Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Appreciation

Since Pudding has passed away, I've been so blessed by my friends, both near and far.  To all of you who posted such touching messages of comfort, believe me when I say we were overwhelmed. Your kind words have helped us so much.  I'm sorry I didn't reply to any of the comments, the truth of the matter is I couldn't see to type until now without mopping my eyes.  Every message was extremely helpful and healing, and a mere thank you on my part seems so inadequate.  I'm deeply, deeply grateful.

I grew up on a farm and have seen life and death many times but it doesn't make it any easier.  I've also lost many people dear to me over the years, and I know, she was just a dog.  But those who love animals know the place they have in our hearts.
Pudding was camera-shy, she would always look away from the lens.
Life around here is empty without Pudding.  How I miss her happy barks of joy when I come in the door along with that tap-dancing frenzy she always embarked on.  Teddy is still with us, but he has also showed signs of missing her; he didn't want to eat for a few days and seems lost at times.  His eyesight and hearing are failing ever more and he sleeps a great deal.  I hesitate to pet him as much as I'd like because he startles so easily nowadays, so I save any petting for when he's completely aware of his surroundings. 
 Teddy never was the affectionate fellow that Pudding was; he was always the athletic one with the guard dog mentality.  He does wag his tail now and then, but we haven't heard him bark in weeks.  He doesn't seem to be in physical pain, but we had to increase his heart medication a few months ago, so it is only a matter of time.  We will love him for as long as we're blessed to have him here.

Teddy a few years ago, always with a ball, Mr. Athlete.

I kept a lock of Pudding's hair to remember her by and I have her collar in the kitchen hanging by the refrigerator.  Every now and then I hear her tags jingle when I open or close the door and expect to look down and see her staring up at me with those adoring brown eyes.  I still find myself carefully moving my feet when I am at the dinner table as she loved to rest her head on my foot.  Her bed is still on the couch next to me as I write and every time I glance over at it, I'm reminded of her absence.  The day after she died, somehow my gray jacket was tossed on the couch and my heart skipped a beat when I saw it there in the dim light of late afternoon.  Could it be?  But no, just a ghost; how the heart yearns to see what it wants.  

Pudding and Teddy in better days, sleeping next to me on the couch.
 We buried Pudding by the biggest rocks in our garden; the same place our dear cat Screech was laid to rest.  One of my comments on my last post, from John at Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes was this lovely poem:

This is a poem by Ben Hur Lampman - Where to Bury a Dog

There are various places within which a dog may be buried. We are thinking now of a setter, whose coat was flame in the sunshine, and who, so far as we are aware, never entertained a mean or an unworthy thought. This setter is buried beneath a cherry tree, under four feet of garden loam, and at its proper season the cherry strews petals on the green lawn of his grave. Beneath a cherry tree, or an apple, or any flowering shrub of the garden, is an excellent place to bury a good dog. Beneath such trees, such shrubs, he slept in the drowsy summer, or gnawed at a flavorous bone, or lifted head to challenge some strange intruder. These are good places, in life or in death. Yet it is a small matter, and it touches sentiment more than anything else.

For if the dog be well remembered, if sometimes he leaps through your dreams actual as in life, eyes kindling, questing, asking, laughing, begging, it matters not at all where that dog sleeps at long and at last. On a hill where the wind is unrebuked and the trees are roaring, or beside a stream he knew in puppyhood, or somewhere in the flatness of a pasture land, where most exhilarating cattle graze. It is all one to the dog, and all one to you, and nothing is gained, and nothing lost -- if memory lives. But there is one best place to bury a dog. One place that is best of all.

If you bury him in this spot, the secret of which you must already have, he will come to you when you call -- come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the well-remembered path, and to your side again. And though you call a dozen living dogs to heel they should not growl at him, nor resent his coming, for he is yours and he belongs there.

People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall, who hear no whimper pitched too fine for mere audition, people who may never really have had a dog. Smile at them then, for you shall know something that is hidden from them, and which is well worth the knowing.

The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master. 

Remembering this poem, I went for a walk last night after dark.  The weather has been very strange this winter, we've gone from bitter cold in November/early December followed by a thaw and a Brown Christmas, followed by a small snow storm and then back to the deep-freeze for a week, but now we're having a thaw one more time.  The temps were in the upper 30's last night as I walked home from my mother's, I usually walk up there to check on her just before bedtime.   

