Thursday, January 19, 2017

I'm Jane's Domain. And I Belong to a Book Club.

About a year ago I joined the neighborhood book club. It seemed to be a good fit – I like to read and I’m not shy about sharing my opinion about any book I’ve read.

My only hesitation about joining the group was I didn’t want to feel like I had to take notes in order to participate fully in a discussion about the plot and characters of any book. It has been a while since my last college literature course and my study habits are a little rusty. Okay, a LOT rusty.

But I’m glad I joined because we’ve read some pretty interesting and varied books. I tend to stick to one genre and follow a select group of authors. And I realize that life is made up of more than the typical James Patterson “whodunit”!

And, even though there are two former teachers in our group, I’ve never felt like anyone was taking a mental red pen to my words or grading me on my participation.

So this month’s book was Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run.  A little different than the other books we’ve read, but something I was eager to read. After all, I was a big fan of The Boss in my younger years and I thought it would be interesting to learn more about him.

Because my mom broke her hip on New Year’s Day and has been in the hospital and in rehab, my schedule has been off and I had difficulty reading the book in a timely manner.

So with the Tuesday book club meeting quickly looming, I did what I used to do in that long-ago college literature course. I crammed and pulled an all-nighter.

Well, sorta. “All-nighters” to me these days mean waking up at one in the morning and reading ‘til about three.

Close enough.

Once I got up in the morning, I read feverishly until I finished the last page, which was about an hour before the meeting started. This was fortunate as it left me enough time to shower and make myself presentable before showing myself in public. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing everyone there was grateful that I’d showered. Ha!

But I found the book surprisingly readable. Maybe it was a little slow getting into it at first because Springsteen wrote a LOT about his very early years and then a LOT about his first bands and about his bandmates.  And I’m not necessarily talking about the E Street Band guys, either.

Reading the book – and consequently re-watching his videos and listening to his music again – reminded me of an earlier time in my life. It made me remember the people with whom I listened to Thunder Road and Tenth Avenue Freezeout in Animal House during my Ohio State years.

And it made me remember the time some coworkers and friends and I won a contest on one of the local radio stations at the time (anyone in Columbus remember 92X?!) We walked away with six tickets to the Springsteen concert in Pittsburgh. My memory is a little faulty these days and I can’t remember if this was back in ’84 or ’85, but it was at the height of the Born in the U.S.A. era and we were so excited to take our road trip and attend the concert.

I even took the time to paw through some old photos and unearthed the picture of three of us on our way to the concert. Fun memories!

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band did not disappoint back then. His concert was more than three hours long and we were thoroughly entertained and sang along to every word. Well, except for certain songs. Like who knows what he’s singing on the song, Blinded By the Light

(And, okay, so I looked it up: “Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.” Ah. THAT’S what he’s singing!)

So I got a little nostalgic and my life got tangled up with his life – and so I had myself a little walk down memory lane while learning more about The Boss. (Although I read somewhere that he doesn’t like that nickname…)

Springsteen may be 67 years old today, but from all signs, he’s still going strong and his concerts are still more than three hours long. That takes a lot of dedication and perseverance.

And after reading his autobiography, I understand. 

If you were ever a fan, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping I get a chance to read next month’s book selection in a more timely manner. I don’t think I can pull another “all-nighter.” I still haven’t recovered from the last one.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Mom's Turn

Added 1-15-17. Mom in rehab facility - doing great!
So as I sit here in yet another hospital waiting room waiting for mom to come out of surgery for the broken hip she somehow sustained yesterday, it occurs to me that I’ve been in far too many hospital waiting rooms through the years.

From my dad’s many hospitalizations – heart bypass and pacemaker surgeries, problems caused by the blood thinners he was on that landed him in the hospital numerous times and even the time I drove to Alliance to find him gray and barely able to draw breath due to the pneumonia  that was choking him, he was always the one in the hospital bed – not mom.

And even though this hospital is different than the one where dad passed away only six short months ago, it feels all too familiar.

Now that dad is gone, it’s apparently mom’s turn. And it’s so odd to see her tiny form in a hospital bed wearing the requisite hospital gown that snaps up the back and exposes her thin, white shoulders.

