Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Hardest Appointment

We've recently made the difficult decision to put our dog down.

Wayne and I adopted Dax in 1998 when he was 10 weeks of age. We had only been married for 3 years when we welcomed him into our lives. We affectionately call him our first-born.

Dax and I the day he joined our family,  October 1998.
Through three houses, three job changes between the two of us and two babies -- now two growing girls -- he has been our ever patient, sweet and snuggly dog. 

Now, at age 15, he has a growth that the vet believes to be cancerous. He has lost sight in one eye, has limited sight in the other and is completely deaf. 

I've lost track of how long ago he lost his hearing. To be honest, when he first started having difficulty hearing I thought it was by choice, with a screaming infant and a loud toddler in the house. Turns out he really was losing his hearing, and now he is completely and utterly deaf. 

The arthritis in his back legs is so bad that just standing still his legs shake and quiver. He has lost control of his bladder, resulting is numerous accidents in the house, even when we're home and let him out every 20 minutes.

None of this makes this decision easier. Despite his ailments, he still loves popcorn and will come running as quickly as possible at the smell of popcorn popping. He loves to snuggle. He burrows under the covers and curls up next to a girl's leg to sleep. A roaring fire and a dog bed are his favorite comforts.

And, we seem to be going about it in an odd way. We've selected a date weeks in the future, February 14th. Yes, I know that's Valentine's Day. I feel awful to plan it this logically, but the girls have a release day from school that day so they won't need to be concentrating in school, but will be out of the house. Monday the 17th is President's Day, so they will have a long 3-day weekend to be sad and get as many tears out as they can before they have to get back to reality.

This has been a hard decision. Part of me knew that making the appointment that far out means that if we change our minds we can always cancel. And for a couple of weeks I couldn't sleep and had to pop Zantac a couple of times a day over this decision.

It doesn't seem right to pick the day my dog should die, when he would probably be perfectly content to carry on as he is, possibly for years. Yet he can't be comfortable and cannot communicate his pain. He can't take prescription pain meds for the arthritis because his liver enzymes are so elevated; we're quite sure that his liver would fail by medicating him.

Then I spoke to a friend who had to make a similar decision with her cat who had kidney disease. Sure, there are treatments, and sure, the cat could have lived longer. But because my friend had to give her cat an IV once a day, the cat cringed every time my friend came near. She stopped being close to the people she loved the most, for fear of a pinprick and pain. That's not living. My friend put the date a couple of weeks out, and every time the cat seemed to improve she got her hopes up that perhaps they wouldn't need to do this, but then she would get worse again. She felt guilty when she didn't pay attention to the cat, which happened quite often with a newborn in the house. Her recommendation was to move the appointment up and stop torturing myself with the time between now and then.

And yet, somehow, her relating this story brought me peace with this decision and with the timing of it. We will enjoy every minute that we have with Dax, and the last few days we will spoil him rotten. He will have all the popcorn he wants, raw cookie dough, snuggles and warm fires. 

Now, when Dax has accidents in the house I am more patient, because I know that this won't last much longer.  I'm not as annoyed when he is awake at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, insisting on being let out and fed, because I know that some day soon I'll be able to sleep in on the weekends. And I'll be honest, I am very much looking forward to finally taking down the gates we've had to put back up at our home, in order to limit his accidents in one area of the home. Baby gates are so incredibly annoying, and it feels like we went from having to put them up for babies and toddlers to putting them up for the geriatric dog with little break without them. 

I will miss him terribly. And I have no idea how I am going to be able to handle being the one who is there when the vet makes her final visit. But I now have peace that he has lived a wonderful 15 years with us, and that we are doing the right thing by him.

UPDATE: Jan 29, 2014 Due to the number of canceled school days due to weather, our kids' school district has now decided to hold school on February 14th. When Lindsey got the news she told me tearfully that she couldn't possibly be at school around all her classmates when she was going to be bursting into tears throughout the day. We've now had to change our plans to February 15th, Saturday. In the meantime, Dax's physical condition continues to deteriorate, making walking and eliminating challenging for him, further re-inforcing that the time is right for us to ease his suffering. Wish us well through this difficult transition.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Magical Evening

I've been volunteering for a nonprofit called "Children's Lightouse of Minnesota" for nearly two years. This is something I've done in my "free" time, whatever that is.

Children's Lighthouse's mission is to build the first-ever children's hospice in the Midwest. The mission and the need is incredible. There are over 9,000 children living in Minnesota with life-limiting conditions, of which 700 will die every year. The needs of children in these situations is so different from that of adults. They have siblings who wish to be with them, large extended families who become involved in their care, and, after their passing, a different kind of grief for the families to work through.

Unfortunately, the US healthcare system does not value comfort and care in these situations, and there is currently no reimbursement model for children's hospice care. Therefore, there are only 3 children's hospices in the United States, all of which are on the coasts.

That's not why I'm writing this post.

The Home Plate II event for Children's Lighthouse, Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis

A representation of the home and the children it will serve.
I'm writing this because I have come to believe that you get from the universe what you give to the universe.