 I didn't take Teddy with me for this walk; he's too tired to go that far now, but Pudding was always at my side.  Since our road is quite remote, I didn't put a leash on Pudding for the most part; she was always close by if I had to scoop her up if a vehicle did chance to come along.  Sometimes she would fall behind to check out a particularly tantalizing smell and then I would hear her little toenails come clicking down the road in happy pursuit.

Last night as I made my way home down our dark and lonely road, a wind sprang up out of the west, gently pushing me along.  Suddenly I heard a familiar clicking sound behind me and my heart jumped, could it be?

 No, it wasn't Pudding I was hearing, it was a newly cast-off oak leaf torn loose from a branch to skitter down the road ahead of me.

The leaf was like the blade of grass bent by Pudding's unseen footfall in the poem...

And finally, my dear friend Sharon sent me this lovely note:

Pudding's Last Will and Testament
Before humans die, they write their last will and testament and give their home and all they have to those they leave behind.  If, with my paws, I could do the same, this is what I'd ask.......

To a poor and lonely stray I'd give my happy home; my bowl and cozy bed, soft pillow and all my toys; the lap, which I loved so much; the hand that stroked my fur; and the sweet voice that spoke my name.  I'd will to the sad, scared shelter dog the place I had in my human's loving heart of which there seemed no bounds.

So, when I die, please do not say, "I will never have a pet again, for the loss and pain is more than I can stand."

Instead, go find an unloved dog, one whose life has held no joy or hope, and give my place to him.

This is the only thing I can give...
The love I leave behind.
I am with you always.

Thank you again for your kindness.  
Pudding: 2000-2014     


Thursday, January 1, 2015

At Peace

 Whenever my heart is heavy, I tend to write.  My heart is a leaden lump in my chest tonight and my eyes are mere slits.  Here it is, just after midnight, January 1, 2015.  Somewhere in the distance, people are shooting off fireworks in below zero temps to welcome in the New Year.

I immediately looked over at the dog beds on the couch to see if Teddy or Pudding needed reassurance that the noise wasn't a thunderstorm.

 Pudding, especially, hates thunderstorms.

 I should say, hated.

Pudding came to us in April of 2009.  I'm ashamed to admit it now, but at the time I reluctantly took her in. She was our dog Teddy's older sister by six months, and she needed a home.  Things at her former home were not good, she'd lost her potty-training at the age of eight or nine, was very thin and in bad need of grooming.

I really didn't want another dog, but Pudding had always had a special place in my heart.  I'd known her since she was a puppy, and she was a love. Somewhere along the line she'd been abused badly and was very timid, every time I tried to pet her, she went flat to the floor on her belly in complete submission.  The first few weeks were rough, she didn't want to sleep through the night and Teddy's nose was out of joint from losing his 'only dog' status.

As time went on, we worked out the kinks slowly, Pudding learned from Teddy that the place called Outside was where they used the bathroom and followed him every time, much to his dismay.  Teddy did learn to tolerate her eventually.  Though they weren't best buddies, there were no cross words or growls between them.

When Pudding realized this was going to be her Forever Home, she simply glowed and flourished.  What a love that dog had for me;  I cannot describe it, I did not deserve it, but I was her world.  Carl said she sat and waited by the door for me to come in from the garden, whining softly. He said she would watch the kitchen ceiling for shadows and when she heard me approach she would bark riotously.  Every time I came in the house from anywhere was a celebration.  She used to tap dance with her front paws in joy and make whining, throaty sounds as she circled my legs, taking one of my fingers gently in her mouth to show her affection.  Licks and kisses, were her specialty.  She was always ready with a kiss.  I gave her a bath and haircut on the 30th, and she kissed me as I groomed her feet. She was truly, truly, my dog.

Congestive heart failure entered our vocabulary two years ago; we knew it was progressive.  First Pudding and then Teddy acquired the diagnosis.  Medications were added as symptoms worsened and we hoped for the best.  Though Pudding had a very close call in May 2013 and again in November, she rallied one more time to the amazement of the emergency veterinarians and came home to us again, joyfully.