The difference is that with all of Dad’s hospitalizations, I was still the kid – the daughter who came to keep mom company as she sat in hospital waiting rooms for dad to come out of surgery. I didn’t have to bring the insurance forms or provide any information to the nursing staff who were there to help make dad better. Mom was always the strong one who conferred with the doctors about the best course of treatment for dad.

I don’t even remember my mother ever being in the hospital, although she surely was when she had her children and when she had to have an emergency D&C after losing her last baby over 50 years ago.

But all that doesn’t matter, because she’s in the hospital now and it’s my turn to be the “person” for mom – the one who has to bring the insurance forms and provide information to the nursing staff who want to ease mom’s pain and make her better.

It’s an odd role reversal that I’m still not comfortable with, but I do it without question because I love my mother and I hate to see her hurting.

Since last night when Vince and I went to the Emergency Room where she had been transported after an X-ray showed the fracture in her hip to today when I held her hand to comfort her while we waited for her to be wheeled into surgery, mom has continually apologized for “causing so much trouble” and “putting us through this.” I’ve soothed her, I’ve told her she doesn’t need to apologize, and that it’s not a big deal, but she sticks with that theme and it upsets her to be the one needing help. Sometimes I can make her smile by agreeing with her that she’s being a pain in the patootie – and I feel a small sense of victory by getting that small reaction.

I tell her that she has always been there for us, but she dismisses that notion as if she were merely doing her job.

I don’t talk about it because mom won’t remember any of  it, but I remember all those times when mom was there for me. When I fell off the monkey bars and cracked open my head and had to have stitches – to the time in college when I had to have my wisdom teeth extracted and was put under anesthesia. When I woke up sobbing (because I had pretended like it was no big deal, but inside I was terrified of having surgery), it was mom by my side who held my hand and comforted me.

Dad was there most of those times when I was a kid and needed medical help to get better – but  mom was there always.

And, while I know it’s going to be a difficult road ahead because hip replacement surgery on anyone is difficult enough, let alone on someone who has dementia and is 92-years-old – we are going to be by her side, comforting her and holding her hand.

But if you want to say a quick prayer for all of us – or send positive vibes our way – we would be most appreciative.

Hospital waiting rooms are not my favorite place to be.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

That Darn Grinch

I’ve been working on conjuring up some “Christmas spirit” this year, but it hasn’t been easy.

It’s not like I’m intentionally practicing my mean ol’ Mister Grinch impersonation or anything. Mostly because, well, let’s face it, green is not my color. And I’ve done the whole decorating and shopping and card-sending and baking thing in an effort to dispel any comparison to the Grinch, but sometimes it all feels a little hollow.

Cindy Lou Who, I’m not.

It’s hard to feel festive when we’re missing family members this year.  This will be the first Christmas without my dad and it’s amazing how big a hole that man left in my life. I miss him so much.

And, even though she’s not sure how long ago she lost him, my mom misses him even more. He was such a reassuring, loving and caring presence in her life – and without him, my mom is even more mired in her confusion. 

Vince and I brought mom over here the other afternoon for our Christmas celebration and, even though on the surface we had a wonderful time together – underneath it all, my mom was agitated and muddled. She wasn’t sure what was expected of her or what was to happen next. And, after dinner, when I told her we were getting ready to take her back home, she couldn’t remember where “home” was.

When we arrived back in her apartment at the memory care unit, she wasn’t sure what was expected of her and what was to happen next even then. Was she supposed to stay there? Was I staying there with her? When was I coming back?

Someone recently made a comment that resonated with Vince – and with me, too. She said, “Watching someone with dementia is like {experiencing} thousands of little deaths.”

And it’s true. One minute we have a positive experience or interaction, and the next minute, mom isn’t sure whose house she’s in or what day it is. So every day we try to learn how to make life easier for mom as she struggles with this ugly disease. We love the woman she is now and help her as best we can, but we mourn the woman we have loved and lost.

It has also been a sad year with other close losses as well. One of my dearest friends lost her husband only two short months ago. My mother-in-law lost her brother. And my brother-in-law lost his father. I know people who are dealing with life-threatening illnesses and others who are watching their elderly parents decline - and there is nothing they can do to make things better.

