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Always Ok

Here it is December, and while I set a goal of writing one post per month in 2014 and even decided to try my hand at 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo in November, I can say with fervor that I failed those goals.  I can’t even find the time to write one article per month for our local monthly publication which has generously offered to publish anything and everything I decide to write, as long as it fits into their word count needs for the month.  In 2014, they only published one article of mine, because that’s all I managed to submit.

So much has happened.  I got married in June (whoa!!) and 6 days later, so did my ex.  They’ve since had a baby, a little girl who is now three weeks old and I got to hold her and smell her lovely baby smells at less than 24 hours old.  My mom mentioned later than when she heard how much time I spent holding this sweet little girl who is the half-sister of my daughters and yet, technically, nothing to me, she worried that maybe it hurt me, somewhere inside.

Maybe it should have?  Perhaps when I held her, I should have searched for similarities between my daughters and this little baby and felt bitter about my ex-husband having another child with his new wife while I’m left unable to bear more children.  But I didn’t feel that way.  In the moment, I felt so grateful that they welcomed me into their hospital room and allowed me to be a part of this monumental moment in their lives.  I felt so much love for that little life, the sister that my daughters will grow to love and cherish.  And then, weeks into having her home, I had to smile as I listened to my ex describe sleepless nights and be thankful that it’s him and not me.

Sometimes, I worry that my military upbringing has taught me too well that when we move on, we move on in every aspect – physically, mentally and emotionally.

Should I be happy holding my ex-husband’s baby without any angst?  Is that normal?

This past Monday, we had to put our Dobie boy down.  His name was Hank.  I’ve written so rarely that I don’t even know if I’ve properly expressed how much he has meant to me, the last two years.  Over the past week, we’ve talked about how we shouldn’t be so upset, because he’s “just a dog”.  But he wasn’t just a dog.

How can I tell you how soft and velvety his ears were?  Dobies almost always have their ears cropped, but none of the 4 homes who adopted our Hank before us cropped his ears, and I was so thankful.  He had the biggest, dopiest smile.  He was such a love.  We had him in our tasting room every Saturday, and most Fridays, and even those who disliked big dogs,  or Dobies in particular, fell in love.

He loved to run the vineyards and his nose detected even the faintest hint of deterioration in the wines we had in barrel.

He was more than a dog.  He was the child we could not have together.

But over the past few months, his behavior had gotten to be questionable, at best.  We hired a dog behavior specialist (something you should consider being, if you want to make lots of money – seriously) and he said that with 50 years of experience, he had never encountered a dog like ours.  Not terribly promising, I must say.

He used to love playing with other dogs and then suddenly, he couldn’t.  He used to sleep through the night and then without warning, he wouldn’t.  Instead, he would just pace and poke us as we slept.  Finally, a friend mentioned that a dog he’d had in his youth had had a stroke and displayed similar symptoms, and so we made an appointment just days before our (delayed) honeymoon to get Hank’s brain scanned.

He had a tumor on his frontal lobe.  It was growing rapidly, which explained his discomfort and how unpredictable his behavior had become.

So, we put him down and I’m OK.

I’m Ok and I feel guilty for feeling Ok, because no one else in our family is Ok.  Hank was such a part of our daily lives.  He was the one who kept me from pressing “snooze” every morning; the one who chased down rogue balls on the golf course; the one who taught us to accept his adoration and love as though we deserved it.

I don’t know how to mourn properly.  I have lost so many in my lifetime.  I only know how to celebrate today, and those who occupy my mind even years after saying good-bye inspire me to reach out and make contact, but I’m always Ok.

I’m always Ok.  Is that Ok in the grand scheme of things?

Second Chances

When a caterpillar wraps itself up in a cocoon and the world goes dark and still around it, does it know what the future holds? 

How does it feel to lie there, completely alone, and sense yourself changing into something you’ve never been, while still yourself on the inside?  Fondly remembering the past, the only life you’ve ever known, but accepting the inherent truth that you no longer belong there.  The light must be blinding, when it’s time to come out and show your new self to the world.  How rapidly your heart must beat as you cling to the wood beneath your feet and feel the wind rustle your fragile wings for the very first time.  How long does it take you to build up enough courage to trust those beautiful wings to carry you to worlds you’ve never imagined?  I wonder, lovely creature, will you ever truly realize your fantastic beauty and all that you are now capable of, or will you spend your life believing that you are nothing more than a caterpillar?


I had the rare opportunity to witness a butterfly emerging from its cocoon this past weekend, amidst the fervent beating of hummingbird wings.  It was incredible, especially when, as we checked its progress over time, we realized that the fuzzy thing still inside the cocoon was actually a new caterpillar, who emerged from the other end over the course of the day.  I didn’t know they did that!  New life, from both ends of a cozy cocoon.