On Tuesday night, the 30th, we had a small get-together with some family here.  Pudding and Teddy played the canine host and hostess, patrolling for pats and any crumbs that might fall. 

After greeting everyone,  Pudding decided it was time for her evening meal and entertained the crowd with her habit of scratching the side of her dinner bowl with first one front paw and then the other in a very rhythmic motion as is her custom.

'Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch,' went the left paw, 'Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch', went the right, switching paws over and over.  She would always scratch her bowl for well over five minutes before she would eat.

Carl and I were so used to this noise that we completely tuned it out, but over the years all of our visitors would stare and want to know why she was going through this eccentric aerobic routine.  I explained that in the home Pudding lived in  before coming to us, her dog dish was a gravity-fed affair where the food in the upper canister fell down when the tray was emptied.  Sometimes the food got stuck, apparently, so she had to scratch to get it out.  Old habits die hard, and this idiosyncrasy stayed with her even though her food dish was now a bowl.  We didn't mind, in fact I used to delight in watching her rhythmic motions as she moved her dog dish across the floor.   She really put her all into the routine and it never annoyed me.

On Tuesday night she was in high-form, scritch-scratching her bowl across the dining room floor with our amused guests watching.  I sometimes think she enjoyed the attention, because she was always extra flamboyant with it when she had an audience.  I explained once again that this was just her 'thing' and watched her with proud amusement as she kept it up.  Little did I know this was to be the last time she would give us her performance.

When our guests left after midnight, I took both dogs out for their nighttime potty routine and tucked them into their beds. All seemed well.

Carl came into our bedroom at 6AM to wake me, "Pudding can't breathe very good, I think you need to give her another water pill."

I tore off my sleep apnea mask and went to her side.  She was gasping for air in a steady, rasping rhythm, I knew it wasn't good.  I grabbed a furosemide pill tried to get her to take it, but she couldn't.  I had to basically force her to get it down which made me feel so mean, but it was what I'd been told to do if this happened.

I called the vet's office.  It was New Year's Eve, they're not open tomorrow (today) and they were booked solid.  I told them it was an emergency so they said bring her in and we'll make you fit somehow.
The weather is bitterly cold here, so I wrapped Pudding in her blanket and with Carl behind the wheel, we drove the fifteen miles to the vet's office.  Pudding was struggling to breathe but the effort had lessened a little by the time we arrived.  I knew it wasn't good; I told Carl we'd better prepare ourselves for the worst because I didn't think this time we'd be so lucky. 

When we walked in, they whisked us off to a room and after the preliminary weigh in and temp check, the veterinarian came in with a little girl of about ten years old in tow.

 "Natalie is here today job shadowing me.  Is it ok if she stays for your visit?" asked the vet.

The tears were trickling down my cheeks, but one look at that terrified little girl staring at Pudding and then at me, and I didn't know what to say, so I shrugged.

 Natalie remained in the room with us.  Poor thing.

The vet checked over Pudding and said her heart murmur was definitely worse, but he didn't think she looked too bad.  I sniffled as I wiped my tears away, and he wanted to know what we were thinking, did we want to treat her, or were we thinking of putting her down?

"I'm sure you've had this conversation before, you knew almost two years ago with congestive heart failure what the outcome was going to be," Dr. said.  "If you think this is her time, I'm not going to second-guess you, the decision is yours."

Yes, we did know what the outcome would be.  Some day.  But the decision, the decision was......and the little girl standing there in her cute scrubs had her eyes fastened on Pudding and all I saw was dread.

"What would you do if she were your dog?" I asked.

"Well, that's a bit different, I can ease my dog's suffering if I need to, but tomorrow being New Year's Day, you'll have to go to the emergency vet again if she does decompensate because our clinic will be closed.  We could do an x-ray to see how things look and where we can go from here," Dr. B said. 

I looked to Carl for an answer.  "I think go ahead with the x-ray, maybe you can give her some of the same medicine she had a month ago.  She bounced right back then," Carl said.

Pudding was whisked off to the x-rays and we waited.  I cried (silently, I hope) as we waited.  Thank goodness the little girl job shadow went out the door with the vet.

