Holy Finds in Holy Week

On this night, on this night, on this Holy Thursday night…

Yeah, I just hijacked TSO’s Christmas Canon and turned it toward Holy Week.  You’re going to be humming that for the rest of the night.  You’re welcome.

I played around on YouTube during lunch today. I was actually looking for an old gospel song that I remembered from the 80’s because, well, frankly I was in a really low spot today about a family member’s health. I needed to deal with it emotionally, but first I needed to cry.  And pray.  And so I hit up YouTube and found the song. That led me to other sadder songs and the next thing I knew I was bouncing through a playlist of tear-jerkers, blowing my nose into my napkin and ignoring the leftover chicken on the plate in front of me.  YouTube is kind enough to offer a list of videos similar to whatever it is you’re presently watching, and so you can ride a spiral of despair right into a box of Kleenex if you are so inclined.

It just so happens, I was inclined.

The list of suggested videos finally took an upswing, and the last one I watched was one of the best I’ve ever seen, not for any super videography or anything, but for the message.

It is at this point that, if I were telling this story to my parents, my dad would interrupt to ask if this is going to be a long story. Yes. Yes, it is. (Do I really know any other kind?)

The video was of an interview with actor Jim Caviezel, who, as you may know, portrayed Jesus in The Passion of The Christ.  I love that movie, but I can only watch it if I’m in the right frame of mind, such as I try to be in the days leading up to Easter.  It’s perfect for tonight. Anyhoo, in the interview Jim talks about his spiritual commitment to the movie and the physical trials of portraying Jesus in his final days.  It is a moving talk. But he takes it farther than just his role in the film.  He takes it to our role as Christians.  He is frank, forthright and challenging.  I loved every word.

In the end of the video, Jim talks about a project he’s involved with – a full cast audio production of the New King James Version of The Bible.

Let me just say that I am an audiobook freak already, but I am an all-out sucker for full cast productions. I fall head over heels for narrators who can distinguish different voices for each character (like the incomparable Jim Dale), but I am swept away in full cast audiobooks.  I hopped over to Audible.com and looked up the Word of Promise Bible.  90 hours of audio, over 600 actors and actresses, and a boatload of omigosh WOW! I bought it right then and there.  To tell you what kind of talent is involved in this production:

Jim Caviezel reads the part of Jesus.

Jon Voight reads Abraham.

Richard Dreyfuss is Moses.

Gary Sinise is David.

Lou Diamond Phillips is Mark.

And the list goes on.  Marisa Tomei, Stacy Keach, Louis Gossett Jr., Jason Alexander, Michael York, John Schneider, Luke Perry. The audio is amazing.  I spent time with it this evening while I pulled weeds from the flower bed. I might actually get through the whole Bible now.

(Side note to Jessica, my audiobook muse: After you left my office this morning I went back to The Bone Season, but now it’s been sidelined again. I know you understand.  😊)

As I bring this post to a close, I’m pretty sure I hear Dom watching The Ten Commandments in the living room. Looks like we each have our Lenten/Easter movies.

If you are inclined to watch Jim Caviezel’s interview, I think you’ll find it 40 minutes well spent. I for one am grateful for fellow Christians who remind me who I’m meant to be, and that because of that empty tomb, no tomb is an end.

 

Midnight 2017

So, yeah, I’m going to post this without a million necessary edits. It’s 11:47 p.m. as I start writing this on December 31, 2016. Thirteen more minutes and the new year rings in for the Central Time Zone, as the television keeps promising.  We got home from a New Year’s party 30 minutes ago – a party where there was not nearly as much food as last year’s party, so the two tiny glasses of wine I had have kind of zonked me.  (Translation: If you have a few leading lines into this post, and have to click to read more but find that there is no more to read…that means that I’ve woken up on January 1st and realized that I drunk-blogged and promptly deleted it to prevent further embarrassment.  Ahem.Note that I am not too zonked to delete comma splices, thankyouverymuch.)  Max and Mabel have been outside once since we arrived home, and they are now in separate rooms – Mabel stayed with us in the living room, and Max abandoned us for the bedroom.  As in, “Forget you, idiots.  Do you even KNOW what time it is?!!”  His tall ears sort of fall flat to the sides when he’s tired, so he gave us that cute little flop-eared look and then turned and gave us the tail as he sauntered to the bedroom.  We usually are in bed before 9 pm, so the fact that it is nearly midnight has pushed the boundaries of acceptable in our household.

If I think too long on what it means to be entering 2017 with all of our children and parents alive and well, I will start to bawl and it will get really ugly really fast, so I will just wish each of you reading this a very happy, safe and wonderful 2017.  Happy New Year!!!!

2016 in the Rear View: At Least We Can Laugh About It

Looking back on the year that will close its eyes in a few days, I am pleased to say it was eventful and uneventful in all the good ways a year should be. Charolette had a successful surgery in March and even though we have held our breath and kept our eyes peeled for any change, the cancer remains absent from her after a year of treatment. Victoria started high school, Aaron started driving, and they each grew at least five inches. We bought Aaron’s senior ring in November, after which I hid in the bathroom and cried like a baby.  What is it about that boy growing up that turns me into such a puddle?

