Brandi was a good girl. She was a big, clumsy, happy, gentle soul. And she was always a good girl. All you needed to do to send her into leaps of joy was to tell her she was a good girl.
We put her to sleep on Saturday. She was eight years old, getting up there for a giant breed like a Mastiff. She had cancer.
Because of a bad spay, she leaked urine. Twice a day we put a mixture of three hormone pills down her throat. She sat. We opened her mouth, put our hand down her throat. Waited to make sure that she swallowed while we praised her.
She loved everybody and everything. She loved the horses, and would bark and play with them. Feeding the horses was one of her favorite activities. If you didn’t know which way to go, she would help by putting your arm in her huge mouth and leading you.
She put up with puppies and cats and pigs and kids crawling on top of her.
She and Keely grew up together. I never heard her growl. She had her nails done. Bows in her hair.
Suffered through baths in the shower, sometimes with a lot of company.
She was not brave in any way. Steve would stand on the other side of the door and growl and bang on the door. The other dogs would bark. All you heard from Brandi was the sound of the dog door flap as she took off for the pasture. We would joke that if anyone every broke in, the only chance of her hurting them would be if they were in the way of her running.
She would sit, lift a paw, and ask very politely for you to pet her. Again and again.
I loved her so much. Everyone did. She loved Steve, and he loved her. His big girl. They would have a lot of talks.
She was just a big lovable dufus. A true sweet gentle soul that we were blessed with for eight years.
Two weeks ago she wouldn’t come out of her house when I called her. I opened the door for her, and she slowly came out. She seemed reluctant. She also had wet herself, which was not unusual. So she walked a little stiff legged, again, not unusual.
But she wasn’t interested in her food.
A few days later Steve called me out. She had come up the hill to be fed, but her hind legs weren’t working right. She half wobbled and half crawled up the hill. It was one of the most painful sights I’ve ever seen. Steve had to drag/carry her back to her house. It was the last time she was ever outside. She quit eating and drinking.
We called the vet. She thought it was cancer. There was a heart murmer. At eight, Brandi was old for a Mastiff. We decided to try for a miracle and give her steroids for a few days.
The steroids brought back her appetite, she started eating turkey and meat if we fed her by hand. She drank a little.
But she could only move her front legs.
So she laid in the doorway of her house while we hoped for a miracle that we really knew wouldn’t come.
On her last day I brought the other animals into the house. Steve had started to make a trip to Durango, but was able to get in contact with the vet. He said he would be there around 11:30. Steve headed back.
I went to her house, opened the big door and put her head on my lap. She was able to see the blue sky, the trees, the mountains. I cried harder than I have cried in a very long time.
But for two hours Brandi got to eat peanut butter treats and turkey and cheese. She heard me tell her over and over what a good girl she was and how much she was loved.
The vet was kind and gentle. I held her while she went to sleep for the last time. No more pain, no more confusion.
It is hard. This doing the right thing for our pets. It is a responsibility we take on, if we are going to be “their people”. But I think, in a way, it makes the pain less for me. To know that we could, with love, choose the way and time of her going. I watched as she lay peacefully in my lap, hearing my voice, knowing love. It was my last, and perhaps, best, gift I could give her.
I called her my whabada. Because that was the noise her lips and ears would make as they flopped when she ran.
I think of her now, my sweet Brandi, whabada. Running free.
Fifteen years ago my oldest daughter Kat entrusted her child to my care.
Kat had just started college at a Christian university when she found out she was pregnant. The birth father was never in the picture. Kat’s father and I adopted the child so that she would have insurance, two parents, a stable home
Our names are on her birth certificate. She is legally our daughter.
Keely grew up calling Kat “Sis”. Keely knew that Kat was her birth mom. She knew she was loved by all of us.
I moved to Colorado. Keely came with me.
Kat married Mike, moved to Kentucky and found her path. Today she is completing a PhD program at the University of Louisville.