I was ready to say goodbye.  Well, not ready, I don't think I'll ever be ready, but I was resigned to the fact that this is no quality of life for Pudding.  Carl felt I was being hasty, remember her miraculous return two years ago and most recently, a month ago.

The vet came back in with her and said that the reason she was breathing so hard was due to an upper respiratory infection.  He thought if we gave her some antibiotics and an intravenous shot of furosemide that she had a great chance of recovery.

Dr. said, "After all, Pudding is a tough dog.  She wants to ring in the New Year, too!"

My spirits rose a bit, but not very high.  Pudding was not doing well, and I knew the trip had stressed her even more.  But since Carl and the vet were hopeful, and I'd seen her come back from impossible things before, home we went.

On the trip home as I stroked her silky head, I told Carl I thought we'd made the wrong choice.  But my dear, optimistic husband said she would be fine, you just wait and see.  I usually always trust Carl when he says these things, he is my rock, but this time I wasn't buying it.

When we got home, we put her straight to bed.  She seemed a little more comfortable but as time went on I could hear her breathing from across the room.  By one o'clock in the afternoon, she needed to go outside so Carl carried her.  On her way back to her bed, she collapsed and could not get back up.  I knew we were in huge trouble now.  We lifted her back into her little bed and I called the vet's office again.  Her breathing was still very labored and I told them she seemed to be taking a turn for the worse.

I was told I could bring her in and they'd find a time for us when we got there.  I had called Joel and David to let them know and then texted Abby, Joel's fiancee' at work.  Joel and Abby came right away and we sat and watched Pudding as we tried to decide what was right.  Pudding wasn't struggling for breath as hard as she had been in the morning, but it was still a huge effort.  And now she couldn't lie down, she had to remain in a sitting position to breathe, holding her head up to the ceiling.  She kept dozing off in this position only to have to right herself, it was heart-breaking.  We decided it was time.

I bundled her up in her blanket one more time while Joel went to start the car.  All of us piled into the car and headed out for the fifteen mile drive.  We weren't even a mile from home when the first convulsion started.  Her body went limp, and I told Joel we may as well go home; I think she's gone.  But her heart started again, sadly, and I can say without a doubt, those were the longest fifteen miles of my life.

 I remembered that dogs don't like their owners to fall to pieces because they don't want to upset us even in their agony.  I whispered to her over and over, telling her she had been the best dog ever and I love you, you can go, I need you to be happy again, I'll never forget you, you're my bestest girl, we're going to go for one more walkies, please forgive me, I know you'll wait for me, we'll meet again one day,  it's ok, sweetheart, you don't have to stay, don't fight little one, I love you......She turned in my arms and looked up at me one last time and then, well, then, it was truly over just as we pulled into the parking lot.

Trying hard not to sob openly, I carried her into the clinic, past a customer with a happy young dog at the reception desk who said, "Aw, you've got a sick puppy there."

"No, she's not sick," I said,  "She's dead."

I don't know why I said that.  The technician scurried to put us in an exam room and said the vet would be right with us.  After a bit, a vet came in and looked at Pudding lying there on her blanket, and asked me what I wanted.  At least I think that's what she asked me, I'm not sure.  I hoped my little Pudding was truly gone, and I asked if she could listen to her heart.

She obliged me, ran the stethoscope around Pudding's chest and said, "I don't hear a heart beat."

And I said, "Good."  At least I think I said that, maybe I only thought it.  I was too busy crying to say much of anything.  I still am.  I just couldn't stand the thought of her trying to rally one more time.  She was at peace.

"I'm sorry for your loss.  You can stay in here as long as you like," the vet said and left the room.

I hugged Abby tight; we were both crying.  What a wonderful comfort she was to me in this.

Carl stepped up with Joel, and we hugged.  We wrapped her still warm body in her blanket for the ride home, this time cradled in Carl's lap.

There was a beautiful sunset, I noticed that through my bleary eyes on the ride home. Sunset was always our time for walkies at night, how Pudding loved to walk.  We'd go out in the Back Eight and she'd sniff and explore and then realize she was falling behind and come running to me.  These last two years I made sure not to get too far ahead of her so she didn't run so fast, the vet had said that one day she might be running to me and simply die from the exertion.  I didn't want that.

