Dear 2020

Dear 2020,

We welcomed you quietly–one kid in bed, the other at a sleepover, watching a late night movie on the couch at home. It’s too quiet in this house without Electra. Losing her right before the crush of the holidays and the long vacation from work somehow hurts more. I found myself caught between moments of melancholy and just needing to keep busy so I could stop missing her so much, so I could stop walking into the living room or looking out in the yard and expecting to see her there.

I spent several days grief-cleaning. I vacuumed, dusted, and rearranged Henry’s room. I moved Cadence’s room to the old spare bedroom/office, and then decided to redecorate a new spare bedroom/office/writing space complete with fresh paint and new furniture (which is due to be delivered next week).

And I gathered all Electra’s leftover food, dog treats, blankets, dog bed, kennels, unused medications–anything that could be needed and used–to donate to the local Humane Society. I didn’t want all of Electra’s things to be gone, but I sort of needed them to be. It made the pain a little more manageable. And I’m thankful that Stevie has been so sweet and patient as I fumble through the grief.

The calendar page turns, and a new year always brings excitement. You double down on all the things you’ve been wanting to do, meaning to do, procrastinating. You start out hopeful, start fresh. I’ve never been one to go overboard with a fancy New Year’s Eve party or a detailed list of resolutions, yet it’s hard not to buy into the magic and promise of a fresh start. The excitement this year has been tempered by loss and the introspection it always brings. It has made me think a little harder about my priorities, about the balance lack of balance in my life lately.

I need to be better–a better wife, a better mother, a better friend. I need to be a better leader at work. I need to be a better human in general.

And I need–really need–to make time to write again.

I made the mistake of telling one of my colleagues (who is also a writer) about the 365 Project I completed a few (ahem, like 9) years ago, and he threw down the challenge that maybe it’s time to get serious about another one if it will help me shake off the dust (and we’re talking about a real one, not the bullshit I tried to limp along last year by just finding random photos and quotes and lying to myself that it somehow counted). I’m swimming in ideas and unfinished projects–it’s starting to drive me insane. And since I just spent half my holiday break setting up a brand new home office, he kinda has a point. It might be time to get serious and actually get some shit done.

I mean, if I really want to continue to call myself a “writer,” I need to be writing. Right? That’s sorta how it works.

But I gotta be realistic–there’s no way I can do a 365 Project blog again. Not now.

A blog a week? Now that I can probably do. But to be completely honest, the pressure of trying to write something I actually feel like putting out there in the universe for actual people (other than me) to read is a whole lot of pressure and anxiety I don’t need in my life. I always want what I put out there to be good (or at least a couple levels above shit) so if someone does read it, they don’t feel like they’ve completely wasted their time and burned off precious brain cells.

What I am committing to–seriously committing to–is writing every day. Just writing. A journal entry, a letter, a chapter, a scene. Hell, even a poem if the mood strikes. And who knows, maybe some of it will end up here, but a lot of it won’t. And I’m okay with that. What matters is I’m making space for it, and I’m holding that space sacred. That’s my gift to myself this year.

So here we go, 2020. I’m walking in with no expectations and no specific plans (because dammit that somehow seems to be what always works out the best for me). I’m just going to be here, doing the best I can and then getting up and trying to do even better the next day. And in this new decade, I promise I’m going to have more meaningful conversations. I’m going to connect with old friends and make a few new ones. I’m going to read more books, taste (and cook) new foods. I’m going to travel to a few new (and visit a few favorite) places. I going to live and learn and love, and I’m going to try like hell to fall into bed each night knowing that I’ve squeezed as much joy as I possibly can out of every day.

Sounds like a pretty tall order, but I’ve always sort of enjoyed a challenge. And lucky for me, I’ve got some pretty rad people along for the ride.

Making her last day her best day

“Somewhere in between the pace of life and work and where you’re going, something makes you stop and notice, and you’re finally in the moment.” -Come From Away

Man, nothing brings your world to a screeching halt like the moment you’re faced with saying goodbye to a pet.

No other way to say it, friends, today was a shit day.

It has been a hard year for our hound, Electra. We haven’t been able to ignore the signs of her aging—the wounds that have taken longer to heal, the arthritis flaring, the usual laziness slowly giving way to lethargy. Visits to our vet and a few new medications bought some time and some relief. But this week her breathing became labored and she suddenly lost interest in food.

We always said the day Electra stopped eating like Joey Chestnut trying to win the annual 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest would be the day we knew her time had run out.

I took Electra in for some tests this morning, and the doctor called me to come look at the x-rays.

“I hate to tell you but I have to be honest,” she said pointing to the shadows on the film. “Your beautiful girl has a great big heart, but this time that’s not a good thing.”

And the blood tests confirmed it—our sweet Electra’s heart is failing.