Mid-year, a new heartbeat entered our home in the form of a husky/lab mix, and Mabel was so insulted she almost renounced us all.  Max has gone from being the “narcoleptic puppy” (as the vet called him) to being the in-your-face-all-the-time puppy.  He talks. Like, a lot. (My mom told us Huskies are like that.  Can’t say we weren’t warned.) And he uses his front paws for everything from holding down his own tail to slapping us in the face if breakfast is late. (Jerk.)  With his heavy-eyeliner Alice Cooper look, his my-way-or-the-highway attitude and his fuhget-about-it expressions we decided he must be a member of the mob.  Two seconds after that announcement, he grabbed his tail in his teeth and nearly fell on his head trying to tug it away from his body. We decided then that he could still be a wiseguy, but he’d have to be Luca Brasi.

OK, enough with the intro. In our customary DomAndLori fashion, I now present the 2016 pictorial year in review:

January

One of my favorite Christmas icons is the Old World Santa.  From the bygone days of her ceramic painting business, Charolette’s garage had a plethora of fired but unpainted Santas, and I set my sights on collecting and painting them in the late ‘90s.  Then I took a sixteen year break from all relaxing hobbies before finally returning to this pastime last year.  My favorite is the jovial Mardi Gras Santa who gets to hang out on the shelf until Lent.  As I packed up the decorations after Christmas, I felt compelled to line the finished ones up for a picture. I just realized they are posed so that it looks like one Santa’s hat is picking another one’s nose. I think it’s safe to say I will never be hired as a photographer.  There are twelve more unpainted Santas waiting patiently in the room upstairs. This is one of very few photos taken in January, so it kicks off the show:

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February

On my way to work one morning, I sat at a stoplight and pondered the bleakness of me and everything around me.  Admittedly I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself.  We’d had a rough couple of weeks and Charolette was back in the hospital on the day before her birthday.  My spirit felt drained and I really just wanted to pull into a parking lot and cry. I stared at this tree for what seemed like an eternity, comparing myself to its barren branches, pitying our shared emptiness.  Out of the corner of my eye the light turned green, but my attention stayed on the tree because it was at that moment I recognized the sun sparkling behind the branches. I made the turn and pulled over for a photo.  I spent the next week writing about the feelings I had that morning and how the realization that the sun was shining through such a cold and prickly image reminded me that there is always hope.  I wrote it all out, read it and re-read it, then re-read it again before gagging on the Pollyanna sentiment of woe-turned-to-hope and silver-linings and promptly deleted the spewed words.  I sort of wish I had kept it because even though it was corny and ridiculously hopeful in the face of all hopelessness, well…that’s me. The words are gone, but I remember with absolute clarity the empty feeling suddenly replaced with swelling comfort, and the tears that stung my cheeks on that February morning as I conceded that there are a million things in this world that I will never understand.  And that’s okay, ‘cause look…sunshine!

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March

As the days began to warm up we found reasons to be outside.  Here are the kiddos on the four-wheelers, roughly ten minutes before Victoria accidentally plowed into the back of Aaron’s vehicle, sending his four-wheeler into a ditch where it overturned.  It’s a slow-motion, heart-stopping story that aged me about five years in two minutes, but all ended well with Aaron dusty and shaken but otherwise unharmed. I notice they haven’t ridden much since then, however.

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April

Aaron and I spent the better part of one morning coming up with rap names for Victoria, much to her chagrin.  “Tupac Sha-Vic” and “Snoop Vickie G” had us rolling. I continued the hazing well into the school day.  Hey – what are moms for?

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May

For the second time, a yellow-tailed furball padded his way into our hearts.  At first, I thought he was a replica of Mason’s spirit because he was so sweet and snuggly, but that turned out to be a case of intestinal worms. Once cured, his independent and demanding personality emerged. Er-ma-ger, he was so stinkin’ cuuuute!

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June

Of course, he grew…

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July

And grew. (Although, he still hasn’t grown into those satellite dish ears.)

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August

Just when I wonder if I will ever do anything right in this life, my children redeem me. Aaron announced that he wanted to join me in donating at our church’s blood drive. Watching him give blood for the first time I was the proudest mama on the planet, and I told him so on the way home. “There are a lot of things that define ‘adults,’” I said, “but giving part of yourself to save someone else, in my opinion, that’s what makes you a man.”

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September

How could we possibly have a 2016 post without Eddie?! It’s not every day (thankfully!) that a pig wanders onto our property and mates with our electrical box.  The sight, the videos we took and the twenty minutes I spent doubled over in my driveway howling at the absurdity of it all will never be forgotten.  Eddie (short for Edison…get it?) made numerous trips to our yard over the next several days before the Sheriff’s office determined where Eddie lived and returned him to his home two streets behind us.  Eddie’s owners must have fixed whatever passage he was using to escape, because we haven’t seen him since mid-September. I thought I smelled him the other day, but no. It’s just as well…every time Eddie visited, Pop started talking about bacon.

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October

As we entered the month that kicks off the snowball of holiday celebrations of which I am SO fond, my body orchestrated its own small-scale revolution.  I had just completed my Master’s degree, Charolette was holding her own, and my body said, “Ok, school is over and things have settled down for the moment.  You need to rest.”

“Sure, I’ll take it easy now,” I promised with my fingers crossed behind my back.