No, I didn't want that.

Be at peace, my sweet Pudding.

We will always love you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

I Can't Stop

 Winter came early here this year.  We had our first measurable snowfall the week before Thanksgiving.  I had gone out to get the mail and when I saw the rain had changed over to snow, out came the camera.  I realize this looks more like a snowball fight than a snowstorm.

Big Flakes, almost need a helmet.
We've had years we could work on rock and garden projects into the first week in December, so this storm really did catch us with our snowpants down.  We still had some daffodils to get in the ground and with a little luck, they'll come up even though they were planted haphazardly.

There's Frank the Urn in his Christmas Outfit

The garage urn.  Sadly unnamed.  Must rectify that.  Any suggestions?
We had some bitterly cold temperatures in November, well below zero some nights.  Now that we're into the first week of December, it's been warming up some.  

The driveway Gate Grates covered in snow.  Always wondered what they'd look like white.

 Waking up the next morning was magical, there's nothing like snow to transform the ordinary.

 Enough of the driveway, let's wander into the back yard and see what Mother Nature did there.

Look, I had the steps shoveled before I took pictures.  Good job, me. 
Roses still blooming on the railing.  My mom painted this for me last month.
There it is, the Quarry.  Under there, somewhere.
So since it's officially the end of the gardening season and all this white stuff fell, of course, it is now skiing season.  (I know, it should be house-cleaning/Christmas shopping/baking/gift-wrapping/stained glass season. I know.)  But we never know how long we'll have snow, right? (Ok, we'll probably have snow until April, but remember last year I bought new skis to replace the ones I wore out?)  I decree it Cross-Country Ski Season.

There.  I said it.

I can't stay cooped up in the house when there's snow to be used.  That's a crime.

So anyway, the weather has turned a bit warmer again and my ski trails were getting a bit thin in places around the Back Eight.  I skied right through Gun Deer Hunting Season, too, but only after dark when all the guns were supposedly home and tucked in their cases.  Although last Saturday, Joel and I took a chance, donned blaze orange, and skied one of the Rails to Trails hiking trails.  We were lucky, no one took a shot at us.

Today Carl and I were at loose ends.  This weekend I worked on some Christmas decorating which meant we ended up with two horses in the dining room.  Metal horses, that is, the ones below in the picture.  It never fails that every year the light sets on the horses malfunction and then Carl and I go round and round with him insisting he can fix them and me railing against spending hours on repairs when the lights are clearly old and brittle.  Wonder of wonders, I prevailed this year.  We bought new lights. 
The horses last year.
Picture the two horses above in our dining room while we stripped them of their old lights and reapplied new ones.  Sheesh, such a job. 

After church this morning, we were kind of restless.  The snow here is thin, I've gone around the farm so many times I'm sure the neighbors think I'm truly nuts.

I've still been keeping up with my exercise routine,  walking with Leslie Sansone, tossing weights around three times a week, but Sunday's are traditionally my rest day, no Leslie on Sunday.

After dinner, Carl wanted to know if I wanted to try a new cross-country ski trail about 40 miles north of home.   I jumped at the chance to leave the Christmas clutter and work behind.  Let's go!

(I didn't take any pictures of the upcoming adventure; the rest of these are of the yard here, lol.)

Overlooking the frozen mud puddle in the Quarry
We left our house a bit late and arrived at the Machickanee Cross Country ski trail-head at 3:15 PM.  Even though it was so late, we chose the 3.9 mile 'intermediate' loop.

Snow dome and Snow Balls.
We've been skiing for over 30 years, so intermediate didn't sound too scary.  We skied through some gorgeous woods filled with pine, birch and beech trees with their papery winter leaves still clinging to the branches.  After a half mile we came to the branch in the road and a sign indicating the loop we wanted.  As we skied along, we came to a tree with a metal sign nailed up that read: Most Difficult.  At least, that's what I think it read, it was black with jagged white lines across it.  Not quite skull and cross bones, but  I started to feel a little twinge of dread.

