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Monday, February 27, 2017

Moving On

I just threw that key in the trash. It's been on my key ring longer than any other key. It's the key to my parents' house in McKinney... a house that's in the process of not being theirs anymore, as they've been signing papers for the past 8 minutes that transfer ownership to someone else. But more about that in a few.

After my sister and I graduated from high school and moved away from Van Buren, AR, my dad was transferred with his work from Fort Smith to Las Vegas, Nevada. A year or so later, my first husband and I moved from Siloam Springs to Las Vegas for his work. Several years later, my sister and her family relocated to Las Vegas from the OKC area.

In the mid-2000s, my family moved to north Texas for a job. A couple of years later, you guessed it, my parents also took advantage of the tail end of the real estate bubble in Vegas and moved to McKinney.  Soon after, literally a week before they were set to move to Colorado, my sister's family moved to a fairly nearby town.

Then in 2012, my sister's family and I moved to Austin (separated by a couple of weeks). It has taken four and a half years, but my parents decided to move to Temple to be within a more reasonable driving distance of their grandkids.

I might be wrong, but I feel like this is it for all of us. I feel like we're all here for the duration. My sister has two kids in early elementary at TSD, so they're tied to the town for at least a decade. That, plus my brother-in-law owns a local business. For us, we just bought a house. We want to be here at least until Mal grows up and we're old enough to be overwhelmed by the yard (which I feel will definitely happen). As for my parents, they picked a place close to a set of doctors with whom they feel comfortable, preparing for increased need as they age, should that arise. Oh, and they have friends in the area, too.

So, here's something kind of interesting about the lady who's buying my parents' house: First of all, they had multiple offers, including one from a developer. Even though that's often seen as a "sure thing," my parents went with a private offer, the first one they received (if I recall correctly). It's neat because the lady who's buying the house is a single mom and a nurse. She has a 5-year-old son who will love the neighborhood, the multiple playgrounds within walking distance, and the other kids who live there. I'm proud that my parents considered the well-being of their neighbors when they decided to take a chance on a private loan instead of going with an investor. I know, I know; I've been a renter, and I am not looking down on tenants. But in that area, they're having happen what happened in Las Vegas: big companies opening, people moving into town, developers buying stuff up to rent and/or flip, and the property values plummet. So now, everybody wins. I hope the nurse and her child have many happy times in the house and in the area.

Here's something I found shocking, though: The lady had written my parents a letter, and included a picture of her kid. She talked about how she could picture him running around in the yard, and how much they would enjoy the space. Have you ever written a letter like that when making an offer on a house? We have. We were told it helps your chances in the event of multiple offers. Well, guess what? My parents weren't shown the letter until after they'd made their decision! Yikes! Just something to keep in mind... just because YOUR Realtor has you do this, that doesn't guarantee that THEIR Realtor is going to show it to the sellers.

Anyway, it looks like this year my mom might get her wish to have the whole family at her house on Christmas. Moving on...

Friday, February 24, 2017

This is Going to Make You More Uncomfortable than It Does Me...

This summer, I'm having a pretty big birthday. It's the one that will move me into a whole other echelon when I am filling out questionnaires. That's right: 45.

After the whole back injury thing that was ushered in with my 40s, my other effects of aging seem tame, but I'm experiencing some, nonetheless.

For instance: I'm probably within a year of needing reading glasses. Only when my contacts are in; correcting for myopia renders my close-in focus difficult. When my contacts are out, I have super amazing microvision. So, basically, I'm going to need to put on glasses to read when I'm wearing contacts, and take off my glasses ot read when I'm not.

My hearing is still right on, but you can bet that as soon as I seem to be losing it, I'll fix that right up with hearing aids. I have a young kid, and I don't want to miss a thing. I want to hear it all, not just pretend to kind of get what's going on.

My point, I guess, is that rather than stubbornly denying "signs of aging," I plan to lean in and use whatever technology is available to me to allow me to thrive as long as is possible.

And it's interesting to me how we, as humans, tend to treat these physical changes as something almost shameful. Why do we do that? We're persevering, but we act like wounded pack animals, seeking to hide any perceived weakness from everyone else.

All of this to say that what I'm about to tell you, some people are going to feel is TMI. If you're prone to wonder, "Why is XYZ talking about THIS?!" then you might just want to check on out right now.

Okay. Everyone else still with me? Great.

You might remember last year I ordered and reviewed Thinx. They've been remarkable. Really, as much a game-changer as the Diva Cup. So, I ordered this week from Thinx's sister company, Icon.

I have done a bazillion Kegels in my life, especially around the times of my pregnancies and deliveries, but a combination, likely, of having Mal and being in my 40s has resulted in a miscommunication between my body and my brain. It's like my brain will realize, "Oh, hey, I need to go to the bathroom" and something about consciously thinking of the place makes my body go, "Okay, so right now?" Nooo!

It's interesting: The only time we talk about incontinence is when it's in a medical context, or when it's being joked about. Like, "I laughed so hard, I peed myself a little" or if a comedian is riffing on getting old... However, when it actually happens, and especially as it becomes obvious that it's not a one-off or a two-off, it's not funny at all. It's confusing and frustrating and more than a little embarrassing. Because, like, yeah, I was potty trained for all of these years, so why is my body betraying me now?