My mom told me recently, without me having mentioned the butterfly to her, that it’s time to lift my head.  When my former life fell apart, I spun myself a cocoon and shut out the rest of the world.  I didn’t know who I was, or who I was going to be.  I didn’t know how to explain why I needed everything to change without causing hurt, so I just didn’t say anything.  I hid myself inside that cocoon and began my transformation, not knowing what form I would take, or how long I would need. I just knew it was necessary to my survival.

The funny thing is, I emerged from that cocoon some time ago, experiencing the world close around me, but refusing to fly away from my safe and cozy place.  Had I witnessed that newborn butterfly trying to crawl back into its empty cocoon, I may have said, “Silly butterfly, you can’t fit back in there, now.  It’s of no use, you’re no longer a caterpillar.”  But there’s no telling exactly how long it takes a butterfly to realize what it has become.

I have such a wonderful, amazing new life.  One I never could have dreamed for myself.  I have experienced so much joy, growth, contentment and peace as I transitioned. 

But there was a part of me, possibly several parts of me, that were terrified to take flight.  I have these beautiful wings and the world is opening up before me, but what if I’m just a caterpillar?  What if these lovely adornments on my back are only an illusion?  Or worse, what if they are real, but I’m not worthy of them?

I have only mentioned him here once, the man I share my life with.  In a way, I’ve also weaved a cocoon around my love for him in some effort to protect it.  His name is Nathan.  He’s been there, patiently waiting for me, from the moment we met three years ago.  He has never minded that I move at the pace of a caterpillar carrying wings on its back.  But as I took each step, he told me stories of the way my wings dazzled in the sunlight and fluttered in the breeze.  He believed I could fly, long before I’d even thought it was possible, but he never pushed me to take flight.  In time, he helped me to not only see myself as he does, but to finally take a good hard look at my own reflection and accept all that I have been, all that I am, and the possibilities of all the things I may one day become.

I took my mom’s advice and lifted my head.  And you know what I realized?  I was already soaring above the ground.  But I was clinging to the remnants of my cocoon, carrying it with me, letting it weigh me down and keeping me from fully embracing my life and all of those who are in it.

So I let it fall to the earth below and flew freely, utterly and completely, for the very first time.

Good Leaders Aren’t Bossy

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the word “bossy” being used to describe assertive, successful women versus the word “leader” for men with the same qualities.  Personally, I have never called a bossy person of any gender a good leader, nor have I called a good leader, man or woman, bossy. 

The difference between someone who is Bossy versus someone who is a Leader, in my opinion, is the respect that they do or do not show and/or give to their supporters.

I am a natural Supporter – for lack of a better term, I often refer to myself as a “Beta”, the person who directly supports the Alpha.  In a wolf pack, the Beta is usually the Alpha’s mate and she is given an equal amount of respect by the pack as the Alpha, because they recognize her role as one of importance.

But for us humans, as women in leadership roles balk at being called Bossy, I’d like to give my perspective on the rarely recognized role of Beta, or Supporter, or as the masses often call us: the pee-ons, worker bees or followers.

On the slope of a wooded hill near my home, the sun rises each morning and silhouettes a Pine tree that towers majestically above the rest.  It stands tall and straight, its limbs swaying gently with the rhythm of the breeze.  From here, on the opposite hillside, the pine appears to be the King* of the Mountain, surrounded by his subjects.  Over many decades, he somehow managed to get more nutrients and sunlight than the rest.  Even as the tallest and biggest tree, he withstood storms, floods, droughts, parasites and myriad other forces of nature, continuing to thrive even as others fell around him.


Pine afar













From afar, he appears to stand alone, greater than the rest.  In truth, he is superior because of what lies at his base.

Pine up close













He is tall and wide, rough and rigid, powerful and stoic.  His Queen*, his Beta, is a Manzanita.  She is petite and svelte, smooth and curvaceous, strong and resilient.  Long ago, they were each faced with a choice.  He could have used his might to dominate their shared space so that she could no longer grow.  She could have given up or grown in another direction, as the Manzanita sometimes will.

Instead, the beautiful solution they created allowed them both to flourish and share each other’s strengths, creating a lifelong, symbiotic partnership.

She will never tower above the others or be the first to feel the sun’s nourishing light, but she doesn’t need to – because he does.  When the wind comes whipping through the forest and his strength is put to the test, he doesn’t have to worry about his roots giving out – because she is there, keeping their foundation solid.  There are patches of her soft, silky bark growing on his trunk, and his pine needles are draped over her long and winding arms. 