As we moseyed on a little further, I saw the reason for the sign, the trail suddenly went down.  Far down.....  Oh, my.   I was flabbergasted, oh my goodness, how far down does it go? We're traditionally flat land ski people, downhill is not for either of us.

Carl asked me if I wanted to turn around and go back. (In retrospect, YES would have been the right answer.)   We stood there discussing it for awhile and noticed how low the sun was on the horizon.  How bad can it be?  I mean, heck, it's Intermediate.  Can't be THAT bad.  Right??

Carl bravely stepped forward.  "Wow, it's slippery," he said as he aimed his skis down the hill.  Down he went, picking up speed at an alarmingly rapid rate.  My heart sank.  He was out of sight in a split second.

I didn't hear any screams of agony.  Maybe it wasn't as bad as it looked.  I stepped forward cautiously. I can't stand here all day (or night).  Not wanting to look as chicken as I felt, I started out slowly,   planting my poles in front of me trying to brake as much as possible, but it was for naught.

Skis make zipping noises as you go and mine went from a nice quiet zip zip to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZIIIIIIIIIIPPPPPPPPPPPP before I even made it ten feet down the hill. This ol' gal was FLYING!!!

 I saw my life pass before my eyes as I came careening down the hill completely out of control.  The further down the hill I went, the steeper it became and the more speed I picked up.  Oh, this will never do!

There was a curve coming up and a FOOT BRIDGE with a creek!!!  I'll never make the turn, I'll end up in the creek!!!   That was when I vaguely remembered something from South Park, that naughty animated TV show, and a skiing lesson...'If you pizza when you should have french fried, you're gonna have a bad time."

Was I supposed to Pizza now?  (Put the toes of my skis together? Or was I supposed to French Fry? The ski tips apart?  Or was it Snow Plow???  OH NO, oh no, oh no, oh no, my balance was going, the bridge is getting closer....... time to Abandon SHIP!!! 

I was clearly Going To Have a Bad Time.

Inexplicably, I remembered Mom and I driving home from town one Sunday forty years ago when suddenly the brakes on the old Buick went out.  We were trying desperately to stop, it was an AWFUL feeling.  She was pumping the brakes for all she was worth, and then hit the emergency brake only to have the cable snap.  She jammed the car into first gear and we hung on for dear life.  PLEASE JUST STOP!

I bailed out, dropped to my right side and flopped around like a rag doll from that point on. Snow was flying everywhere, I didn't know which end was up.   My new jeans left impressive blue-dyed snow skid marks for a good 25' before I came to a stop. One pole was halfway back up the hill and unbelievably the other was still in my hand. I ended up on both of my knees in a praying position with my skis crossed behind me, but I survived. I've never been happier to be still in my life. 

 Carl came back up the hill on his skis (I think he was french-frying) to pick up the pieces of his wife.

"Are you alright?! Wow, you really took a fall!" he said.

"Well, it beats going off the bridge into the creek," I said.  "I think, anyway."

Carl had to help me extricate myself from the tangle of long skis, finally unhooking my boot from the binding so I could get my right leg out of the pretzel position it was in.  Luckily I remembered to stand perpendicular to the hill when I stood up on the other ski, or I would have gone on down the rest of the way on one foot.  I was shaky, my right ankle was complaining a little, but everything was good.  I reapplied the other ski and continued on across the bridge.

 Of course, when you go down, you have to go back up, so we mushed our way up the hill on the opposite side of the creek with some trepidation and a lot of sweating and panting.  This was hard work and we were worried, dusk was falling and how many more of these hills were there?

In less than a quarter mile there was another downhill run.  I hesitated, but the ol' 'when you fall off the horse, you have to get right back on' adage was stuck in my head, so we went for it.  Carl was behind me and we tried our best to slow down, but the trail was icier here.  Halfway down, Carl yelled, "OHHHHH L O O O O O K  O O O O O U U U TTTT!!" as he flew on by.

 My skis were a little slower than his, and he had no choice but to pass on my right.  I had no time to watch his theatrics, it was all I could do to stay on my skis as trees flew by at breakneck speeds.  Finally, mercifully, the trail leveled off again and we both stood there panting.  I saw the imprints in the snow of other not-so-lucky ski victims earlier in the day, we weren't the only ones 'having fun'.

