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Today I received a letter from my contact at the health center from one of the families that we helped this year. Since it wasn’t just my project, but all of ours, I thought I’d share.

All of you are my Christmas gifts this year. I’m so thankful for each and every one of you.

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Thank you.

How do we deal with the impossible in life?

Listen guys, I’m not overly religious. I try not to talk about it, because for those who are, sometimes are offended by the fact that I, in fact, am not. It’s taken me a long time to figure out what I personally believe. But isn’t that the beauty of faith? Learning for yourself what you believe to be true? I don’t push my beliefs on others, and I certainly don’t bemoan those who have a strong faith. One thing that’s taken years to realize is that, I am my own person, with my own life, and I can do what I see to be right for me…while at the same time allowing others to be the same way for themselves. No judgement. (It’s hard sometimes, too.)

Regardless of what I feel to be true with religion, I’m still a good person. That’s kind of my faith. Be good, do good, trust in yourself and every now and again, check in with God.

Where am I going with this? These past few months have been incredibly overwhelming. I have been trying so hard to do as many things for as many people at once, and at the same time, forgetting about myself. Where do I fit in with all of this? Really, I was kind of annoyed by myself, the fact that I am in fact human, and can really only be in one place at a time.

Wednesday morning I had a meeting with the new group fitness manager at the gym I’ve been at since I started teaching. I lost track of time, and when I looked at my phone, the time showed I was two minutes late to teach my class. I ran into the classroom, where twenty people were set up and waiting for me. I quickly got my stuff together, apologizing all the way, and when I went to hit play, I noticed an envelope on my bench.

I grabbed it, looked around to see who left it, but no one acknowledged it, so I put it in my bag, while saying, “Thank you.”

Yesterday was insane. I had a meeting, class to teach, Claire had to get her palate expander put in at the orthodontist, the girls had to nap, my mom had hip replacement surgery, the kids wanted to see Grammy post-op, I had to get Claire to a late tae kwon do class and then after she tested for her midterm with the purple belt.

When I got home, I looked in my bag and saw the envelope. I figured it was a holiday card or something from a member, and I was right, but it was more than that.

One of my regulars at the gym is a retired pastor who, from time to time, still preaches at his old church. He’s 73 years old, though you’d never know it. He takes BodyPump on Wednesday mornings with me, and I look forward to seeing his face every week. He’s so kind.

He gave me a Christmas card, along with a note thanking me for helping to keep him healthy at the age of 73. He included the typed copy of one of his sermons, that was inspired by taking BodyPump.

It was called: How do we deal with the impossible in life?

“There is something in my life that I cannot do; and yet I do it. There is something in my life that I would consider to be impossible for me to accomplish and yet I accomplish it.

Over the last number of months I have been doing an exercise program where I take a fourteen pound barbell and lift it 800 times in an hour. Imagine a five pound sack of potatoes, held in your one hand, another five pound sack of potatoes in the other, resting on your shoulders. That is roughly the equivalent. Now, you are going to lift it: sometimes with your legs, sometimes with your arms; sometimes standing up and lifting it as high above your head as you can reach, sometimes lying on your back and lifting it high into the air. And, you are going to do it 800 times in an hour.

I can’t do that! I am a man in my 70s! It’s impossible! And yet, for the last six months I have been doing it at a local exercise club, three times a week. 

How is it that the impossible is possible? How is it that I’m doing what can’t be done?

Well, I am convinced that it is because I am not doing it on my own. No! I can’t do it. But, what I mean is, I can’t do it on my own. I am helped by several things: 

First, I am in class. I am doing it along with a group of others. They are motivating; they are supportive. I am encouraged by the fact that they can do it, I can do it. They don’t let me down and I don’t let them down. We are in it together.

But, I am helped by something else: music is playing. The entire time there is a beat, a rhythm. Something changes when we are enveloped in music. It is inspiring; it is motivating.

But, there is another important ingredient. There is a leader. The leader gives instructions and encourages. The leader does not expect us to do anything that she herself would not do. In fact, the leader does it first. We are following the leader’s every move. 

I am absolutely convinced I could not do this on my own. But, surrounded by these motivating people and things — I am able to do what I am convinced I cannot do. I am able to do what I otherwise would consider impossible.”

He went on to relate the impossible to his congregation’s lives. Health problems, money problems, family problems, being a caretaker for another person. The list is endless.