The executive director of Children's Lighthouse, Katie Lindenfelser, is the most amazing person you will ever meet. She exudes peace. She has a grace and a patience in her manner that makes you take pause. She comes from humble roots, but has somehow managed to make connections with some very wealthy and connected individuals. From Nita Killebrew, the widow of Harmon Killebrew, Twins legend, to the well-known local DJ who volunteers his time to emcee the event, to many others, she has a way of personally connecting people to the mission.

When she talks about the mission, people open up about their own loss, losses that they may have kept quiet about for years. I sat at a table with couples who had not known each other prior to the evening. Throughout the conversation we learned that three of the couples at the table had lost a child, ranging in age from 45 days old to 3 and a half years old. They exchanged hugs and names and vowed to stay in touch. One person at the table is a pediatric hospice nurse who moved here from California, where one of the three hospices is. She is currently not employed but is supporting this hospice because she knows the need and the value. Another is a Medicare reimbursement specialist who is interested in volunteering her time to help CLM figure out how to get reimbursed for its care.

Things just fall together for this organization.

They had an incredibly successful fundraising event. They raised more than $80,000 during one portion of the evening, much less other revenue sources from the evening. It's a fraction of the millions they need to raise to build the home, but with the connections in the room, they will be able to get there.

I am not capturing how amazing this is.

Architectural drawing of the home in its planned location.
This is amazing because the organization has only one employee, Katie, the executive director. Everyone else is volunteering their time. No one has to do this, but everyone chooses to. That's how powerful this mission is, and how much of an inspiration Katie is.

When she was first introduced at the beginning of the evening she got a standing ovation, just for being who she is. The energy and love of that moment is something words cannot capture. Tears came to her eyes, she was so moved by the gesture.

I am honored to know her and to be a part of this incredible organization.

P.S. If you'd like to learn more about Children's Lighthouse, go to their website, And yes, the website was built and is maintained by volunteers. Other nonprofits are jealous.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Whining About Going Wineless

Here's a sight you've never seen at our house before:

It is a nearly full bottle of wine, corked.

This is something we rarely see because usually this is what happens in our house:

I decided to start my New Year with a 30-day health challenge: no alcohol for the month of January.

I announced this challenge in an online fitness group that I'm in, but otherwise have not let a lot of people know that I'm doing this.

I love wine, and Wayne and I can be counted on to have some with our Friday, Saturday and Sunday night meals. And honestly, opening a bottle of wine and leaving some of  it behind is...difficult. I mean, it's a ready-made portion! One bottle = approximately 2.5 glasses per person when you split it with someone else. Or, 5 glasses if you're on your own. Then you know you're done for the evening.

I'll admit, I've finished off a bottle of wine on my own on occasion. It usually happens on those days when I open a bottle around 3 pm and keep sipping through the afternoon, dinner prep and the dining hour. That could be a beautiful summer afternoon in August with a cool glass of pinot grigio, or in the depth of winter, with a merlot and a fire in the fireplace.

Depending on the type of wine, a glass can range from 110 to 300 calories per serving, or 550 to 1,500 calories per bottle. Those are calories I don't need, even if I enjoy them immensely. Before I make other changes to my diet, I decided I would cut out alcohol to see what difference that would make to my health.

What I've found so far:

1. It's easier than I thought to say "no thank you." I've had dinner out with a friend and gone to a P!nk concert already this month, both events where I absolutely would have had a glass or two. I didn't feel like I was missing out, even though others around me were enjoying their beverages of choice. We've prepared lovely dinners at home that would normally be accompanied by a glass of wine, and yet sparkling water or milk was next to my plate.

2. I haven't dropped any weight of yet. Honestly, if I gave up drinking and lost five pounds like that (snap of fingers), I'd be concerned about my alcohol-intake. I'm okay with that, although I'll be curious to see if there's any change over the 30 days.

3. My skin is clearer. My youngest was kind enough to point out to me this weekend that I don't have any more pimples. Huh, there's an unpredicted side effect that I love. Yet at the same time...dammit.

I'm nearly halfway through this month and feeling pretty good. I'll give another update after the challenge is through to let you know what other revelations I may have along the way.

Wayne has joined me in this challenge, which I greatly appreciate as it makes the journey easier, since there is less temptation around. The wine pictured above is one I opened last night, in order to use 1/4 cup of red wine in a meal I was making. I kid you not, I opened a bottle of wine and dumped some into a dish I was making without even taking a sip! (I did get a noseful though, but I'm pretty sure I did not ingest any calories just by smelling the cork.)

He lamented the opening of an entire bottle of wine, knowing that neither of us are drinking any for this month, and it won't keep for two more weeks.

So...I have an open bottle of red that has only had 1/4 cup taken from it, looking for a new home. Anyone?? You just need to be walking distance from my house, so neither of us risk get ticketed for open container.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dog Years

A week ago tomorrow marks the one-week anniversary of the passing of Dax's dog cousin, Buddy.

Buddy was the dog of my sister, Kristi, and her husband, Ned. They rescued him when he was barely a year old. He grew to know love and affection, and returned it tenfold as only dogs can do.