My body apparently doesn’t like me lying to placate it, because lightning struck somewhere nearby, polar ice caps instantly disintegrated and Gotham City went dark. So, by “rest” what my body really meant was, “go to the ER and get admitted to the hospital for four days.” I complained that really, it didn’t need to be so pushy.  But those who know me best gave each other sideways looks that said, “Uhh, yeah, it did.”  And that was that.

Hospitals suck, but my family makes it as fun as possible.  My Dad would determine my pain level and then draw it in on the nurse’s board each day.  Three days and several rounds of pain meds later, I was apparently doing much better.

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October ranks two photos, mostly because I feel cheated by the month in which I had planned to party-hardy-marty. At the end of the month while Dom and I were flying to DC to attend a conference, our babies (ahem!) were getting ready for Homecoming.  We hated to miss it, but our moms made sure we had plenty of pics. I do believe this is my favorite.

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November

Here are all the Louisiana Mainieros in a family pic after Thanksgiving lunch.  Who could ask for a better day? And why am I the only one who brings wine to photo ops?

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December

You know this one had to end on a Max note.  Here he is on Christmas morning, having just opened his presents.  He was fascinated with the unwrapping of everything, but more fascinated with this super-cool chew toy!

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Of course, Mabel appreciates her gifts, too.  Can’t leave out our sweet girl, so December also gets two photos…

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So long, Sixteen.  It’s been lovely having you here.  May 2017 follow your lead. (Well, except for the hospitals…)

The “C” Word

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Update/Prelude/Whatever: A month after I wrote this, Mom’s tumor markers unexpectedly shot up. When I said in the post below that she had other issues, I was saying – without really saying – that things were still wrong and we just couldn’t get them identified.  It may be that we will soon have a resolute cause for the issues that still plague her. It may be that the post below is rendered incorrect, if not completely obsolete. It may be that we continue to swim upstream against a relentless current of cancer.  The only thing that keeps me from now deleting this post altogether is that for a few brief days – long before the conversations detailed here, before I dared believe in the word “cured” – we had hope.  We still have hope.  It may very well be all we have, so we cling to it with all our might.

I have not previously blogged details of my mother-in-law’s cancer.  I have written about it, of course, and maybe someday my words will be suitable for public consumption. I don’t quite know why I have hoarded the experience of her cancer, while I shamelessly share here all the other events of my life. I think perhaps the difficulty of what we have witnessed as a family, the magnitude of the diagnosis, or even the need to focus on Charolette’s health instead of my own experience of it prevented me from sharing in this outlet.

I suppose there is also the reality that the journey is not over. We have not yet been sent out through any physician’s office door with well wishes for a long and healthy life, call-us-if-you-need-us, it’s-been-great-knowing-you-now-go-forth-and-prosper.  She has not yet been dismissed from their care. Her case is not yet closed. And, since my preference is that stories have a definitive outcome before I share them, so we can all enjoy the neat and tidy ending – or at the very least laugh at the crappy and chaotic aftermath – at this point Mom’s story doesn’t fit the mold.

Then, of course, there is the fact that it’s her cancer and her story – not my own. I have felt an intense need to respect her privacy in my writings.  But in a way, the cancer happened to us too.  Its impact has not been limited to the confines of Mom’s body.  Cancer, as you know, weaves its cellular tentacles through and around healthy tissue, invasive and uninvited. I only now see how its emotional tentacles sprawled to weave themselves in and among our family members, making it our story and our experience as well.

I have wrestled a host of demons these past nine months. In October I cried and prayed and begged that our feet would not have to walk the path that lay hauntingly before us. In January I feared we were losing her altogether. In April I struggled unimaginably with doubt before “putting my hands in His side,” and relaxing into the knowledge that – whether we chose to call it miracle, successful medicine, or outright anomaly – Charolette’s cancer was gone.

Feeling like a traitor to my faith and a modern-day Doubting Thomas, I insisted on getting the pathology results before completely succumbing to tears of joy and thanksgiving.  The following week, with a dread borne of experience, I became the World’s Biggest Hypocrite in the face of more chemo as I silently chastised doctors for not “believing the miracle” and releasing Mom from the grip of torturous cancer treatments. Even though I had (finally) settled into the knowledge and faith that she was cured, no doctor would use those words. That’s okay, I told myself. I know what I know. And if you think I’m stubborn, you’re right.

For any person with pancreatic cancer, the treatment plan is: 1) radiation supplemented by chemotherapy, then 2) surgery, then 3) more chemo. We knew this from the beginning. We also knew that without treatment, a person might expect to live 3 or 4 months. With treatment and surgical removal of the tumor, there is a 25% chance that the patient will be alive in five years.

That’s the gist. Now here’s the rewind: We first heard these statistics in November, three weeks following Mom’s first surgery, which was unsuccessful because her tumor turned out to be larger than expected, too intricately involved with three major arteries, and therefore deemed “massive and inoperable.” Our only hope at Charolette seeing her next birthday was tied precariously to chemo and radiation shrinking the tumor to an operable state.

Surprisingly and against many odds, it did.

Mom’s second surgery on March 17 was successful.  There was no longer any tumor to speak of, much less remove. Doctors took over half of her radiated pancreas, her spleen and an adrenal gland. The pathology report on the excised tissue was perfectly clean.