He then says we need to rely on each other. Rely on family, friends, God.

Last week, Jill, Claire’s cat, got out and didn’t come back in. For hours, she was missing and I was devastated. I searched all around, called for her, let the neighbors know so they could keep an eye out for her, everything. I sat at the window and cried.

I didn’t want the kids to see me so sad, so I went to the basement for a minute. I was sitting in the quiet of the room and I started to talk to the silence. I asked for help. I needed something to help me find this cat and bring her home.

I heard a little bird outside in the trees chirping loudly. She was darting from branch to branch, frantic. I remembered when I was a kid, and the same thing had happened, because our cat was sitting under the tree. What if Jill was, too?

I ran outside and went to where the bird was. The bird was looking at me, and almost pleading with me to solve her problem. I looked into the thick brush, and I saw Jill! But I couldn’t reach her.

Jill runs away from me, probably because I’m the one who had to grab her and force meds in her mouth, but she loves Claire. Answers to her call when she’s in the house. I ran up to the house, banged on the door and Claire knew, I had found Jill. We ran outside and she called for her, but we didn’t see her. The bird was still chirping wildly, so I forced myself through the jagger bush with thorns and saw a groundhog hole. I dropped some food outside of it, and out popped her head. I grabbed her and she clung to me as I carried her into the house.

Jill has shown zero interest with going outside since then. She’s also been far more affectionate to me.

I needed, in that moment, a reminder that even when I’m drowning, I’m not alone. I have to rely on others to help me get through some of the worst and stressful times. I may have been the one to find Jill, but it wasn’t done all on my own.

I will get through these stressful times, but I was thankful to have a reminder at such a perfect time.

I’m over it

When did the holidays become so …. forced? Last month, when I sat down to figure out what to get everyone, it dawned on me, I’m not having fun anymore. I don’t want to spend all my hard earned money on something that won’t be remembered or enjoyed. I am so tired of looking at all the crap my kids already have. The thought of adding to it just makes me feel sick.

At Claire’s birthday party, she had 20 kids there, and that meant 20 gifts, and all I could think was, “That’s a lot of stuff.” Part of me wished I had said to the parents, “Bring something that can be donated to a local homeless/animal shelter,” but it was Claire’s first real birthday party and I didn’t want to rain on her parade. Still, though, I feel as if she got so much stuff, people spent so much of their money on my kid and what for? So her room could be even more cluttered than it already is? I’m not saying I’m ungrateful, because I’m not. But I am wondering when it became all about stuff?

Everyone is entitled to do their own things with their own families, but I, after talking it out with Matt, decided that this Christmas we are doing a simple Christmas.

From us, the kids will get exactly one thing. And this one thing will be handmade by us. They will get their gifts from Santa (which for the record, they are only allowed to ask for simple things, because, as I explain, “Santa has to make a lot of things for a lot of kids. So if you ask for a Barbie Dream House, that’s 200 dollars, and that keeps other kids from getting gifts. That’s not fair,”) and then they will get the one handmade gift from Matt and me. The rest of the family is free to do what they want when it comes to giving gifts to my kids. When they asked what to give them, I’ve given practical answers. Claire, for example, wants a white board in her room. Her uncle will be getting her just that. I’ve also asked for experiences. A private lesson for Claire or Luca at taekwondo. My mom paid for Mae to go to a Frozen Fantasy Camp at dance class, which she ADORED.

When I talked to Matt about it, I presented it like this: Do you remember what you got the kids for Christmas last year? Vaguely. What about when you took Luca to the museum. You remember that.

You remember the trips and the experiences. The stuff is fun to unwrap, sure, but the time alone with dad or mom is pretty awesome.

So what are the kids getting this Christmas? They’re getting a coupon book, one for each kid, with things like, “Dad has to clean out Jill’s litter box,” “One extra treat after dinner,” “Mom will pick up all the Legos,” “Extra 10 minutes in the bathtub,” and “An afternoon with mom or dad, alone.”

Mae and Luca will be going with Matt to the museum, and Matt will be taking Claire ice skating. (Audrey is too small to even notice she’s being left out of this.)

We are making Claire a thing to hang her medals on. We are making Luca a Lego chest that looks exactly like a giant Lego brick and we are making Mae and Audrey a toy chest.

Matt will construct them, I will finish and paint them. It will be something they remember, or at least we will, and it means something. That’s my whole point. It will mean something.