As she grew up Keely became aware that she was different. I saw it, but I didn’t really SEE it. I just called her my unique child. My quirky, independent, different drum beat child.
She struggled at school, was bullied because she was different. She never was interested in makeup or hair. She took rocket making in fifth grade while all the other fifth grade girls took a hair and makeup class.
She hated pink, and bling. The word “bra” would make her leave the room.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that Keely was able to start to put a name to that difference. It wasn’t until more recently that the name became more specific.
Non binary. A-sexual. A-romantic. Gender neutral. Transgender.
Keely prefers gender neutral pronouns that describe that they do not identify as either male or female.
They. Them. Their. Not she or her. Not him or his.
So that is how I will refer to Keely. Them. They. Their. Themselves.
The social aspect and academic pressures of high school were intense. There was anxiety. Anger. Insomnia. Stress. Health issues. They were pulled out of class for unwanted “counseling”. Called names by people that used to be their friends. Ridiculed for being different.
Keely has a wonderful tribe of friends that recognize who they are and are respectful and loving. Those friends are why they able to stay strong in spite of the tremendous pressure they must have felt.
It got so bad we decided to do online school from home this, their Sophomore year. While they still had their tribe of friends, they were removed from everyday connection. While incredibly intelligent, they struggled with their grades. They developed severe insomnia, sometimes only sleeping for two to three hours a night, but still trying to complete school work, write papers, research, take exams. By the time the weekend came around, they only wanted to sleep. And try to catch up because they were always behind.
More isolation from friends. Isolation from us, their family. They retreated downstairs into a dark lonely place.
I was so concerned. I would wake up at night worried. I was only sleeping a few hours a night. How do I help them at school? How do I help with friends? How do I save this child of mine? I’d go down at 3am, not able to sleep. They would be awake also.
We found a therapist and they started counseling.
Spring break came around and Keely went to Kentucky to stay with Kat for the week. Keely had decided that they wanted to attend U of L and Kat arranged a college tour. Kat worked with them on their school work. Kat is very tied into the LGBTQ community and introduced Keely to the group at U of L.
Towards the end of the week we decided that Keely could stay a few more weeks so that Kat could help them get completely caught up. Then the conversation morphed. And morphed again.
Until the realization became very apparent that the best place for Keely to be was in Louisville. With their sister. Who is their birth mother.
Kat is uniquely qualified to help and support Keely through this phase of their life. Kat teaches at the college that Keely will attend. Kat has her own unique drumbeat thing going on, and if anyone in the whole world is going to be accepting of being “different” it is Kat and her household and friends. They all love Keely and accept them as who they are. Kat has put them in contact with teenagers that they can identify with. The cultural environment at the University of Louisville, and the City of Louisville, is head and shoulders more liberal and open to gender difference than where we live in small town Colorado.
Keely agonized over leaving their friends behind. They are stepping into uncharted territory which is scary at any age, but especially for a teenager. But during the weeks that they have been in Kentucky, I think they have seen that there is a bright, light filled world out there. A world they were not able to see here in Penrose. A world that I cannot give them.
As I realized how right this decision is, I tried to express to Kat what a gift and an honor it has been to be entrusted with Keely. How inadequate I feel I have been. How I wished that I had seen sooner. Done something different. And how blown away I have been at how Kat has stepped up to the plate. That is another story, but let me tell you, there is no doubt in my mind that Kat is qualified and fiercely prepared to do whatever she has to do for Keely.
Kat told me that my support of her journey allowed her to become the person she is today. The person that can take Keely through this next stage of life in a way that I never could. A beautiful circle of love and support.
I look at this as a story of love. Love for this precious, unique, strong person that is Keely Ray. A story of sisters who are mother and daughter. Circles of love with my two children who are both so unique and special and I love with all my heart. And the recognition that our most important responsibility as a parent is to do the best thing for our child.