Our follow-up visit with the chemo doc prepared us for six more months of chemotherapy treatments.  Several people, on hearing the news of Charolette’s surgery and the clean pathology report that followed, have asked why she still has to have six more months of chemo. Believe me, I asked the same thing.

Essentially, Mom had completed two of the three steps in the treatment plan.  There is not enough documented precedence – so few people whose pancreatic cancer is obliterated to this degree – for the doctors to recommend anything other than proceeding with the original plan.

I get it, really I do. I understand that they just aren’t quite sure what to do with her, since she pulled a mind-scrambler on them and came up cancer-free before the end of the prescribed regimen of treatment. And without precedence, without cases upon cases of successful mid-treatment cures before hers, they are unwilling to release her without following the plan to the end.

This is where my will conflicts so heavily with that of modern medicine and the cosmic forces that are more complex than my little mind can fathom. But such is life. So I give myself an attitude adjustment, focus on what is right for Mom and what she wants, and move forward.  She is alive today and I can do nothing but support her desire to stay the course. And so I do just that.

Even though the cancer is gone, Mom has struggled with other issues as her body adjusts to functioning with only a portion of her pancreas. As we visited with Mom’s GI doctor last week, I shared with him what I understood of her treatment and recovery. He asked me what her CA19-9 levels were prior to surgery and now.

“I have no idea,” I confessed. “You just started speaking another language.”

The CA19-9 marker, which indicates tumor growth in the pancreas, had not been discussed in any memorable way by any other doctors. The GI doc told me to ask the chemo doc about it, just out of curiosity.

And so, at Monday’s appointment with Dr. V. I brought up the subject of Mom’s CA19-9 levels.  “Do you monitor those?” I asked.

“Yes, we look at those once a month,” he said as he flipped a page in Mom’s chart and paused. “Oh, wait. No, not yours,” he said directly to Mom. “We don’t monitor them as closely once you’re cured.”

There it was.  He said the C-word.  “Cured.” I chomped down on that word like a Rottweiler on the mailman’s leg.  Cured. No doctor has wanted to say that to us yet. Even if he slipped, he said it.  He said it and I believe it and I’m going to hold onto that spark of reassurance for the rest of my days.

“Since you brought it up, we will check them for you next week, okay?” Dr. V. looked at me with raised eyebrows and I realized that a manic smile must be stretching across my face.

“That’d be great,” I said, hoping I wasn’t scaring him. I really do like Dr. V., despite my inherent distrust of conventional medicine and my decade-old belief that chemotherapy is Lucifer in liquid form. All of the physicians who have guided us along this journey have been compassionate, caring and sincere individuals whom I have grown to respect immensely. Their hearts are true and their priority, like mine, is taking care of Mom.

So we continue with the care and the treatment and – if we may be so bold – the cure. We ask that our friends continue with the prayers. And we wait to see where this journey will lead us.  After all, we walk by faith and not by sight. Well, most people walk; I seem to stumble along.

Mabel and Maximus

When we brought Max home, Mabel did not like him.  Let me rephrase for clarity: Mabel despised him.

I think it was Max’s quick, jumpy movements that made Mabel think he was perhaps little more than a funny-looking squirrel. I could almost read in her eyes the desire to chase him and the sure knowledge that, unlike all the others, she could catch this one.

Max knew immediately that Mabel was one of his kind. She, on the other hand, would not lower herself to believe such nonsense.

Mabel was curious about Max, but did not want him looking at her.  She would approach him when he wasn’t paying attention, sniff his fur, and then quickly look away the instant he turned his head toward her, as if to say, “It wasn’t me!” I swear, she’d whistle at the ceiling if she could.

All Max really wanted to do was snuggle with her.  All Mabel really wanted to do was serve him with breakfast.

When he sought her out, inching close enough to touch her foot or sniff her leg, Mabel would jump in the air, execute a ballerina-football-player move and land three feet away, wide eyed and panting. Sometimes, the hair along her spine would raise as she glared at him for daring to touch her. Other times she would just look at me as if to beg, “Control that beast!!”

We brought Max home on a Friday night. On Saturday morning Mabel watched as Max tried in vain to haul off with one of her bone-shaped chew toys.  When he finally gave in to the fact that the weight of the bone was more than he could lift, he abandoned the project in favor of chasing Victoria’s painted toenails. Seeing that her toy was no longer being violated, Mabel whisked it away to my flowerbed, where for the first time ever we watched her bury it so no one could find it.  Never mind that she left it half sticking out of the ground like a waving flag. Her instincts were on and she was protecting what was hers.

That Sunday morning Mabel lay sunning herself in the grass beside my flower bed, likely as a means to guard what she had buried the day before.  Max minded his own business on the patio until their eyes met. Then he began to slowly move toward her. Like a lion stalking prey in the outback, Max crouched to the ground and steadily put one foot in front of the other. Mabel’s eyebrow quirked upward. Her ears perked up and she watched him intently, not maliciously, for the first time.  I thought I saw a flash of recognition in her eyes.  “Hey, that thing might be a dog after all. Interesting.”

I took it as a good sign that Mabel might stop thinking of him as a walking hors d’oeuvre, and that hopefully soon we could let them play unsupervised. As it was, we monitored every single interaction. Because of Mabel’s fierce rejection of him initially, I feared any interest from her was self-serving and possibly detrimental to Max’s well-being, especially since she still gave him the “crazy eye” every time he came near her.