I am also making my sister’s gift and mom’s gift. And I’m having fun doing it, too. So perhaps the gift isn’t so much what they’re getting, rather what I’m getting in making it.

The point is, I want my kids to remember that the holidays aren’t about me, me, me. Rather, that they’re about family, good food, baking, Christmas lights, music and that feeling of excitement and wonder.

I remember Claire’s second Christmas, only because we went to the zoo the day after. I don’t remember what she got. But the zoo was fun, and it was 65 degrees that day.

I remember when I was a kid packing my bags and going to my grandparents house Christmas day to stay for a week.

I remember the year I made, with the help of my sister, a book of all of my mom’s blogs.

I remember that feeling, Christmas Eve night, looking at the tree and feeling that overwhelming sense of magic.

I will remember this year. Magic and all.

The Roller Coaster Ride

I’m not sure how much more of this all I can take. In the past few days I’ve been on this roller coaster ride that’s taken me to super low lows and really high highs. I’m fortunate thus far that the lows happen first, then I’m perked up with the highs, but ugh. My psyche can’t take much more.

Friday Claire came home early from school because she didn’t feel well. She perked up some Saturday, and we were able to go to the Penguins game. She had won tickets through the Animal Rescue League from her fundraising and she was determined to go.

Sunday night, she had a rash, but Matt never told me. I noticed it Monday morning, but it wasn’t horrible, just looked like goose bumps.

Monday my cat, Boss, did the strangest thing. When I picked her up, it looked like her jaw had come unhinged. She seemed well enough, because it went back to normal and I went about my day.

Tuesday morning, Matt was short on time, so instead of taking the dogs for a walk, he threw the ball around for them. He came back in a minute later saying, “Well, that was quick.”

Beau was limping, so I gave him his old man supplements (glucosamine and the like) and made him lay down.

I said, “Poor old guy.”

Then Matt said, “You think that’s bad, you should see Boscoe.”

I went outside, and there she was sitting, unable to close her mouth, drool dripping down, so miserable looking. I scooped her up and immediately put her in a cat carrier. Matt called around and our old vet had an opening immediately, so I rushed her over.

She had a huge abscess and her tooth was completely rotted. She’s had perpetual bad breath for the past month, and I’ve meant to have it looked at, but of course I have five animals, four kids, this, that, and everything else to worry about, she sort of got put on the back burner. I know better. I know bad breath in cats (I’m talking, smelled like literal shit) means tooth issues. I know. Yet I didn’t do anything. And now, I was left with a cat who was in incredible amounts of pain and needed emergency surgery. The vet then said, “This could also be a tumor. We will know more when we get in there.”

I felt like the worst cat mom ever. Ever.

But I let them take her away, where they immediately gave her pain meds. I can’t even begin to express how awful and uncomfortable my poor girl looked. It literally happened overnight. She showed no major signs of this, just the bad breath. I was amazed.

Then I got the bill estimate.

Gulp.

How was I going to give my kids Christmas?

Granted, we were doing a down sized Christmas anyhow. Matt and I are making the kids’ gifts this year, but lumber is still expensive and when you’re staring down at a bill that could end up being half the mortgage payment…yikes.

I cried all day. I cried for my cat. I cried for my bank account. I really hit the bottom.

But the vet called me as soon as she finished up with Boss’s procedure and said that it wasn’t cancer and her teeth are now sparkling clean, and when they pulled out the one tooth, two others fell out. So she got stitched up, given extra happy juice and I could pick her up at 6.

Well, I teach Tuesday nights at 6, so Matt went to pick her up. On my way home from teaching, I called him and asked how much the damage was.

He said, “Don’t you know? It was already paid for when I picked her up.”

“I didn’t leave a credit card with them. How was it paid for?”

“What?” then a pause, then a laugh, “It was paid for in cash.”

In cash.

I have very good friends.

I went to bed last night saying, “They went to the vet’s office. Asked how much my bill was. Handed them cash. Went home. I just….I’ve never had someone do that for me before. Ever.”

Matt just smiled and said, “Me either.”

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(I love that photo because Boss is SO high right there.)

This morning started out normal. I told my BodyPump class about the kindness that happened to me yesterday and said I was going to be passing it along. I asked them to do the same. They were all like I was, they couldn’t believe it. It’s an amazing thing.

I had to take Claire to her orthodontist appointment right after. When I went to pick her up, I noticed her rash had traveled to her face.

