Mason, 1998–2013

Mason, our Stan­dard Poo­dle, died Fri­day night. We got him from his breed­er when he was ten months old, and he was our dog until he died, just one month shy of his fif­teenth birth­day.

Mason (see more pho­tos at Flickr)

Dur­ing his long life he sur­vived inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease, a par­a­lyzed lar­ynx, can­cer and a cou­ple bouts with pneu­mo­nia. We were pret­ty sure this last round of pneu­mo­nia would do him in, he’d lost an alarm­ing amount of weight, and showed lit­tle inter­est in his food. It took him a long month to show signs of recov­ery.

Iron­i­cal­ly, it was his renewed inter­est in food that killed him. Fri­day night he grew increas­ing­ly uncom­fort­able and unset­tled. By mid­night, it was clear some­thing was wrong, and we sus­pect­ed bloat, a con­di­tion in large breed dogs where exces­sive gas caus­es the intestines to twist and tight­en, trap­ping the gas and caus­ing expan­sion of the bel­ly and ribcage. It requires imme­di­ate surgery to cor­rect.

I took him to the emer­gency vet­eri­nar­i­an, and they con­firmed the con­di­tion. We chose not to put him through the surgery and the long recov­ery, an ordeal he would not like­ly have sur­vived, and which would have extend­ed his help­less­ness, pain, and mis­ery.

They gave him a seda­tive for the pain, and I got to vis­it with him for a lit­tle while. He could­n’t lift his head, but his eyes were open, and his tail wagged a lit­tle. I’d always imag­ined whis­per­ing to him in his last moments that he was good dog, but he’d lost most of his hear­ing the last few years, so I rubbed his ears instead, which is what Poo­dles love best. I cried a lot, and wor­ried that I was upset­ting him, so I asked the doc­tor in to end it. I was there when he died, I caressed him, and I cried some more. After it was over the doc­tor told me I could stay as long as I liked, but Mason was­n’t in there any­more, so I took his col­lar and went home to my fam­i­ly, to grieve with them. That was 2:00 am Sat­ur­day morn­ing.

He spent his whole life with us, and fif­teen years is a long time for a big dog to live. He came to us as a crazy, ener­getic pup­py, always run­ning and chas­ing, hunt­ing bun­nies and squir­rels. He nev­er caught one, but not for lack of try­ing. His favorite game was chase, usu­al­ly start­ed as an attempt to get him to play fetch, trans­formed by his pref­er­ence for keep-away. He got so excit­ed when peo­ple came to vis­it, we had to train him to put a toy in his mouth so he would­n’t nip. I don’t think I noticed when he got old enough that he stopped doing that, and it stopped being a prob­lem. It just did. He nev­er suf­fered sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety, but when we were home he liked being near us. He’d fol­low us around the house, set­tling where we set­tled, even after he’d grown old enough that stairs were more than an incon­ve­nience to him. In the last months, we would car­ry him down to be with us while we watched TV, then car­ry him back up. Bloat may have done the deed, but old age is what killed him.

It seems like he’s been with us for every­thing that’s been sig­nif­i­cant in our lives. He was our first child. He was there when our first son demot­ed him back to dog. And he was still there when our sec­ond son demot­ed him even fur­ther, and when our sec­ond dog put him in his place. He lived in every house we owned. He went camp­ing and canoe­ing with us. He vis­it­ed grand­par­ents and friends, from Min­neapo­lis to Wichi­ta. He was in a fam­i­ly reunion pho­to four gen­er­a­tions deep. He was our fam­i­ly before we had a fam­i­ly. And he was part of our fam­i­ly when we did.

I loved him.

He was a good dog, even if he could­n’t hear me say so.

He can run and play and chase like he used to now, in our hearts and minds.

Scouting Dilemma

On the one hand, the Boy Scouts of Amer­i­ca are (offi­cial­ly) a dis­crim­i­na­to­ry orga­ni­za­tion of whom I real­ly do not approve. On the oth­er hand, my boys are in Boy Scouts (Cub Scouts, tech­ni­cal­ly). They enjoy the peer social activ­i­ties, and I enjoy the oppor­tu­ni­ties they would not have if they were not in an orga­ni­za­tion like that (camp­ing, civic duties, vol­un­teer­ing, etc.). I also like that they have friends there and get to hang with them.