We talked about options and time, and what I kept saying over and over through my tears was that I never wanted Electra to suffer. And I knew we were standing right on the edge.

I spent the rest of the day sitting beside her, feeding her all the treats and scrambled eggs she will eat (which I hate to say is not very many compared to the legendary feasts of days past).

Mostly, I spent the day just hoping like hell that we gave her a good life, because damn this dog deserves it.

For all the fun we always poked at her for being a food whore and a rabbit killer, Electra is the finest dog that ever lived (and don’t you dare try to tell me otherwise because I will fight you right now).

She never barked obsessively at nonsense like doorbells and delivery men.

She never protested our kids grabbing onto her droopy folds of skin as they pulled themselves up and found their balance and learned to walk (in fact, we often watched her position herself strategically next to them and brace herself when she saw them reaching).

She never growled or snapped or made a menacing move toward any living creature (except a few rabbits and Foerth’s dog, Indy, but we all know Indy probably deserved it).

Electra never demanded anything but love and head scratches and food.

My Aunt Jen said something on the phone today that hit me right in the heart (of course I had to reach out and ask her for some reassurance that we’re doing the right thing; she’s the best vet I know, and I trust she’ll give it to me straight and not bullshit me). She said she’s always lived by the rule that she never wanted her pets’ last day to be their worst day, and every decision she has ever made to either try and manage the effects of aging or humanely euthanize has been made with that rule in mind.

I don’t want Electra’s last day to be her worst day. Our sweet girl deserves so much more than that. She has given us her entire life—love and laughter and memories and a million beautiful moments we will never forget.

Tonight, our hearts are hurting, knowing that tomorrow might be the last time we hold Electra and watch her sitting, regal as a queen, in the grass at the top of the hill with her hound dog nose stretched up high to catch a passing scent. But there is some small comfort knowing that we can take the time to make sure tomorrow is Electra’s best day—filled with warmth and love and as many treats as her big hound dog heart desires as we say goodbye and send her home.

All I wanted was a hot cup of coffee

Our hound dog is being harassed by a bunny.

Yeah, you heard that right.

We are officially one week and one day into this mess and it just keeps getting weirder. Sit back and let me paint you a picture of what’s been going down in the Romano house these last eight days.

After a busy few weeks at work, all I was really looking forward to over the long Labor Day weekend was a chance to sit down and drink a hot cup of coffee. See, as a mom, I’m always brewing coffee and pouring myself fresh cups, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I was able to sit down and drink a full cup while it’s still hot. There’s always some interruption that pulls me away–Stevie, the kids, the dog, the doorbell, the dog running out the door because the kids opened it after one of their neighbor friends rang the doorbell. So I finally decided I was going to brew my coffee, pour a cup, and then take it outside on the patio to enjoy a little early-September sunshine and maybe even do a little writing.

I took one glorious sip before Henry came over and tapped me on the arm.

“Mommy, Electra’s digging,” he said, pointing behind me.

I didn’t even bother to turn around. On hot days, Electra will occasionally dig herself a cool spot in the dirt near the garage and flop down to snooze in the shade.

“It’s okay buddy. Digging won’t hurt anything.”

I opened my notebook and held my pen to the empty page, taking a second sip while I gathered my thoughts.

“Mommy, Electra’s got something in her mouth,” Henry said. And then I heard a muffled squeaking noise before Electra let out an excited hound dog whine.

I set my coffee on the table, tossed my notebook and pen in the empty chair beside me, and jumped up from the chair all in one frantic motion. I hollered at Henry to stay back and braced myself for whatever I was about to find. Electra has surprised us a few times over the years–digging snakes out from under lilac bushes, chasing (and sometimes killing) birds and rabbits, trapping an opossum and her babies in a dark corner of the yard. Hell, there was one night I caught her stalking a screech owl that had perched itself on the post of our chainlink fence. Luckily I managed to grab her and drag her away before she pissed the owl off and suffered any damage.

And as soon as I saw her gingerly pulling something small and brown and squeaking from a hole she’d carefully excavated in the flowerbed, I knew exactly what we were dealing with.

Electra had gone and found herself a nest of baby bunnies.

Now, if you’re new to this blog, let me give you a little bit of history…

We adopted Electra when she was just shy of a year old. Her life pre-Romanos was spent with a dozen other beagles and beagle-basset mixes living in a kennel and being trained to track rabbits. No lazy couch naps. No gourmet dog cookies. Just training and tracking and learning how to put that hound dog nose to good use finding rabbits.

Electra obviously knows how to catch a rabbit scent, and knows to make a helluva lot of noise to let us know when she’s on the trail. But we’re guessing that’s about as far as she made it in her training before she was surrendered to the Arizona Beagle Rescue and adopted by us. There’s no mistaking it when Electra starts tracking a rabbit. She puts the whole neighborhood on alert with her booming hound dog voice. But the thing with Electra is she doesn’t quite seem to understand what to actually do with the rabbits once she finds them.

