Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fenway's First Christmas

Christmas is here! 
Have you hugged your pups today?  
Was there a special bone or squeakable under the tree for your pup?

This is Fenway's first Christmas with us...

There's something on my head, isn't there?

And something on my neck, too...

But I love my T!

So I'll wear these silly antlers...

Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nyxie's Great Adventure

"Where to, Mom?"

Nyxie went to the vet last week.

Now if you've followed my blog for any length of time you understand the enormity of that statement.  Nyxie went to my place of work - a busy, populated by people and other animals building - for her yearly exam.  This was like bringing in a loaded gun to a post office full of holiday-stressed postal workers!  Dr C decided to see Nyxie without any pre-exam sleepy-time happy juice for sedation.  I admit I trembled a bit in my boots when she told me her intention, but I trust her dog skills and I knew she'd be able to read her well.

I decided it was time to bring Nyxie to work, not only for an overdue yearly exam, but also because she had a growth that needed Dr C's opinion.  Since she was about a year old, Nyxie has had a small flap of skin that's looked like a simple skin tag on the deepest part of her chest.  Lately though, the skin tag has grown and seems more firm.  I wanted it checked out to see if there were any scary changes happening.  Any growth should be examined by your vet, and the sooner the better.

The morning of her exam,  she was curious but defensive, wanting desperately to learn more, but ready to bark if anything frightened her.  Nyxie's bark is that deafening German Shepherd bark that stops you dead in your tracks.  That morning we learned that giving her direct eye contact is what will bring the bark out.  Interesting.

'"Are you looking at me?  Are you threatening me?!"

Dr C decided to go ahead and give her a very mild sedation ("Needle?  What needle?" - she took all the poking like a champ!), and all the while, Dr C gave her lots of praise, good doggie vibes and treats!

She was sleepy in no time and Dr C started her exam (outside in the cold because she thought Nyxie might feel better without confinement!  Great doc.)  by listening to her heart.  She told me that Nyxie has a Grade 3 heart murmur.  My own heart sank.  Then she looked at her growth and recommended that she take it off.  More sinking.  She drew blood and Nyxie tried kissing her but missed, depth perception impaired, and planted a wet nose on her face!  My sweet girl made a new friend - better living through chemistry!  She really wants to make friends, but she can't seem to get away from that damn fear.

"Will you be my friend?"

One of the bloodwork panels she ran on Nyxie was a CardiacProBNP, a test which can measure the amount of a certain peptide released when the cardiac chambers are stretched.  Her measurement fell just below the reference range for cardiac disease and / or congestive heart failure.  A blood pressure check was the next step, and Dr C suggested I take it at home for a more relaxed, accurate, at-rest reading.  That, too, came back just below the reference range for high blood pressure.  Her next step was a chest x-ray.

Since she (mostly me) is stressed around strangers, we decided to take Nyxie in after-hours and have Matt and me to shoot the radiographs alone.  That was...interesting.  She was still pretty stressed and wiggly, so positioning her 75 lb German Shepherd body was a tiny butt-whipping, but we managed it!  I couldn't see anything glaringly obvious, but I'm no vet.  I left the radiographs for Dr C to look at when she arrived the following morning.  I know Dr C's very busy and being a weekend morning makes "busy" a silly understatement, but I was dying to hear her expert opinion.

Nyxie's beautiful heart

She sent me a text  -  the radiographs look good, vertebral heart score in the normal range (heart not enlarged), healthy spine, good abdomen.  Yay!!  I hugged my Nyxie tight.  Eventually we may need to worry about her heart, but for now, my girl was fine.  My own heart swelled!

I know it's silly, but each time I look at her now, I'm reminded of how much I love my baby girl.  Sometimes feeling you might lose something is enough to help you appreciate what you have.  Especially at this time of year...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Tis the Season of Giving...and Learning

Four fat boxes of goodies are en route to Afghanistan.  I sent the K9 care packages this past Saturday with much appreciated help from Matt and T, and with only 2 small meltdowns of my own. Hopefully, they'll reach the soldiers just in time for Christmas, bringing a bit of home to the stark unfamiliarity of being overseas.  But most importantly, I hope these soldiers get a small sense of the respect and pride we have in them.  I can't think of a better way to start off the Christmas season for Arwen's Pack.

Since I started asking for care package contributions for the military working dogs and their handlers, I've seen some generous and beautiful acts.  I've had total strangers send me packages to pass on to the guys.  A friend of mine who is a vet nurse and single mother was the first to contribute for the packages and later also  contributed cash towards shipping.  Another friend and vet receptionist gave fat, colorful rope toys, and one of my favorite clients (Mom to 2 adorable Poms) from the clinic where I work called in an order for treats and chewies for the dogs. At least one Cub Scout troop and a couple of blogs also sent packages of their own!  I sent some of my dogs' Frontline, new dog toys, treats & rawhides, magazines, toiletries, a couple of backpacks, and playing card sets.  

All this will eventually smoosh into boxes...

Another view...