And just last week, my brother John lost his wife, Oneida. She had been in ill health for quite some time, but we assumed she would get better and continue on as they had been. But her heart stopped and she never regained consciousness – and she passed away in hospice on Thursday. So John is reeling with yet another major loss this year – and we don’t know what to do to help him.

So I’m just so darn sad right now. And tired of being sad.

I think I’m waiting for Cindy Lou Who and the people of Whoville to clasp my hands and sway around the gaily decorated tree and sing, “Welcome Christmas” so my heart can grow three sizes again.

For years, one of my favorite things to do to get in the holiday spirit (usually as I was facing the challenge of bringing all those heavy boxes of decorations down from the attic), was to listen to B.E. Taylor’s Christmas albums.

B.E. Taylor was from the Pittsburgh area and when I lived in Steubenville in the late 90s, I went to his concerts every Christmas season with my friends. He had such an amazing presence and spirit – and he put his own spin on many Christmas hymns and classics. 

We always left those concerts in a joyful and festive mood – and it has been my “go-to” album of choice at the beginning of every Christmas season ever since.

Except for this Christmas. Even playing B.E. Taylor’s music made me sad this year. Why? 

Because I really AM the Grinch?

No…it’s because B.E. Taylor himself passed away in August of this year. Another sad and – to me – an unexpected loss.

I think it’s just about time for the little black cloud that seems to be hovering overhead this year to mosey on along.

Ah well. Loss is just as much a part of life as is love and light and laughter.

And I’ll have to practice that whole “fake it 'til you make it” thing until I can truly find my smile again.

Fortunately, getting together with family and friends helps – and we’ve have several gatherings recently that lifted my spirits.

The place where mom lives sent me a card the other day. In it, they enclosed a photo of mom with Santa. That picture made me laugh out loud in delight.

And tonight I’m meeting another friend for happy hour, so I have something fun on the agenda.

So I’ll continue to function every day as if I have nothing more taxing than a hangnail to contend with. In that way, we’ll muddle along this Christmas season and trust that things will get better.  

Fake it – right?

Since I am pretty sure this will be the last blog I write before the 25th, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a joyful holiday and a Happy New Year. If you have a house filled with family and friends to celebrate with count yourself extraordinarily blessed.

But I’ve also learned that even if there is only one other person you love – but you get to spend time with that person – then you should also consider yourself extraordinarily blessed. I know I have that – and that alone is enough to make my little ol’ heart grow three sizes.

See you in 2017!

PS. Sorry if used too many Grinch references! 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

It’s About the Dementia – not about the Cranberry Relish

I’m sad today. I was supposed to have lunch with my mom at Parkside Village where they were having an early Thanksgiving buffet with turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing. Probably even cranberry relish. Not that I’m a big fan of cranberry relish – but it’s an “official” Thanksgiving meal if there is cranberry relish.

But I don’t have turkey. Or mashed potatoes. Or stuffing. Or especially cranberry relish.

Why? Because when I arrive to get mom for lunch, she doesn’t want to go.

My first clue that the day isn’t going to go as planned happens before I even reach the nurse’s station. I am met by an aide who tells me how glad she is to see me.

Uh oh.

Well, it’s not that people aren’t just stinkin’ delighted to see me all the time, but that particular aide has never said that to me before.

So that is my first inkling that there is trouble afoot. She then tells me that mom refuses to get out of bed, refuses to take a shower, refuses to eat breakfast, and refuses to get dressed.

That’s a lot of refusing from a 92-year-old and, frankly, it sounds rather like a temper tantrum a 2-year-old might have let alone someone 90 years her senior.

So then and there I realize we are probably not going to see any turkey or cranberry relish today.

I mean, it’s one thing if you pop over to a friend’s house to pick her up for lunch and she has inadvertently overslept. Unless she’s your most diva-ish friend who requires 2.3 hours of hair and makeup prep time, she could probably grab a quick shower and be ready to head out the door in a few minutes.

But a 92-year-old with dementia? “Quick” is a word that will not be uttered at any time. Ever.

Cursing myself for not having prepared a back-up lunch plan like slapping together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and throwing it in my bag before leaving home, I sigh as the aide and I head down the hall to mom’s apartment.

There, we find her sitting in her rocking chair all bundled up in her flannel nightgown and blue puffy robe that has seen better days. Heck, it has seen better decades, truth be told. But mom refuses to part with it.

