Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Believe in the Magic

I love Christmas. It's long been my favorite time of the year. I wanted to have a Christmas wedding because I love this season so much. It's the season that also hosts my son's birthday. The Christmas season is filled with magic. Do you believe in magic?

Christmas is also a time of reflection. This year I've been basking in the magic of the season and reflecting on magic elsewhere in my life. I see magic in my son's eyes every day as he learns more and looks at every day with wonder. This year has reinforced that love and support are magical. My husband has stood by my side and held down the fort in the roughest health year I've had in more than a decade. His love is magic. 

In a year that could have rattled me professionally the exact opposite happened: I feel more confident in my professional relationships and ability than ever. The incredible affirmation I received from those with whom I've worked the last decade was flattering and humbling. I learned that hard work, dedication, being genuine in relationships and passionate about your work matter. While hard work isn't magic, the results can sometimes feel magical. 

The unconditional love of a pet is magical. We may have lost our beloved dog Murphy this year, but our decade with him was filled with love and joy. The unconditional love of our dog Izzy and our cats (if cats can indeed love unconditionally...that's debatable I suppose) fills my heart with joy every day.

In 2016 my health was a significant challenge. I had a week-long hospital stay, months of steroids, half a dozen cycles of antibiotics, a major medication shift (I now do self-injections every two weeks), four iron infusions and many days and nights of feeling generally crummy. Even given that and the frustration that has resulted I am amazed by the human body. While it doesn't always cooperate in the way I want it to, the human body is remarkable. I may have to pare down my ambitious 2017 running goals to continue to let my body heal, but it will heal, and I'll be back with a vengeance.

I am typing this blog by the light of our Christmas tree. I can see the Capitol dome from the window in our living room. The landscape is blanketed with snow, and life is magical. There are so many blessings in life even when they are hidden by challenges. How can you not believe in the magic of the season?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vacation Fatigue

I've decided I suffer from the most first world of problems that I made up and diagnosed myself: vacation fatigue. We love to travel, and we do so liberally. We are rarely home (maybe 1-2 weekends at month at most), and that's the pace we like. Even after our son was born we have rarely deviated from this blistering travel schedule. There are so many places to see and really so little time. 

In the last six months we've spent long weekends in northern Michigan in Traverse City and Boyne City, we've vacationed with my family in Canaan Valley, West Virginia, we've been to Portland, Oregon, Norfolk, Virginia, Las Vegas, and a cruise to the Bahamas. I also went to West Virginia three additional times including a week-long stay in September and an extended stay for Thanksgiving. This amounts to a total of 48 days away from home in a six month period or being gone just over 1/4 of the time. We also had a few getaway weekends in Detroit, and this does not count my husband's additional travel for work. We're gone a lot. 

Following three consecutive trips to Las Vegas, West Virginia and then the Bahamas last weekend, I find myself exhausted. You know the saying "I need a vacation from my vacation"? I desperately need a vacation from my vacations. I need some quality time at home. 

Last Friday my husband and I left for a cruise to the Bahamas with a large group of 17 others. It was part of the continuation of a good friend's 50th birthday year of celebration. We knew about half of the crew, and we took off from Miami in a rain storm for the long weekend. The weekend also preceded my husband's and my 8th wedding anniversary, so we were looking forward to some relaxing time together.

The crew. #bobis50
And relax we did, although maybe even a bit more than we intended. We spent Friday evening drinking. A lot (you'll notice a theme). The rain made the boat rocky, and I needed the alcohol to balance least that's my story. I revised my own drinking rule, that I only drink rum south of Cuba, to instead be south of Miami. That meant bottomless pina coladas and mojitos for me!

First night dinner with the hubs
On Saturday morning I was sluggish but still pushed myself to run on the ship's jogging track with my husband. The day was cloudy and windy, and the cruise did not make a planned stop at its private island as a result of the weather. We did sit on the sunny deck in the morning, but by mid-afternoon driving rain had taken up residence on the ship's decks, and we took refuge by the bar. I took a long nap on Saturday afternoon and completely unwound. My phone did not connect to the internet, and it was glorious. I was 100 percent disconnected.