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On the eighth day of Max’s life in our household, Mabel pawed at him before placing her mouth around his neck and giving him a quick spin across the patio. He righted himself, turned and lunged at her face. She ran far and fast to the end of the yard, leaving Max standing alone in her dust. She returned quickly and they faced off once again.  She pawed at him again, but this time he was ready. He ducked, evaded her jaws, and displayed toes and teeth as he sprang at her face. She ran away, only to return again with a playful look in her eyes.  Finally, I mused and let out a long held breath.

“So, Mabel,” I drawled as I scooped Max up and plopped him in my lap. “You think you can get by without eating him now?”

Mabel approached and ducked her head for me to scratch behind her ears. I held Max away from her so he would not run her off with the continued snapping of his little puppy jaws.  His squirming calmed as he saw Mabel relax under my hand, and he watched as she moved herself along my chair so that eventually my hand was positioned at the base of her spine, her favorite spot to be scratched. Max inched across my lap and stood on the arm of the lawn chair before gently placing his tiny paws on Mabel’s rump. She didn’t seem to mind that, so he decided to take it a step further. He slowly leaned his head down…and bit her tail.

Mabel’s head turned quickly to look over her back and her eyes narrowed on the ball of ivory fluff partially balanced on her hind end.  Then, with two quick swipes of her tail, she reprimanded him firmly and unmistakably. Wha-BAM! Max recoiled in my lap. And that was the official beginning to peace among pups in my home.

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Now, they play together with reckless abandon, Max jumping to bite at her face, narrowly missing her jawline and landing his teeth sometimes around her collar. If he hangs on tightly enough, he gets worn like a new and cumbersome dog tag.  She may not trust him implicitly yet, but Mabel is finally beginning to appreciate this new little furball in her life.

I compiled a little video of the past three weeks for your viewing pleasure.  it is no great work of video skill, but it’s stuffed to the brim with cute. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Mabel and Max, wonderpups extraordinaire:

Maximus Decimus Mainiero

So, yeah…it’s true. It happened. After Two. Long. Years.  We all knew it would, right? We finally caved to our fur-loving alter-egos. We welcomed a new little bundle of joy into our homes with wide-open arms and slightly wagging tails… er, tail.

We got a puppy.

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See, what ha’ happened was…

Two Fridays ago I picked Victoria up from school and asked if she wanted to go home or ride with me to get Aaron. She opted to ride with me if we could stop for drinks somewhere along the way.  She felt like Starbucks. I, on the other hand, did not feel like dropping Andrew Jackson on our afternoon snacks.

“How about we stop at a gas station and get some ICEEs?” I happily suggested. On a hot, sunny day I can take one for the team, high fructose corn syrup be damned.

“At a gas station?” She wrinkled her nose and gave me that disgusted-teenage-girl glare.

“Where the hell do you think ICEEs come from, missy?” I broke the seal on cussing in front of my kids several years back.  Hey, it happens.

“Gross, Mom. But whatever.”

Oh, please. I can count on one hand the number of times she has turned her daddy down for a ride to the First and Last so she could return with an ICEE big enough to deliver a four-day sugar shock.

“Good. ICEEs, here we come,” I said and pressed the accelerator.

Minutes later we were pulling into a parking spot at a quaint little neighborhood gas station on the way to Aaron’s school. As we approached the door, we saw a handmade paper sign taped to the window: “Free puppies. Husky/Lab. Beautiful pups,” followed by a phone number.

Now, truth be told, even though I am a Lab lover through and through, whenever we first spoke of the potential for another puppy in our home, Dom’s heart was set on a Husky. After some discussion we dismissed the idea, both knowing that our climate is too hot for a Husky’s comfort.  But, I think the thought of getting a Lab was too close to what we had lost and might only serve to enlarge the Mason-sized hole in his heart.  At the end of our conversations, we decided not to think on it anymore and just let whatever would be, well…be.

“Oh, Mama,” Victoria crooned as her eyes grew wide and a smile spread over her entire face. “Daddy wants a Husky; you want a Lab. I think Jesus has the wheel on this one!”

I snickered as I snapped a photo of the sign and prepared to text it to Dom. “Let’s make sure your Daddy wants Jesus taking the wheel on this one,” I said.  With that, we went inside and got our ICEEs.

Ten minutes later we were at the high school waiting for the bell to ring when Dom called my cell phone. Vic had been tirelessly texting him since he got the photo from me. I answered the phone and heard a small chuckle.

“What’s this all about?” he asked.  “Where are they? How many do they have? Do you know how old they are?”

He was giving a considerably better response than the Hell No I was expecting, so I said, “Let me make a phone call and I’ll call you back.”

I called him back minutes later to relay that there were two litters born roughly a month apart, maybe fourteen weeks ago, and brought to Shreveport from Canada as wildfire refugees.  There were only two males still available.  One was black with white speckles and one was solid white.

“Hmm,” Dom replied before a long silence. “Well,” he continued finally, “if you come home with a puppy tonight, make sure it’s the white one.”