When my Pepa was alive and I'd offer to get things at the store for my Mema, she'd ask me to buy two things usually: Ensure and adult diapers. After Pepa passed away, though, I'd offer the same and she might have me pick up several things for her... but once, the day after I'd gone to the store, I saw her at Walmart with adult diapers in her cart. She quickly threw her jacket over them and I, of course, didn't say anything. But why are we like that? Why are we shamed by what's obviously normal bodily functions?

So I bought the "pee-proof" underwear. Because I will need to start carrying an extra set of pants for Mal pretty soon, and I don't want to have to do that for myself. 'Cause stuff happens when you're out and about: You're heading to the restroom and find it's full, or one of the stalls is unexpectedly locked. You have to walk through the detergent aisle to get there, and you have a sneezing fit. Or you're just suddenly surprised by the realization that you really need to go. Like three minutes ago.

And I'm sharing this with you, why? I don't want it to be a "deal." Stuff is big and scary and embarrassing when we're trying to hide it. So I'm just putting it out there. I think it'll be great, and turn this into a non-issue. The Thinx really has! Which is cool, because it's freaking expensive. But it's cheaper and easier than the disposable alternatives.

You guys have to promise to tell me when I need to stop driving, too. I want to be graceful and easy on myself as I age. Actually, I probably should never have started driving. But it's too late to fix that now.

I plan to stay around as long as possible, and I want to be fully present in each minute, so here's to being realistic and leaning into the stuff that will help!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Big Little Kid

When we took the dog in for the contractually-mandated check-up this week, I had Mal sit on the animal scale. He weighs 38 pounds, which is off the charts for his age, and is the 100th percentile for a new 3-year-old. Oh, and everyone at the vet's office thought he was a girl. We get that a lot.

An early-morning lie-in with all the gang.

Today at storytime, the librarian asked me when Mal would turn 3. When I said, "Late September," she sounded surprised. "Oh! He's just two; he's very smart."

While it's a maternal instinct to glow with pride at this sort of statement, I have to wonder: What qualifies a 2-year-old as "smart"? That he knows colors? That he appropriately asks, "Are you nervous?" That he knows only to eat glue when grown-ups aren't looking? That he can play the violin? Seriously, what's "smart," really, for any kid?

I'm a firm believer that everyone has areas in which they are just more impressive at things than others in their peer group. Some of those things are less overt, or just not too sexy, so don't seem as impressive. But when that adorable 5-year-old can sit in the chair next to Ellen and talk about the chemical properties of nitrous oxide, that makes people sit up and notice. "She's so smart!"

But, as good as she is at memorizing, and how I hope she actually has fun "learning" that stuff, does that mean she's any smarter than the kid who eats glue whether grown-ups are watching or not? And, even if a kid is smarter than the average kid, does that even matter? Are they happier? Are they going to have a better life? Are they going to be more empathetic?

I guess, to me, "smartness" is kind of like "beauty." Okay, but kind of ho-hum. There are lots of things I'd rather my kids be than "smart." I mean, smart's fine, too. But altruistic, helpful, generous, hard-working, honest, sincere... There are just a lot of things that mean more to me.

Oh, and funny. That's a big one. Fortunately, I hit the jackpot on that one with this little guy. As much as he exhausts me, he also cracks me up multiple times a day. It almost makes up for how tired I am.

No, it doesn't. I'm going to bed.

Friday, February 17, 2017

It's a Magical World (or There's Treasure Everywhere, whichever title you prefer I steal)

I have smiled and laughed a lot this week. Amazing things have happened. Not win-a-new-car-and-a-trip-to-Hawaii-level stuff, but just things that remind me the there are sparkly moments to be had even in the tedium of otherwise unremarkable life.

So, in no particular order:

1) Our new dog jumped up onto my car.

2) A 9-ish-year-old girl walking into the grocery store with her dad. She was wearing a bubblegum pink poodle skirt, a bright primary-colored tie-dye shirt, and a straw cowboy hat. She felt beautiful, and she was.

3) Mal and I were in the back yard, and I heard what I thought was a breeze kicking up, but didn't feel it and didn't see any trees blowing. Mal pointed into the sky above my head and said, "Birdies!" I looked up and probably 75 small birds were flying over, low enough and populous enough that we could hear the "whoosh" of their collective wings cutting through the air.

4) There is a fishing tournament at the lake this weekend, and this morning, I got to see (and hear) the boats heading out.

5) Mal is getting super demonstrative, and several times after my having been gone for a few minutes, jumps into my arms, wraps his legs around my waist, puts his head on my shoulder, and squeezes me.

6) So. many. butterflies.

7) Spending time out in the grotto with James, Mal, and Shelby, taking only the kind of pictures Jim and Pam took at their wedding. Shelby loved it and was running around scaring me to death.