After a lot of tears, which still rise up when I talk about this, I am passing the care of Keely to Kat. I know with all my heart that this is the right thing to do. This is a lot of responsibility for Kat, huge changes in her life as well as that of her family. I am so impressed with the love and the wisdom I see. Just in awe really.
Keely is in exactly the right place at the right time now. Their world is going to open in ways I can only imagine. They will have the freedom and light to grow as they were meant to grow, to be who they were created to be.
They had bomb and armed intruder drills at the Jewish preschool in Little Rock when Keely was a student there.
We were told that the kids would be protected at all costs and that they were prepared for anything. They were ready for dirty bombs. Armed intruders. They did not have their head in the sand and they would not allow those kids to be hurt. I believed them.
It really brought home on a personal basis what it might be like to be Jewish in America. I was aware that my daughter might be exposed to danger just because she attended a Jewish preschool. It was also an incredible school with wonderful staff. Keely and the adults in her life got a very precious up close and personal understanding of the Jewish religion. It is something I will always cherish.
I have friends who are Jewish. One of them posted today that he had to explain to his daughter, who is eight years old, why there were police cars at their place of worship in Mississippi.
There is so much hate. So much division.
We can be hated for the color of our skin.
We can be hated for not worshiping the same being in the same way.
We can be hated for not being “Christian” or “biblical” enough.
We can be hated for loving differently.
For being born, created, with a different gender.
Police are killed for wearing the uniform.
Some are killed for wearing their own skin, racism still exists.
On one of the political shows this morning, the consensus seemed to be that they only way this country can come together would be through the experience of a tragic catastrophe.
There is no leadership. It is dark and hateful. Divisive. The attacks and name calling have to stop.
There are good loving people in this country. We are better than this.
Many of you have asked about our move to Pagosa Springs. Here is the story.
We moved to Colorado when Steve accepted a management position at the Pueblo Chemical Depot. We knew that this project would be the last, and we planned to retire in Colorado. When we bought our home, it was with the intention that this would be our home into retirement.
We have loved this house. I put my heart and soul into the renovations, and it has served as a place of conversations, parties, meals, sunset watching and joy. It was our first home together, and it is where Keely has grown from a spindly seven year old to a teenager. I have so many memories of sunsets and conversations with my mom here. This will always be a special house to me. But those memories are not in the house, they are in my soul.
Because we can. For the first time our life, we can live wherever we want. Think about it. At first we live with our parents, and then our residence is dictated by where we work or go to school. For us, it was Steve’s work, and when he retired we stayed here because of Keely and their friends. Well, Keely is living in Kentucky now. Steve and I are both retired.
I will be 61 this month. Steve will be 68 in November. Any way you look at it, time is short to do what we want to do during this last chapter of life. We are both very healthy and in great shape. That will not always be the case.
There were a lot of new thoughts and emotions for me this year. It’s hard to say you are middle aged when your age starts with a “6”. I find myself wanting to do and experience, not sit and waste time. I no longer have a child at home for the first time since I was 24. My priorities have changed.
So Steve and I had some talks. We talked about dreams and bucket lists. About what is important to us, and what is not. We both agreed we would be open to moving. And then the search began…
Neither of us are interested in going back “home”. Alabama for him, Arkansas for me. While we have friends and family in those areas, we are not fans of the weather. At all. Of course there are other factors, but to be honest the south did not even make the top 20 of places we would consider moving to.
We met a couple last year playing pickleball in Canon City. Tori and Bill were looking for a house in Westcliff and would come down into Canon a few times a week to play. We hit it off, and were sad to see them leave for the winter to their house in AZ. I was surprised to see this spring that they had bought a place in Pagosa Springs.
Where is Pagosa Springs? Wow, its in the middle of nowhere surrounded by national forest. Tori posted on FB pictures of hikes, mountains, music festivals. It looked interesting.
So when we seriously started thinking about making a change, we looked at Pagosa Springs. What we saw was intriguing.