I hung up the phone and Vic gave me a high five. When Aaron got in the car I told him we were going to look at puppies. He let loose with a loud groan and the announcement that he didn’t want another dog. What was up with my moody children on such a sunny Friday? I shoved an ICEE at him and told him to buckle up.  We made the six minute drive to the House of Puppies, Victoria chattering and Aaron groaning the whole way.  At a stop sign, I looked at Victoria and said in all seriousness, “Prepare for this to not be the dog for us, okay? We have to have a code phrase, something that means we are going home empty handed and I don’t want to hear crap about it. Understand? If I say, ‘I just don’t know how Mabel will react,’ that’s the code. That means my answer is no and we are going home. Do not fuss, whine or beg if I say I don’t know how Mabel will react. Just get back in the car. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said, even though the irises of her eyes had already turned puppy-shaped.

I pulled into a neat driveway and we walked up a manicured side yard to a backyard guest house. On the porch were nearly a dozen rolling, bouncing fur balls. The black and white speckled male jumped up wildly as we were greeted by the man to whom I had spoken on the phone.

“You said they’re from Canada?” I asked, hoping for clarification on how they got to Shreveport, of all places.

“My sister lives in Canada,” he explained. “She owns two huskies that got impregnated by the same male Lab a month apart.  The pups were born and then the wildfires spread closer to them, and they couldn’t deal with all these pups and evacuating themselves too. She called me and said her husband was going to drown them. I told her to get those dogs to me and I would find them good homes. And here they are.”

He pointed out the two males and I said we were interested in the white one, which was actually more ivory than white, and evidently from the younger litter. My heart smiled when he picked up the little pup by the scruff and handed him to Victoria. The puppy licked her face and snuggled contentedly against her neck. I beamed at how much he looked like Mason did at that age. So cute.  Just a ball of buff-colored fluff and ears. Victoria eyed me closely before asking dramatically, “So, Mom, what do you think Mabel will think of him, huhhhhhhh?”

“I think Mabel will like him just fine,” I said through a tight grin.  After thanking the man and promising him that I would continue with puppy shots and deworming, we got in the car and drove home. I called Dom from the car and announced in my best Armageddon movie voice, “Houston, our crew is all present and accounted for.  We’re even heavy one cosmonaut.”

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The puppy roamed all over Victoria’s lap as we drove. “Is his name Max?” Vic asked me.

“Of course it is,” I replied.  I mean, duhh. Everyone knows I name my dogs years before they are born. Our Mason was named after a Steven Seagal movie character long before he was even a tiny yellow embryo. Next, we sought a black Lab and named her Mabel for the sole privilege of yelling out the back door, “Hey Mabel, Black Label!”  And, in my days of wanting the Labrador Trifecta I had planned to add a Chocolate Lab to the mix and name him Mocha.  Three M’s, five letters each – hey, I’m nothing if not OCD.  But once Mason was gone, I no longer wanted the Trifecta and, not believing I would have another Lab, my brain rummaged around for a new name.  And that’s when I settled on Maximus. As in, the Gladiator. So, yeah, my pups are named after two movie bad-asses and a 1940’s beer ad.  Priorities, right? Aren’t you glad I used other methods in naming my children? Better yet, aren’t my children glad?

“So, what’s his middle name?” Vic asked a day later.

“Decimus,” I casually replied.

Her face screwed up as she bellowed, “What?!”

“He’s Commander of the Armies of the North,” I continued in a squeaky voice as I scratched Max behind the ears, the voice primarily for his benefit. He gave several enthusiastic licks that said he’d gladly be Commander, as long as the army was made entirely of chew toys.

Victoria stared at me, dumbfounded. “What the heck does that even mean?!!”

That, my dear, means it’s time for you to sit down and watch this movie with me.  Let’s make some popcorn first.

The Flight of Fifteen

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When I sat here last December to write the year’s final post, I had such high hopes that 2015 would be better than 2014. In the day-to-day mundane, I recognize that it has been, or at least that it was peaceful and we were happily present in the moments we were given within our own walls. But as for milestones and highlights, well, I have to say that we had more low points than I care for.

Most of our more memorable events of 2015 are, unfortunately, the kind of moments that knocked us to the ground, leaving us dizzy and confused, trying desperately to regain our equilibrium or at the very least, the air in our lungs. 2015 was good at sucker-punching us, if not much else. From the unexpected passing of our favorite priest ten days into the new year, to the loss of our diocese’s first bishop and first chancellor in the spring, to my uncle’s death from colon cancer at the end of the summer and the pancreatic cancer diagnosis my mother-in-law received in October, I was ready to wash my hands of this year before the first leaf hit the ground.

It has been a hard year, but it has also been beautiful. It is only so if we look at it through a lens of faith, which we are called to do in our home. Through that lens we can see peace in death, strength in illness, beauty in aging, and love manifested in the care and concern of family and friends who have come to our side as we mourn, cry and rage against things we cannot see.

These year-end posts are not about the moments that I will never be able to forget, no matter how tightly I shut my eyes. They are instead about the moments that I dare to recall during the tougher times – the simple, the peaceful, the ordinary – the very moments that construct security and belonging within my family, the moments that are so simple in their beauty, so brief in their existence, they threaten to vanish if I blink. So I memorialize the wonky and the haphazard, the simple and the prosaic, so that I may remember that these more modest days of our experience make life profoundly good.

