  Despite the craziness, there's a sense that we can exhale a little after a long, tense build up.  At varying times, it hit me and then my husband:  wow, this really happened.  This is our house now.

There is a moral to the story, but I have to thank a few people first.  First and foremost, I have to thank our Northwood Realtor, Alyssa Policella, who, I realized more than once when my feet got not only cold, but downright freezing, has a particular knack for nudging people toward what they want, but wouldn't have the courage to reach for on their own.  I would still be dreaming of a bigger kitchen instead of populating all those cabinets if not for her.  And she handled the weirdest requests from me during the process, all with a smile.  She knows her stuff.  You realize how complicated buying and selling homes is - you've got to understand personalties and be a consummate people person, but you also have to be versed in the complex contractual legalities of these material transactions.  This was not my first house purchase (it will, I swear it, be my last), but I was completely overwhelmed by the complexity of this transaction, which was not like anything we'd come up against before.  She guided me all the way through expertly.

I also have to shout out to the crew with Friendly Movers who loaded our stuff and then unloaded it again the next day.  Let's just say we have a lot of stuff - way more, they finally admitted, than most families.  But they were troopers and even babysat the new house so the pod driver would deliver the pod while we were still closing.  They embodied the Pittsburgh I've come to know and love:  hard working and frank, but genuinely good natured.

And of course, all of you, Dear Readers, who put up with my see-sawing emotions over these last few months.  That's probably not over - I get upset if I can't snag the exact same parking space every time I go somewhere, so living in an environment where I can't find my toothbrush makes me feel like the ground beneath my feet is crumbling.  My family has had to roll with the wake of my emotions the last few days as I panicked because I can't find this or that - I feel that panicky wave threatening to hit now when I realized what I thought was my work computer wasn't mine.  Now I'll be obsessive and snappy until I lay my hands on it.   All part of the chaos of having multiple people trying to move things around and unpack them.  But, I tell myself as a way to keep the wave from turning into a Tsunami, it's here I know.  So, before I go off to find it, let me tell you the moral to the story:  the best things are the ones that you have to work hard for.  You probably know that already, but sometimes we lose sight of the obvious and need to be reminded.  This was one hell of a reminder for me personally, but lesson learned.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

My Dear Little House, a Love Story

Over the years you've been known as the "Get Me There House", "The Cottage", "The House with the World's Smallest Kitchen", "The House Next to the Dog Haters", and, when I'm patching the sun room ceiling for the umpteenth time, "The Money Pit".  But, what you really have been is home.  And I think it's time to thank you for that.

I have laughed within your walls and I've cried.  Tears of sorrow and tears of joy.  Occasionally a little of both mixed in there together.  You welcomed a whole house full of dogs and now they're all gone, but you're sheltering a whole new pack.  Plus the occasional deer, whatever it was that ate Marissa's fur coat in the cedar closet (to my secret delight), my lucky black squirrel, eagles, hawks, chipmunks, plain old brown and red squirrels, cardinals, blue jays, ravens, mourning doves, and all the other various creatures my whole Dr. Doolittle act has attracted over the years.  You sheltered us all at times.  I'm guessing no previous owner ever asked you to host such a motley crew on your grounds.  I'm wondering what they'll all do without me now and sort of hoping they all hop over to the neighbor's yard and crap on it.  But I digress.

As I sit outside now, taking a break to grab a bite, I'm reminded of the times I would grab food on the way back from Latrobe and sit out here to enjoy the last of the summer day after training camp.  I am remembering other soft summer evenings sitting out by the fire pit as fireflies cavorted around me.  I remember being chased by happily barking pups as I tobogganed down the slope in the backyard in the winter, like an overgrown child.  I'll miss those times.

But what I'll really remember about you most of all is your silent witness to our recovery.  You gave Cheyenne the best months of her life as she and I set up shop here, but you also gave me a place to let the grief that had been building up process through me in the quiet confines of your walls.  Then, later, as we were all ready to rejoin life, you gave us a place to come to after football games, hockey games, baseball games, family reunions and gatherings, fairs and parades, and all the other millions of things that make this - at least for me - the most amazing city in the world.  I love Pittsburgh.  I love you.

The holidays held a common theme - Tum Tum insisting she was the best present

But now we're to grow and there was no way it would work here.  We needed room for a baby to join the dogs getting in the way in the kitchen.  And a laundry chute.  I really needed a laundry chute.  So we'll both start new chapters - you'll shelter a new family just starting out, and new histories and stories will be written within your walls, but I will always be a little part of you, and you will be a big part of me.  By this time next week, we will no longer be joined.  I'll be trying to find all my crap in a sea of boxes a few miles from here.  That's an odd realization.  I've felt oddly conflicted all week - ready to get this done, but not sure how I feel about leaving either.  There's no turning back, even if we wanted to, so you and I need to say our last goodbyes over the next few days, but I'll never forget you.

I confess I will not miss cooking Thanksgiving dinner in your kitchen