Woman’s Best Friend

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This is my sister, Kylie, with Buddy.

I had a dog when I was a kid.  I picked him out at a Petsmart adoption event, when I was in the third grade.  My mom pointed to some puppies, and I said, “no, I want the sad dog.”  His name became Buddy Guy, after the Blues singer, and his sad life turned into a very happy one.  That’s entirely thanks to my mother.  Like the warning stories go, eventually I lost interest in Buddy, and my mom was his dependable caretaker.  What a good dog he was.  He was a lab mix, with bad knees.  So sweet and great with my sister and I.

I always assumed I was not a dog person after that.  I had loved him, for a bit.  My love for cats never wavered or waned, though.  They had my heart, each and every one of them was just the most beautiful cat in the whole world.  Not so, with dogs.  They were a lot of responsibility, too dependent, and too gross (drool, smelly, yuck!).  I thought I had learned they were not for me from my experience with a great dog (Buddy), who I fell out of love with too easily.

Well, when I was on my own, as an adult, and my husband wanted a dog, I, too, wanted a dog.  Unlike him, I wanted a dog enough to pour over hundreds of internet adoption postings and email rescues about dogs.  Research is fun!  Also, depressing.  There’s so many dogs out there in need of rescuing, and likely, never enough people to fulfill the needs.  For me, I found a few dogs that pulled at my heart strings, and I went to see a couple.

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This is Baron’s internet ad picture.

One of the dogs I met was Baron.  I didn’t meet him at an adoption event or at a foster home; he was at a boarding facility.  He was Egyptian, I learned.  About 1 year old (yeah, right, our vet later said 2+).  Picked up off the streets of Egypt as a puppy, and flown to the United States (he had the paperwork to prove it).  We don’t know who or where he was adopted to, but it didn’t work out.  He ended up in a foster home, kept in a basement and fed cat food.  He was pulled from that situation, and put in a boarding facility, living in a chain-link cage.

When I came to meet him, he was desperate for attention.  He loved being out of the cage, and was so darn cute.  I was warned he did not like men.  I talked to Chris about him, and we decided to have Baron meet Chris.  If that went well, we could talk more.  When Chris met Baron, Baron submissively rolled over, and let Chris pet him.  We took Baron home for a foster-to-adopt trial, and you know how that turned out.

We learned about Baron’s quirks.  He submissively peed.  He hated new people.  He liked new dogs.  He got along wonderfully with our first kitten, Suki, and then, later, our second cat, Louis.  He was obedient.  He was so sensitive.  He loved when we came home from work, and was always so excited to see us.  He was easily crate trained, and potty trained.  Our biggest obstacle was always his deep mistrust of new people.

We had learned of a trainer that worked with difficult dog cases, and we reached out to him immediately.  We worked with him weekly, and really focused on Baron’s behavior towards strangers.  Once Baron warmed up to our trainer, he just loved him.  That’s how Baron was.  Once you were trusted, you were in the inner circle.  He had play dates at the trainer’s house, and we continued to discuss his behaviors and use positive reinforcement to build his confidence.

Unfortunately, Baron bit another dog while at the trainers on a play date.  The dog’s owner had come to the backyard gate, to pick up his dog, which frightened Baron.  When the dog came whizzing by to greet her beloved owner, she bumped into Baron which triggered him to lash out.  The bitten dog was unfazed, but the incident had occurred.  Thankfully, for us, the owner was very understanding and kind.  He had our contact information, but never reached out.  We heard through our trainer that the dog was fine.

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Honestly, he’s just the cutest.

Our first trainer was our most successful one, and we really liked him.  We would text him to check in, ask questions, seek advice.  Even if he could no longer have Baron over, he was still helpful and cared about Baron’s well being.  His prices were a bit steep to have individual sessions in our home, so we no longer actively saw him.  We met with another trainer, closer to home, for individual sessions at her training facility.  I continued to read Patricia McConnell, and books about fearful dogs.  Baron’s behavior was improving.