Obligatory cruise sun selfie.
Saturday evening my husband ended up being sick and left dinner to go to the room. When I checked on him after dinner I decided the most wonderful thing ever would be to take off my dress and makeup and crawl into bed. I was not disappointed.

After a very restful Saturday evening I was up early at the gym on Sunday. My husband was still under the weather, so I ate breakfast and then read on the upper deck of the ship. I am a terrible relaxer, and I had nowhere to be and nothing to do. Later in the morning I disembarked to explore the Bahamian capitol of Nassau. It was not dissimilar from every other cruise port I've been to. I did a quick lap, found the capitol building (nerd alert!) and headed back to the ship where I took another long nap.

Parliament building in Nassau
Beautiful views leaving Nassau

By the time we went to dinner at the ship's delicious French restaurant on our final evening of the cruise, I realized we'd spent a lot of money for me to sleep a lot. Apparently this is what it takes for me to relax. The French restaurant was amazing (I'm a sucker for buttery escargot and duck), and we once again headed to bed relatively early.

The hubs snuck this pic of me and said "This is what you look like actually relaxed."
When we got home after the long weekend I was totally exhausted. It doesn't make sense, does it? I spent the weekend getting tons of sleep and having absolutely nothing on my agenda, yet I returned home exhausted. The weather change was shocking (it was in the teens in Michigan), and there were 100,000 things that needed to be taken care of once we got home. 

As of right this minute I don't have a single trip on my calendar, and it feels both amazing and terrifying. I love traveling, but we need a slight break. I'm sure in a few weeks I'll be itching to leave again (especially if these frigid temps don't let up). But for now I'm content to baby myself to treat my very serious case of vacation fatigue. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

3,657 Days of Joy

Ten years ago my now husband and I decided to get a dog. We'd been dating for almost a year, and we were looking at houses together. Getting a puppy seemed logical at the time (we'd later learn nothing about puppies are in any way logical). For some reason I insisted we get an Irish Setter puppy. We found one in the classified section of the paper, and I called the breeder. She had one puppy left that she was going to save for us to pick up the following morning (a Saturday). We went to Petsmart and bought all of the puppy essentials. We went out to dinner where we decided we'd name our Irish Setter Murphy after Murphy's Irish Stout. We were ready to be canine parents. 

The next morning I called the breeder to learn that she'd sold our Irish Setter puppy the night before. We were upset, but we were already ready to get a dog. We had our minds made up. We shifted and talked about a Golden Retriever instead. I checked the paper and we called about a puppy. Later that morning, on a wet January day, we drove about 40 minutes west of Lansing to a farm to look at Golden puppies. The mom Golden was in a crate in a sunroom as we walked in. She seemed happy and sweet. There were three puppies: two boys and a girl. For some reason we decided we wanted a boy (I don't recall the rhyme or reason behind it). That left us with two choices. One Golden puppy was a hulk of a guy the breeder was calling "Tank". He was large and boisterous. He attacked his puppy siblings with glee. The other boy ran up to us and gave us kisses, and we were hooked. Later as we paid for him we saw him in the corner humping a stuffed toy. That was our Murphy. As we left the farm we saw a flash of yellow fur as a colossal Golden ran behind the barn. We learned that was Murphy's dad, and it was foreshadowing for our life with our big yellow dog.

Getting a six week old puppy is a life altering experience. People think I'm kidding when I say our life was more rocked by a puppy than newborn. I stand by it. We didn't realize how hard it would be to have a puppy. At six weeks old Murphy was used to sleeping with his siblings. He didn't like his big crate and whined incessantly, a challenge in a one bedroom loft apartment with two shared walls. Potty training in January meant multiple trips outside in the middle of the freezing night. We didn't want him sleeping in our bed, but he was awake all night and crying unless he was with us. We finally compromised by putting him in a box beside our bed where we'd wake up at night to the thumping of his little tail on the side of the box.  There were times when we both cried with exhaustion and frustration. Having a puppy isn't for the faint of heart.

Murphy's first day at home, deceiving us with this sleep.
Murphy grew into an amazingly fun and sweet dog. Three months after we got him we closed on our first house. Murphy loved running around the house and destroying it. He chewed a hole in our dining room carpet shortly after we moved in, and we had the hole there until we replaced the carpet upon moving out. Murphy's nails tore holes in our comforters and my husband's hideous leather bachelor couch. He dug holes in the back yard. He was the joy of our life. 