The aide, finding mom at least upright and out of bed, heaves a sigh of relief and leaves the room.

So I sit down in the chair across from mom and ask her if she is interested in having lunch with me as I’d made reservations and everything. But she says no.

So, sighing a little myself, I hand her the daily newspaper to read while I start “fussing.”  This is Jane-speak for gathering up old newspapers, collecting dirty coffee cups, making her bed, setting clothes out for her to (hopefully) change into, and generally making myself busy because I know I have a couple hours ahead of me of sitting in a sweltering room trying to stave off hot flashes. Which is almost impossible to do when the thermostat in there is set on “sauna.”

After about a half hour of mom constantly asking what day and time it is, I gently tease her about how late it is and coax her into getting dressed for the day. It is now a little after twelve-thirty in the afternoon.

But the sad part is, I realize that mom no longer knows how to get herself dressed and ready for the day. She looks at the clothes on her bed and then looks at me and asks me what she should do. So I tell her I’ll help her.

But seeing her like that breaks my heart a little bit more.

What happened to that strong, intelligent woman I’d known my whole life? The one who raised four children and who almost single-handedly kept my dad’s defective heart beating in his chest almost 50 years after it had wanted to give out on him in his early 40s. The one who could stretch a dollar until it cried “uncle” and the one who could tell if one of her kids was fibbing just by the inflection in their voice when she asked them a question. And this was, mind you, when she wasn’t even in the same room as the fibber.

I then thought about mom in her later years – the woman who loved meeting new people and who couldn’t wait to pack a suitcase to go on their next adventure. Whether it was to some exotic location or an Elderhostel at a university to learn something new – or simply to head to one of their grown children’s homes for a visit – she was the first to suggest a road trip because she couldn’t stand sitting still for too long.

And now I couldn’t get her to walk down the hall with me simply to have some lunch.

After I help mom get dressed and I hang her ratty blue robe in the closet, we sit down again – mom in her rocking chair and me in the upright purple chair across from her. I look at this once proud and dignified woman who now can’t even get herself dressed and I try to keep the sadness from my face.  She looks up at me and raises her hands in supplication and says, “Now what?”

I smile at her gently – and this time we both sigh.

After a while, I start gathering my things and I tell mom I have to leave to run some errands. I hug and kiss her goodbye and tell her I love her.

She asks me when I am coming back and I tell her I’ll be back tomorrow. At 2 o’clock.

She can no longer tell that I’m fibbing.

Because, you see, I don’t know if I’ll be back tomorrow at 2 o’clock, but it appeases mom to have me say it. She won’t know the difference if I show up at 1 o’clock or at 3 o’clock. Or if I don’t show up at all until the following day.

But I blow her a kiss as I head out the door. And, because she can hold on to this thought for another fleeting moment, she quickly says, “I’ll see you tomorrow at 2 o’clock, dear.”

And when I shut the door, it’s all I can do not to start crying as I walk down that long hallway to the nurse’s station and then out to my car.

And, oh, how I wish the tears were because I didn’t get any cranberry relish today.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Meet Jane Domain: The Plant Killer

About six weeks ago I received a lovely pink orchid from some good friends. At least I think it was pink. It’s hard to remember now since there is not a single bloom left on the thing.

I’m Jane Domain. And I’m an Orchid Killer.

Admitting it is the first step, right?

But the thing is, I am a little shocked that it died so quickly. After all, I have managed to keep alive most of the indoor plants I’ve acquired in the four plus years we’ve lived here. I even just walked around my house counting them – 10 plants and an actual tree – all different varieties and sizes and shapes. 

Maybe they are all the kinds of plants that are nearly impossible to kill? Or maybe I was smart enough to buy Jane-proof plants. Or maybe they’re really plastic and I’m just fooling you. (They aren’t. Well, okay, so one is. But I didn’t count that one in my tally.)

Evidence. See?
Anyway, I carefully read the directions that came with the orchid. I was to place three ice cubes in the soil once a week. Alternatively, I could measure out a quarter cup of water to add to the soil for watering purposes. Apparently the latter direction is for those people who don’t own a freezer, an automatic ice maker or an ice-cube tray.

Or perhaps this instruction is written for people like me. Our automatic ice cube maker is on the fritz and our ice comes in bags from Kroger. By the time the bag gets thunked down onto the cement floor in the garage to break up the pieces of ice, the cubes are not uniform in size. Besides, what is the standard size piece of ice, anyway? I, for one, don’t know. And my concern was that I would either overwater or underwater my orchid. So, in an effort to be precise, I opted for the quarter cup of water thing.

Simple – right?  Oh, ha ha.

I chose Monday as my orchid-watering day. Fresh start of the week and all that. Plus, I figured I could remember to water it on Monday. By about Wednesday, all bets on plant watering are off.  So on that first Monday, the orchid seemed happy to receive its quarter cup of water.

By the second Monday as I started to water the orchid I noticed that several of the blooms on the left branch were drooping. So I had a little therapy sessions with my orchid. Told her to cheer up – that her quarter cup of water was here to save the day.

In response, several of the blossoms fell off onto the table. Yeah, that was not the response I was looking for.

So I picked up the orchid and put it on the counter closer to the kitchen window thinking that perhaps it needed a bit more light.

By the third Monday, after I put the quarter cup of water in the soil, the blossoms on the other branch looked wilted and unhappy.

And by the next day all but one of the flowers had fallen off.  And when I touched it, the last little blossom fell off the branch and onto the counter. Ack! I thought. I just killed my orchid!

My sister – who apparently has several happy, blooming orchids – told me to keep watering it; that it may bloom again. That perhaps it was just adjusting to its new environment.

Hunh. I’m beginning to think my orchid is being a little ungrateful. After all, I get out the measuring cup and everything. And I was talking to it and saying nice things.  AND it has taken up residence in prime real estate on the kitchen counter.

And this is the thanks I get?`

Nevertheless, I’ve continued to water the orchid for the past two weeks, but I haven’t seen any progress. It looks like I’m merely watering two sticks stuck in a pot of dirt. 

But the green thumb wannabe in me doesn’t yet want to admit defeat. So I’ll keep watering the orchid. I will keep hoping that one day I will see a little pink bud on its branches. And I will not accept defeat unless the leaves, too, wither and die. And only then will I put the orchid out of its misery.

So if this happens, do you think I will immediately go out and buy another orchid?  Nope, not a chance. Instead, I will then go out and buy a fake orchid. Its only requirement will be an occasional dusting.  Simple, right? Ha.

On second thought, maybe the best thing to do is leave well enough alone and simply bask in the glory of my ten living plants and one actual tree. My Monday watering schedule is kind of full and it doesn't leave a lot of time for plant dusting, too.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why Can’t I FOCUS These Days??

I’m looking around my house and wondering why I can’t seem to find the time to empty the dishwasher. Or water the plants. Or clear off the dining room table of various and sundry items – including, embarrassingly enough, the route directions to Hilton Head. I mean, we’ve been home for a whole eighteen days now and there is simply no excuse for leaving something like that lying around!

I don’t handle well piles of stuff lying around my house – and, believe me, there have been nothing BUT piles of stuff lying around my house since the beginning of the summer.  I get a headache just thinking about them.

So with all this chaos swirling about me, it’s no wonder I haven’t been able to write a blog – let alone finish one.

While it’s true I have more on my mind these days, including making sure mom is okay in her memory care unit apartment and taking time to visit her as often as possible (especially while she still knows me), I cannot believe that alone is sufficient enough reason to allow my Philodendron to die of thirst.

And then today it suddenly occurred to me why I can’t seem to focus. Or at least one of the big reasons.

And, yes, her name would be Maggie Minx. 

You see, I sit down to work on some simple task, let’s say writing out my grocery list. But before I can finish writing the word “succotash,” Maggie has sunk her teeth into my leather boot and has dragged it off to the living room for a tasty mid-morning snack.

NOT my actual boot! Well, not the one she took today anyway.
So since this boot is not meant to have little perforations all over it, I jump up to retrieve it. I wrestle it away from Ms. Maggie and place it up on the counter on top of a catalog (that I have gotten around to neither perusing nor recycling). While I am doing this, Maggie has snatched my other boot. 

(Oh, and by the way, I’m just kidding about the succotash. That word has never appeared on any grocery list of mine!)

But, anyway, when I finally have both boots safely stowed out of her reach and I sit down to continue my list, I hear frantic barking coming from the living room. This means that Maggie is possibly warning me that a nefarious bandit is about to penetrate our fortress, bash me over the head with one of my leather boots conveniently stashed on the counter and make off with all our Milk Bone doggie treats. Either that – or she has seen a leaf blowing in the wind.  Same reaction.

While I don’t automatically jump up to check on her (and make sure that the side door is locked), I do have a bit of a tough time concentrating on my list what with all that canine cacophony going on.

I briefly consider adding “ear plugs” to the list. And then I grit my teeth and soldier on.

But I can’t blame everything on Maggie. I think I’ve developed a late stage case of ADHD. Suddenly, I can’t finish one task before I start working on something else leaving the first job woefully incomplete. Like this blog, for instance.

I was writing away and in the midst of the bit about the boots, I got diverted and suddenly started going through a stack of papers on the desk. Picked up an envelope with my new Visa debit card and had to go online to activate the card. But before I could finish activating it, I had to go through my purse to find my old debit card so I’d remember to shred it. But in digging through my purse, I realized how cluttered it had gotten, so I started weeding out the used Kleenex, expired coupons and movie ticket stubs that were littering the bottom of my purse.

When I FINALLY remembered I was looking for my wallet to get my old debit card, my online bank session had expired due to inactivity, so I had to log back on again.


When did I become so utterly unfocused??

I think it’s because I have way more than just me to deal with these days.  Oh sure, I have had Vince and the cats to take care of for a while now (and I’m sure there was a learning curve when they all entered my life, too – I just don’t remember it now).  I have also added in having my mom nearby who requires frequent visits. Not to mention taking care of a rambunctious puppy who needs to be walked on a regular and frequent basis or else she’ll leave a deposit on the floor to remind me that it’s not all about the grocery lists or the blog these days.

And I just started back at work, too.

Now, believe me, I know there are people out there who are thinking, boy, your life is so easy compared to mine! And, no doubt, they would probably be right.

Not our actual barking Yorkie.
But I just don’t know how to deal with starting a load of laundry and, before I get the last towel in the washing machine, I hear urgent yipping from the Magster indicating she HAS TO GO OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW!!! 

So I drop the towel back in the basket, retrieve my boots from the counter (after spending a minute frantically searching for them in the bedroom) and then I attach her leash and rush her out the door. If I’m lucky, she’ll actually go potty, but more often than not, she was just bored and needed a little sniff session in the great outdoors. Or she wanted to see if any of her neighborhood doggie pals were out and about.  This dog has a bigger social life than we do.

If I’m lucky, I’ll come back in and remember that I was in the middle of doing a load of laundry. More than likely, though, I’ll have picked up our mail and will start weeding through the junk, as well as the mountain of paperwork Medicare sends my mother on a seemingly weekly basis.  That will remind me that I need to pay my mother’s care bill for the month and then…
…well, you get the gist.  It’s not hard to see how my formerly organized brain has lost focus.

I feel like if I just sit down and make a list…  Yeah, sure.  My lists have given birth to little baby lists these days. I wake up in the middle of the night mentally adding things to my lists, which never seem to make it to actual paper the next day.

So I think I just need to focus on one thing at a time. Work through that thing – and move on to the next.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, yeah. That’s what I need to do.

But first I need to take Maggie Minx to Doggie Day Care. And then maybe I’ll finally get that load of laundry done. We’re outta clean towels.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Oh Shih Tzu...So THIS is What Dog Walking is Supposed to be Like!

Last week a friend and neighbor went on vacation and asked me to walk her two adorable shih tzus a couple times while she was gone. She had a whole crew of friends and neighbors willing to help her out - and I had taken care of her cat once - but this was my first experience with her dogs.

This is a person who has come to my rescue many times in the past several months - taking care of Maggie when I was at my dad's hospital bedside or checking on my cats while we were out of town. She even - along with another neighbor and friend - drove to Alliance with me to help clean out my parents' home to get it ready to put on the market.

And, when I was a brand new puppy-mommy earlier this year, she helped save my sanity a time or two by volunteering to puppy sit Maggie lest I lose my new puppy-mommy mind. 

So there was no question that I'd help out.  

The only real question was whether I could handle walking two dogs at the same time. I mean, walking Maggie takes 100% of my effort and concentration as the eight pound little stinker nearly pulls my arm out of its socket racing from one side of the sidewalk to the other. She scrambles into bushes sniffing like a professional bloodhound seeking a lost toddler. Mostly she's looking for squirrels to intimidate and terrify with her ferocious barking. And if she encounters a dog she doesn't know? Fuggetaboutit. Killer-Dog-Maggie emerges to "save" the day.

So when I entered Suzy's house for my first double dog walking session, I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought I'd find two frantic dogs desperately seeking the nearest fire hydrant. 

Instead, I found two calm little angels who greeted me and let me pet them without yipping and hyperactively jumping three feet in the air to catch my attention. As if that were necessary.

When I called them over to me so I could put on their collars and leashes, they...well, I don't know any other way to put it, but...they came over to me. Oh, sure, maybe this doesn't sound like a big deal to you, but it's an experience I've never had with Maggie Minx. Getting the leash on that dog is like a major battle of wills. You'd think because I'm bigger and stronger, it wouldn't really be much of a competition - but you'd be wrong, kemosabe.

So once Chai and Cruiser were properly outfitted and I had several trusty poo bags stashed in my pocket, off we went.

And let me just say, it was a completely different experience. I mean, these dogs actually walked. They didn't pull and tug and run willy-nilly to and fro. The biggest effort I made was occasionally switching the leash handles as they traded sides.

Sure, they sniffed and poked at leaves and left doggie pee-mail like regular dogs...but walking them didn't require a death grip on their leashes in case they discovered a squirrel that needed to be taught a lesson.

After about 10 minutes of Maggie Minx walking, my  hand has usually cramped into a claw-like configuration and I'm ready to go home so I can apply a tub of Icy-Hot to my sore joints.

So imagine my surprise when I looked at my watch and realized I'd been out with Chai and Cruiser for a good 25 minutes without so much as a twinge of pain in my knee or a nasty reminder from my bursitis-riddled shoulder.

It was then that I marveled, so THIS is what dog walking is supposed to be like!

Who knew?

The biggest mistake I made was putting Chai's harness on wrong. I fretted about it for the first few minutes of our walk once I realized she could potentially escape. But this brief experience with actual calm dogs gave me the courage to remove her harness completely without worrying that she'd immediately bolt. I then hooked the leash directly onto her collar. I figured if she hadn't pulled on the leash up to this point, I wasn't in any danger of choking her. Trying this with Maggie would be akin to tying a noose around her neck and stringing her up - not something I have ever considered doing even in those new puppy-mommy moments of madness.

The only tense moment of the entire walk occurred when we spotted a young couple walking their black lab. Maggie doesn't do well with (a) big dogs and (b) big dogs who are strangers. She loses her ever-lovin' doggy mind and we immediately beat a hasty retreat because I cannot take her eardrum-shattering barks.

(And, yes, if we know the dog in question, we've tried putting them together to get to know each other. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. The Magster is apparently very particular about her doggie friends.)

Instead, Chai and Cruiser looked calmly at the couple and their dog - and then went back to sniffing at leaves and leaving pee-mail. They didn't utter a yip or a growl. No warning barks. No crazed puppy eyes.

I was astounded. And thrilled. I didn't have to pick them up and run for the hills to avoid a Doggie Apocalypse. 

Instead, we calmly continued on our way and arrived back at their home at a leisurely pace. 

I calmly removed their harnesses, collars, leashes and other paraphernalia necessary for a good doggie walk. Their unused poo bags went back in the poo bag holder and I calmly gave them (and the cat - with whom they get along most of the time – an anomaly in Maggie's World) a couple more affectionate pats before calmly setting the alarm and calmly locking the door and heading home.


(As you have probably gathered by now.)

My blood pressure and pulse were surprisingly normal, I didn't have sweat dripping down my forehead and into my eyes from dragging any hysterical dogs away from other dogs, runners, walkers, bike riders, or blowing leaves that look suspiciously like a moving target that needs to be eliminated.

When I got home - and just before the wrangling started to get Maggie's leash attached - I immediately called the dog trainer. 

We clearly have some serious work ahead of us.