We did take him on our honeymoon, after about a year of having him.  Thankfully, we had found a wonderful dog sitter by then, who was willing to work with a behaviorally challenged dog, but we loved him so much and wanted him to be a part of our experience.  The drive to my home town was 16 hours, and he handled it like a champ.  We stayed over at a hotel, he handled that great as well!  We arrived at my parents’ home, in St. Louis, and he met a lot of our friends and family throughout the weekend.  Introductions were slow, and everyone was warned: this dog will not like you!  He will be afraid, please take it slow!  Please ignore him!  It was so rewarding to have that weekend go well.  To socialize him a bit more, to have everyone respect our quirky dog, and our dog learn to respect them.

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Baron in front of our cabin.

Our honeymoon was just phenomenal.  We went to the Smokey Mountains, and he was a champion road trip companion.  He was so obedient, we could let him off leash near our cabin for bathroom breaks, without worrying (obviously he was still supervised!).  We hiked the one dog-friendly trail and ended up taking him into a local brewery!  We think the hostess assumed he was a service dog, but he sat quietly under the table while we had a flight of beers.  He only bothered to growl at the table of big biker guys that was later seated by us.  Having him with us was priceless.  He was truly a part of our family.

When we got home, I was ready for a second dog.  Having one was great, what about two? They could play together, and we’d have twice the fun!  You think at this point I’ll say – boy, was I wrong – but I wasn’t!  We welcomed Juniper into our home in October 2016, less than a month after being married, and she is absolutely wonderful.

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This is Juniper’s adoption ad picture.

Juniper is a coonhound mix.  I’ve been told she could be pure bred (not that it matters), but she’s petite, at a whopping 50 lbs.  Coonhounds generally grow to more like 80-90 lbs, or more!  Chris had loved growing up with a black and tan coonhound, so I had kept my search strictly with hound rescues.  Juniper was very cute, guessed to be about 1 year old, and her foster mom’s description led me to believe she’d be a great fit in our lives.  I asked for more pictures and more information, and finally pulled the trigger.  She would be transported from Alabama to Pennsylvania, and into our home!  We adopted her before even meeting her, and it worked out better than I could have imagined.

Juniper is the complete opposite of Baron.  She is overly friendly, she is overly vocal, she is consistently happy, carefree, and does whatever she wants.  This girl has almost no fear, and is the silliest dog I’ve ever met.  If you want to laugh a lot, get a coonhound.  I’ve learned most hounds are totally goofy and free spirited.  Nothing about her is restricted.  When I scold her, she wags her tail.  Nothing can get her spirits down.  She also isn’t possessive of anything.  Her bed, her space, her toys, her bones.  We don’t have to restrict her from anything, because she will never prevent us from taking things or getting to close.  She also has never managed to be 100% potty trained.  Instead of free roaming the house, she can’t be trusted outside of her doggy room, unsupervised.

She made the best buddy for Baron.  They were never quite “bonded,” per say, but they sure played well together.  They could run laps playing keep away, and you could hear Juniper barking at Baron constantly.  “Come back here!” “What are you looking at?!” “I’m just barking in your face ’cause I like to bark!”  She’s noisy.  He’s tolerant of her.  She was in his inner circle, and was trusted.  He set an impeccable example of obedience and following commands.  She brought him out of his shell.

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My yin and yang pups.

We took the dogs to the vet, together, one time, and witnessed a miracle.  Juniper was letting the male vet tech love on her, and Baron got jealous.  He saw the good that could come from being friendly and open to attention, and sought out the vet tech!  No growling, no defensive stance, no usual Baron-meeting-new-people behavior.  This coonhound showed him that people were good.  In that moment, anyway.  I called them my yin and yang pups.  So different, but complimentary.  And I loved them both to pieces.