There is more, but one of the other joys of my life calls... :) I'll add more later.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Exhaustion, but a Small Victory

It's 3:53, and today has looked like this:

1) Made Mal "stinky eggs" (scrambled), per his request.
2) Read a few books.
3) Got Mal dressed.
4) Took the dog on a walk, pushing Mal in his tricycle/stroller.
5) Drove to storytime at the library.
6) Went to CVS in Lago Vista for cheap Valentine's candy.
7) Got into the car, strapped Mal in, and realized I was charged full price for a $10.99 item I'm going to end up having to take back, but it wasn't worth it at that moment.
8) Took Mal to eat on the patio at the Lago Vista Sonic, but they were doing work on the power pole just beside the restaurant, and it was too noisy, so we waited for our food and came home.
9) Ate lunch on OUR patio, on our turquoise table.
10) Went outside with Mal to try out the bubbles I'd gotten at CVS, and almost immediately, he inhaled when he was supposed to blow on the pipe, and he got a mouth full of soap bubble mix. Tried to grab his hands and bring him inside for water and to clean, but too late. He gagged himself and threw up the pink marshmallow Peep hearts he'd just eaten. Finally got him in, water down his throat, and hands washed. Went outside, dumped water on the slimy soap barf. Came back in for more water. Was filling a bucket and heard Mal crying. Went back out, and he'd "cleaned" up even more... by dumping the bubble liquid (I'd left open) all over the patio to clean some more. And he was crying, "More bubbles." Told him to wait, poured about 6 buckets of water onto the patio, came back in, mixed some dishwashing liquid with water, and went back out to try again. That worked okay temporarily, but I was stressed because, first, it's about that time of the month and, second, the stuff that had just happened... and Mal kept dropping the bubble kazoo down all the way into the mixture, thus ensuring there would be soap on his hands and in his mouth. Ugh.
11) Mowed the back yard while Mal watched Peg + Cat. Tried at first to get him to come out to play, but the practically silent (in comparison) electric lawn mower freaked him out. Like he got up and sat in his water table to make sure it wouldn't get him. It was nowhere near him. I'm not a monster.
12) Came back in and went through the mail, then spent 20 minutes popping bubble wrap with Mal.
13) Mopped the whole house.
14) Took out the trash and recycling.
15) Ordered pasta and chicken for my family from Domino's because I'm officially done with this day.

It hasn't been a bad day, just a long and full one. I'm looking forward to seeing James, and to his being home all weekend.

But I had to share this because it was awesome, and because it happened twice, so I don't think it was a fluke.

First, I have to admit something to you: The other day at the grocery store, I was putting stuff onto the conveyer to check out when Mal grabbed a Hershey's Cookies and Cream bar and had put it (wrapped) into his mouth before I could stop him. I took it from him... and didn't buy it. Because, I'm sorry, but if you're going to put that stuff right there where kids can grab it, you can deal with one loss. Sigh.

Anyhoo, today was a different story.

At CVS, I was looking at sale Valentine's Day candy, and Mal came around the corner with a king-sized Snicker's bar. I said, "Mal, we're getting other candy. Please put that back." And. he. did.

Later, when I was checking out, he saw those big round suckers and grabbed one to bring to me. I said, "I got marshmallow hearts for you. You can have one in the car. Please put the sucker back." And. he. did.

Two times in about four minutes. And no arguing. Just did it. Whew. Maybe we're getting somewhere!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Super Full Saturday

Yesterday, we got a *lot* done.

First up, I baked three types of cookies during the morning, having prepared everything else slowly over the week so I wouldn't be stressed out.

I had the idea to host a Valentine's cookie "open house"/porch, actually, The timing was perfect that just a few days earlier, a Turquoise Table had become available through ReWork Project. They delivered it Thursday, and it's a perfect splash of fun color on our front porch. Since we moved in, we have set up the outdoor couch, and that side of the porch, which I used to think was the most boring, is now the most fun...

See? Day or night, it's a party!

And did I mention I'd made a whole crapton of cookies?

Red velvet with cream cheese frosting!

Strawberry white chocolate Rice Krispie treats!

Brownie bites 4 ways!

Sugar cookies with icing and my brain-created apple cider chocolate ganache.

Snickerdoodles with some pink sugar and cinnamon.

Chocolate chip cookies

Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies
We got everything fixed up and plated. I didn't know how many people to expect, so I had a plan: I put half of each type of cookie on two different plates, and I'd put one plate out at 2, and if a cookie were really popular and went fast, I could still put a second plate out at 3 for latecomers. I knew that was pretty ambitious, but had no idea how many people to expect, so that's why our kitchen table looked like this:

Before we went out to lunch, I stuck a plate of cookies into the mailbox for our letter carrier. She'd left me a note last week reprimanding me for putting some fliers in mailboxes, so...

After lunch, Mal and I went on a little walk around the neighborhood, then I set up the table.

We did have several visitors, and it was great to get to speak with each of them: First was a retired art teacher from one street over, who brought us a hand-drawn welcome card. While she was here, the Saturday alternate letter carrier came, and stepped out of her car to let me know she'd make sure our regular carrier got the cookies. So we invited her over for some cookies, too, and she said she was glad she got the route that day. Next, we met a couple who lives several streets over. They have been here, or at least the wife has, since 1979. She told us about the "Slim" whose name we've seen on a concrete slab and a big rock in the back yard. "Slim's" was a pool hall that he had built onto the back of his house (which was here, but it was a different house) when the pool hall on 1431 closed down and he felt bad that the local teens didn't have anywhere to hang out.