That’s not good.

So I called her doctor’s office, but they couldn’t get her in until 1. I wasn’t going to sit around waiting for that time with two angry toddlers, so after her appointment, we went to MedExpress in Aspinwall. Lucky for me, my friend works next door, so he came over and entertained the angry girls while I dealt with Claire.

Yup, you guessed it, she’s got strep throat.

Another low.

I got the girls home, fed them lunch, gave Claire her meds, shuffled them off to naps, then plopped on the couch for a minute to myself before I tackled the ridiculous pile of laundry.

Not two minutes after I sat down, did the dogs go nuts. FedEx dropped a package off for me.

But I didn’t order anything.

It was from a flower company.

When I opened it, there was a note:

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And the flowers:

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I really, really have some amazing friends.

But stop making me cry!

 

Do good

The other day a dear friend posted the quote: “Do all that you can, with all that you have, in the time that you have, in the place where you are.”

Since she posted it, I’ve been chanting it over and over. It spoke to me. It’s my motto; it’s who I am. Or at least who I try to be.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about others. And it’s not in the “Oh, what does he really think of me?” way, it’s more, “I wonder how he’s doing,” kind of way.

Right now, I’m thinking about the two families that I met for the first time today, but I feel like I’ve known for three months, since I found out their names.

In the beginning, to me, they were a sad story. Wife dumped by husband, left with three kids, sad. Husband works two jobs, wife laid off due to complicated pregnancy, has two kids, sad.

It is sad, yes. But today I saw that they were so much more than that.

I didn’t have enough space in my SUV to bring all the items at once to the two families that we had adopted this year. I put out on Facebook that I could really use a truck and a second pair of hands. What I got was an ambulance and two volunteer firefighters, who are also dear friends of mine. They asked no questions except when and where, and that was it.

It’s amazing, the people we know. How it outstretches into so many different places. Last year, I asked a doctor friend of mine, who I had known since his first year of residency if he knew of any way I could start my idea. But the idea really came from my friend Jessica who had done something similar with a local family in need in Louisiana. My doctor friend knew the nurse manager at the health center, and from there, for two years now, I’ve gotten the names and wish lists of several local families in need of a little extra help.

The people that I know, and they are good people, then bought things without even worrying that I wouldn’t be true to my word. And because of them, five families- 15 people- got a little help.

Fifteen people. Nine of them children.

There’s been a lot of anger happening lately. A lot of sadness and people being divided. For what? Social status? Money? The color of their skin?

Today, seven of us, from all different backgrounds, came together. And while it may have been me and my two friends and the nurse manager handing over items, it was those women who received the gifts today that gave me so much in return. So much.

The boxes of diapers, the winter coats, the little girl’s running shoes, the pots and pans, the new vacuum, those brought a grown woman to tears. I stood there, as she held her beautiful baby boy and she said, “I don’t even know where to begin. I have been trying to find a new job, but when I lost my last job, my income was cut in half. I’m trying, but it’s hard.”

She’s my age. Beautiful. Honest. Deserving.

The pillows, blankets, sheets, coats, boots, hats, and toy after toy kept the other woman from having to default on bills just to give her kids Christmas. She said, “I didn’t know how I was going to give my kids Christmas. It’s not their fault their father walked out. It’s not their fault I can’t buy them things. I didn’t know how to give them Christmas, and here it is. In this room.”

She’s also my age. She works hard, and her mom makes sure she’s at home so she can help with the kids. When I told her that I couldn’t get the kids the DSI they wanted, but I did manage to get them a 3DS, she hugged me again, and gave me a high five when I told her that there was seven games wrapped up to go along with it.

Everyone deserves Christmas.

I’m sitting here in my living room, and all I can hear is the dryer running and the dogs snoring. I’m writing to the soft glow of my Christmas lights and I’m elated. I can’t even begin to explain what today meant for me. I was so thankful that two of my friends could come along, because maybe they are able to explain it better.

As Ron said, “How can you even do anything else today? We’ve hit top shelf. Nothing is better than this feeling.”

I’m one person. There’s no way I could have done this alone. But I know a lot of good people. And when one person has an idea, and a lot of good people back them up, amazing things happen.

Amazing things happened. And I can’t even begin to thank you all again for making it happen.

Until next year.

Sixty Days

Sixty days ago, the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh took in Serena, a 2 1/2 year old pit bull. Sadly, the fact that she’s been there sixty days isn’t completely abnormal. She’s a pit bull, after all.