Last summer, Baron started acting more aggressive.  Up to that point his behavior had been improving, albeit he was still very far from where a normal, well-socialized dog would have been.  I made a vet appointment to have a full physical and blood panel done.  The first thing to check when a pet’s behavior changes is their health.  Are they lashing out because they are unwell?  Turns out Baron was healthy as could be.  We had a healthy, mostly happy, aggressive dog on our hands.  We continued to pour in effort to train him and build his confidence.  Baron actually had a history of sporadic aggression.   It had always been impossible to predict when he was in a defensive mood – if he was, you were no longer in the inner circle, and hopefully you knew it before he told you.  Unfortunately, a few times we didn’t know.  Both Chris and I got bit in the face, and on the hands a few times.

Thankfully, the bites to the hand never bled.  The bites to the face did, but didn’t require any real intervention.  We both have small scars to remember him by, though.  My first thought when writing that is – just keep your face away from your damn dog.  How could that happen twice?  And worse, you’ll learn it happened a third time.

After Baron bit my face, I was afraid of him.  I cried wondering if this was it for my dog, if nothing I did would help.  It was before Juniper was in our home.  But, if you let time pass, you find he’s still the same dog.  The dog you fell in love with, and poured so much energy into.  He’s still obedient, he’s still loving, he’s still sensitive.  He’s still moody, but he’s never moody all the time.  I’ll work harder, it’s only his first year with us.  Excuses come easily.  It’s easy to let time heal your physical and emotional wounds, instead of keeping the problem at the forefront of your thoughts.  And then, a year later, you find your husband is now injured, and the cycle starts over again.  After each bite, we worried, we called trainers, we googled, we read articles, we had serious talks.  But we loved our dog and nothing terrible had happened.  They were all superficial wounds, and the fear for my dog turned back into love and eventually, trust.

When something terrible did happen, I couldn’t take that same approach.  Over two years of having Baron in our hearts and home, he finally caused real damage.  Chris was sitting on the sofa, and Baron jumped up and curled up next to him.  Baron was squished between Chris and the arm rest, a daily, if not hourly, position for him.  This time, he was moody.  He curled up next to Chris, squished against him, except he didn’t want Chris to touch him or bother him.  Chris didn’t know that.  When he asked Baron “how are you, boy?” and gave him a scratch on the head, Baron responded by biting his nose into three pieces.

Chris got 17 stitches that night.  I cried. A lot.  I knew I couldn’t allow time to pass without addressing this.  I knew I couldn’t let my love for this dog endanger the people I loved.  Chris knew that, too.  I reflected on our time with Baron, thinking of everyone he’d ever met.  All of our parents and siblings.  So many of our friends.  Our neighbors.  People hiking the same trails we were.  What if it had been one of those people?  What if we couldn’t control the situation enough to prevent someone from making him uncomfortable, and thus aggressive.  We couldn’t control the situation enough to keep ourselves safe, and we were his most trusted people.  I felt so irresponsible.  I felt immense guilt that I had ignorantly put my friends and family in such a dangerous position, so many times.  I really learned what my dog was capable of, and that two years of training, behaviorists, vets, and love weren’t enough to make Baron a safe family member.  I also felt guilt that I was considering ending his life.  Above all, hadn’t I agreed to responsibly care for him, for all his life?  That’s what pet adoption is, to me.

We scheduled Baron’s euthanasia for two days later.  I cried to our vet.  Chris wasn’t mad at him, nor eager to put down our dog.  He was resigned to this decision, and didn’t want to give time for his emotions to change his mind.  I had to agree.

This is the hardest part to talk about.  Or think about.  It’s been so helpful to confide in our friends and family about this decision.  We have received understanding and support.  But ultimately, I struggle immensely with ending Baron’s life.  We both went with him.  I sobbed when his consciousness left him.  But, I was there with him.  I will always think of that decision as a betrayal.  Maybe it was the right thing to do, but I betrayed my dog and took his life.  He trusted me, and loved me, to the best of his abilities.  I wish that had been enough.

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Too skinny to not have a jacket!

