Love is a four-legged word.

I had to say goodbye to my beloved Lucy Lou after 14 years of her steadfast presence. Today, I honor her here — the only way I know how.

It was near the end of 2004 when my dad told me his dachshund, Sissy, had had puppies.

“When are you gonna come take one?” he’d ask me about once a week until I relented. I figured at age 24 that I was pretty much an adult and that it was about time I had a wiener dog of my own. I never even considered another breed. I’d grown up with wiener dogs, as had he. So on my visit home that Christmas, when the puppies were 8 weeks old, I chose the little girl with the white star on her chest — the only female in the litter — and a pink nose to boot.

She was named “Lucy” for my favorite Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and I promptly introduced her to the namesake track on my CD player as we drove home to my small apartment in McAllen, Texas — just this tiny puppy and I — not knowing how much we needed each other.

There, she’d spend the first year of her life nibbling my toes, shredding my shoes and following me from room to room, offering a wet nose and a warm snuggle during a particularly isolating bout of depression. I had no idea then how many more times she’d see me through a fog.

img_4733It wasn’t long before we moved to New York City and Lucy adapted quickly to the concrete jungle, winter snows and subway rides.

She was my solace during countless life transitions, and that cross-country move was no exception, throwing me curveballs in the form of big-city culture shock, financial stress, unexpected homesickness and a painful break-up.

We returned eventually to Texas together, where she’d spend the next 11 years seeing me through life in Austin, starting with a major career change, a couple of questionable relationships, layoffs and a death in the family. My 13-pound pup may as well have been a hundred-year oak, always holding ground for the both of us, and forever revealing her eccentricities.

img_4734Lucy was the only dog I know who adored baths, oddly eager to be doused with water. It wasn’t uncommon for me to walk into the bathroom, turn on the light, and find her sitting patiently on the bathmat, forgetting that I’d said the word “bath” aloud 20 minutes earlier and triggering this very move. I can still see her long wiener-dog body in the tub, nose to the sky and eyes closed, letting the water wash over her face like rain.

Lucy was known to sunbathe by the window, seeking out warm patches of light for midday naps. Her favorite snack was a crunchy carrot. She loved pulling the fuzz off of tennis balls and would often look up at me with a lime green beard, cocking her head in confusion at my laughter.  She enjoyed scrambled eggs on Saturday mornings. And she was laser-focused on decimating any toy with a squeaker, leaving a trail of stuffing in the aftermath of her joy.

My girl knew how to enjoy her own company.  And aimg_0032-1side from one preferential Pomeranian named Sophie, Lucy was not a fan of other dogs — or other people for that matter. When I attempted to socialize her, she chose instead to run a perimeter around me to make sure other dogs and their humans knew I was hers.

Friends who dog-sat her in their own homes knew my well-meaning, but poorly mannered pup would act like she owned the place within minutes of drop-off, trotting around like a queen, taking over beds that didn’t belong to her and stockpiling toys that weren’t her own. I think she took pleasure in embarrassing her mama as punishment for leaving her behind to travel. But whether I was gone for four days or four hours, Lucy always welcomed me home with the enthusiasm of an over-caffeinated army of soccer moms. She was an unabashed licker and she loved me as much as I loved her.

img_0360By the time we met and married Mr. Wonderful, Lucy started to slow down, as though she knew her tour of duty was coming to an end. She served me loyally for over a decade before her body started to give out.

My sweet girl defied multiple spinal injuries before succumbing to partial paralyzation, but we opted to extend the quality of her life for a few years with a pair of spiffy new wheels I often referred to as her chariot.

Yet as handi-capable as she was, I could see that Lucy eventually became stuck in a cycle of re-injury, pain, and anxiety that just wouldn’t resolve. I hated keeping her hopped up on meds every day knowing her quality of life wasn’t going to improve any further, so I made the gut-wrenching decision to say goodbye to her after 14 years of the good life.

img_9184My heart never felt more exposed than it did when I stroked her head on her last day as she took her last breath. Mr. Wonderful and I stayed with her for a long time — in disbelief at the loss of this little dog that took up so much space in our hearts.

Having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage, not weakness, I’m told. But grief can be suffocating when my mind recalls the image of her tiny eyebrows rising every time I walked in the door. And sorrow surfaces in the absence of her presence. When the clicking of her nails can no longer be heard on the hardwood floors.  When I wake up on auto-pilot, ready to fill the food bowl that’s no longer there. And every time I walk by the nook where her bed used to lie.

If vulnerability is the birthplace of change, then Lucy’s last gift to me is an appropriate dress rehearsal for motherhood as I anticipate the arrival of my daughter in a couple of short months — a terrifying and beautiful transformation that I know will crack me open even wider still. It’s the first life-changing transition I’ll weather without my wiener dog-shaped sails.

Goodbye, Lucy Lou. You will always be my sunshine.

 

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The one about impersonating an officer

bffIt’s been 25 years since my first concert with this lady. We were 12 years old when my dad took my best friend and me to see Dwight Yoakam in San Benito, Texas. We stood behind a group of rowdy teenage boys who were drinking Miller Lite and swearing like sailors when my dad stepped in and posed as a TABC agent. That’s the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and I wouldn’t learn until a few years later that the acronym alone struck fear into the hearts of beer-drinking high-schoolers where I grew up. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for those boys to act right. We got to see Mr. Yoakam again recently – this time in Austin – and his inimitable twang took me right back to that show in 1992. If there’s a statute of limitations on impersonating an officer on behalf of your tween daughter and her BFF, I hope it’s run out by now.