Without further adieu, I give you the more pleasant moments of 2015.  Drumroll, please…

January: Here are my offspring, together and smiling. This was likely taken two seconds before a wrestling match broke out in my kitchen. January

February: Since the rest of the snowday pics already showed up in another post, this is – sadly – the best I have to share from the month of my birthday. This is Mabel’s reindeer, mooning the backyard. Said toy was strategically placed here by Mabel herself, probably for the benefit of the squirrels and cardinals that evade her attacks.

February
March: Both kids got sick at the same time, so here we sat in the pediatrician’s office. They each offered their middle finger for the blood sample so that they could proudly “show each other their bandaids” for the rest of the afternoon. Ugh.

March
April: Mabel gets and appreciates a lot of attention nowadays. Here she is in my bed. (Ahem!) On my pillow. And yes, she is just in the process of raising her paw and rolling so her belly can be rubbed. Sheesh!

April

May: Ahhhh, Mother’s Day breakfast in bed. They only made two pieces of toast, so there was no second “M.” But there was Starbucks, so all was forgiven.

May

June: Our river trip to Concan, Texas. Victoria has since announced that she plans to attend vet school at A&M, so I figured this was the most appropriate photo.

June
July: This photo earned Gracie Lou a shaming on Facebook when a search for the missing toaster led us to her bedroom.

July
August: Aaron and I got an early start making our Halloween decorations. Here is one of the tombstones that eventually graced our front yard.

August
September: Mabel and her Octopus. I really can’t resist this face.

September
October: The kids took turns chauffeuring each other around the property during one of our more relaxing evenings.

October
November: Just us girls with our Mother-In-Law, Charolette, on Thanksgiving Day. As a family, we have so very much to be thankful for.

November

December: Though we are not really cowboy-hat sorta people, Dom and I have wanted black Stetsons for roughly ten years. Wish fulfilled.

DecemberSo, there is the 2015 that I choose to remember. Bring whatever you’ve got, 2016. My gloves are on.

Chasing Tumbleweeds

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My early childhood was spent in a dustbowl just this side of the Permian Basin, the way-out-west that occupies Texas just before the mountains that edge the Lone Star State. We moved to Louisiana from Sweetwater, Texas when I was eight years old. Aside from one or two childhood vacations to visit family, I would not return until shortly after my wedding, when Dom and I went to Merkel so he could meet my grandpa. My next trip west would be eight years later to attend my grandpa’s funeral.

I think often of my last Texas residence. The memories loom larger than life: the tree in our front yard that I climbed regularly, whether it was a mimosa or just the tree planted next to a mimosa, my goal was always to pick those fluffy pink flowers; the cinder-block fence of our backyard where my dad, grandfather and uncle would stage fireworks displays; the kindergarten classroom with the colorful shapes in the center of each table to match our nametags so we would know where we belonged. I recall with amazing clarity the day I returned from the restroom and insisted I belonged at the blue triangle table. The blonde-haired boy who occupied my seat looked up at me like I’d escaped from an institution. Seconds later, the teacher was placing her hands gently on my shoulders to steer me away as I looked down at my own nametag and saw – to my horror! – an orange triangle. I can see my dad’s eighteen-wheeler parked along the curb in front of our house, the running rabbit plate on the front bumper and his CB handle, “Ramrod,” painted on the side of the blue cab. I remember the sound of him rattling chains and tie downs, and the smell of tar from a load he was hauling. (I also remember how fun it was to peel the dried tar droplets off the street, roll them into balls and manipulate them like modeling clay. Probably explains that twitch I have now. Kidding…) I remember selling painted rocks to all our elderly neighbors, and mom escorting me back up the street an hour later to return everyone’s money. I remember using tumbleweeds as kick-balls and horned-toads as pets-of-the-day. I remember sand storms in the sky and those awful stickers in the yard. Trust me, in West Texas barefoot is not an option.

My parents and I returned to the area I most remember on the way to my uncle’s funeral this past week. Just before Midland we stopped in Sweetwater and revisited our haunts from days gone by.   From the old drive-in to Nine Mile Mountain, I learned more than I knew before about the era in which my parents met. What follows is a pictorial narrative of our trip down Memory Lane.

This first pic does not belong in Memory Lane, necessarily, but all the windmills in west Texas are an intriguing sight. Windmill blades grace the entrances to the town.

File_000 (4)Staton’s Pharmacy, where my dad hoped to grab a familiar bite to eat. Sadly, the pharmacy has closed down.

20150923_174029049_iOSMy great-grandmother’s house. I remember sitting on those steps by the sidewalk during some of our visits. And this particular style of porch column always makes me think of this place.

20150923_174237622_iOSSweetwater High School, Home of the Mustangs, where my parents met during their Senior year, and where my grandmother taught Home Economics.

File_001 (1)The Mustang Bowl – SHS’s football stadium.

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The house where my mom grew up. I think this is also where she got in trouble for standing on the curb and talking to my dad as he sat in his idling car.

20150923_175615456_iOSThe movie theater downtown. I used to think it was soooooo cool!

File_003The rock house built by my great-grandfather.

20150923_180715348_iOSOur old street.