My all-time favorite photo of us, the night we closed on our first home
We took him to obedience class where the crazy teacher chastised us for our lax training. We brought a dog trainer to our home, and Murphy proceeded to hump her for no less than 20 minutes. A typical male Golden is 65-75 pounds, and Murphy catapulted past that to weigh 100 pounds of solid muscle by the time he was a year old. He was larger than life in every way. 

Despite his precocious and sometimes naughty behavior, I've known few other dogs who've had a fan club quite like Murphy's. Maybe it was because he demanded attention. Maybe it was because he was so joyful and it showed. Murphy loved every human and every animal and was generous with his love.

With a bone bigger than his body
Four years after getting Murphy we took him to Cleveland with us on a whim to rescue another dog, our Izzy. While it took Murph some getting used to that he wasn't the only dog, he and Izzy quickly became inseparable best friends. They joined us on trips to Maine, West Virginia, the Outer Banks. We took walks every day, and everyone in the neighborhood knew them. They were a dynamic duo.

Happy on a road trip to Maine
When we suffered heartbreak Murph was there while we cried. When we brought home our son Murphy was the most patient brother. He let Will take food and toys right out of his mouth and other than the occasional knock down with his missile-like tail was a gentle giant from the beginning.  Murphy survived dog skin cancer, many floppy eared dog ear infections and skin infections. Murphy was invincible.

Last January the groomer discovered a tumor on Murphy's chest. The tumor was large, and we immediately braced for the worst given that Goldens are prone to cancer. Testing showed that the tumor did not appear to be cancerous. We were told it would grow and ultimately affect his mobility, but we'd deal with those issues as they arrived. 

Late this summer Murphy started limping. The tumor was getting bigger, but he was still his happy Golden self. X-rays showed calcification of his lymph nodes, and the tumor was reassessed to be cancer. The vet prescribed a hardcore antinflammatory that appeared to be working. Unfortunately the drug that helped gave him a massive skin infection on his face, and we treated it with a month of steroids and antibiotics. Murphy thrived under the steroids, and we started almost pretending he would be okay.

Only a few days after he went off the steroids he was back on the antiinflammatory and pain medicine. I picked him up from the boarder a few weeks ago after our Las Vegas trip, and he could hardly walk. One of our vet techs helped me get him in the car, and I broke down sobbing to her in the parking lot because I knew it was getting bad.

We took him to West Virginia with us for Thanksgiving. Although he was limping badly he managed to enjoy the car ride and sneak onto Grandma's couch. Watching everyone say goodbye to him was agonizing. Murphy had been part of our family for a decade. We celebrated his 10th birthday in West Virginia by giving him copious amounts of human food and lots of snuggles. He loved it. 

Supervising Will on his last road trip
Sneaking onto Grandma's couch

By the time we got home we knew he was not going to be strong for long. On Monday evening we made an appointment for Murphy on Thursday. My husband and I cried off and on all week. We snuggled him and played ball and gave him all the cheese he wanted. He no longer wanted to go outside, and I bribed him with cheese to get him outside a few times a day.

As handsome as ever
We were a mess at the vet, and the vet told us everyone in the back was crying. She said Murphy was like their mascot, and she cried as we said goodbye to him. Of course my husband and I were a disaster. We petted and snuggled him and left him there in no way comprehending the huge hole we'd now have in our lives.

In the few days since his passing our house is like a tomb. We've had two dogs for six years, and we didn't realize how quiet Izzy is. She's still mourning, and she seems very sad. But it's agonizingly quiet, and I keep waiting for Murphy to loudly lumber down the stairs or to trip over him while I'm cooking.

I am so grateful for the years we had with Murphy. He taught me so much about myself, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to be the human he thought I was. He adored us, and we could do no wrong. Murphy lived for a week past his 10th birthday, and every single day was filled with so much joy. I'd had a sign in my office for years with a picture of a Golden that says "Live with Joy". That was Murph. He wanted nothing more than love and to make people happy, and it's how we should all aspire to live.