But I am find­ing it more and more dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile the two.

There are few estab­lished alter­na-Scout­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able in our area. (No Camp­Fire group, no YMCA Adven­ture Guides, no BPSA group.)

So, I can:

  1. Keep my kids in the BSA and shut my mouth (or work from with­in for change). In the mean­time I keep send­ing mon­ey to the BSA, implic­it­ly sup­port­ing their posi­tions.

  2. Pull my kids from Scout­ing and enjoy not hav­ing annoy­ing activ­i­ties three times a month.

  3. Put my time and trea­sure where my ethics are and start some­thing myself, either per­son­al­ly ((DIY looks cool) or with the struc­ture (if not sup­port) of some orga­ni­za­tion like BPSA.

The first choice, stick­ing it out, is where we have default­ed. But when we joined the cur­rent Pack, (remem­ber, we just moved) at the intro­duc­to­ry meet­ing some hon­cho from the local Coun­cil came to sell it, and the first thing he said was how won­der­ful it is to have a place “where we can talk about God. We can’t do it in our schools!” He went on a bit about how glo­ri­ous this was, and how impor­tant, and then he might have caught my eye and he nev­er came back to it. It left a real­ly unpleas­ant taste in my mouth.

The sec­ond choice, ditch­ing, would be easy, but it feels so wrong. Worse than choice num­ber one, in fact.

The last one is clear­ly the right choice. But I am old, lazy, and tired (or at least I feel that way) and this would be a huge com­mit­ment on my part. I think there might be some sup­port in the com­mu­ni­ty (at the very least in my church, where it has already been brought up once), so I prob­a­bly would­n’t be fly­ing alone. But this is real­ly quite a daunt­ing task. I am, shall we say, daunt­ed by the thought of it.

Thoughts? Encour­age­ment? Vol­un­teers?

Wish I was still reading Among Others

I fin­ished read­ing Jo Wal­ton’s much prize-win­ning book, Among Oth­ers yes­ter­day. Through­out, I found myself sort of drift­ing, lik­ing the book, but not feel­ing ter­ri­bly com­pelled. Now that it is done, how­ev­er, I find that I am miss­ing it. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly in that way that you wish you knew what hap­pened to Har­ry after Volde­mort, but rather… well, I just miss it. The char­ac­ters, the world, the is-it-or-isn’t-it mag­ic, the feel of it.

I’m pick­ing some­thing else to read now, but I sort of just feel like sit­ting and day­dream­ing about Among Oth­ers a lit­tle while longer.

Quite a book. Not for every­one. ymmv.

Forty freakin’ two

Too old to be a child prodi­gy, too young to be an elder states­man. Today is my birth­day. Seri­ous thoughts on the date itself lat­er today, but for now, I just want to give a shout out to my par­ents, with­out whom I would not be here, and my fam­i­ly, with­out whom I would not be here. My life is pret­ty good right now, and I have only had a lit­tle part in that. Much love.

My health is good, how’s yours?

I remem­ber hear­ing this sto­ry on NPR back at the start of the year. Basi­cal­ly what it says is that if you get to mid­dle age as a non-smok­er, with good cho­les­terol, glu­cose, and blood pres­sure, your chance of dying of a heart attack is super-low. But if you have two or more of these risk fac­tors, you only have a 50/50 chance of get­ting to The End with­out a heart attack.

On hear­ing this, I felt an over­whelm­ing urge to tell my twen­ty-year-old self to get with the pro­gram, that my already-mid­dle-aged self could­n’t do any­thing about it at this point. Twen­ty-year-old self thumbed his nose at me and ate more Chee­tos.

I had­n’t had a phys­i­cal in a few years (in my defense, my doc­tor told me the last time to come back “in a few years”), and I don’t think I’d ever had my cho­les­terol or glu­cose checked. Like ever.

So, on the cusp of 42, I sched­uled a phys­i­cal.

My doc­tor is a hoot. She’s like 6 foot, tall and mus­cu­lar, and could snap me like a twig. She’s also fun­ny and per­son­able, and likes tak­ing some time to chat. We went over how I’d been, how I was inter­est­ed in this blood pan­el of stats, and, oh yeah, we have this lit­tle prostate thing to check, now that you’re over 40.