To sit benePine & Manzanita Danceath them and be surrounded by their comfort is one of the greatest joys in my day to day life.  I am inspired by their tenacity, their acceptance of their natural roles, and their ability to be at once so dedicated to their mutual goal of survival and so respectful of each other’s inherent character.

In my mind, a great leader finds his or her Beta, whether it be a mate in personal life, an assistant or “right hand (wo)man” in professional life, and treats that person (or people) with the respect that they deserve.  Recognizing that alone, goodness can be achieved, but together, true, long lasting greatness is possible.  When such an amazing partnership is formed, other people want to be a part of it, crave to see it succeed, and delight in “following” their leader.

I used to try to be an Alpha, but for years now I have been a proud Beta.  I am an innate Supporter, and in that role – both in my personal and professional life – I thrive when I’m able to collaborate with a good Alpha and use my creativity, intellect, wit, attention to detail and quiet, nurturing nature to make magic happen.

I will always happily work with a good leader, but I refuse to work with someone who is bossy – whether they be man, woman or child.  Because I may not be an Alpha, but I won’t tolerate being walked on or disrespected.

How about you – are you an Alpha or Beta?  Do you think there’s a difference between being a Leader and being Bossy?

* I’m calling the Pine a He and the Manzanita a She because I spend a great deal of time with them and I feel that those “gender roles” are accurate.  However, I do feel that the Alpha and Beta in any relationship can be either male or female.

In Memory of our Beloved Snowstorm

Ali asked me a question about her toddlerhood recently and I looked at the archives here on the ol’ blog in order to reference exactly when the incident she was curious about occurred.  That resulted in me getting lost in my archives, reading about things that I know happened, but didn’t remember very clearly until I read what I had written about them.  That made me realize how important this space is – not to social media, or to other people who may or may not want to read what’s written here, but to me, and to my girls.

I’ve had a hard time writing over the last couple (few??) years.  I think it’s because I’m just not sure about my voice, about what’s ok to discuss in a public forum, about whether or not people I would prefer didn’t read my words are coming here in order to read what I have to say and hold it against me.

I want to preserve my memories.  The words I use to describe them don’t have to be particularly eloquent or creative.  My voice doesn’t have to be sure and seasoned.  And if those who would choose to use my words against me come here to read, I have to believe that my true character will always shine through, and that I have nothing to apologize for.



I want to write about Snowstorm, because I don’t ever want to forget.  At this point in time I tend to think that’s not possible, but reading through my archives and realizing how much slips through the gaps of my memory, I need to put this experience into words.

If you are squeamish, I apologize.  This is for me – graphic detail about what I experienced, so that years from now, when Blythe asks me what happened and I feel she can handle it, I will share my memories with her.  Or maybe not, I guess we’ll just have to see.

In the summer of 2010, shortly after Blythe turned 3 and was still in the throes of her myriad medical issues, she was in the habit of waking up at ungodly hours, unable – or unwilling, it would sometimes seem – to go back to sleep.  On a warm day in July of that year, she woke up before the sun.  I decided to lay down with her in her bed in hopes that she would (please god just let her, just this once) go back to sleep.  But eventually she heard her father stirring around the house.  We owned a construction company whose shop was on our property, and with the summer heat we had the crew starting just after sunrise.   Darling little Blythe heard her dad leave the house and was intent on taking a walk down to the shop to wish him a good morning.

Just to be clear, while the child regularly woke up – and stayed up – during the night, she had never requested that we walk down the dirt road to the shop when it was barely light outside.  This was an isolated incident, one that was never repeated, so it’s especially significant that we happened to walk along the road that day.

On our short walk between our house and the shop, we saw something white in the middle of the dirt road.  At first we thought one of our crew had dropped a t-shirt or a rag, but upon closer inspection we discovered a tiny little white kitten.  His eyes and nose were so thickly coated with crusted mucous that he couldn’t open his eyes to see, nor could he smell.  For all intents and purposes, the tiny little helpless kitten had laid down in the road to die, and the ants and fleas had already started to treat him as a corpse.  Had we not taken a walk at that particular time on that specific day, he would have been run over by one of our crew heading out to work.

Blythe got to him first, and begged me to save him.  A lover of animals, I had rescued many a cat in my time.  I quickly sprung into action.  I took off my sweatshirt and wrapped him up in it, rushing him back to the house where I cleaned the bugs and mucous off of him the best I could with warm water.  He never made a sound, never fought me.  I thought for sure he would die.