Hell, half the time she’s so focused on tracking that she doesn’t even realize the damn rabbits are sitting less than two feet from her face.

Then the rabbit takes off and Electra takes off, barking and howling and hauling ass around the yard in hot pursuit. And somehow, as lazy and uncoordinated as our sweet dog is, she has managed to catch (and unfortunately kill) more than a dozen full grown rabbits. Most of the murders unfortunate incidents honestly appear to be mistakes…like she somehow managed to catch up with the rabbits when they hit a fence or took a wrong turn.

Once, Electra even managed to trap a rabbit in the space between our chainlink fence and the neighbors wooden fence and all of her excitement and barking scared the damn thing to death. She spent the rest of the afternoon whining  and crying like she’d just lost a dear old friend.

But baby bunnies? Totally different story.

Electra has managed to find two rabbit nests in her life. And both times, all she wants to do is pull all of the babies gently out of the nest so she can lick them and love them and apparently make them her own.

Poor sweet hound. She just doesn’t seem to understand that’s not how it works.

So, I managed to grab Electra by the collar and wrestle her away from the nest. She’d only had a chance to pull one baby out and drop it gently in the grass. Behind me, Henry was squealing.

“Oh look at the baby! He’s so cute! Look at the baby rabbit Mommy!”

“Don’t touch the baby, H. Just stay back. We gotta get Electra away and help him.”

Henry followed close behind as I pushed Electra back in the house and grabbed a pair of gardening gloves from the garage.

“What are you doing Mommy?” he asked. “You helping the baby?”

“Yep, I’m helping the baby. We gotta get the baby back in his nest so his Mommy will come back.”

The baby was squirming and trying to burrow into the lawn. I nudged gently, looking for any sign of blood or broken bones. But other than a thin layer of dog slobber, the little guy seemed to be in good shape. He made little clucking noises and kicked his legs as I scooped him gently into my gloved hands. I peered into the hole in the flower bed and saw three other little bunnies huddled together, so I carefully laid Electra’s baby on top of the pile. He wiggled and snuggled back in with the others.

Then I gathered the scattered piles of dry grass and tried to rebuild the nest the best I could. Inside the house Electra was howling in protest.

“Okay H-man, we gotta stay away from the babies now that they’re back in the nest. And we gotta keep Electra away, okay?”

“Okay,” Henry agreed.

I grabbed Electra’s old tie-out chain from the shelf in the garage and wrapped it around one of the trees on the opposite side of the patio. Stretched taut, she would be at least five feet away from the bunnies. I figured that was as good as it was going to get, and as long as Mama Rabbit would come back, we might be able to watch these babies grow and bid them farewell with no casualties. I reached out to a local wildlife rescue to make sure we had a solid plan, and a very helpful lady named Vikki told me all would be well if we could keep Electra away for a week or two.

For the next few days, we kept Electra on her chain and left the nest undisturbed. We even saw Mama Rabbit come back a few times to check in on the babies. All was well, right up until Friday evening when someone let Electra out without putting her on her chain.

(I’ve got two guesses…ahem…Cadence and Henry)

And then, the nest was empty. No sign of Mama Rabbit or the babies (and thankfully no sign of any carnage either). So, we assumed that we’d seen the last of our little rabbit friends, and wished them well.

Now this is where shit started to get weird.

Saturday morning, approximately 7:30 am – Cadence bursts into our room yelling that Electra is barking really loud and there’s a bunny on the patio. Sure enough, one of the bunnies is hiding behind the stack of plastic patio chairs. With Electra safely wrangled in the house, we manage to shoo Baby Bunny into a small box, fill the box with some of the discarded nest, and place the box in the flowerbed near the original nest hoping Mama and Baby will figure this shit out. Baby hangs out in the box most of the day and then disappears mid-afternoon.

Saturday night, approximately 9:30 pm – Electra has her last meal of the day and we put her out on her chain, just in case. Lots of barking and whining, so obviously Mama or Babies (or both) are somewhere close by.

Sunday morning, approximately 11:00 am – Electra goes into full-blown tracking mode and everyone in Southeast Lincoln knows it. It’s been a long time since Electra has tracked this hard (she’s honestly gotten way lazy in her old age) and the kids think it’s hilarious, so I pull out my phone and start recording. As I try to get in front of Electra and get some good video, I suddenly look down and see Baby hiding in plain sight, burrowed in a patch of long grass near the tree trunk less than six inches from Electra’s nose. That’s me almost dropping my phone as I quickly grab Electra to pull her away. (And what I really should have been recording was the next 10-15 minutes of us shooing the Baby over to the side of the yard away from Electra’s chain. Every time Baby would jump, Henry would squeal and Cadence would holler and laugh. It was like a slapstick scene straight out of a Carol Burnett Show special).

