I Vary Widely

by Cat Skoor

List of Things Done Wrong

Chloe doesn't want me to visit Paris.

Chloe doesn’t want me to visit Paris.

I should have stomped my foot and stomped it again and said, “I can’t handle three giant dogs!” I stomped quite a bit, maybe even more than stomped. I begged, even suggested we sneak out of Montana in the middle of the night and ditch the whole lot of them. I knew then that I didn’t have the stuff to handle three 100+ lb. dogs and the muddy, dirty, stinky, and chaotic mess they make in our tiny suburban home. But no. We have three dogs and from that moment until this very second, I feel second rate. I resent it. I know I do. I don’t feel valued; don’t feel listened too. I’m convinced that my feelings take a constant back burner to his.

Every so often, my husband will get exasperated with my moans and groans about the drudge-work that accompanies mud, dog prints, and tumbleweeds of fallen fur. He’ll throw up his hands (metaphorically, he’s a very non-expressive man) and say something like. Oh wait. He never says anything… The third dog cost me a few friendships, but they would have ended eventually, anyway.

I do all the complaining around here, and not so much because I’m a complainer, because as far as women go (and I know a lot of them), I’m the most easy-going woman I know. I complain because I need to make big changes in my life. This current way of life isn’t working for me. So this is an essay full of malaise mixed with what I hope is humor, but I fear I’ve gone so far down the cynic’s rabbit hole, I’m no longer funny. Not funny at all.

I am stuck with three gigantic and very messy, very loving, very vivacious and dedicated dogs, one that would probably die of stress-related bloat if we ever left her overnight at a kennel or a dog care facility, so vacations to Europe or a sunny tropical beach are out for several years. Since that’s the case, I need to find vacations here, mind vacations at least. How can I do that? Details in another blog, maybe tomorrow.

I belong to an organization belonging to these dogs and the people who love them. Some of these people are certifiably insane and there are turf wars, mean girl groups, vigilantes who believe their way is right and those that disagree are wrong! Wrong! Wrong! We block one another on Facebook. We write thinly veiled tirades not exactly naming the evildoers, but leaving enough details in to make it obvious to the gossips and those “in the know.” The name calling and the cruelty is pathological. I need to leave these groups for my ever-weakening sanity. There are lovely people too. Very lovely! Some of the nicest people on earth, so I’m torn. I love them, you see.

On the other hand, someone I thought was kind of (sort of) friendly to my husband and me blocked me on Facebook, and I don’t know what I did wrong. She was running for President of the club and maybe she determined that I didn’t vote for her. I really don’t know.  The last thing she said to me in a private conversation we’d had a week earlier was that she was available to me “any time.” Then BOOM! I was out. It offended me. It also upset my husband because I was offended.

“You have to stop obsessing about these things, ” he said. “These are people we’ll never meet in Real Life.” I guess he’s right. I need to let this stuff go.

Jim and I spent hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars on taking Zoe (the third dog I didn’t want) to dog shows this year. She did well, very well. Well enough to become what the dog club calls “National Select,” which is based on points earned at the dog shows. There are ten of them chosen every year. But there was a problem. There is a rule that in order to be selected as a National Select dog, the dog must have good hips, as evidenced by X-rays and a report that the hips are tight and clear of hip dysplasia. The report isn’t viable until the dog (or bitch) is 24-months old, and that’s where are problem began. Zoe needed the report done before 12/31/13 and she turned two years old on 3/31/14. We didn’t read the rules accurately. We should have had the tests taken before 12/31/13, and then had them done again after she was two. Oh, sure! That’s ridiculous, but those are the rules. We didn’t follow the rules.

Because of this, Zoe lost her national title, and because of that, I am so fucking done with the dog world. (Forgive my language, Aunt Betty, but it’s the only appropriate word.) It’s our fault for not understanding the rules. It’s my fault that we have three giant dogs that suck all of my time away. It’s my fault I’m tired of the mess, that I can’t function in chaos, that I’m never going to write a novel, that I’m just another aging woman in a sea of aging women that don’t do much to affect their worlds, but at least they kept most of the dirt off their hardwood floors and fed their hard working husbands at night. That’s worth something, I guess.

On a good note: I am not turning to food for any kind of solace. Oh, I think about turning to food! Today I walked into a grocery store to pick up a couple of things and wondered if eating a couple of bear claws would help. I decided they wouldn’t. I picked up a package of warm “loaded” mashed potatoes from the deli: bacon, cheddar cheese, sour cream, butter, and green onions! Mmmmmmm….. I put them back. No thank you.

I left a message on Facebook that explained I’m taking a break for a while. So that’s what I’m doing. Instead of checking in on friends and (apparent) foes online, I’m living in the real world, such as it is. I cleaned my office. I cleaned out the junk in the fridge. I’m doing laundry. I’m walking other people’s dogs. I’m going to spend two hours every day writing. (That’s my mini-vacation, since we can’t go to France.)

I have taken things too personally. My skin has grown too thin. I have one too many dogs, but I can’t change that now. They are family. I have participated in a cult-like dog group and need to break ties with The Crazy Ones in that group, although most of The Crazies have blocked me for reasons unknown. I have lost touch with myself. I am lost, seriously lost.

This is not a bad place to be. It’s a blank piece of paper. It’s a brand new day. I have endless possibilities presented to me. I have the luxury of choices, and “luxury” is an important word. All of these complaints are first world problems. I have the luxury to be depressed because I have to take care of three amazing, loving, dedicated dogs that love me with all of their beings.

He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
  in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

“Tell me you love me,” he says.

“Tell me again.”

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell. ~ Mary Oliver

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“What you possess in the world will be found at the day of your death to belong to someone else. But what you are will be yours forever.”Henry Van Dyke

Sunset at the edge of the Puget Sound.