We plodded on until we came to another black sign proclaiming yet the next 'Most Dangerous Hill'.  Another one?? Yeah, right.  No way.  Off came my skis.  Fine, I'm walking.

Carl agreed, too.  Twice was enough, can't tempt Fate one more time, we're both 56 years old, we don't bend like we used to.

For the heck of it, I set my right ski down on the ground to see what would happen.  Without even giving it a push, the ski leaped to life, careening down the hill all on it's own, following the tracks of earlier skiers.  I shuddered to think how much faster it would have gone with me in the binding.  I was perfectly happy walking, thank you very much.  And at the bottom of this hill was another foot bridge.  I would have never made that turn.

By the time we walked up and down a few more hills, we could finally put the skis back on and make some headway toward the parking lot.  It was now almost 5PM and darkness had fallen.  We were both very tired and sweaty.  My light winter jacket was soggy and my wet hair was actually starting to stiffen in the cold air. 
 We flopped into the car and sat there for awhile, guzzling water.  Ah, it felt good to sit down!  I think this was the hardest 3.9 miles of skiing we've ever done.  We were sitting there looking at the map in the dome light when Carl said, "It looks like the other loop is an intermediate one too.  There is a beginner's trail, though.  We passed it by the gate."  

"I think we'd better stick to the beginner's trail next time," I said.   "You don't want to ski it now, do you?"
"Oh, not now! I've had enough for today," he said.

We pulled out onto the side road and drove slowly as it curved sharply.  Suddenly we came to a 'Hill' sign.  I tensed up immediately until I remembered Carl had just changed my brakes last Thursday.  
Oh, we can stop if we have to, yes, yes we can. 
No Pizza or French-Frying Necessary.  Just push down on the little pedal.

Brakes are a Wonderful Thing.  
 I wish someone would invent them for cross-country skis.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Meet Frank, the Urn

Last summer in the rush of all the garden walks here followed by the magazine article hoopla, we met a whole bunch of very nice people.  I'm ashamed to admit I can't remember all of their names, but it was a treat talking gardening with other enthusiasts.  Last summer was the busiest tour season we've ever had (which is also our excuse for not working on ol' Aaargh at all.)

Anyway, one day in late July a dear lady called me to see if it would be ok to bring her garden club friends over.  She lives out of state now and when she comes back to Wisconsin to visit her family, she usually makes a stop here with her pals (and brings the most delicious box of chocolates for you know who).  I was delighted to see her again and when two carloads of happy ladies pulled in the driveway, I greeted them cheerfully.  What seemed a little odd at the time was the two groups didn't mingle at first, but I didn't give it much thought as I dragged them around the garden for the Official Tour.

We had a wonderful visit, strolling the gardens as a large group with me answering questions and talking smart.  Although the smart part is starting to wear a little thin with me; I swear I lose my train of thought when someone calls me on the spot to name a particular cultivar of hosta or tree or what have you.  I fumble around in my brain and nope, the answer isn't there until a few hours later when there's no one around to impress, and then, out it pops, "Hosta 'Sagae' was also known as fluctuans variegata." 

Carl will look at me quizzically and I'll say, "Never mind.  Couldn't think of the answer until now."

Ok, back to my rambling here; as I said the two car loads of ladies weren't mingling much, though they were polite with each other.  Finally, the group bearing the delicious chocolate gift took their leave. 

As they drove away, the other group asked me who they were.  I said, "I thought you were all together."  Ok, turns out they weren't, it was just a coincidence the two groups arrived at the same time. 

One of the ladies, introduced to me as Mrs. P, took me aside.  After seeing the pan fountain and the dome and gates, etc. she was impressed with Carl's ability to repair and reuse items for the garden.

"I have something I think you'd like," she said.  "It's a big old urn my late husband and I had for over fifty years.  We used to have it in our restaurant as a fountain, but then we took it home and put it in our garden. As time went by,  it rusted and fell into disrepair.  It's been sitting in several pieces out by my barn for a very long time.  I've had a few antique dealers come around and offer me money, but I always turned them down.  I want you to have it.  Please come over to my house and take a look, ok?"

I didn't know what to say; but did ask her what she wanted for payment.