Juniper is unphased;  I told you nothing could get her spirits down.  She’s her wiggly, old self.  Always excited to see us, tell us about everything, and get as many treats as possible.  We had someone come check on her, recently, while we were out.  Something we never had the opportunity to do with a fearful dog in our home.

I wish I could earnestly say life is easier, like there was a weight lifted without Baron around.  But every accommodation to Baron was normal for us.  Less a burden, and more just the way things had to be.  I feel weighed down by his absence.  I feel burdened by the memories of the vet’s office.  I feel ashamed that I took his life.  Every time I look at Chris, I know we didn’t make the wrong decision.  But it probably won’t ever feel right.

Ju and Baron

Rest in peace, my sweet boy.  I will remember you forever.

We’re a one dog family, for now.  I can pour my grief into loving Juniper.  Making sure she is exercised and loved, and has the best life I could possibly provide.  She has weekly play dates with our neighbor’s dog, now.  I dropped her off at doggy day care for the first time, today.  We’re running ~8 mi a week, which is increasing.  We took for granted how much energy she and Baron exhausted on each other.  The only real change is Juniper seems like she has more energy, and is more restless.  She put on five, much needed, pounds.  We bring her all over; we don’t have to worry about her with new people.  She’s come to our friend’s house to play board games, and went to two NFL playoff gatherings, already.  She’s really earned my nickname for her: Sweet Pea.

Recently, we’ve had Juniper start sleeping in our room.  Another yin/yang moment.  Baron used to jump on and off our bed so much, he was hard to sleep with.  And then there was his tendency to get possessive of the bed, and growl at you if you tampered with that (so that option was revoked).  Juniper sleeps in the corner, on the dog bed.  All night.  She is a champ at sleeping in (that is just wonderful for me).

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Practicing “sit” for the camera.

We took her to a local brewery last weekend.  The owner said if she’s good, we could let her off leash.  We were a little hesitant, but the brewery is arranged so that we were in a separate space, so we gave it a shot.  Wow, was she a dream.  She stayed in our area, for the most part without any prompting or chasing.  Surprising for a dog that follows her nose!  She got to go back into the “employees only” section to hang out with the crew, smell some giant brewing vats, and hang out with the owner.  She got to meet a ton of fellow beer drinkers, who loved meeting her.  She was pretty darn good with sticking with us and not getting out of sight; listening to our commands and following us in and out of our space and to the bar.  The kids there just loved her.  She’s so sweet, giving little baby licks without being overwhelming.  Boy, did that tucker her out!  She immediately passed out when we got home and was noticeably tired for the next 24 hours.

We’re taking life one day at a time, and appreciating all ways that Juniper enriches ours.

I sat on this post for a while, having drafted, rewritten it, and tabled it.  In posting this, I open myself up to some unpleasant comments, opinions, attacks.  But what helped me most in this whirlwind was reading stories like this; knowing I wasn’t alone in considering our eventual outcome.  That people out there deeply loved their dangerous pets, and also were looking for options, support, understanding.  No dog so cared for is bad all the time.  Even the dangerous ones – there’s a lot of stories out there (dig through article comment sections) about adorable, loving, family pets who did this one, really bad, terrible thing.  And what can the owners do?  What are their options?  What is best for everyone?  There’s also stories about a few, really bad, terrible things.  How can I prevent this from happening, again?  Can I ever completely trust my dog?  Can I live with that; can I provide that restricted environment?  Can behavioral training work, or is my dog afflicted in a biological way?  I don’t think there are right answers (barring obvious brain damage, illness, etc.), and all options are hard when facing similar circumstances.  I hope my story adds perspective, empathy, and compassion to the dog-loving community.  I don’t forgive myself, but I can live with myself.

 

Girl Keeping Chickens

Last May we got chickens. 

We had just passed one year of home ownership (March 2017), and I was inspired after visiting Chris’ family in Colorado (they have chickens).