Sunset at the edge of the Puget Sound.

Typical morning: Dogs are sleeping in the living room. A fire is burning. It’s cold in the living room, still, so I’m wrapped up in warm things made of flannel and knits, black, white, and gray for the morning, but when I get dressed I’ll zest up the wardrobe with a bit of color. Thin clouds barely cover the blue of the sky, and there isn’t even a hint of breeze. I can hear the wall clock ticking. I can hear my dogs breathing. I can hear a robin singing in a nearby Douglas fir.

My mother-in-law died this Saturday. It wasn’t unexpected, because she’s had Stage Four cancer for years, but the sudden turn from “tired with a lot of nausea” to “resting comfortably” happened with an alarming speed. I was horrified when I walked into her room Saturday mid-morning. She wasn’t the person I knew anymore, and I knew she’d hate it that we were sitting around her bed watching her struggling to breathe.

But we stayed anyway. We missed her death by an hour, but returned to sit with her body until the overly nice, and soft-spoken undertaker (or whatever he was) came to take her away. He made us leave the room while he moved her from the bed to the gurney. He covered her with two beautiful quilts. Two of the women who worked there: nurses? Attendants? Walked with us down the hall, into the elevator, down another hall, then outside to the white van. One of the nurses(?) held a battery-operated candle with a fake flickering light while she walked with us. I didn’t know what to do. Do I smile? Weep? Stay silent? Hold my husband’s hand? My sister-in-law took my arm and asked me about the fake candle.

“Maybe they’re just trying to be sweet,” I offered. One of the women told me how so many people visited my mother-in-law this week.

When we rushed back to the nursing home to say the first of our final goodbyes, and when we got out of the car, there was a rogue wind that blew through the both of us. The hospital is set on top of a hill in West Seattle. From the parking lot, if you turn to the east, you are looking out over the most beautiful city scene you’d ever hope to see, far above the buildings across the Puget Sound.

“It’s wonderful, now!” I thought I heard my mother-in-law whisper in the wind. I’m glad I imagined her finally free, because seeing her lying on that bed, perfectly still and permanently dead was a life changing shock. I know she feared death, and now there she was – very, very dead. I kept looking at her face, realizing she truly wasn’t there anymore. That adage about our bodies being left as a shell seemed true enough. I kept wondering if she’d breathe. I expected her to tell me a story and laugh. She laid there, completely still. So quietly.

A friend named Tim was on Facebook as I sat in that room. I told him I felt traumatized and he replied,

Oh that is a great gift. I just said good bye to a friend who died. Went in with his ex to say good bye and touch Tom. Helps make everything complete to be present. Her spirit is thanking you for staying with her. All the FB talk about gratitude is practice field for right now. She’s grateful, and I am sure your Jim is grateful you are there, too.”

Then he shared a beautiful poem by Jane Kenyon:

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.


Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.


Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.


Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.


To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.


Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

So beautiful. I hope she felt that acceptance at the end. I hope she welcomed the evening, that she let it come, that she felt great peace. And I guess that’s something I’ll never get to know. Our journeys are uniquely our own, aren’t they?






It’s a quiet day. Cold in the house: 58 degrees, but we got our electric bill a few days ago and it was way too high. The space heater is in the garage and I’m going to “rough” it for a while. Can’t afford to heat this tiny home at those crazy prices. Wearing: thick and soft black and white checkered flannel pajama pants, a long sleeved black T shirt with a teal quilted vest, and socks! Thick and luscious polka dotted socks. I’ll have to switch from jammie bottoms to real pants eventually, but these are cozy/warm and I am perfectly warm — covered up in an old Amish quilt, and sipping on a latte. Come sit by me and let’s chat, okay? How is your day?

I’m thinking about intentional living today. When I reluctantly pushed the covers back this morning, I sat up in my bed and exercised my arms, did some stretching too. I said, “hello!” to my body and noticed I’ve made a subtle change. Throughout the day, I stop what I’m doing and do a set of push ups, or I pick up the weights hiding under the living room table. I use them for a few minutes and put them back. While I’m sweeping the floor, I’ll stop and do a set of squats, or (I hate these) lunges. A little while ago I realized that I am not good at huge sweeping changes. If I say, “from this day forward, I’m going to work out every day,” I’m sure to fail by day three. But! If I understand what my intention is, I can take little daily steps to that aim. I might not suit up for the neighborhood gym, but I can do push ups in my living room. I can do sit ups while I watch another X-File (I’m on Season Eight – almost done) episode.

I recently realized that I need more face-to-face time with humans. I spend most of my days tending/walking/loving dogs, and although it’s a wonderful way to live, I love humans too.  Most of the time. On Sunday, I had a date with friends to walk with our dogs in Marymoor Park. Jim was working and the house was quiet and soooooo cozy. I didn’t want to leave! I wanted to curl up with a book, but I remembered that I wanted more conversations, and if that’s really my intention, then why would I blow it off? Do I want to be with people or don’t I? I do! I do! So accordingly, I got dressed (with seconds to spare) and got in the car to go. I had a wonderful time and felt energized for the rest of the day. I learned something. I realized that who I really am is what I do, not what I think.

I invited dear friends over for dinner that evening too. Not only was it a wonderful time, it was a great way to motivate me from my typical sloth-mode to “get this house cleaned up!” mode. I realized while wiping dog nose prints off the kitchen’s French door’s panes I was surprisingly happy. I love creating a warm environment for people I love. I love lighting the candles, arranging flowers, cooking sumptuous meals. I even love sweeping up the dog fur tumbleweeds when there is company coming.

Without making sweeping, and overwhelming, life changes I am moving in a positive direction anyway. I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to understand that small steps are not just the beginning of a journey, they are the journey!

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