Sunday afternoon, approximately 1:30 pm – I come down from putting Henry down for a nap and hear Electra going nuts in the back yard. Cadence let her out and forgot to put her on the chain. I go around the side of the house near the gate and Electra is trying her damndest to shove her face between the brick garage wall and the chainlink fence post. On closer inspection, I see Baby Bunny oh so casually lying in a patch of overgrown grass near the garage about a foot from Electra’s slobbery face. Electra spends the next four hours whining and pleading with Baby Bunny to please just come a little bit closer. You gotta give Electra credit for being persistent.

Sunday night, approximately 11:00 pm – Heading to bed late (always a bad idea when you’ve got work the next morning) and I put Electra out one more time. She’s off-chain because I couldn’t imagine the rabbits would actually return after being so thoroughly shepherded out of the yard. Suddenly, Electra’s hound dog voice is echoing in the darkness. I pull on my slippers and head outside. She’s on a fresh scent in the yard. It’s late, and I can’t indulge her anymore, so I grab her collar and haul her into the house. I turn around and Baby Bunny is sitting on the edge of patio, not three feet from the back door, just hanging out like he owns the place. He doesn’t even move when I grab my phone to snap a picture. I’m starting to think Electra might have a stalker, or this poor Baby is all sorts of confused and thinks Electra might be his mother.

Today (Monday) noon – Stevie comes home for lunch, let’s Electra out, and she’s tracking again. Baby is back and exploring the yard.

Today (Monday), approximately 7:00 pm – Electra is trying again to shove her face between the brick garage wall and the chainlink fence post to lick Baby Bunny who is hiding in the grass less than eight inches away.

Today (Monday), approximately 7:30 pm – Doorbell rings. It’s Cadence and the neighbor girls telling us that Electra got out of the yard when one of the other neighbor boys opened the gate. Baby Bunny is gone. Electra is tracking like crazy.

Tonight (Monday), approximately 10:00 pm – Stevie puts Electra out and notices Mama Rabbit is hanging out in the yard, so he hooks Electra to her chain. Mama Rabbit hops away without Electra even noticing. Now Electra is tracking in the yard and occasionally howling when she catches a whiff of a fresh scent.

At this point, Stevie and I are convinced that these rabbits are just screwing with our dog. I guess we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

To be continued?…

Day 151 – Pathetic

These days it’s almost impossible to find time to write. There’s just too much going on. And in the moments where nothing is happening (which are few and usually quite late in the evenings), I just can’t quite seem to corral my thoughts and make much sense of anything. I hate that. Yet, I haven’t been able to find a way to remedy it.

I used to be able to write anywhere, anytime. I used to be able to shut out the distractions and throw a harness on my thoughts to bring out at least a few pages of something.

But somehow, I’ve just fallen way out of practice. Life has gotten busier, and a whole lot more complicated.  The distractions have grown larger and more persistent. So, I’m left with half-formed, mushy thoughts that never quite make it fully-formed and onto the page.

Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.

The words are just getting lost. I can’t explain it. And that inner critic is barking loudly.

“You’re kidding yourself.”

“You don’t have any ideas. No original thoughts.”

“No one wants to hear what you have to say anyway.”

“Do us all a favor and just give it up already.”

“You’re no writer. Writers write things. You’re not writing shit.”

And repeat.

But my thoughts keep returning to the unfinished manuscripts, the projects that keep getting shoved aside because everything else keeps taking priority. And the new ideas keep coming too, but I just can’t carve out the time to devote to any of them. I hate myself for it. I’ve never been my best when I’m not writing. Somehow the world just spins on its side and feels unbalanced.

I hate sounding like such a fucking whiner. If you want to write, fucking write. Stop blaming the world for not having enough time and admit that you’re to blame for wasting a lot of the time you could be putting pen to paper.

I think the problem is that I’m waiting for the perfect words to come. I’m waiting or some epic inspiration, some magi that will ignite the pen in my hand and burn words onto the page that will somehow change the world.

The blank page has gotten the best of the, and it’s as if I am suddenly incapable of finding a way to turn the tables and re-establish myself as the one in charge.

But I’ll keep going. I’ll keep writing. Because if I’m nothing else, I’m too stubborn to really quit.

Day 147 – Memorial Day

To all the brave men and women who sacrifice their lives so my family and I can live and enjoy ours, thanks will never be enough.

Day 143 – Cloudburst

What happens when you decide to ignore the ominous skies and walk to a local bakery with your colleagues to grab a few treats for the office?

You spend the rest of the afternoon working on a damp sweater and slacks because the sky opened up when you were still two-and-a-half blocks from the office.

Rabbit Hole Bakery…your coffee cake was totally worth it.

%d bloggers like this: