Saturday, December 15, 2018

2018 Holiday Letter


Dear Family and Friends,

Thanks to social media, you know what we’ve been up to in 2018.  However, in as much as FB and Instagram convey only glimpses and soundbites, indulge me now as I attempt to squeeze out every last drop of meaning from the year in this brief summary.  

Like the weather in the throes of climate change, 2018 brought us extreme juxtapositions of joy and sorrow. 

In July, we traveled to Massachusetts and spent several glorious days with family on Cape Cod.  We try to make that trip every year, but, in 2017, I had to look after Belle, my horse, then recovering from a serious injury (unrelated, probably, to the insanely rare disease from which she died on July 25, 2017).  

In August, we were delighted to have Baptiste and Claudine Corno with us from France. It is difficult for our little family to break free of routine, and nearly impossible for me to counter all of that inertia. But, with the added motivation of our friends, we managed to travel as far south as Chicago (2.5 hours), and as far north as Bayfield (a whopping 4 hours), for two or three days at a time. In honor of our cultured visitors and their basic humanity, I even cleaned and detailed the minivan until it almost sparkled and didn’t smell.   

Unfortunately, by the end of August, Gretchen, our Basset-Lab, 11 years old, had been struggling with back issues on and off for over a year.  Basset Hounds typically die by age 9 or 10, because someone thought that stout dogs with short legs and long backs were cute, and that seemed to justify that the dog would, while still young, suffer chronic pain and die in middle age. 

If you take anything away from this letter, let it be Happy Holidays, come visit us, we send you our love, and please do not support breeding practices that compromise a dog’s long-term health. We did not buy Gretchen from a boutique breeder; we rescued her from a shelter, for which she repaid us by attending to my emotional needs for the rest of her natural life. 

Not even a Fentanyl patch could alleviate her pain.  The only thing left to do is what we did, at 12:30 a.m., at urgent care, hours after the three of us (Phil, Josh and me) had had a delicious and delightful meal with Baptiste and Claudine over at the Wonder Bar, in Madison. 

I’ve circled back to the overarching theme: the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow.

Did I mention that we learned in late July that Hank had cancer?  He died one week after Gretchen, which sucked, but, on the other hand, I can assure you that Hank had THE BEST DEATH EVER.  Maybe not ever, but it was really great, you know, as far as dying goes.  

Hank got yummy treats for days in advance.  On the appointed day, Jill was there--Hank’s mom for the first four or five years of his life. We lavished Hank with attention. After an hour or so, a vet came to the house whose sole job is to orchestrate these types of really optimal dying experiences for dogs and their families.  

Hank was lying down in his usual spot, in the living room, on a thick folded blanket. The first drug took away his pain—all of it. The second drug made him sleepy. Very gradually, he fell asleep. The third drug was the closer. Over 15 minutes, Hank went from cheerful but in pain (and having difficulty breathing), to no pain whatsoever and very cheerful indeed, to content, sleepy, asleep.... 

This is how I would like to die, so please take note. I would like to go to sleep on the couch instead of on a folded blanket.

After many years of daily fantasizing about how much simpler, easier, and altogether cleaner my life would be with only one dog, or maybe no dogs…and having convinced myself that I could get along perfectly well with only five cats and three horses…it hadn’t been quite 24 hours since Hank had passed when we drove home from the shelter with the new puppy on my lap. 

No doubt, you’ve seen Zarya, in person or in pictures. She is the joy that followed so closely on the heels of our sadness at the loss of Hank and Gretchen.  

Turns out, grief and joy can live quite nicely side by side.  Grief is comforted by the presence of joy, and joy respects that grief is love’s shadow.

Come to think, that is kind of the essence of Christmas and Chanukah, and of the Winter Solstice, isn't it?  We rejoice at the birth of a baby whose future suffering grieves us. We celebrate the miracle of enduring light in days of paucity and darkness. And the longest night of the year yields, finally, to the certainty of brighter days ahead.  

So, on that note, and on behalf of Phil, Josh, and myself, we send you love and joy in timely abundance for 2019.  


Hank, Standard Poodle


Gretchen with Whosie

Zarya (aka, Z) mixed nuts
Zarya and Betsy, 11. Betsy is healthy and spry.

Francesca was reunited with her birth-mother and family in Paraguay! 
Josh is a freshman in high school!

Mom turned 75!




We still don't have goats.
The horses are fine, except that Tanner ripped his side open on the stall latch last Sunday night and the vet was here until 11 p.m. sewing him up.  It looked awful, but he is expected to make a full recovery. We have removed all of the stall door latches in the barn. 
Betsy, looking shellshocked after losing her pack mates 
Super-Duper Cooper
Zarya and I having a talk
At 6 mos, Z is bigger than Betsy.


Zarya and Whosie.

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