Some things are meant to be.
We drove to Pagosa Springs on a Sunday. We fell in love with the area. I got on Zillow and checked out property where we could have horses, dogs, and of course our minipig Noodles. The next Saturday we were in Pagosa looking at houses with our wonderful agent Martha (who is from Arkansas by the way)
We found the perfect house. Made an offer on Monday, had a contract on Tuesday. That Saturday we signed the paperwork to list our house. Sunday it was shown two times. Thursday I had lunch with my friend Sydney who told me her friends were really excited about our house and were going to see it the next week. I invited them over that night, they loved the house, we loved them. They made an offer on Friday, we accepted it on Saturday.
Start to finish buying a house and selling ours? Two weeks.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Our new home is a cabin on the side of a mountain. The Rio Blanco is a little over 400 feet from our door. Steve can fish there. We have room for horses, but have also found a wonderful winter pasture for them where they can run on 125 acres and eat grass for the winter. Be horses.
We are 10 minutes from town and all that the area has to offer. Ski at Wolf Creek. Snowmobiles, cross country ski, snowshoes. Stand up Paddleboards, Kayaks, off road 4 wheeling, watersking, hiking, and thousands of acres to ride our horses. We have a whole new area of the country to explore, as we are close to Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. And of course the hot springs that Pagosa Springs is famous for.
It’s bittersweet. I’ve been packing for weeks now, and we are downsizing. That means letting go of attachments to material things. Photos are being sent to my kids, I’m not moving them and storing them. Furniture is going to Kat and Keely to be enjoyed and used.
I’m trying to be very zen about this. There are some things I will need to buy (we do not own any dressers as I built our closets with drawers and shelves) so we will use mesh baskets for clothing storage until I find what I want. Some of the furniture we have doesn’t work in the new space. But I don’t have to fill space with just anything, I can take my time and purchase what I truly need and love.
There is very little wall space in the new house so no place to hang art. However, there are a lot of windows and the view outside is better than any static piece of art. The view is art.
I’m looking forward to four seasons, a real winter with snow. Yes snow. We are retired, we don’t have to get out in it if we don’t want to, and we have a wood burning fireplace. And we can always drive a couple of hours and head south to Arizona and New Mexico.
We had our last dinner with guests in this house on Saturday. JR and Raegan are buying the house, we felt it fitting that our last meal and their first meal in the house be with each other. I cannot tell you how happy I am that they will be building their lives together in this house. It lets me walk away without looking back.
No regrets. No looking back. I am excited about new friends and experiences in our new home. I am excited about traveling and seeing more of the world. I am excited about visitors coming to stay with us and being able to share this incredibly beautiful part of the world with them.
I’m also very thankful. I know how lucky I am.
I was looking at a Facebook friend’s page today, and I came across it. The thing I knew I would see eventually.
A post making fun of non-binary individuals that prefer a gender neutral pronoun. Good ol Tucker Carlson from Fox News and his followers being hateful. Again.
It would appear this person has a good christian heart. She goes to church every Sunday, has church meetings at her business. She is always asking for prayers for those in need. She would be one of the first to try to help someone in trouble. And that is what is so confusing to me.
She not only posted this hateful piece, she deleted my comments when I pointed out that my child was born this way, and that this kind of post is hateful and hurtful. Love thy neighbor? I guess only if they are like you. Created in His image? Only if it agrees with your image of Him.
She changed her comment on it from “stupid people!” to “some people should not force their opinions on others” after she deleted my comment.
So many times our prejudices can be changed when we have our eyes opened to real people and real stories. Putting a face to someone that is different, understanding that love and acceptance are so much better than hate and exclusion. I had hopes that my story, Keely’s story, might open their heart.
Nope. Closed mind. Closed heart.
I know, with all my heart, that my Keely is the way they are because God created them that way. I know because I have been with them every step of the way. God doesn’t make mistakes.