I had been expect­ing this, but was hold­ing out hope because in some places on the Inter­net you can find peo­ple who say you can wait until age 50 before check­ing your prostate health. Of course, oth­er places on the Inter­net will tell you it’s best to check your prostate health your­self. And those places have video. The Inter­net is all about pick­ing and choos­ing your sources, right?

My doc­tor had­n’t been to either of these sites, appar­ent­ly, as she went on to deliv­er a very detailed descrip­tion of what she was about to do. In the end (rimshot!) it was quick, pain­less, and real­ly kind of anti­cli­mac­tic. It seems my prostate is fine. She tossed her glove, washed her hands, and we went on to sto­ries about her kids (appar­ent­ly they’d LOVE my t‑shirt).

On Mon­day, I got my blood test results. And as it turns out, I am well with­in the healthy norms for all the things they check.

So, yay me. Not dead yet.

In read­ing the linked study (yes, the actu­al study, yay Inter­net! I for­give you for the prostate self-test videos), a cou­ple things are clear.

First, I still have a long way to go (age 55) to real­ly meet their cri­te­ria, so I have some time before I can start huff­ing cans of Red­di-wip for break­fast.

And sec­ond, low­er­ing the inci­dence of heart dis­ease and heart relat­ed deaths (and stroke, they men­tioned, too) real­ly requires pre­vent­ing risk fac­tors from emerg­ing, rather than treat­ing them once they exist. Get­ting reg­u­lar blood tests to mon­i­tor your blood pres­sure, glu­cose lev­els, and cho­les­terol can be key in notic­ing when things are get­ting bad before they get bad.

Which means, go see your doc­tor, twen­ty-year-old selves.

The search for church

I’ve nev­er been a reli­gious guy. I don’t believe in God. I see a lot of the crap that goes down in the world in the name of one God or Anoth­er, and it does­n’t do much to change my opin­ion. My moth­er used to take me to church when I was lit­tle (she took the whole fam­i­ly), but all I got from it was an abid­ing love for sug­ar cubes and a mem­o­ry of a burn­ing bush col­lage I once made.

As a young and not so young adult, I dab­bled in church­ing, but noth­ing ever stuck. I mar­ried Catholic, so we tried that (shout out to Sacred Heart in Oma­ha!) but we also checked out the Methodists and sev­er­al Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist con­gre­ga­tions.

But you know what? Going to church every freakin’ week is hard. So we did­n’t.

Then we had kids. Cou­pled with our recent move to Kansas City—a move we hope and plan to be our last—that set us to church hunt­ing again. The local Catholic parish is pret­ty strict­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, so they were out. We tried a UCC con­gre­ga­tion in the neigh­bor­hood, as they are pret­ty inclu­sive, yet still Chris­t­ian (some­thing we want­ed to try on for size), but between feel­ing like fresh meat and their pub­lic recit­ing of the creed (which I will para­phrase as “do good in the name of Christ”), we did not feel com­plete­ly com­fort­able.

So we went back to the well, and looked up the local Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist church. The Shawnee Mis­sion Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist Church (SMUUCh, and if that isn’t rea­son enough to join…)

The first time we vis­it­ed, we found it full of peo­ple. Young, old, fam­i­lies. There was singing, and food after­wards, Sun­day school and a ser­mon. It was like real church! As we walked up to the front door, see­ing Prius­es in the park­ing lot, the hip­ster glass­es on the woman greet­ing us at the door, I turned to Tiffany and joked, “these are Our Peo­ple.”

But I was right, I think. Four months lat­er, we are mem­bers (if you know us, you know we don’t buy ice cubes with­out research­ing them for a month pri­or). The com­mu­ni­ty is large, vibrant, engaged and engag­ing. They have exten­sive reli­gious edu­ca­tion class­es, exten­sive adult groups, and a strong com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice eth­ic. The church is active in the nation­al UU orga­ni­za­tion.

And, if you’ll par­don the lan­guage… they are Lib­er­al as fuck.

So, we’ve found a com­mu­ni­ty. It hap­pens to be a church. They have accept­ed us despite our foibles, as they accept every­one. They will help us learn and grow and most impor­tant of all, they will help our chil­dren learn and grow and be Good Peo­ple.