We also met a lady who lives on our way to the library, and she keeps her 3-year-old grandson on Wednesdays, so she might bring him over to play with Mal one day soon. And toward the end, another lady who lives right on the lake came by, a whirlwind of energy and words.

It was a neat couple of hours. In between guests, we hung around outside, anyway... sometimes just me, sometimes James would come out, and sometimes Mal would, too. We saw a lot of butterflies in the back yard. We're getting a lawn mower this week, but as long as the butterflies are here, I don't want to mow down the "weeds" they're enjoying.

Not a butterfly, but pretty cute.
As hopefully "first annual"s go, this wasn't too shabby. I learned a lot, and here's what I'm going to implement next year:

1) Invest in a sturdy, large sandwich board sign (or make one) that I can reuse every year.
2) Send invitations via the USPS, like officially, with a stamp and stuff.
3) Advertise early, then with personal messages, on (I only thought of this the night before!)
4) Talk to people I see out and about and invite them personally.

Most of the people who showed up were either people with whom I'd connected verbally or online, with only one lady seeing the sign and assuming she was welcomed.

I made cookie plates for several neighbors, and so we got to chat with more people, too. A few seemed to know we were having a thing, so either they were busy, just didn't want to come, or didn't feel comfortable. I'll think on that to try to figure out before next year; if you (especially introverts) have any ideas, let me know!

If we can get a pretty good turnout next year, and the next year, and it becomes a "thing," I might make it a "cookie potluck." I think I maxed out on the number of cookies. I can do it again next year, but I probably can't handle more, unless little dude decides he wants in on the action, or goes to see Nana and Pappy for a few days. I was fortunate that he "let me" get as much done as I did.

My husband wrote this blog post about what happened next, so I don't have to rehash it! Except I will say that I did *not* complain in the car the whole way, and that my husband is an ass. It happens to be a very nice ass, so I let him get away with it. But otherwise, his description is pretty accurate.

I only got a few "phone pictures" yesterday, so thus far, the best picture we have of Shelby is probably one of the couple I took this morning when she was hanging out with Mal in the master bedroom.

I'll try to get more pictures of her later. She does stuff, like stand up and walk around (a lot; she's a follower, AKA "Velcro dog"). And she seems to like walks.

This morning on the way to church, I was thinking, "This dog is seven years old and has been cared for very well. Her teeth are gorgeous; she doesn't have doggie breath; she's in perfect shape and with no scars or abrasions (other than the spay scar)... She's microchipped. What if she got away and the owners just hadn't updated their information? James seems to think that when she's outside, she's trying to find her way back home. What if it's our job to help her?"

So I scoured the internet for "lost Catahoula" in the Austin area(s)... for a long time. Then, we finally got through the paperwork we received at the adoption and were able to put this together:

Until last Tuesday, this dog had a home. She had someone to care for her. She had a name - that almost certainly was not Shelby. I tried random names all afternoon, and none of them caught her attention. Tuesday, for whatever reason, she was voluntarily surrendered by her owner to Austin Animal Center. On Wednesday, she was given her necessary shots, and tested (negative) for heartworm. On Thursday, she was microchipped. On Friday, she was transferred to the Austin Humane Society. Saturday, she had to endure what was likely the most busy day the Humane Society has ever had, as there were city-wide free pet adoptions.

James mentioned that she was "sleeping" when we saw her. I watched her. Her breath was shallow. She was so stressed. During our initial meeting with her, she seemed to want to connect with James, but she was clearly overwhelmed by the noise and the people and the barking... she was more bothered by it than Mal, and he didn't like it much.

But Saturday night, we brought her home. James thinks she's been around cats a lot and was more emotionally hurt than physically when Rudy flew at her. But the way she horned in behind me, shaking... she was scared. She knew, though, that the place to go was to a human... so she's been loved, protected.

It hasn't even been a week since her world changed, and so much has happened to her.

So she might think we're nice people, and so much better than the noisy places... but who knows how long it will take her to feel at home? We've gotten tail wags, and she's equally happy to see everyone over the age of 3 in our household (Mal just jumps everywhere, including up in her face, and I don't think she's used to that)... But it's just going to take some time.

The good stuff: She is such a kitten of a dog. More than 24 hours, and she hasn't barked once. She is NOISY, but only when she sleeps. She "growl/snores". Like every exhale sounds like a growl! She and James are the perfect bedfellows. She also has not been retaliatory to the cats, being very leery of them at times, and even trying to make friends with Carol at one point. Well, and Rudy earlier today. Rudy's not ready yet. None of them are. But they'll get there. Also, she and Aish had a disagreement over the cat food (both wanted it, and both at the same time) and though neither was too happy, there was also nothing more than some heated stare thrown by Aish.