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Pippin and Merry

I picked out two chicks, a Buff Orpington and a Speckled Sussex, and named them Merry and Pippin.  They were too cute, and too afraid of me!

Chicks need to live inside, where their environment can be controlled, especially the temperature.  My gracious, chicken keeping, neighbor let me borrow a tank, chicken feeder, waterer, and heat lamp.

After reading more about chickens, I deduced that I needed a third chicken.  They are social creatures, and to be alone is depressing for them.  Three would ensure if one of the chicks didn’t make it to adulthood, that there would still be a pair of remaining chicks that can keep one another company.  Queue Chris picking out Adrian (he also picked the name).

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The girls are checking out their run for the first time!

Addie was bigger than Merry and Pip, and even more afraid of me!  She is an easter egger, AKA a mutt chicken breed that is supposed to lay green or blue eggs.

While the girls smelled up our guest bedroom, we designed and built them a coop with a run.  Chicken advice says they need 3 square feet per bird, and 1 foot of roost space, per bird.  For every 3-4 birds, you need a nest box.  So I gave the girls a 9 square foot coop, with a 3 foot roost, and three nesting boxes.  Chicken advice also says the more roaming space they get, the more flexible the coop dimensions.

It was important that their coop and run be very secure to protect the flock against predators like raccoons, foxes, skunks, and hawks.  We used the wire from our split rail fence to encompass their space, and thankfully had two ‘guard’ dogs who happened to roam the property.  There’s one in the corner of the right photograph.

The girls didn’t get to move in when it was done, because they were still small and needed temperature regulation.  They did get to explore their run, and the coop, and finally moved in after about 4-5 weeks in their tank.

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Baron is weary of these new creatures and happy to not interfere.

The dogs and chickens.  Not as hard as I thought!  We had Baron, our mutt, and Juniper, our hound.  They came at the chickens like they come at life – with total opposite behavior.  Baron was immediately well behaved, and easy to direct.  Leave the girls alone, they are not chew toys!  Juniper was immediately curious, and had Addie in her mouth!  Thankfully, there was no harm done, and we then charged into chicken-training our coonhound.  Juniper is really a star, and learns so well.  Within the month she was behaving, and soon after, allowed unsupervised time with the girls.  We kept the dogs outside with the chickens as much as possible, as they served as great watch dogs, barking at any bird flying overhead.  We later learned these birds were vultures, not hawks, but encouraged their behavior all the same.

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Sammie

We got a fourth chicken.  In October, our girls were bigger, but not laying eggs, and I purchased another chicken, who was already laying and was also so darn beautiful.  I loved her blue coloring (that’s what this coloring is called in chickens).  We got our “first” eggs, from her (cream colored), which was kind of cheating, but still exciting!

In this picture, Sam (to go with Merry and Pippin), is in chicken quarantine, where she has to be separated from our flock for up to four weeks upon her arrival.  This is to ensure she’s not carrying any illnesses from her flock and transferring them to ours.  It also helps with flock adjustment, as usually chickens are not so accepting of strangers invading their homes.  At this point, none of the girls were fond of us, yet, and it was difficult to touch one, much less catch one!

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Pippin not feeling well.

We had a sick chicken.  I relied on internet message board advice, though facebook and chicken blogs, to treat her.  It is unusual to find a vet that treats chickens, did you know?  We separated her from the flock, and put her in a dog crate in the basement, where she could be left alone, treated, and rest.  We set up our baby cam (bought to keep an eye on the dogs, at one time), and I watched her, dutifully.  She was given electrolytes in her water, fed high protein treats (scrambled eggs), treated for coccidiosis, and dewormed.  Thankfully, something I did worked, and after about a week we had a healthy chicken, again.  It was very scary when she was at her worst, though.  Chickens’ instincts do not allow them to show symptoms of illness until it’s really bad.  I thought we may lose her!  I’m so glad she pulled through, and that my handy chicken First Aid kit (self-assembled) and the local Tractor Supply came in very useful.

The girls finally started getting along, as well as maturing.  From our original three, Merry started to lay in November (2017).  She lays brown eggs, so it was easy to tell there was a second layer in the flock!  Once she had matured to lay, Merry became very docile.  She loves people.  She RUNS to greet Chris and/or myself when we come out.  She lets me pick her up and hold her, which I just love.  She perfectly defines what I want chicken keeping to be like.  Pippin finally started to lay in December.  It was hard to tell there was a third layer, since her eggs were a similar shade to Sammie’s.  I was finally convinced when I found three eggs in the nest box!  Pippin, too, has become more accommodating in personality, however she’d still rather I not bother her much.  We’re still waiting on Addie to give us the prized eggs: green or blue in shade!  Lately, she has been acting more compliant, but it’s still a waiting game.

We winterized.  When winter came, I was eager to know how to protect my girls from the seasonal changes.  Mostly, what I found out was: do nothing.  What??  Well, as long as you don’t have an exotic breed, generally chooks are ready to withstand the seasons.  The best advice is to reduce wind in the coop and keep clean water available always (that’s all year).  I did have to check their feeder more often, as they seem to be eating more.

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Her comb with frostbite.

We made some changes to prepare, like getting a heated water dish, blocking their mesh windows from wind, and doing coop cleanings more often.  You can’t close off their coops completely, because the ammonia from their poop needs to vent out.  Collected ammonia can kill them.  The enemy of chicken keeping in the winter is moisture (which can then freeze).  Chicken droppings = moisture.  Did you know chickens don’t pee?  They dispose of their waste in one form of excrement, which is a moist feces swirl.

Also, I have been keeping tabs on their combs, as Merry got a mild case of frost bite this winter.  We got a remote digital thermometer for the coop, and I put Vaseline on her comb when it’s very cold (internet chicken advice).  The Vaseline is supposed to keep moisture from clinging to their combs, which would then freeze and escalate the frostbite.  I feel very guilty for letting my chicken succumb to this infliction, but at least it is a mild case, and we are working to combat it now.

We lost a chicken.  Not to illness, but to a predator.  Chris came home from work one day in January (2018) and let Juniper out into the backyard.  Juniper promptly charged a hawk that was hunched over our poor Sammie, right at the end of our porch stairs.  We do let our girls free range in our back yard, every day, and this was nature’s consequence.  I only hope her passing was swift, as she did not deserve to suffer.

I have since purchased a dummy owl and hawk to post on our fence, and some shiny tape, as shiny items are supposed to deter birds of prey.  We kept the girls in their coop for about a week after the incident, in case the hawk thought he could come back for another meal!

All in all, having chooks has been so fun and rewarding.  We sold our first dozen eggs the other day, and have given countless away to friends and neighbors.  It turns out, even with a steady supply, Chris and I just don’t eat too many eggs.  The girls are really more pets than providers to me, and I so enjoy watching them and spending time with them.  Every Saturday morning is chicken chores time, where I maintenance their coop, refill their feed, and replace their water.  They are extremely easy pets to have, and costs are extremely low (after the coop).  A 50 lb bag of feed is $14 if you catch it on sale (they always are)!  My goal with the girls is to one day sell enough eggs to buy their feed (one bag every few months).

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The girls won a Purina Facebook contest with this photo!  Addie is the last to mature, and you can tell!

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Checking out their coop for the first time.  Look how small they were!

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Introducing an American Midwestern City Girl

My mother described me as an American Midwestern city girl in her blog post Drifting Away from your Roots.  If the boot fits!  In her blog post she laments the passing of my Baba (stemming from obasan, Japanese for Grandmother), and expresses concern for retaining our family’s Japanese heritage. She’s not wrong to ponder how her daughters will keep our ancestors’ culture alive.  My sister and I dabble in cultural appreciation (delicious food, fun characters, and we did visit Japan in 2015), but this topic deserves its own post and further elaboration.  The real point I’m trying to make is to introduce this blog and myself.  The blog’s namesake was coined by my mother.

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Here’s me in front of the Japanese Alps.

My mother’s blog is what inspired me to have a go at this.  I’m not sure I really ever read her’s before, which is through her publishing website.  There are SO many entries, and I don’t know how far they date back!  I recently read a number of them, going back to 2014.  I felt grateful to experience her thoughts and interests, and to have her writing easily accessible to me.  She is particularly interested in capturing history through memoirs, and I feel as if she’s simultaneously writing pieces of her own through the blog.  Mostly it features other literature and authors, but it has a personal touch (like mentioning her daughters) that features reflections of her own experiences and feelings.  My mother is an admirable woman, who dabbles in a lot of activities and does a lot of good in this world.  As we are separated by many states and one time zone, it’s special to have a connection with her by any means.  I hope through this blog, I can provide that same connection to her, and any loved ones in my life.

Buckle up, because you have a condensed life story comin’ atcha.

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Two of my best friends and myself, at a high school pep rally (as alum).

My mother and father raised me (mostly) outside St. Louis, in my beloved suburban Missouri.  I really do love the suburbs.  And small cities (like St. Louis).  I grew up playing tag barefoot in the street and through neighbors’ yards, knocking on doors to see if Colleen or Maureen could play, and walking to every grade school I attended (okay, okay, I caught rides at every chance).  I love my childhood, those memories, and the schools and people that carried me through them.  I still have a very tight group of friends from middle/high school.  I treasure their impact on my life, and their friendship.  Many people grow up in an environment, and seek change when they gain independence.  I thought my biggest change was going to college in the cornfields of a different Midwestern state.  I thought my future held a return to my favorite city, my favorite neighborhoods.  I never doubted my desire to ultimately return to Missouri, and perpetuate the same way of life.  I’ll go on to tell you how that hasn’t been quite accomplished (yet!).  I still appreciate my hometown, and love visiting.  I cheer for the Cardinals and Blues like you wouldn’t believe – across several stadiums and arenas throughout the country.  I guess my desire to return has been outweighed by life’s other goals and priorities.

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Just your friendly, neighborhood transformer.

I went to college at Purdue University, and graduated with a B.S. in Aeronautical and Astornautical Engineering.  I knew where I went had to be a Big Ten school, as both my parents were graduates of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  I had grown up driving to Illinois games (football and basketball), had t-shirts, jerseys, pennants, and the works to support the Fighting Illini.  I am so grateful my father took me to games, on road trips, and made those memories with me.  My loyalty to the conference drove my own collegiate search, and I refused to consider anywhere else (thus eliminating the possibility of staying in Missouri).  I can’t recall where we visited, except for Illinois and Purdue (alright, and Mizzou as a backup), but Purdue felt right immediately.  They had the degree program I wanted – top 5 in the nation – and the campus felt comfortable, supportive, and like somewhere I could succeed.  I was right!  I spent 4.5 years there, often staying over the summer, working the hardest I had in my life.  I made life-long friends, learned how to navigate relationships, spent the night in computer labs, won bar trivia, and had the quintessential college experience.  It was bliss.  Even when it was 20+ hour homework assignments, it was amazing; I knew it then, and I miss it now.

At my college graduation, I wasn’t sure where I was going yet!  With no solid employment opportunities, and waiting to hear back from the University of Illinois Graduate College, I was hoping to hear from anyone.  Both employment and educational opportunities came knocking:  I had a phone interview with Halliburton Energy Services, and U of I had accepted me.  I packed my bags for U of I and dived into my first (and only) semester of graduate school.  The program I went for was a masters in education, as I had discovered my passion for working with students while I was employed by Purdue’s First Year Engineering Advising office (for 3.5 years).  I formed a career goal of becoming a university-level student advisor, and sought the degree to make that happen.  I got a killer GPA and knocked out four graduate classes that semester, while shuttling back to Purdue to visit my boyfriend, Chris, who was a maters student there.  Well, that interview with Halliburton really panned out, so I chose to leave graduate school in exchange for a salary.  I had doubled my student loans in one semester, and feared the financial consequences of finishing my degree.  Halliburton took me to Hobbs, New Mexico.  Possibly my least favorite place in the United States, so I learned…

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Here’s Hobbs.  The ground always looks like that.