File_000My grandparents’ house, where we lived while they were living in Alaska. I was heartbroken to see the once brown house now painted pink and the front porch bricked in. And I would have loved to sneak back toward the garage and snap a photo of our footprints and names in the cement, but I’m not much into trespassing.

File_001My first school: Southeast Elementary. Cue collective Awwwwwwww.

File_002Allen’s Fried Chicken. Supposedly THE place to eat in Sweetwater. We didn’t stop.

20150923_173845448_iOSThe church where my parents got married.

File_004The Brookshire’s used to be The Village grocery store. Or was The Village the entire shopping center? There may have been a Piggly Wiggly somewhere in here too. I just remember the big V in the sky, and caught myself wishing for just a moment that I could bring it home to Victoria.

File_005The old drive-in theater – this is the back of the movie screen. I think I rode with my parents here to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Being that I was so young and impressionable, they told me all the red stuff in the movie was tomato juice. I still associate the title to that movie with V8.

File_006Nine Mile Mountain is a mountain nine miles out of Sweetwater. Genius. Mom said from the top of the mountain you could see the whole town. Also at the top is the Double Heart Ranch, which my parents seemed to know, um, by heart.

File_000 (2)The old town has certainly changed, and then in some ways it hasn’t. Our reason for traveling west was sad, our visit to a town much smaller than our memories of it was bittersweet. But we did get a chance to visit with some of mom and dad’s friends from high school, and I got treated to all kinds of legendary stories. All in all, it was nice to chase those tumbleweeds for a while.

Growth Spurt

Last night I dreamed that my son was a baby. He toddled up to me at the dinner table and I scooped him into my arms and cradled him while I visited with dinner guests. Then I asked him if he was sleepy and he nodded, so I released him (obviously planning to escort him to a nap) and he disappeared. I found him after several frantic moments – he was toddling around the house with my Aunt Penny. She was showing him different household items and teaching him their purposes. Aaron was absorbing it all, even with that sleepy little smile on his face. The dream was sweet and real and comforting.

And then I woke up. Life has a way of doing that to us, doesn’t it?

The truth of the matter is that I think I am not dealing well with my son growing up. Some co-workers and I chatted about this the other day (they are my built-in, always-on-call therapists). One mentioned that it seems easier watching girls grow up because they mature in small spurts and then plateau for a little while, so you have some time to get used to the growth. It sort of snuggles up to you and butters you up for the next big thing so that whatever lies just ahead isn’t such a mind-blower.

Boys’ growth just bitch-slaps the hell out of you and then moves on.

Aaron got his braces off last week. We’ve had a busy start to the school year, but it has been manageable, expected. Or so I thought. At this particular appointment, one orthodontic assistant came out to talk to me while others were finishing up with Aaron. She gave me a brief rundown on the progress of the treatment and then said, “It’s also time to get his wisdom teeth evaluated for extraction.”

Without thinking I blurted, “NO!”

Her eyes grew wide and she took a step back. “I’m sorry,” she said – it was half statement, half question.

I felt tears stinging the back of my eyes. Get it together, Lori. This lady did not look old enough to have kids at all, let alone a teenager, so the odds of her completely understanding my outburst were slim.

“No, I’m sorry,” I said, softening my voice, but still unable to control its shaking. “This is all too fast. You don’t understand – just two months ago he was four inches shorter. We shopped for clothes in the boys’ section last spring, and we shopped in the men’s section last week. He just turned 15, is about to start driving, and when he speaks, I turn to see what man has just come into my home.” There was no dawning recognition on her face, so I continued to sputter. “Now you want to talk about wisdom teeth, which I didn’t have to think about until I was in college – I can’t – I just can’t go there right now.”

She smiled, but pressed on. “Do you have an oral surgeon that your family uses already?”

My mind was still on my baby, who used to swing his feet from the booster in the backseat, but who now fills the backseat with barely enough room for his legs, another fact that slapped me in the face just the week prior. So I absently said, “No, my oral surgeon died.”

“Well, you don’t want to use him, then,” she retorted, which made me laugh out loud and sort of shook me back to reality. Aaron appeared behind her and we chatted about retainers and such before leaving with a bag full of every type of candy his braces had prevented him from eating in the last two years – and the business card of a local oral surgeon.

Touché, Life. Touché.

One Year Later

As I write this, it has been one year and one hour since our favorite dog of all time breathed his last breath in the back of my van. It hasn’t been an easy year, and the transition to a five-heartbeat household has been most unwelcome, but we are at peace. The gentleness of that spirit who was part dog/part angel stays with us. We have a family mantra that reminds us to be like Mason, to enjoy life and to love without limits, to be happy in all things.

As with so many pivotal moments in our lives, we divide our happenings into two categories: before we said goodbye to Mason, and after. We prefer the Before, thankyouverymuch. But, as an update on the positive side of After, Mabel is entirely different now. She loves affection. Where she couldn’t have cared less before, she now waits patiently for our arrival after work. She snuggles more now, choosing to sleep curled up beside my legs. She demands attention when she feels she has not received enough. And, a change that I know Mason nudged her toward, she finally found joy in dancing with me in the kitchen, just like he used to.

And so we acknowledge the significance of today, of who we are and of where we’ve been, grateful for the companion that shared so many of our days with us.

We love you, Monk. We miss you still.

Mason and Vic, 2011

Mason and Vic, 2011