Shelby is nervous about Mal, but just backs away from him, with no worrisome nervous behaviors like "tittering" or lip-curling or "play" snapping or anything. (And, yes, we are doing due diligence keeping them always supervised, and teaching Mal how to treat the dog who is almost twice as big but so skittish about this little energetic human.) She knows "sit." She seems to know how to SPELL "sit," because when I was telling D about it but didn't actually want her to sit, I spelled it instead, and she... sat. She's great on a lead, which is good because she's a tank. She likes to explore a bit on walks, but I found today that one can stop that simply by jogging and letting her go faster. I am not sure whether that's good or bad, because... ugh, jogging. Plus, when I was running down the middle of the street in my church clothes, singing a song about how Shelby loves jogging even though Mommy hates it, I'm pretty sure our sweet elderly neighbor thought I was nutso. But, truly, he has no idea.

This morning, when Mal and I were leaving for church, Shelby wanted to get outside for a while. James was going to walk her, but needed to do something in the house, so I got her leash and took her out. She REALLY wanted to go somewhere in the car, but I just put Mal in and shut the door. Then this dog straight-up jumped onto the hood of my car, put her paws on the roof, and was looking all around, like she was trying to get a lay of the land.

Our next obstacle is what to do Tuesday: we have an appointment in town and need to be gone for about 2 hours. A kennel for this dog would be hugely expensive, but we don't trust the family dynamic yet. So we can close her into our bedroom, with her food and water, and hope for the best... but we really love that bed. So we'll see what we can come up with between now and then.

Otherwise, after the fluff-up last night, it's been a relatively smooth transition so far. Hoping tomorrow eases inter-species' tensions even more, and soon this sweet Shelby girl can't imagine living anywhere else.

There are three pets in this picture. Click on it to blow it up. :D

Saturday, February 11, 2017

New Family Member

We've been talking about getting a dog since we decided to buy Slim's Grotto. We've gone back and forth about what general breed to get.

I think Laura and I mostly agree that AKC "standards" are generally awful because of all the inbreeding and the drive to focus on appearance. I think there are only 2 breeds that haven't been ruined by this: greyhounds and the police version of German shepherds.

Beyond that, it's my opinion that your best bet for a great dog is a mutt that you pick up from a shelter.

I've already been through the arguments about the pros and cons of a "pure-bred" dog with papers. I get the point behind the idea that you can do a lot about designing a puppy's temperament and adult size by carefully selecting a parent.

Personally, I think the problems that tend to come with the narrow breeding lines outweigh any of those benefits. This is why I strongly prefer mutts.

Laura organized an open house sort of thing today where she baked about 4 tons of cookies and invited all our neighbors over to meet us. One of them talked about their dog, which came from the pound. They're sure it has some shar-pei, because of the tiny little ears. They've been told it's part chow, because it has a black tongue. Other than that, my guess is as good as theirs. And I've never even seen the thing.

But, still. There are some basic behaviors and traits that tend to go along with different breeds. Rotts are going to be protective, golden retrievers tend to be super-friendly, Basset hounds are clowns, chihuahuas are annoying and yappy. When you mix the breeds, you get a mix of the stereotypes.

That's why most insurance companies won't cover pit bull mixes. It's neither right nor fair, but that's the current reality.

Anyway. Laura really loves sight hounds, and would love to adopt another greyhound. I'd like a dog that's sturdy enough to tromp through the woods with us without breaking a leg, though everything I've heard about greyhounds tells me I'd love to have one.

This weekend, PetCo teamed up with the Austin shelters to pay for all the adoptions. We aren't really settled in enough yet to add a dog to the mix. But there's also the "you'll never really be ready" factor, and we both agree that every little boy needs a dog.

A decent-size dog. Because little dogs suck.

So we started looking last night, just in case we ran across a free one we couldn't pass up.

Austin Pets Alive is pretty much *the* charity for this sort of thing. At least around here. It's a no-kill shelter (or maybe an entire family of them?) that's just totally awesome.

So we checked out their website. It has some checkboxes you can use to narrow down the selection (which is huge). The main filters that mattered to us are about how friendly they are with cats, children, and their energy level.

So I tried the kid filter at the "might be OK, but we either don't have any experience or the reviews have been mixed" level. That narrowed the hundreds of options down to around 30.

The few that weren't pit bull mixes were chihuahuas. I think there were 2 that might have possibly worked, but neither appealed to either of us.

I was ready to call it quits there, but Laura's insistent about finding ways to make her life more difficult.

So we also checked out the Austin Humane Society. Which had a catahoula (mix?) that sounded promising. I can't find the ad for her now, but the part we both liked was a recommendation about a "low-stress" household.

I've been around catahoulas before, and I know they're awesome. Although they can take a lot of work that we don't have the time/energy for.

But Laura likes to be thorough, so she also had me look at the third shelter ring in the area. I don't remember its name now, though it would be easy enough to look up.

They had a dog that sounded awesome to me, in theory. It's a Belgian/Australian shepherd. It also sounds like even more exhaustion that neither of us can afford. Really, greyhounds are more our speed.

We drove into Cedar Park this morning for...something. Breakfast, maybe? I wanted to just go on from there to hit at least one of those shelters.

But Laura's wiser than I. We only had about 1 hour and 40 minutes before we started handing out cookies. And Cedar Park is barely the first leg into Austin proper. That's a totally different beast than my daily commute to the far northern outskirts.

Besides, that shelter's open until 7:00 pm, 7 days a week.

So we went back home and shared cookies with some of our neighbors.