I dare someone to make fun of my child anywhere in my presence. I dare someone to say anything hateful and cruel to her around me. Do you want to experience a mother’s righteous rage? Just try it. I am still furious.
To be fair, this was her post, her page. Her “living room” so to speak. She has the right to her opinions in her “living room” and I was an uninvited guest speaking up in defense of my child.
I also know that we all have our stories and culture and filters that make us what we are, that cause us to believe what we believe, behave the way we behave. She is coming from a place of fear, not love. A place of exclusion, not acceptance and inclusion. That is on her. Her choice. Her beliefs.
I can love and accept all kinds of people that are different from me. I can respect their right to their opinion even if I think their opinion is misguided or wrong.
What I will not accept is deliberate cruelty and hatefulness. Hypocrisy. My sincere hope is that one of these days her heart will open with love and inclusion. But I’m not going to be around to see that happen.
One less “friend” on Facebook.
And if any of my other friends on Facebook know this person and feel I am wrong, there is an “unfriend” button as well as a “block” button that you can use on me. I’m very picky about who I chose to spend my time with now.
This is a guest post from my husband Steve.
After several months of declining health, Rio (Pepper) made a quiet exit and moved on to greener pastures. When we moved to Colorado and Rio came into my life he graciously agreed to show me the ropes on mountain trail riding. I think it’s safe to say that I learned more from him than he did from me. We rode many a ridgeline exploring the next valley. Both of us enjoyed wandering the trails and mountains. We were NEVER lost.
In his prior years Rio was in a movie, The Postman. He carried many a rider and was lucky with owners as far as I know. I don’t know of a single person that treated Rio badly but then Rio never treated a rider badly. He made many friends and was always fun to ride. You did need to understand that Rio had one motto. “Let’s go now, and I want to be in front. The rest of you try to keep up with me.”
He put up with costumes and stuff hanging off him that was unbecoming to a horse of his dignity. Suffered with grace. He could strut his stuff.
Before I put someone on Rio for the first time, I always said Rio will take care of you. He might challenge you to slow him down because he did want to go. But you don’t need to worry about him getting you in trouble and if he turns back and asks, “Do you really want me to do that”? You should think seriously about what you are asking. Even riding up the side of a mountain on a trial with snow and ice, I wouldn’t worry.
He blessed many lives and brought smiles to kids and adults alike. He made indelible memories and time spent with him on trails will always make me smile.
When we decided to get Steve a horse, I asked him what kind of horse he wanted. He didn’t know. I didn’t know what kind of a rider he was, but I did know his adventuresome and risk taking personality. I had a feeling that a low key horse would not be a good fit.
I found an online ad for a Paso Fino, the same breed as my Maestro. We have a term in the Paso Fino world, we love to see first timers demonstrate the “Paso Smile”
That “Paso Smile” is what I saw on Steve’s face as he came back from his trial ride on Rio. That smile never went away.
We would joke about trying to find Steve and Rio on a ride. One minute they were with the group, the next minute we would look up and see movement on a ridge line, and there they were. Rio with his ears pricked as he carefully picked his way over rocks and around cactus. He hated cactus. Smart horse.
If we came across an obstacle or an area of the trail that caused the other horses to balk, we would call for Steve and Rio to take the lead. I don’t think I ever saw Rio refuse Steve anything. He might turn and look at him with an “are you sure?” look, but if Steve was sure, Rio trusted him enough to go ahead. He truly was Steve’s heart horse, and the love was mutual. Rio was never an affectionate horse, he would stand to the side as others came up to us. Unless Steve was there. If Steve was around, Rio would quietly approach, sometimes with a nudge. He never did that with me. Just Steve.
As Rio got older, and I got a younger horse, we felt that it was best to put him into semi retirement. He became our “guest horse” that we put friends on when they came out to visit. We trusted him that much. Riders did have to know how to slow him down, but that is all. He took care of the rest.