Through other care package websites, we found out that para-cord bracelets are popular with soldiers.  They're wristbands made of braided para-cord that the guys can unweave if they want to make use of the sturdy rope.  Matt and T made a ton of them to send, weaving well into the wee hours of Saturday morning.

para-cord bracelets (sorry about the blurriness)

And I'm not done yet - I don't think thoughtfulness has to be a once yearly event.  Here is my last post with the correct addresses.  I've asked the soldiers if they have any requests or if they care to share their thoughts with us.  I'll let you know if I get any responses.

When Dorothy of FiveSibes tried mailing her care package and was told the APO address was wrong, my heart sank.  I felt like I'd had the wind knocked out of me.  Words can't describe the feeling of dread I experienced.  Here I was, sending people out to mail packages to a nonexistent address!  I felt like a scam artist and a fool.  Luckily I got all the correct addresses fast and I my heart resumed beating, oxygen finally able to get through again.

What I learned from doing care packages:
1) Start earlier  - organizing anything takes time.
2) Triple check addresses - duh!
3) Expect the best to shine in people - you never know what will touch someone to open their hearts.
4) There's magic in connecting with others for a good cause - new friends are a gift!
5) Doing something you believe in takes perseverance but pays off in unexpected and delightful ways.
6) If you want to ask a teen to contribute of themselves, show them why it's meaningful (I'm so thankful for YouTube military working dog tribute videos!)
7) And finally, it's best to keep big, overflowing boxes of treats and new toys on a top shelf - we had 3 snooters working overtime to provide K9 care package quality control.

Arwen's Pack sends enormous hugs and positive thoughts to our soldiers in all those dangerous places so far from home.  We hope those amazing dogs will help keep you safe until you're home with your family and friends.  Merry Christmas!

"We'll be in a Sit / Stay until you get home!".  Here's Fenway in his Red Sox starter jacket :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Super Important UPDATE on military care package shipping addresses!!!

Breaking news!

Our friend and supporter in the care package drive for military working dogs and their handlers, Dorothy of Five Sibes is an absolute angel!  She was ready to ship an enormous Christmas stocking (bigger than a Sibe!) at the post office when they told her the address in the original Facebook post, and therefore in my blog was WRONG!


I am soooo sorry for this - I hope this wasn't an inconvenience to anyone else, but now we have everything squared away...I emailed the gracious Sgt Salem (original poster and care package idea Facebook buddy) and he got back to me with correct APO addresses, names and more info.  Here is the email:

Dave has 19 teams that he will pass the packages out to:

Dave Lynch
APO AE, 09355

Clint has 40+ Handlers that he will pass the packages out to:

Clint Reynolds
Program Manager K9 Unit
APO AE 09320

or if you want to send to a specific soldier (these are British soldiers) who doesn't get any mail:

Dereck Gower
Les Thomas
Steven Brander
Brigit Yelen
Don Pearson

Same address:
APO AE 09320

As you can see,  there's plenty of need!  Please use the above addresses and NOT the one I originally posted!
I'm so excited to be able to do something good for these handlers - that's what Christmas is all about, right?  And it doesn't have to end there - if you'd like to send a care package along, feel free to do so anytime.  And remember to include a note with a personal message!

The Gun Show - Soul Food Continued

Last Sunday, we went to a gun show.  Never fear, gentle readers, you didn't miss my "enormous" biceps...this was an actual firearms show.  There were both handguns and rifles on display and for sale, a real weapons extravaganza!  Two days later we decided to try our hand at shooting and went to a local firing range (this is Texas, so there are plenty to choose from).  We rented 4 different handguns and went through a couple of ammo boxes.  It's an extraordinary feeling to hold something with so much power in your hand and realize you're in control.  I remember feeling the same way when I slid into the driver's seat of my parents' car for the first time so many years ago.

I think what impressed me the most was the explosive power of firing a gun.  I was also struck by the ease with which I was allowed to hold and use said guns,  Oops - I forgot I was in Texas...We drove to a clean, organized, family operated shooting range, The Bullet Trap, Inc., which I highly recommend.  We spoke with a courteous young man that asked us to read through a rental agreement, held our driver's licenses and helped us pick out 2 different 9mm handguns.  He slid 2 cases, 2 boxes of ammo and 2 handguns - a Beretta and a Springfield - across the counter, assigned us to go to lane #11 and told us to have fun.  And with that, I looked at him, mouth agape, wondering how I was now holding a gun in my inexperienced little hands.  The same hands with the muscle memory to sooth, comfort, and heal were now holding the cold steel of a firearm.  Sobering. And exciting.

I imagined I looked like Kate Beckinsale in Underworld... 

But this was probably what I actually looked like.
Matt and I have been together for 11 years this month.  There isn't much we haven't experienced together.  Since we've never shot guns together before, and it was my first time (not his) doing so, it was very exciting.  We topped off our afternoon with a late lunch from In and Out Burger - a highly coveted burger chain from California that's finally reached Dallas, highly anticipated in a city that LOVES its less than healthy food.  If you ever get the chance to have a burger from In and Out, order the Double Double Animal Style.  You'll track me down and thank me.  I don't know if it was the outrageously dangerous experience we'd just had, or what, but my senses were on overload and that burger was illegally delicious.  