When he was a young pup, our collective families took a trip to Dana Lake. This was both dogs' first time around this particular lake, and for Dax the first time around water. The dogs got out of the car and excitedly ran around, sniffing the new smells. Dax walked along the shoreline and was coaxed into walking out on the dock, but was not interested in leaving dry land. We were surprised when Buddy ran past us on the dock and leaped into the water without hesitation. He surfaced and expertly swam to the shore, as if he'd been swimming every day of his life. After that, we couldn't get him to walk onto the dock again and he was clearly very afraid of the water. We determined that he thought that the lake surface was a hard surface, just a different color. He sure must've been surprised when he went through it and got all wet!

Young Buddy at Dana Lake, mid-1990's
He would paw his parents to take walks, and as he grew older his preferred activity was snuggling next to them while they watched TV or lounged.

These dog years are a curse. Before we know it, 14 years have passed and our young, energetic dogs are old and infirm. Buddy developed fatty tumors and eventually one became cancerous. They tried to remove it in July and he barely survived the surgery. After that, they knew that they were on borrowed time.

If you think about it, the next six months were like three and a half years to a dog. Three and a half more years of loving, of snuggling, of chasing leaves and walking in the park. Finally the tumor began to overcome him, and they had him put to sleep to end his suffering. What a difficult and selfless decision, to end the life of one whom you love so very much, in order to ease his passing.

As much as us animals lovers know that we live outlive our pets, that we ourselves may have to make that decision, we still choose to accept them into our hearts, knowing that some day our pets will break them.  The loss is no easier knowing that the time is coming.

But we love them anyways. How can we not?

Krist and Buddy, 2011.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Don't Try This One at Home

I love the website Probably half of the recipes in regular rotation in my house came from that website. is a website of recipes that are primarily user-generated and user reviewed. From great-great-grandma's recipe for almond poppyseed cookies to 100 variations of chicken cacciatore, it's a great sampling of Americana cooking.

For New Year's Eve, Lindsey asked to have a sleepover and we turned it into a sleep-under, meaning her guest had to leave by 10 p.m. (It's a brilliant concept and I cannot take credit for it, my friend Jennifer introduced me to the idea.) Lindsey's friend Maia would be joining us for the evening's meal. Lindsey wanted to try something new for dinner, so she and I went through the AllRecipes site days ago and picked out a recipe for chicken with balsamic vinegar and garlic. Sounded yummy and looked simple, and had 4.5 out of 5 stars out of 1,850 reviews. Can't go wrong, right?

I should have remembered the first rule of cooking: NEVER try a new recipe on new people Never. No matter how good the reviews or how simple it appears.

I picked up the ingredients on my way home from work, along with Wayne's traditional New Year's Eve dinner of cold shrimp. I tried to print out the recipe at home, but the girls had used up all the ink in the printer making up "Wanted" signs for themselves, now that they have Nerf guns and all. No worries, I'd just use the recipe off my phone.

Except that on the phone you have to keep scrolling up to see the ingredients, then back down to see the instructions. If I were using the iPad there was a format for making recipes from the device itself that would've worked beautifully, but the iPad was providing entertainment elsewhere in the house. So I kept forgetting steps, or had to keep checking the amount. It was frustrating and took twice as long as it should have.

I was supposed to dredge the chicken in a flour mixture before-hand -- I made up the flour mixture but forgot to dredge it. Pulled it back out of the pan, dredged it and popped it back in.

The minute I added the chicken brother/balsamic vinegar mixture, I knew we were in trouble.

The strong vinegar odor emanating from the stove was enough to clear your sinuses and knock you over. It was so odiferous that my eldest and her friend went upstairs to play because the entire first floor smelled, and my husband found some candles and lit them all over the kitchen and dining room to mask it.

Note the candle on the dining room table, too.
Good Lord.

I checked the ingredients -- yep, I had followed the recipe, that was the amount of vinegar that it called for. And then I read some of the reviews.

Every review I read said that the recipe was AWESOME except that they had reduced the amount of vinegar, or they hadn't floured the chicken because it turned out slimy, or they added cream to the balsamic reduction to reduce the acidity, or what have you.

They all gave it 4 or 5 stars, but nearly all of them had their own twists on how they had modified the recipe to make it better. In other words, the recipe in its current state was...not great. Quite bad, actually. And I was following it to a tee.

Here's the deal, recipe reviewers of the world: if a recipe is only good when you modify it a certain way, it's actually a new recipe! Don't give the current iteration 4 or 5 stars; give it a 2 and then post your own variation that you created which improved it. Otherwise you convince poor saps like me to try it in its current state and be accused of trying to poison not only my family but also my daughter's guest.

The good news is that the sautéed green beans that I had served with it turned out good, as did the rice. And the chicken itself was tolerable once you took it out of the sauce it had been cooking in. The sauce went into the garbage and the candles remained lit for several hours after dinner. And Maia survived a dinner at our home and didn't starve. Of course, we did ply her with popcorn later on while watching a New Year's Eve special.

The recipe will NOT be getting 4 or 5 stars from me. Just saying.