Hobbs, NM is an oil field town.  There is a population there because there is oil near by.  Don’t bother asking, nothing else is nearby.  The nearest mall was 1.5 hours away, the nearest real airport was 3.  I had the wonderful opportunity of spending my free evenings at Apple Bee’s, Walmart, the bar where there were always fights, or the local strip club.  I put on coveralls and worked outside in the first few months, learning about hydraulic fracturing equipment and operation.  I did online learning modules, and had long drives to and from work with my mentor.  Eventually I got in the van and started running jobs, and, finally, delivered my “break-out” presentation, which gave me a new job title and raise.  Then I got TF outta dodge, and transferred to the Pittsburgh area with Big Red (that’s Halliburton).

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Here’s Pittsburgh; it’s amazing.

Well, the office was about 45 min outside of Pittsburgh, but I went ahead and moved to Pittsburgh and took the commute (hell, we never went to the office anyway, we drove to the job sites, which were in beautiful West Virginia or plain Ohio).  I really liked my job, now.  I worked 8 days on, 4 days off, and fell in love with Pennsylvania.  Pittsburgh is very much like St.Louis: It is a small city with big sports teams and it has unique boroughs/neighborhoods with their own character and appeal.  My roommates were two interesting, wonderful women, that easily integrated with my unusual schedule.  I will always speak fondly of Pittsburgh, and would live there again without hesitation.  Caught up in my love for this new-to-me state, I told me soon-to-be-graduating boyfriend, “find a job in Pennsylvania.  I love it here.”  The man listens.  He found his dream job in Pennsylvania, about an hour outside Philadelphia.  For anyone needing a geography refresher, that’s on the other side of the state.  A four hour drive, in the middle of the night, which I experienced first hand, many, many times.  It’s five hours if you’re driving when normal humans do.  After a year in Pittsburgh, I left Halliburton and the inconsistent schedule, in favor of moving in with my boyfriend and having a consistent work schedule.

We got a cat. We got a dog.  We got engaged.  We wanted a house.

My husband and I had no trouble agreeing that we wanted a sizable plot of land for our first house.  We had a dog, and wanted to give him and ourselves room.  Chris wanted the responsibility of yard maintenance.  He wanted to look out our windows or over our porch and to see empty space instead of buildings.  I wanted that, too!  We visited the house we bought three times before putting in an offer.  I drive upwards of an hour (in traffic) to get from our little house to my work.  It’s not a dream house, it didn’t check off every box – but, by golly, if I’m not a sucker for red brick, wood floors, a wood-burning fireplace, and an acre plot of land!  If you’ve read the About section, you wouldn’t be surprised to find out I am averse to change.  I grew up in a brick house with a white picket fence.  So I’ll perpetuate my suburban paradise with a little rural flair.  I find comfort in medium-sized towns, and big backyards.

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Our little slice of heaven.

I think farming and county living is often associated with Midwestern.  I gotta say, those things do not relate to my life.  That’s why my mom threw that city girl in there, I think.  I have family in rural Tennessee that I have always loved visiting.  I have picked from small crops, I have sat on a tractor.  But that was a vacation, not my way of life.  I also never got into country music until I took up with a man who did.  I can thank my husband for easing me into the genre – a man who grew up mucking horse stalls and helping harvest alfalfa.  That being said – I wouldn’t quite describe his childhood home as completely rural, either.  So here we are in Pennsylvania, an hour from Philly, building our lives exactly how we want.  Straddling the rural/urban lifestyles – and I think taking some of the best qualities from both!