However, this is different. Serena has a lot of fears, which unfortunately for her, keeps her at the shelter, seemingly unadoptable.

When you walk past her kennel, what you see is a brown pit, who obviously had puppies at some point, scars on her nose and sad eyes. She sits there with her ears tucked tight, head bowed down, eyes looking up. Will someone choose me? Will today be my day?

Sixty days.

One day after I ran with a few pups, I sat in a kennel alone, door closed and looked around. I lasted a whole five minutes before I was bored beyond belief.

When people enter the kennel and they see dogs barking wildly or panting or jumping up, immediately they think, “I can’t adopt that. That’s a crazy dog.”

Sit in a kennel for sixty days and tell me how you’d act when a human comes walking past.

But Serena doesn’t jump up. She just sits there. Staring. Waiting. Wondering.

Serena was brought in as a stray. She has scars on her nose. There’s no proof she was abused, no absolute facts of the rough life she’s had for the past 2 1/2 years. Because of what may or may not have happened in her life, she seems sad. She’s not good with kids, cats, other dogs, or anyone who rides a bike.

Who would adopt that?

I don’t know.

When we had the kennel clean out last week (where I subsequently adopted Beau,) there were only a few dogs left behind. Serena was one of them.

It was posted on the Dog Walker page that Serena was still there, and we all collectively felt horrible for her. I thought about her all night. I felt absolutely heartsick. Even with all the volunteers that took the other dogs home, Serena was still there. It wasn’t because the volunteers didn’t want to take her, but because all of the volunteers had either another dog, a cat, or kids.

I would describe Serena as incredibly shy. However once she warms up to someone, she is the most loyal pup. She thinks she’s a lap dog, knows her manners, is very gentle, and mostly chill.

Today Matt was off work, so instead of going to the gym, I decided to finalize the paperwork for Beau at the shelter and take Serena for a cage break to the riverfront trail for a nice long jog.

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I’ve run with a lot of dogs since starting with the Dog Jog program at the shelter and Serena is probably one of my top five all time running partners. She keeps a nice pace, doesn’t weave back and forth, only pulls if she sees a person riding a bike or another dog, and is extremely focused.

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We ran up the trail, to the island, up the island trail a little and when we got to the tip of the island, she stopped and sniffed. We walked back towards the foot bridge and when we got there, she saw something across the river, and we stood still for a solid three or four minutes.

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I honestly have no idea what she saw. But I wasn’t going to rush her. She has been told what to do for sixty days, and has had very little freedoms. I wanted her to feel in control, even if for a few hours. So we stood there, silent. The only noise was the distant city traffic and her breathing.

Working with shelter dogs is wonderfully rewarding the majority of the time. Sometimes, though, you see a wonderful dog with barriers sit in a kennel for days on end and there’s nothing you can do about it.

What I can do is give her small freedoms, her favorite treats and road trips. I can run with her and let her take her time when she needs to. I can pet her behind her ears and let her fall asleep on my lap.

And I can cry a little as I bring her back to the place that isn’t home to her at all. But she walks obediently back to her kennel, because she knows where it is.

Because she’s been there sixty days.

A second chance

For weeks now, I had been looking forward to November 20th. The shelter needed to do a really big clean of the kennels and asked if any of the volunteers could take a dog for an overnight. I was ecstatic. A sleepover with a dog!

Thursday morning came, and after dance class, Mae, Audrey and I drove to the shelter with Sadie-Dog in tow. Obviously, as anyone knows, we come with a lot of barriers. Four kids, two cats, foster cats, Sadie and a very picky husband. Weeks prior I would look at the dogs at the shelter, saying, “If you’re still here on the 20th, I’m taking you home for a sleepover!” But, of course, they were adopted (which yay!) but nay for my hopes of being able to find a dog compatible with all of our twenty needs.

I know I sound absolutely nuts, needing to go through all these hoops with all that I already have going on, but I wanted to make sure that the dog was right for us, even if just for a night.

So many people said, “Are you sure you’re okay with adding into the chaos?” and I’d smile and say, “What’s one more thing?”

Sadie was so nervous when we got there. I brought her to a meet and greet room, and one of the adoptions counselors said, “Which one would you like to test out?”

I asked her which one she would think is best. I like her and I trust her judgement. She knows about all my barriers. She said, “How about JD?”

I knew of JD from my friend Jen who was telling me the day before that she was in love with him. So if Jen liked him, that’s a good enough sign for me.

She brought JD into the other meet and greet room to meet the girls. He didn’t pay much attention to them and all their energy, so I went and got Sadie and we met outside in a caged in area for an official meet.

Sadie didn’t care about JD, JD didn’t care about Sadie. We ran around a little, created some chaos, he didn’t care. Sadie didn’t care.

When I went to put Sadie back in the car, JD looked back at me, his eyes saying, “Why aren’t you coming with me?”

I signed the sheet saying JD was mine for the night and we went on our way, telling them we’d be back at the appointed time time to pick him up (given he wasn’t adopted.)

All day I thought about him. I kept hoping that no one would adopt him. That’s terrible, right? I mean it’s just an overnight vs a lifetime of love. I was sounding so selfish.

When I finished teaching BodyPump at 6:30, I checked my phone – no calls. He was still there.

I packed him up and got him some medicine, because he was starting to come down with kennel cough.

Did I also mention he’s ten? Yes. He’s a ten year old dog, a German Shepherd, and kennel cough, at that age, could be very bad for him.

A nice, quiet place to rest his head was just what he’d need to get better.

We left his leash on him for the first hour after getting home, until the kids had gone to bed. Nothing bad happened.

We let him off his leash and he laid down and went to sleep.

The cats weren’t so happy about a new dog, so they hissed from under our bed, so I chose to sleep in the basement with him, and we had zero issues. He’s 100% house broken, gentle, quiet, and just wanted someone he could love.

I was supposed to drop him off at the shelter the next day around noon.

Yah, so he’s still here. I couldn’t give him up. If anything, he just needed a place to get healthy again, so at the very least, he’d be here through his kennel cough.

Matt waited for him to do something bad. Poop in the house, lunge at Sadie, terrorize the cats, hate the kids…he’s done none of that. He follows us everywhere, knows his manners and is exactly the kind of dog we’d have in our house.

So we’re keeping him.

I refuse to call him JD because that name makes me sad. He answered to Jay, but he doesn’t look like a Jay. And since Matt was so kind to give into my puppy dog eyes and said we could keep him, I let him pick a name. He settled on Beau.

So Beau is very spoiled. He gets his kennel cough meds, though he hardly shows any symptoms. It’s amazing what a nice home can do when you’re a sick animal. He’s very thin, so my number one goal is to remedy that. He gets his regular meals, plus coconut oil because his fur is awful. He drinks water with a little apple cider vinegar in it, because that’s good for a zillion things (dogs, cats and humans alike!) He gets probiotics mid day hidden in some cheese or a hard boiled egg. He gets a beef chew every night.

He’s absolutely spoiled rotten. Already his fur isn’t coming out as much as it had been. Before, you could just grab it by the handful. He was so mangy. I brushed him and his fur filled up a grocery bag. Matt brushed him yesterday and not nearly as much was lost. I’ll call that a huge win.

Sadie tolerates him. Right now they’re laying on the same piece of blanket about 2 feet between them. We went for a walk and they didn’t fuss over each other. For a whole three minutes, Sadie let Beau sleep on her couch in our bedroom.

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Four days and already we’re all in love with him. I don’t have any idea how much time he has left. You can never tell with big dogs. One thing I do know is that for the time he has left, be it 6 months or 4 years, he will know love and be loved.

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A dungeon no more!

Let’s talk about my basement. We bought our house back in 2006, the day after Thanksgiving. It is a basic, cookie cutter, bottom line, don’t spend extras Maronda home. But I love it. It’s yellow, in a cul de sac, and it’s mine.

For years we’ve been talking about renovating the basement, but other things kept getting in the way. We needed a new front door, the carpeting was awful and needed to be replaced, the other floors needed to be replaced, the laundry room had to move to the second floor, the kids bathroom floor needed to be replaced, our fridge died, dishwasher stopped working…typical life of a home owner.

Finally, after some outrageous bids, we got a really good one, from a good, honest guy named Steve Mosco. Not only was his price reasonable, but he also let me have a say in every step of the process. That’s a big deal, as I am a control freak.

When our house was built, the person who had it built in the first place had the foresight to add an extra row of cinder block so that if/when someone chose to finish the basement, it would have head room.

I thank that person.

I used to think I wanted to buy a turn key home, but now, having owned one that needed some improvements, I’m glad. Over the years, it’s slowly become *our* place, and not the home of the person who lived here prior.

Having four kids in a house that doesn’t have room for expansion, we need to use every last corner of space. The basement was a dungeon. We used it as a shoe graveyard and a place to run on the treadmill. As far as basements go, it wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t like I could just throw a couch down there and call it a day.

Here’s what it looked like.

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Panoramic, obviously, but it gives you a good idea. It was big enough, had good bones, needed drywall.

014This was where the bathroom was going to go. It’s hard to believe that’s what it looked like, and that a bathroom could be created out of it.

If you notice the exposed pipes almost ceased any hopes of having a full bathroom down there. However, I offered for our contractor to take some wall from the garage (because it really wasn’t a huge deal, four inches) and move the pipes, it worked, and I got a full bathroom out of that tiny space.

002The water heater was moved from the new bathroom area, and tucked under the stairway. That was also a huge game changer. But as you can see here, bathroom!

006Bam! Fast forward and that’s what it changed into.

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From this photo, my back is to the door to the garage. We created a half wall so that we could have a mudroom. I’m 29, but I ain’t stupid. With four kids, this was a complete necessity.

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I insisted on a few things, one of which was a real banister. I even got to stain it myself. This photo was taken after three coats of stain. I ended up doing a few more before I polyed it. Also, note the cat door. The door to the right is the way to get under the stairs where the litter box is kept. The door is a full sized door, but only the bottom half is accessible, obviously because of stairs. We were stuck with a wall of doors because of needs to have access to the furnace, water heater and such, the bathroom and to get under the stairs. I refused to have a big door, a smaller door under the bulkhead and then an even smaller door for under the stairs, so I used a full sized door that you can’t even notice the difference!

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Yesterday the carpet was installed, so now our basement is officially finished! Here’s a tour.

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It’s hard to take a photo in tiny room, but that’s the shower. For a 32×32, it’s surprisingly roomy.

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The banister with it’s final coat of stain and poly.

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The walls are gold, but I didn’t want floor to ceiling gold, because that’s just ridiculous. So I had Steve add in wainscot and detail to offset the awesome color.I was very excited when he hung up the wood shim sunburst mirror I had made. It seems right at home there.

1618425_10152561438353791_8759876628262803917_nOur mudroom! The bench is where all the shoes go to die, the shelves are already stacked with things and I will be installing hooks for coats as soon as I remember to buy wall anchors. The floor tile is really neat. You can’t really tell from this angle, but it’s got glitter in it, and every tile has a different look. I even did the grouting. I chose a pinwheel pattern and I’m so happy I did, because it makes the space feel more unique to my taste.

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The electrical panel couldn’t be buried in the wall, so I bought some super huge canvasses and had the kids create some really neat paintings for the wall. The electrical panel is behind Luca’s, which is the one on the far right. The bulkhead has a 6’7″ clearance, which is awesome, especially when the carpet guy came yesterday and had no issues. (He’s 6’5″.) The rest of the ceiling has a 7 foot plus clearance. It doesn’t even remotely feel like a basement.

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I never knew you could be in love with a stairwell. I am! For almost 8 years I have climbed these stairs, and they were loud, creeky and blue. Now they’re absolutely silent, comfy and the walls are pretty neat, too. The hand rail is absolutely beautiful and way better than the one inch thick white pine piece we had before.

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And the finished room, with carpeting. The couch is a pullout couch from IKEA. It has the most fantastic grey wool pattern and surprisingly comfy. There will someday be a TV on the wall it faces, but design took priority over electronics, so I got wainscot detailing and no TV. Not that sad, just a little. The french doors were installed way before the renovation even took place. Before it was just a single door with a half window. The amount of light the space gets now is incredible. It’s warm, it doesn’t echo, and the carpet is so cushy under my feet. I’ve been looking at that first photo for EIGHT years. That’s longer than I’ve been a mother. This was money well spent on so many levels.

So that’s it! My basement!

You wrote a blank check

Fashionable outfit of the day for Maelie this morning was a pink striped skirt, jeggings, a star shirt and her purple cape. I had on my Army PT shirt that Claire insisted I wear today. While standing in line at Panera, someone made a comment to Mae, saying she looked super fancy. She said thank you, then saw that he was wearing a shirt like mine and said, “You’re in the Army like my mommy!” He smiled and said, “Yup! I was!” She said, “Thanks!” (Because I’ve always told my kids you thank any person in uniform: officer, firefighter, military, EMT or veteran status.) He then said, “Thank your mom, too!”