I still don’t believe in God, but I have always believed in some­thing. Now I can go, once a week, to be with peo­ple who also believe in some­thing. This isn’t our first time at a UU church. They vary wide­ly, and depend sig­nif­i­cant­ly on the min­is­ter at the front of the room. But more impor­tant­ly, the com­mu­ni­ty behind the church is what dri­ves it (and, more pro­saical­ly, hires and fires the min­is­ter…) That com­mu­ni­ty is what we were look­ing for, what we have found, and what we have joined.

Thank God.

I wish you all the best of luck find­ing a com­mu­ni­ty you can con­nect with, churchy or not.

Universal Solvent for the win

Yes­ter­day was Fathers’ Day, and it was nice. I got toast in bed and a few presents.

I got a new umbrel­la to replace the one I bent when I slipped in the snow last Win­ter. I fig­ured the peri­od of mourning/humiliation was over, and I could stop using it. And I got a copy of the new­ly mint­ed ver­sion of Wiz War, a game I played in col­lege (twen­ty years ago, now) and have held on to ever since. You may know that I got my eight year-old son to play the orig­i­nal with me a few times this past year, and yes­ter­day, we played the new one.

Old and bust­ed, Wiz­War cir­ca 1990
The new hotness, WizWar circa 2012
The new hot­ness, Wiz­War cir­ca 2012

It was long (about two hours, what with learn­ing the changed rules and pop­ping out all the mark­ers for the first time) but we had a lot of fun, which end­ed abrupt­ly when I real­ized I could use the Uni­ver­sal Sol­vent to melt the wall between me and the win­ning square. At which point I did just that, and my son gra­cious­ly accept­ed defeat. He had me on the run until that moment, and I am ever so proud of him for his very mature reac­tion.

Hope­ful­ly that made up for my vic­to­ry dance around the table. (No, I did not actu­al­ly do that.)

So, old Wiz War: awe­some. New Wiz War: prob­a­bly actu­al­ly more awe­some, though we should play it a few more times.

Also, Wiz War, both old and new: total­ly geeky and fid­dly and long and intri­cate and full of mag­ic and silli­ness and spell cards and things like a Uni­ver­sal Sol­vent card. So, ymmv.

Molting tree?

It would appear that the real­ly big sycamore in our back yard is molt­ing? Um. Help?

Our yard with tree bark all over
Our yard with tree bark all over
This is one piece of bark
This is one piece of bark

UPDATE: I’ve been informed by peo­ple more knowl­edge­able than I that sycamore trees do this on a reg­u­lar basis. In fact, since this event, we’ve had sev­er­al more bark­falls, prob­a­bly exac­er­bat­ed by the drought this sum­mer.

Farmers Market Strawberries (and Shortcake, and Morels, and Salad)

Like a month ago now (maybe more?) we went to the farm­ers mar­ket here in Over­land Park for the first time. We bought straw­ber­ries and morels and greens more stuff, and went home and had a most fab­u­lous din­ner. We cooked the morels, added them to pas­ta, had a light greens sal­ad, and made straw­ber­ry short­cake (with real­ly whipped real cream). And I took pic­tures.

Strawberry shortcake, yo
Straw­ber­ry short­cake, yo

Elephant graveyard

Cardinal feathers
Car­di­nal feath­ers

We’ve lived in our new house for about four months now. In that time, my wife (bless her) has col­lect­ed and dis­posed of two dead squir­rels, a ful­ly grown but dead rab­bit, and a mori­bund car­di­nal. We do have dogs, but nei­ther of them are com­pe­tent enough to have caught any of the above.

Which leaves either a neigh­bor­hood killer (cat, moun­tain lion, hexa­va­lent chromi­um?), or the mys­ti­cal: our new back­yard is the neigh­bor­hood’s ele­phant grave­yard, where dying ani­mals go to leave their bones. Or in our case, car­cass­es.

Per­haps this is not an unusu­al num­ber of dead things? But in our pre­vi­ous four­teen years of home own­er­ship I can think of… well, one poi­soned rat, one thread­bare squir­rel, and two ani­mals I killed with a lawn­mow­er (a wee baby bun­ny and a garter snake). So, that’s four in four­teen years, ver­sus four in four months.

Methinks some­thing is up.