Somewhere in here, we decided to only plan on looking at the catahoula. She was the most likely choice by far, and the other option was another 20 minutes away.

After the clock ran out on that, and Laura had mostly cleaned up (we all know by now that I wasn't going to help with that, right?), she had the bright idea to call and ask about whether the dog was still available.

She got an answering machine promising to get back with an answer in 24 hours.

So we loaded into the car with the ominous understanding that Mal would take a post-4:00 pm nap, which meant that he was going to be awake until the wee hours of the morning. And no guarantee about what we'd find on the other end. Laura pronounced (shortly after Mal fell asleep) that she'd be gone before we arrived; I thought about it and decided I'd be OK with this outcome.

He was dead asleep by the time we arrived. So I rushed in to ask someone whether she was still there/available.

The place was a madhouse. Which I should have expected by the fact that the parking lot was nearly full (Laura thought she was going to have to circle the block until a spot opened up).

I wound up wandering back around to her kennel while I was searching for someone to ask about her.

She was sleeping contentedly amidst the chaos.

So I threaded my way back through the crowd and told Laura to come on in. Then I wavered a bit over pulling Mal out of his car seat. I've never been able to do this before while he was asleep, without waking him up.

In my head, I kept hearing Laura's advice about it: "Pick him up like you love him."

While I was still trying to gear myself up for it mentally, she circled around and asked "Really?!" So I did it.

He woke up, very briefly. Then I got the joy of his utter surrender in my arms.

For a few fleeting moments.

Then we entered the mayhem, and that woke him up.

I threaded us through the crowds, to Shelby's cage. Where a couple (for whom I held the doors earlier! How *dare* they?!) were taking a serious look.

Laura's reaction was almost instant. Here we were, in the midst of utter chaos, with crowds oogling, dogs barking, and this one was taking a nap. (I don't think it's because she was just calm and relaxed: I think she was just overwhelmed). Laura declared "Oh, yeah. That's the dog for us."

I'm not used to the high-stakes fast-paced arena of free animal shelters. Laura's wiser. She grabbed the name tag and headed to the front desk.

I stayed behind, still holding Mal. Who was steadily waking up and freaking out because of all the barking.

I carried him back out of the crowded kennel (to the slightly less crowded cat area), until he demanded to be put down. He wandered back and forth for a bit, covering his ears, looking for Laura.

It took us three trips for me to convince him that she was just a little bit further.

By the time we finally reached her, she'd made it to the front of the line and was receiving "counseling" about the dog and our future [potential] relationship. The part I caught basically amounted to:

1. She's pretty obsessive about her food. Not aggressive, or growling, or anything like that. Just...we have a warning flag on her about anyone under the age of 5, just in case. As long as you lock her in the bathroom while she eats, and keep Mal well away for a while, it should all be fine.
2. She doesn't have a mean bone in her body.
3. Well, we haven't had her long enough to expose her to cats. We have a pamphlet with advice about introducing them.

That seemed pretty reasonable. We decided to wake her up so we could meet her.

I thought the meeting was so-so. If it had just been me, I probably would have written her off. We asked Mal a couple of times whether he wanted her to come home with us. His answer was a pretty emphatic "No, I don't!"

But Laura, who'd complained the entire drive out, thought she was sweet.

And I'd just instinctively sat on the floor right next to her because she felt safe. It was a really stupid thing to do with a strange dog who's experiencing a ton of stress. But she just gives off this mellow hippy vibe.

So we decided to adopt her.

Despite Mal's objections. I'm sure he'll thank us later. (So will D...who couldn't be bothered to wake up when Laura tried to discuss it).

I got in line for it this time, while Mal demanded nursing time (which he got, of course). We got to the shelter rep, and everything looked like it was going to collapse around us.

The dog had a "no kids under 5" flag on her file. We couldn't remember who we'd talked to initially who thought we could deal with the feeding issues by just keeping them apart during feeding time.

The rep agreed to ask her manager, but she didn't think it would work out.

It did. The manager was the one who'd done our initial screening. I got a couple of apologies: the rep thought I was asking for counseling before I met the dog instead of "OK, we've met, and I want to adopt her."

So I filled out the paperwork where I promised to be a responsible pet owner (Laura pointed out that this is more than hospitals require from parents with new-born babies), and we were off.

Well, almost.

We'd agreed before-hand that any new dog was going to ride in the passenger seat for this first trip. Because we didn't want to risk the whole "stress-craziness" factor with it alone in the back seat with Mal.

I didn't think it was an issue with this dog. Laura felt like she was too big to fit in the front seat. So, despite Mal's objections, she rode with him in the back.

She's a great passenger. We'd get to cruising speed, and she'd relax. Then we'd slow down, and she'd pop her head up to check out what's going on. Mal giggled insanely when he gathered the courage to actually touch her.

Eventually, we reached home, and took her to check out the back yard.

She really didn't care. She wanted inside the house.

This was the scary part for me.

My last dog was a cat killer. And we didn't have any idea what to expect with this one.

What we got was probably the best-case scenario, at least at first: she totally ignored the cats while they hissed and spat. She just wanted to form a basic "where is what?" picture.