Unique date night ideas in Austin

date-night-ideas
This time of year always fills me to the brim with contentment that has nothing to do with puffy vests or Ugg boots. Let’s be clear. I’ll take tamales over pumpkin-spiced lattes any day. The reason I love this season is because it was autumn in Austin when my husband and I began to knit our relationship together. It was Halloween night after all when I first met his sons – me dressed as Garth from “Wayne’s World,” no less.

We waltzed right into winter with our Austin bucket list in tow. During those magical months of courtship, we shared lots of new local experiences and we continue to seek unique ways to spend time together. Psychology tells us that couples who play together stay together. And research shows that long-term love is often cultivated in novel, engaging or even challenging activities together. Case in point: I’ve compiled 10 new date night ideas to consider in Austin.

Read the rest of this piece at Austin Mom’s Blog.

What do we tell our children?

ces-snp-reynaAfter an election year filled with vitriol, many parents like myself were left trying to figure out how to explain the outcome to our children. I wondered what our boys were thinking and feeling. What was going through their thoughtful minds? Children are often told that grown-ups know best. They may assume that they should emulate adults, especially those in leadership roles. That includes the president of this country, however, and I most certainly don’t want my sons emulating our president-elect. So what do we tell them?

We tell them that sometimes adults get it wrong. Sometimes adults don’t know best. We tell them that we will be kind anyway. We will be brave anyway. We do not abide by bullies. We tell them that the future of our society does not depend on what happens in the White House. It depends on what happens in our house. And respect will continue to reign in mine.

8 super simple Halloween snacks

Sausage Mummies

What you need:
Your favorite fully cooked sausage links (we used turkey kielbasa)

  • Crescent roll dough
  • Small sugar eyeballs
  • Pizza cutter
  • Baking sheet

What you do:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Unroll crescent dough and use pizza cutter to cut lengthwise into long strips. Wrap strips of dough irregularly around each of your sausages, starting at the top and making your way to the bottom, leaving a tiny bit of space in between at least one rotation so you can tuck the eyeballs in later. Each link may require more than one strip of dough. If so, squeeze the ends together to connect dough. Place mummies a few inches apart on a baking sheet in the oven for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove, let cool and tuck two sugar eyeballs in between an open area of dough before serving.

Find 7 other easy Halloween snack ideas at Austin Mom’s Blog.

When the courage and irony of parenting becomes loud and clear.

Sometimes it’s time to suck it up and do the thing that makes you uncomfortable. For me, it was writing this guest post for author Catia Holm on the irony of parenthood and drawing courage from unexpected places. Here’s a snippet:

For crying out loud

True confession: I hate loud noises.

I hate loud noises and I have twin stepsons. Naturally, loud is part of the package. “Loud” is in their bones. “Loud” is the very definition of who they are when they’re together. But the truth is that I seriously loathe loud. God’s honest truth is that anxiety shoots right up my spine at the first sounds of those inevitable screams between young brothers running through the house.

This so-called “noise sensitivity” is part of who I am as an adult child of an alcoholic, or an ACOA, as we call ‘em. Yeah, there’s an acronym for that. When unpredictable commotion is a regular part of your environment growing up, it can create a visceral reaction in pretty normal situations as an adult. So now I’m the grown-up. And my kids are the ones, well, being kids.

So I close my eyes when the disorder takes over. I take deep breaths. I talk myself down from that loud ledge of uneasiness when the twin tornado comes roaring through the living room. When the television is deafening. When it sounds like a herd of elephants are tap dancing upstairs. Sometimes it works. But sometimes it doesn’t.

The back patio provides some relief, although I can often hear the sibling rivalry from out there. And that’s when I ask myself, “Is it them? Or is it me?” It doesn’t take long to decide it’s me. I’m the adult after all. Or at least I’m supposed to be.

And then I pray for Patience to show herself. Thankfully, Wisdom is usually nearby to tap my shoulder with a gentle reminder that although our childhood experiences influence the present, they don’t have to dictate our reactions.

On one particular occasion, I sat on that patio in a panic of self-doubt, feeling angry and unfit to parent.

Read the rest of this post (including the cringe-worthy text message that slapped me with a dose of reality) at CatiaHolm.com.

Camping with kids: 10 weird essentials

camping with kids

Mr. Wonderful and I took The Little Boys Club on a cub scout campout recently (the second time in 18 months that we’ve spent the night in the woods with 30 little boys) so we know what “the essentials” mean to us: Food. Shelter. Water. Airbed. Body pillow. (Am I the only one who expects to get a good night’s sleep in a tent?) But here’s the reality: When it comes to camping with kids, you’re gonna need some specific items. For example, well-named snacks. Snacks are serious business.

The trick is to put the munchies in a gallon-sized Ziplock bag and call them “extra special camping fun treats” or something with lots of adjectives. This works well for road trips, too. I fill bags with fruit, crackers, applesauce, popcorn, gum and leftover candy from the most recent holiday if I’m feeling extra generous with the sugar. These “super cool snack packs” will fill in the gaps between meals and incite your children’s love for comparison as they argue over who got the better gum flavor.

Read nine other weird essentials for camping with kids over at Austin Mom’s Blog.