A few hours later, our veterinarian gave me somber news.  The kitten was infested with pretty much every parasite known to felines and would have to be quarantined for a minimum of three months.  He was severely dehydrated and malnourished, and had an eye/ear/nose/throat infection that was so severe that it indicated a permanent, incurable condition was present.  I would have to give him subcutaneous saline injections, and if he wouldn’t eat – which was pretty likely since he couldn’t smell – I would have to force feed him and hope that he would eventually eat willingly on his own.  The prognosis was not good.

I can’t begin to explain to you about the rapid rate at which Blythe’s health, behavioral and emotional issues were gaining momentum at that particular time.  It was as though every moment of therapy that brought improvement in certain areas gave birth to new issues, new problems, new hurdles.  Her sensory processing disorder, which seemed to be getting better in so many ways, was simultaneously getting worse in new, stranger ways.  Her behavior and emotions – ruled by her innate feeling of being on fire inside – were at times overwhelming, for both of us.  To be perfectly honest, I was afraid.  Afraid that I couldn’t keep up, couldn’t help her, that we were losing ground faster than we were gaining it and that the daily battles we were fighting were going to result in a lost war.  Not to mention that my marriage was spiraling crazily out of control and my husband was behaving like a paranoid delusional lunatic, but I digress.

The magic that happened between Snowstorm and Blythe is indescribable.  His soft, gentle spirit calmed her inner fire.  His fragility, his need to be saved brought out in her a side I’d never seen.  She was willing to endure whatever sensory discomfort was necessary in order to help him.  He was so close to death, and she chose – at three years old, this child chose – to put his needs above her own, every day.

To be sure, we saved his life – she saved his life – but he saved her, too.  He was the most amazing, sweet, tolerant, loving cat I’ve ever known and while he loved the rest of the family, too, the bond between Snowstorm and Blythe was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

We saved him from certain death in the middle of our gravel driveway in July of 2010 and so, when I found him in the middle of yet another gravel driveway of a different home in January of 2014, I couldn’t help but think to myself, later, that some force in the universe must have made it so.  We were granted his presense in our lives for that short period of time, but it was a fluke.

I replay that day in my head so often.  The cats are only allowed outside during the day and we open the bathroom window because it has a slit in the screen for them to go in and out.  It had been cold, and a little rainy, so the cats hadn’t wanted to go out.  We were on our way out the door for school and Snowstorm had planted himself in the middle of the doorway.  “Do I want to be in or out?” he seemed to wonder, as he looked up at me.  We were running about 3 minutes behind schedule.  I nudged him out the door and hustled the kids into the car.  As we got buckled we laughed about how he always rolled around in the dirt right where Hank, our dog, peed when we let him out in the morning.

January is a busy month for me, and I admit that when I got back home an hour later, I didn’t even think about the fact that Snowstorm was outside.  I didn’t call for him, and I didn’t open the bathroom window.  I just came home and got to work.  Before I knew it, my alarm was going off and it was time to pick up the kids.  Nathan had left for the winery, which is just down the road from our house, an hour or so before.  Usually he and Hank walk, but this time he drove, because he had to haul some equipment over.

Whether Snowstorm got caught up in his truck then, or whether he wandered over to the winery and got caught up in there later, we’ll never know.  But when the girls got home from school and couldn’t find him, all three of us were in a panic.  We called and called him – yes, we have trained our cats to come when called – and he didn’t come  home.  Nathan said later that he could hear us calling for Snowstorm from the winery and wondered what was going on.

A short while later, Nathan left the house for wrestling practice about five minutes before us.  Normally, we all drove together, but we’d been having some trouble with Blythe’s enthusiasm for wrestling and our compromise to get her to see the season through was that I’d take her to wrestling, but we didn’t have to stay for the second session for older kids.  Nathan was the coach for both sessions, and wrestling nights often had us at practice for three full hours.

Snowstorm was lying in the middle of the road, still as can be.  My headlights found him and I was the first to see that there was something white in the road.  I told the girls to stay in the car and went to him.

He was still alive.  One of his back legs was badly mangled, and the side of his skull that laid against the ground was crushed.  His breathing was labored and as I petted his soft, silky fur, his tail moved.  I had been trying to block him from the kids’ view, but they saw the swish of tail and knew he was alive.  I didn’t want them to see him this way – so very near the brink of death, with blood and bits of brain matter soaking into the gravel beneath his head.  I didn’t know what to do.  Here he was, this wonderful member of my family fatally injured and yet not able to die, and my kids watching from the car.