Everything went fine until she followed Laura and Mal into Mal's room and settled down with them to read a book.

At this point, Rudy was stupid enough to actually attack.

He ran up and clawed her butt. I thought about kicking him just hard enough to keep him out of the way. It happened so quickly that I don't understand why I didn't.

He was serious enough about the whole thing that his claws punctured Laura. I don't think think he actually injured Shelby, but she acted as though she'd been totally betrayed by a friend.

Which is an awesome sign. I'm sure now that she was raised with cats.

But I'm very sad that Rudy kicked off his first impression this way.

Shortly after this, Laura took some personal time to drive into town and spend money on things like a food/water dish for the dog, and a "stuffy" for the dog (it's a 2-legged giraffe that doesn't have any stuffing to rip out, but it does have a squeaker, which Shelby loves). And a collar/leash for this dog.

I'm pretty worried how I'll be able to take care of the dog without her help.

While she was gone, Shelby hung out at the back gate, trying to...whatever it is that dogs do when they get free.

I think she's planning to find her real master.

Actually, as I write this, she's having some really stressful dreams. I suppose those might be about the shelter, but I feel like she's freaking out about not being where she's supposed to be and not doing what she's been raised to do.

Whatever that is. I really hope they settle down.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Time Travel

Today at church, someone asked me what brought me to Austin.

Dang it, that's a tough question.

On the "blithe, breezy answer" side, there's that my sister's family was moving here, and the timing was right.

But, really, I wanted to be honest... without being *too* honest, if that's a thing.

So I said something like this: "Well, after I graduated college in Arkansas, I lived in Las Vegas for ten years then moved to North Texas. We lived in a small town, and were really invested in our community and church... then we got divorced, and I don't think anyone knew what to do with us. So I tried for a year and a half, but realized that we had to get out of there."

And when I said it, it seemed like it felt like a fresh wound, which it doesn't. I am not hurt or resentful about it, but still, when you put it out there like that, it comes out as new because they've never heard it before.

With hindsight, I can see so clearly exactly what God had in mind for the forced march, and it has all been in His perfect timing, including healing and blessing and the incredible life that is mine today.

Back then, I actually did understand what the people around me were trying to do, for the most part. I know I was loved. I know I was cared for. I know people were trying to save me from myself.

But, dammit, it hurt. It hurt a lot, and for a long time, and then I couldn't take it anymore.

I know a couple of people, at least, who feel responsible for my leaving town, but, really, it was just a giant burden of hurt and unease that was not remediable if we stayed in the same place with the same people who had the same world view and couldn't or wouldn't consider that a truth other than what they believed might exist.


What I wish I had said Sunday, and wish everyone could know is this: The tailspin that was my life from 2010 until 2012 sent me in a direction I never would have gone on my own, but where I needed to be.

It hurt to lose friendships I thought were solid. It hurt to break fellowship with my church, where I'd served for six years. It hurt to lose the opportunities I had to write and create and do the things I thought God wanted me to do.

However, that total break from everything I knew and with which I was comfortable gave me room to look at things differently. I realized that I'd been mistaking church-related productivity and "good works" as a relationship with God. Then, even more importantly, I started realizing that I'd fallen into an easy agnosticism... with God.

What I mean is this: When D was approaching the teen years, I was thrown some really tough questions. At the time, I felt like the most honest answer about some of those difficult things was: "Any time we can't make sense of what God says or does, it's just because we are human and can't fathom his ways..."

D's refusal to hear that when faced with the death of Egyptian firstborn, instead angrily blinking away tears and declaiming that there was no excuse to kill children ever, stuck with me... well, until this day. It will forever.

It got me to asking myself more questions. It made me look for better answers. My immediate thought was, "Is the UN somehow more moral and ethical than the God that I serve?" The answer to that had to be "no," so what else was there?

I know that some people talk about how faith is a tension, but some things go beyond tension to being completely unable to coexist in one single paradigm, and breaking down what I knew of God, what the Bible said, what the function of the Holy Spirit was, how Jesus interacted with sinners, and what does that all mean for me, for my family, and for how I view the world and coming to the conclusions (some of which are still malleable) I reached would not have been possible within the faith framework constructed around me where I was at the time.

If you want specifics, feel free to reach out. I want to be respectful of everyone, and I don't have permission to tell other people's stories... just mine.

But suffice it to say that I have developed a deeper sense of empathy, am a better parent, am in a more ideal position to love my husband, and feel like I see my actual purpose now more than I ever have. I'm even okay with being patient until my little one is more independent and I have the freedom to step out in the ways I know I am supposed to. So I guess that's another benefit: patience.

So, yeah, the overt reason I moved to Austin was because the pressure of living my new life in an old space was too much... but the real reason was that God had a plan beyond and through my pain, and he's still leading me through it. It's beautiful. I wouldn't change a thing.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Journeying Onward

Something pretty amazing happened at church today.

First, it is Super Bowl Sunday, so we had Souper Bowl Sunday, where everyone brought soup to share, and chipped in to send extra funds to a soup kitchen we support.

Well, you know me. I can't be normal, and I made a very beautiful, quite delicious pink berry soup.

