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.

Day 66 – The evolution of Electra

You know, there was a time when we first got Electra that we worried she was mute. Electra wasn’t even a year old when we adopted her from the Arizona Beagle Rescue, and she was the calmest, most laidback dog Stevie and I had ever seen. We first met her at a foster mom’s house in Goodyear. Electra and a dozen other beagle and beagle/basset mixes ended up being rescued after their owner had a heart attack and was told by his doctors that he needed to get rid of all the pups he was training to track rabbits. Electra had gone to a foster home with six other young beagles, and when we walked up to the door and rang the doorbell, both Stevie and I jumped when full pack of crazy hound dogs started jumping and howling and falling over each other trying to greet us and lick us and sniff our pockets for hidden treats as we edged our way into the living room.

It was mass chaos.

But across the room, sitting demurely in the corner and staring at us with a pair of big brown eyes, was our sweet Electra. She just sat, watching, quietly waiting her turn. When we called her name she walked over, put her paws up on my thighs and invited me to scratch behind her floppy brown ears.

Five minutes later, we signed the adoption papers and took her home.

For the first six months or so, we honestly wondered if something was wrong with her. She wasn’t like any other puppy we’d ever known. She would occasionally get up and play and run around, but she never really barked or growled or made any kind of noise. And she was lazy as hell, right from the beginning, preferring to snuggle up in your lap and take long naps and follow us slowly from room to room, flopping down on the floor at our feet as soon as we stopped moving.

Hell, she even faked a leg injury to keep me from taking her for walks. Apparently she didn’t appreciate the pace I demanded, which is an average (and maybe even slightly slower than average) walking pace. But Electra simply isn’t interested in doing anything except meandering at a snail’s pace around the neighborhood, nose glued to the ground.

At that point, we were honestly thinking maybe Electra couldn’t bark. When we were going through the adoption process, we’d heard that there were several beagles at the rescue whose former owners had the dog’s voice boxes surgically removed because they couldn’t stand the way the beagle’s howled and barked.

No joke. That’s actually a thing some people think it’s okay to do to a pet. Pricks.

But the folks at AZBR assured us that Electra was in perfect health and there was no sign her former owner had done anything of the sort. In fact, before he had to surrender Electra, she was being trained to hunt and track rabbits, which meant she had actually been rewarded for catching a rabbit’s scent and then signaling her victory would a good ol’ hound dog howl.

The first time we ever heard Electra voice, we didn’t even know it was her. She’d been out in the backyard for awhile, when all of a sudden we heard a booming, rhythmic bark that was so loud and deep it rattled the windows. We went outside, thinking one of our neighbors must have a new pet, but all we saw was Electra, nose bouncing along over the ground and making some weird wah-wah-wah-wah sound, sort of like a small helicopter, her tail wagging so hard her entire ass-end was swaying back and forth and damn near knocking her off-balance. Outside, the barking was so loud it was echoing, and it wasn’t until Stevie walked right up beside Electra that he realized she was the one making all the noise. We tried calling to her, tugging on her collar, promising her cookies, but there was no stopping her until the scent ran out.

There was something about Electra’s deep, booming bark that just cracked me up, so I thought it might be funny to actually teach her to bark on command. And knowing how food whorish motivated she is, I decided to train her to bark on command and reward her with dog cookies and bits of kibble.

Worked like a charm.

But it also wasn’t long before I realized I’d unleashed a beast. As soon as Electra discovered that she could actually be rewarded with food for barking, she decided that it was perfectly acceptable to let us know LOUDLY each and every time she felt it was time for breakfast or lunch or dinner or second and third dinner (I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that we have to feed this ridiculous hound five small meals a day to keep her from acting sullen and waking us up every couple hours through the night).

And now that she’s entered her senior years and she’s getting old and ornery like a Betty White sort of old lady who just doesn’t give a f*** anymore and will do whatever the hell she wants, Electra does not give two shits whether we yell at her or scold her or plead for her to stop. She just announces her hunger and her impatience like this:

If she wasn’t such a great dog otherwise, this would be really annoying. 😉

Love you Electra!

Day 25 – Escape Room

We’re closing in on Electra turning 11, and it’s getting harder to deny, our sweet hound is getting old. Obviously we noticed it in her face, as it slowly turned from mostly brown to mostly white. And this past year or so, she has turned into brash old lady who just doesn’t give a fu** about anything but trying to live her best life. And that roughly translates into her being more stubborn than usual and completely disregarding any rules we try to set in place to quash her food-whoring ways.

I imagine Betty White is her spirit human.

Most recently, though, her give-no-shits attitude has prompted her to attempt slow-motion jailbreaks. This morning, while we were attempting to get the kids wrangled and out the door to load up the car, Electra quietly sauntered out the door with us. Luckily Stevie managed to wrangle her back into the house with the promise of a cookie.

Less than 10 minutes later, as Stevie was pulling out of the driveway with the kids, I stepped out the garage door to start my car, and didn’t notice that the door stayed open a crack behind me. The next thing I knew, Electra was out the door again and heading for the driveway. I hollered and grabbed her collar and promised her another cookie if she would just get her ass inside.

I mean seriously, what does this dog think she’s doing? It’s 8 degrees out, a foot of snow on the ground, and God knows there is no way she’s going to go out there and find another family who is going to stick to her ridiculous feeding schedule.

I honestly don’t think she would make it far. This old girl has about two blocks of stamina in her. But hey, at least she still has enough spunk left in her to try, right? Even if she gives me a mild heart attack every time she tries to escape, part of me is kinda proud that she is the type of dog who, even in her ripe old age, will see her opportunity and take it.

Day 6 – A day of rest

Sundays are for resting. Electra takes this very seriously.

You know, we could learn a few things from this hound.

Me and my shadow

Among her many…uh…quirks, Electra seems to have a teensy little bit of separation anxiety. And by teensy, I mean that she has a tendency to lie on our shoes when we try to put them on in the morning in a cunning attempt to keep us from walking out the door. She howls (eardrum-shattering, the-neighbors-probably-think-we’re-killing-her howls) when we come home, whenever we come home, whether we’ve been gone a week or 10 minutes. And just the sight of a suitcase (whether we’re packing it or rearranging the closet) can send her straight into a frenzy. She follows us around the house, wide-eyed and panting, refusing to let us out of her sight.

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