When I went to order, I got what I always do, half a salad and soup. When I handed the manager my card to pay, the veteran we had been talking to leaned forward and said, “Did she forget to tell you she’s a veteran? Because she is.”

The manager looked at me, and said, “Oh! You’re a veteran, well then, your lunch is free.” Blushing, I thanked him and scooted over to the side to get our food.

The vet and his wife stood next to us and when our meal was called for, his wife offered to carry it to my table because I was carrying Audrey.

Never in all my years have I felt such a connection and kinship, as I did this afternoon. She could have offered to help simply because I had kids, and that’s always a nice gesture, but this time, it was because of my brief service to the military. I thanked her profusely, and she said, “You wrote a blank check to the US when you enlisted. The least I can do is carry your food for you.”

I have to remind myself often, that while I don’t believe I deserve the same pomp and circumstance that those who were deployed do, I gave what I could. And I would have given more if I had to. That has to count for something.

Sunday, I ran the EQT 10 Miler in downtown Pittsburgh. It was the perfect day for a race. It was sunny, not too windy and the chill lifted quickly once the race began. I wasn’t feeling too good, and wasn’t too psyched about the race, but I made a promise to myself that I would run this race, and I would do my best, because that’s what we do, Conti. That’s what we do. We don’t half ass anything. (I talk to myself often.)

The first five or six miles were all hills. I tried not to look too far ahead, because then I’d get down on myself when I’d see how much further I’d have to climb to get that brief respite before the next hill.

At mile 4, as we were winding up and down the hills, I was brought back to the day I proved to myself that I am unbreakable. After having limped my way through the past 4 weeks of basic training, I had to do my final challenge, our ruck march. No one knew how far we had to go, we just knew we had to keep moving. Minute after minute, mile after mile. We went from daylight, to twilight, to darkness. I remember when the sun first set, we were coming through a break in the trees and I saw a million stars. The sky looked like it was on fire. I told myself to take a picture with my mind and remember it forever, because right then, after miles of hills, hours of silence through the pain, I was untouchable. It didn’t matter that I had broken bones, or that my DS didn’t think I was good enough, or that I could barely lift my foot when putting on underwear. I had made it. I had proved to myself that I can do anything when I tell myself I can.

So when at mile 6 when my knee started to hurt, I thought of all the things I have done and all of the things I will do in my life. I thought of who I was, and what I did to get through. I thought of my IRun4 buddy who can’t walk. I thought of the moment when I sat on the exam table at the Orthopedic’s office when he told me I’d never run again. I felt that fire ignite inside me. That same one that’s always there when something is keeping me from doing what I want to do.

And that pain went away, and so did the hills, and when I finished, I didn’t even note the time. I had no idea what pace I kept. I had assumed it was around a 9:25 pace, because I set out to do just that.

When I got in the car, and saw that I kept a 9:11 pace, I was floored. Absolutely floored. I couldn’t stop smiling. I did that. Me. I was in the Army. I gave it all I had. I would do it all over again.

I am a Veteran.

Happy Veterans Day to all that have served and continue to serve. We are all free, because of the brave. And it truly takes a lot of bravery to do what we have done, in any capacity.

carlyandcassie

She’s always in a mood

Today at Club One, the daycare lady had all the kids go into the basketball court to run around. She proclaimed today “no tv day.” I like that daycare lady. I really should learn her name. (I am THE WORST at learning names, sadly.)

The group fitness room is right next to the basketball court, so I stood there watching the cuteness of 10 kids run around with reckless abandon. Five minutes before my class started, one of the kids proclaimed they needed to pee. I told the daycare lady I’d be happy to walk her over to the bathroom.

The little girl couldn’t be older than 5. She had a really fancy thick banded lace headband on with a giant flower on it. Her clothes were very nice. She looked straight out of an ad for Gap Kids.

On the way, in the 40 feet from the basketball court to the daycare bathroom, she told me her life story. Then she said, “I’ve never had another mom take me to the potty before. You must be nice.”

I said, “I’m nice, I think.”

She said with a shrug, “My mom isn’t very nice. She’s always in a mood.”

I said, “I get that.”

She shrugged again and said, “Moms.”

Now I’m wondering what my kids say about me when I’m not around.

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