The thing is, no one got it and it was put with the desserts and, heck, even I wouldn't have chosen it over (or with) the iced chocolate chip cookies if I hadn't known what it was. So we have a lot of this left over, in case anyone wants to come over and have a fruit smoothie (because I froze it, so we'll have to blend it up and you can drink it).

But that's not the thing.

If you've been following along, you know that Mal has gone into childcare for services ever since we started here at the beginning of the year. It's so chill now that I don't even give them my cell number.

Today when I picked him up, he was trying to climb out the window, but that's because there's a fun playground right outside, and also for some reason, the heat was set to like 80 in that building (they did turn it down and open a bunch of doors).

Then last week, he sat blithely in my lap for the children's message... and did the same thing today! That's totally new!

But THEN... During the lunch, Mal decided to play with some other kids instead of sit with me and eat.

This sweet older girl was so good with Mal, making sure he didn't get into anything he wasn't supposed to, or hurt himself. Her dad even thanked ME, saying that she never gets to be the older sibling at home, so she was having fun.

After I ate, I had dessert. Twice. And ended up in a conversation when I realized that the kids had disappeared, and I didn't know where. For a good half hour, I had no idea where my son was. But I wasn't worried. That used to happen with D at church all of the time, but it's the first time Mal's just gone off and done his own thing and I wasn't worried or suspicious.

When it was time to leave, I found him in the rec room with some older kids. They were being so sweet to him, and he really wasn't ready to go.

If I weren't convinced that I should place membership there, today's lunch probably did it. Meals eaten sitting down and in peace are a big deal for this mama!

We might still be nursing full steam ahead, have zero interest in the potty, and still not ever sleeping through the night, but in other areas, we're gettin' somewhere, people! That's worth celebrating! Can't wait to dance with Lady Gaga in a little while...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Fast-Paced World of Parenting a High Needs Toddler

One might assume that the life of a stay-home parent with an energetic toddler is a laundry list of monotonous tasks, repetitive and, after a while, seemingly meaningless.

Ho ho! I dare to disagree! I even dare to say "ho ho!" and THEN disagree!

My life is full of opportunities to keep my professional and artistic skills on point, much to the delight of my "customers" (hubs and kids). They are constantly in awe of my ingenuity and the ease with which I juggle so many high-pressure demands.

What? You doubt me? Here are but a few examples from ONE DAY this week!

Example 1: Pointless organization, as one would find in much of the business world. Here, I multi-tasked by alphabetizing all of our Bananagrams tiles while repeating, "No, don't touch it! Leave it alone! Just a minute! Let me get done! Hold on! Hands off! X, X, X..." etc. I guess there was a bit of a purpose here, as I wondered what the disbursement of the letters was. Unlike Scrabble, which straight up tells you on the box, this was a mystery. I solved it, and, as you can see by the encroaching finger, only barely managed to snap a picture before the middle row was on the floor.

Example 2: Interior design, speed version. Here, I managed to find random pieces of this playset and put them in some semblance of an order before my child jumped on the futon mattress, setting off a shockwave that felled the house. Those poor kitties never saw it coming. Should I have put the baby's bed in the parents' room, or is it better that the siblings sleep together? These are important decisions that a home designer has to make, and in this case, very quickly. You can't second-guess yourself.

Example 3: Food styling. Some day, my kid will be able to grab his own fruit and deal with it on his own. For now, I try to make it attractive and easy to eat so he'll get some vitamins and roughage and stuff into his body. I guess that makes me a nutritionist, too? Yeah. I'm pretty busy; it's hard to keep track of the many things I do. Also, this serves a dual purpose of having healthy left-overs in case he goes to sleep before he finishes the food, in which case I will eat it if it won't keep until the next day. So I'm also my own proxy dietician. Figure that one out. I dare you.

Bonus food styling later that day: Barbecue pork on an everything bagel with lemon pepper Brussels sprouts.

That's a pretty plate, freaks! Also, both of my kids love Brussels sprouts! Is that normal?

Example 4: Landscaper. I kill things. I'm not kidding. But the people who sold us this house had these mums sadly "planted" in another pot when we moved in. Actually, they'd literally taken the pots off and left the root ball sitting on top of the soil. Somehow, the mums lived. I planted them in different pots, putting the more forgiving rosemary in the covered pots on the porch, and noticed that soon there was some new growth. I sloppily cut back the old growth to make room, and it's not a masterpiece, but I didn't kill these suckers!

Example 5: Art mentor. This was just aesthetically pleasing to me, and served no purpose whatsoever, but it intrigued Mal and who knows what it might spark in him some day down the road. 8 bit designs are so soothing to my eyeball.

Example 6: Nature photographer. My son likely won't remember the adventures we have right now, so it's my job and privilege to take as many pictures as is humanly possible so that there is tangible memory of the events. Right? Please say yes. It's how I justify purchasing nice cameras.

And I haven't even gotten started on how well I've honed my television critic skills. I find myself asking questions about the timelines and plot points of programs like "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" and "ChuChu TV," an Indian import that is ridiculous but somehow appeals to my child.

Just trust me: This is like 45 full time jobs, and as soon as the kids are gone, I'll be polished up and ready to rejoin the work force in any and all important capacities!