"Nothing!  I would be so happy to see it restored and put to good use in your garden," Mrs. P said.

I told her I still felt guilty about accepting the urn as a gift, but she would hear none of it.  "Here's my address and phone number, and when your husband gets home from work, please tell him about the urn.  I look forward to seeing you!"

When Carl came home we talked about the visitors and the urn, but neither of us felt comfortable descending on the lady immediately.  A few days later I called Mrs. P and told her we'd be coming that evening if it was alright with her.  Despite the fact she'd said the urn was big, I felt that arriving with a trailer in tow would look rather presumptuous.  What if she changed her mind about giving it to us?   So we took the Pontiac.

When we arrived at her home, we were amazed by everything.  What a beautiful place she has!  Her driveway was all done in bricks which were reclaimed from a street in Appleton and laid one by one by her late husband in a glorious pattern.  Her home had been completely remodeled and was perfection personified, when she showed us pictures of the old farmhouse it had been, it was unbelievable.  These two people had worked tirelessly on their home and garden for decades and it showed.  Though her husband had passed away several years earlier, it was clear she loved and missed him very deeply. 

The first thing Mrs. P said to us when we arrived was, "Where is your trailer?  Remember I told you the urn is BIG?"

I mumbled,  "Well, we weren't sure if we'd need a trailer and if you'd changed your mind or not," but before I could finish the sentence, she was off across the yard.

"Let's go look at it.  But I don't think it's going to fit in your car."

Wow.  She was almost right about that. The urn was Big.  As in Very.

 I don't have anything to show comparison sizes here, but the base alone is 2' x 2' and there are only two pieces shown here.  The upper piece was missing a corner and the top part where the rest of the urn would fit into is rusted away.

Close up of the broken top
Carl backed our car up to the barn and opened the trunk.  We all scratched our heads.  Was this going to truly fit in our car?
This part would need reconstructing if the urn were to stand again.

The pedestal part was the least of our problems loading.  The biggest parts were to come.

This is the lower part of the urn's bowl, shown with the piece of steel Carl fabricated to repair the damage.  This bowl is 36" in diameter.  And heavy.  We didn't weigh it, but between the two of us, we needed all of our strength to cram it halfway into the trunk of our car.

Though I don't have a picture here, there is another identical bowl that fits inside of the decorative one above, good grief where are we going to put it?  But we managed, much to all of our surprise.

We had the bowls in the trunk, part of the pedestal in the back seat and I straddled the other half in the passenger seat on the ride home.  By the time we left her home, it was nearly midnight because we'd stayed to visit.  Luckily the roads were fairly quiet, but every car we met flipped their high beams at us.   Our car was hanging down so far, with the weight in the trunk our headlights were up in the sky.

When we arrived home, we both risked hernias getting the bowls out of the trunk and went to bed.  Carl set to work the next day to make new parts for the urn.  Total repair time was over forty hours, spread over two weeks, but it was well worth it.  

Carl had to make a tapered plate and a half round section of steel to fit and then weld in place.

Before we left her house, Mrs. P recalled  she had some faces for the  urn in her machine shed and we were very glad she remembered where they were.   

Shown after they were painted, these were the faces that needed to be bolted back on.

It would have been very hard to replicate these faces.
After Carl was done fixing the pedestal parts and the urn received a coat of bronze paint, it was nearly impossible to see where the repairs were made.

There are a few pieces of decorative trim missing, but that's ok. 

Joel added to the project by bringing home two pieces of concrete left over from a job at a friend's house for a base.  And my friend Brenda had given me the sweet potato vines and dragonwing begonias which fit just perfectly.

We had just the site for Mrs. P's urn, right in front of the house. This is the first urn you see when you drive in the driveway.  (After Ernie, that is.)

Not to be left out, Ernie now has company.

Carl, looking very tired and dirty here after a long day's work, poses with his job well done.

And dear Mrs. P did come to see the urn after it was completed and was tickled pink.  She once again refused payment and took pictures with us and the urn.

I told her we'd have to do something to honor her as a thank you, like a plaque.

 Mrs. P said, "If you do make a plaque, put it in memory of my husband, Frank." 

We will be having a plaque made.

Welcome to Quarry Garden, Frank.