Not knowing what else to do, I tried to strangle him to put him out of his misery.  In the movies and on television, strangling looks so easy – he was so small compared to me, and so near to death, I thought for sure I could do it.  But he wouldn’t die.  His broken body struggled for breath and I could not end his life.  I could hear Ali and Blythe crying and screaming from the car.  Ali was yelling, “Do something!!” and at the time I thought she was talking to me, but she explained later that she was talking to God.  In the lessons they’ve learned at the church their dad and his girlfriend take them to, God will answer your prayers if you’re pure of heart and deserving.

They haven’t yet forgiven “God” for finding them and dear, sweet Snowstorm, undeserving.

The girls called Nathan from my phone, which was in the car, and he came back.  By the time he arrived, I had wrapped Snowstorm in a towel to transport him back home and on the short ride, he passed away.  I held him in my arms, swaddled like the sweet angel baby he was, while Nathan dug a hole in the backyard.

He is not the first cat I’ve had to say good-bye to.  But his death was by far the hardest one I’ve had to deal with.  I feel so terribly responsible.  I neglected him on that day, the only day I’ve ever neglected him, and he died.  He died a horrible, tragic death and all we can figure is that he crawled up inside the drive train of Nathan’s truck to try and stay warm and got stuck.

Blythe cries for him all the time.  Our kitten, Zeus, who was supposed to be mine since my cat, Eema, passed away a year ago, has gone out of his way to be sweet to Blythe.  I told her that Zeus could be her cat, and she’s thankful, but he isn’t Snowstorm.  No one ever will be.

He was her knight in shining armor.  He saved her when nothing I, or her counselors or doctors or specialists did seemed to work.  He was kind and sweet and loving and gentle and now he’s gone.  So terribly, tragically, permanently gone.

And our hearts just can’t seem to heal.

This and That

I set out to write at least one post per month and hit the ground running with two in December.  I missed January, and February is drawing to a close so I’m just going to write a little about what’s going on in my life.  Takes the pressure off of coming up with something creative and meaningful!

Ali just started Volleyball and Blythe just finished Wrestling season ~ she took 3rd in both her tournaments and pinned a kid in her very first match, the kid’s a natural!  Too bad she lost interest~ and is also still taking art classes a couple of times a month.  Since we currently live 30 minutes from town and I drive them to and from school and then to and from practices, games and art classes, I spend a whole lot of time in the car.  They also go to their dad’s 3 weekends a month, which means 3 hours of driving for me, 3 Fridays and 3 Sundays every month.

Luckily, I’m able to have a flexible work schedule where I work from home during the week doing bookkeeping and other behind the scenes winery-related stuff and then one of the two tasting rooms I work for on the Saturdays the kids aren’t with me.  It frees me up to be able to be really active with the girls’ school and extracurricular activities, and also be social in the tasting rooms when they go to their dad’s.

Nathan and I were able to buy out his former business partner ~ who was also his ex-wife, whom he continued to work with for several years, making things extra interesting ~ from his winery a little over a year ago and things have been so incredibly good.  We came up with a 5 year plan than started with the buy-out and we hoped could finish in a property of our own with our own house and winery facility.  Currently we lease everything: a tasting room in town ~ which we will continue to do, because commercial real estate prices in town are astronomical ~ where we pour wine on the weekends for tourists, plus space for our barrels and production from another winery that Nathan makes wine for, and then a home on the same property, which is absolutely, stunningly beautiful.  It’s honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, much less called home.

Fortunately, the ex and I have agreed to sell off the properties we own together, so that we can each make a fresh start.  He and his fiancee are looking at houses about 45 minutes closer to us than they are now, so that will be awesome for the girls.

With the hope of some cash coming up soon, Nathan, the girls and I have been looking at some properties near us.  Our hope is to find something that’s still far enough out of town that we can enjoy the scenery and go on hikes, but closer to town so that driving to and from doesn’t take up quite so much time every day.  In order to have a working winery facility, we we’ll have to find a minimum of 20 acres, so fingers crossed on finding something perfect, even if it’s not quite so gorgeous as the spot where we live now.

Life is pretty good!  Busy, always, but in the best possible ways.  The girls are both doing tremendously well in school.  Ali’s consistently gotten all A’s, and although 1st grade doesn’t give out “grades”, Blythe is also doing very well, meeting or exceeding all of the benchmark goals for kids her age.  They’ve both made some wonerful friends in our new community and fit in as though they’ve been here all along.  It’s odd for me, sometimes, to think about how different of an experience we would be having if Blythe still had all of her health issues.  The school where the girls attend take food allergies very seriously and have gone above and beyond for the kids who have them, so I think, maybe, things would still be pretty ok.  But man, oh man, am I grateful for the changes and improvements.  I could never have asked for anything better.