So a new experience, a new interest found, and a decadent treat - more soul food for my vacation week.  But what of the pups? I reserved the next vacation day for them...

Where are they?!  I bet they're shooting stuff and having burgers....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Military Care Package Update - It's Almost Over!

As many of you know, Arwen's Pack has been soliciting for care package goodies to send to military working dogs and their handlers in Kabul, Afghanistan.  This is the final wrap-up week of collection, with delivery scheduled for Saturday.  I'm cutting it a bit close delivery-wise, but I had to wait until payday this week for our family's contribution.

Look what came in the mail today!  Not one, but TWO packages were sent by Jennie Jones of Tennessee who said she has some of her dogs working over there!  What a great way to support our troops.  There were 2 heartfelt notes in the packages along with shaving cream, deodorant, candy!, magazines (Caeser's Way!!), DVD's, and a lovely digital camera.  I was brought to tears by her generosity.

Package #1 - Nyxie tried to stick her snooter into the dog treats :)

Package #2 - Notice the cool camera?  How generous!!

It's definitely not too late to send a package, either through me, or on your own.  If you send the package to me first, please keep in mind that I'll be mailing them out this Saturday.  If you'd like to send your package separately, the link to the original address is here.

Talk about feeding your soul - I can't think of a better way!

Nyxie is working on her "stay" to support her working cousins in Afghanistan

Also, fans of The Walking Dead, please check out my newest Etsy shop item here.  Oh, I've never been good with it is:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Feeding My Soul Week - Our Thanksgiving Feast!

Since we were at the Cowboys game on Thursday, we pushed our Thanksgiving feast to Saturday!  Matt was in charge of the turkey, the headliner for the feast, while T and I made side dishes.  Deviled eggs were made early for grazing while the real cooking magic started.  We made cranberry sauce from scratch from a recipe we acquired from a retired Texas schoolteacher - can't go wrong there! Next, we made our traditional sweet potato casserole, which is truthfully more of a dessert.  We followed that with a green bean casserole, which while not fancy, is a must have.  This summer, Matt's mom finally handed down to T, her sister's long-awaited recipe for Bacon-Corn.  This is an uber-decadent recipe for corn cooked with truly law-breaking amounts of butter, sugar and bacon.  We finished it all off with macaroni and cheese, stuffing and pumpkin pies.

The Headliner!

Almost done...

We each sat with our well-earned  plates by the fire and gave thanks for the things that matter - family and health, our strong pack.  The pups shared in the feast, each with a third of the enormous turkey neck and some gizzards.  With their sensitive snooters I can only imagine how alluring the kitchen must have seemed.  It was only fair that they share in the feast!

Arwen's Pack Thanksgiving feast - canine edition  

This was the first of my consecutive vacation days, spent with the people and dogs that matter the most.  And although we cleaned as we cooked, I was in no rush to clean a single dish.  But now several days later, and many leftover turkey sandwiches later, I never want to eat turkey again.  Maybe next year we can continue the Maine tradition of Thanksgiving lobster, ordered from our favorite wicked good lobster purveyor, the Lobster Pound in Portland...

Tom the...Lobster?

Please don't forget, we're in the last week of collecting items for the Military Dogs and their handlers in Kabul for the holiday care packages.  If you'd like to send some cheer along, please see my post here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Feeding My Soul Week Starts With Football

I've been on vacation, a long-overdue break.  It's been over a year since my last one, and I was in desperate need of some soul galvanization.  When the days start to rush together and you start forgetting what happened on what day, you start to feel disconnected, empty even.  I'll admit, I was limping towards this time off from work.  Although I work at something I love, and take pride in, the hours are very long and there aren't a ton of external rewards.  Caring for a patient, nursing them back to health so they can eventually go home to their loving families is my primary reward.  Rarely do I hear "great job", or have financial rewards given to me.  Then there's the stress of when things go wrong and a patient doesn't get well.  These things can be trying.

Poor Fenway's first days of quarantine at the clinic

So finding that internal, self-guided reward has been a goal of mine as of late.  It's that old "work hard for the peace of mind that you've done your job well".  This incentive requires self-motivation and confidence, both of which tend to be in short supply when you work 12 hour shifts and barely see your family.  Needless to say, I'm glad for my break.


So what have I done to feed my soul this week?  There's been plenty going on, so I'll start with Thanksgiving itself...

Matt was given tickets to the Cowboys game on Thanksgiving which was an experience for sure.  As a Redskins fan, having been born and raised in DC, I was feeling a bit Benedict Arnold being at Cowboys Stadium.  But I got over that pretty fast, seeing what an enormous architectural megastructure it was.  A fun time was had by all, and the game was close and exciting!

Cowboys Stadium - the old stadium can fit inside this one 8 times!!

I've never seen so many men holding camera phones in my life!

These guys were ready to party the old school way

Uh oh.  Flag on the play

Halftime show with Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull

The real reason for Thanksgiving

Please remember it's not too late to send some holiday cheer to Military Working Dogs and their Handlers.  If you're interested in sending a care package, please see my post here.