Rio was in two parades. Our friend Beth Calhoun rode him in both. I don’t think anyone would say that Rio enjoyed them, but he did his job beautifully with quite a bit of the equine equivalent of eye rolling.
He didn’t get the point of going in circles in an arena. Neither did Steve, so that worked out well.
And then Ann Piscopink came into his life. Ann needed a horse to trail ride, and we offered Rio to her to use. I saw Ann change from a tentative, distrusting rider to someone confident enough to take the lead over a scary bridge when the rest of us were dealing with balking horses refusing to get close. I saw her ride on the side of mountains with her eyes squeezed shut, because she knew Rio would take care of her. I saw her gallop hell for leather on that little horse, both of them having a blast.
Rio’s last trail ride is a perfect example of who he was. We went into the mountains, it started snowing and our group were riding a pretty scary narrow trail that was unfamiliar to all of us. Have I mentioned that Ann is scared of heights?
There were several times that my heart was in my throat on that ride. Think narrow, rocky, icy trail with a long steep drop off. A misstep would be a disaster. Ann vocalized her fear frequently and vocally (she was not the only one btw) but Rio just kept carefully picking his way on the trail. He took care of her, as he always took care of his rider. He kept his cool and his focus and did his job.
As we walked inside yesterday after our vet put Rio down, we were sad but confident that we did the right thing for our Rio. No more pain.
At the end of the day, I think that the best gift we can give our animals is the knowledge that they are loved. With Steve holding him, Rio passed. And he knew without a doubt that he was loved.
This isn’t one of those milestone birthdays, that was last year. And he really hates being reminded of the day, and he doesn’t want a fuss. When he turned 60 he was out of town. On purpose I think. Last year when he turned 65 I surprised him with a party. He handled that pretty well but let me know not to do it again lol.
This is just another year. But as I was looking through some pictures to post on Facebook I realized I wanted to do something more.
We met late in life. We had a very tough path getting together. We made the decision to stay together. Neither of us is going to change who we are. But both of us are willing to compromise.
It’s not always easy. We are two fully formed Type A personalities with a deep, strong, passionate love for each other. And we drive each other nuts on a frequent basis.
I am married to a loyal, intelligent, caring man who is human.
I am married to a man who loves to try new things (except dance lessons) and is always ready for a new adventure. And we have certainly had some adventures in the seven years we have been together. And I know there will be many more.
We agree on more than we disagree. We make each other laugh.
You have nursed me through several surgeries. You washed my hair and dressed me, held me when I cried. Helped me walk.
You are the one person that I would want to have around if the shit hit the fan. When we lost an engine in the plane I never for one minute doubted that if it was possible to land safely you would do it. Never a minute of doubt. Now I do have to remind myself sometimes that you don’t want to die either when you are playing NASCAR in the jeep or taking Clipper up a cliff, but that is a discussion for another time. I love your impulsive risk taking side. You are also calm, methodical and analytical. Brilliant in many ways. Of course those same qualities drive me up the wall if all I want you to do is listen and agree with me! But you are who you are and that mixture of analytical and impulsive is one of the things I love the most.
You welcome everyone. You always says “sure!” when I tell you I just invited someone else to stay with us. Usually the only questions are “who, when, and for how long?”Or a group over for dinner. Or scheduled a ride. And you are pretty gracious and long suffering about usually being the only guy with a gaggle of women on rides and social occasions. I know we all depend on you fix things and keep us safe when we ride. Or to answer electronic questions, or weather, or…the list is long. How many times do we say “ask Steve”?
You spent the majority of your working career living in hotels and apartments, far from home and family. Long long hours in difficult and dangerous circumstances. That scarred you in many ways. It also strengthened you in many ways.
Now that you are retired we are building a home filled with friends and family. I love that we enjoy the same books. We agree on politics (thank God!). You suffer through some shows I like, I suffer through NASCAR. I love sitting in our house, reading, enjoying our time together.
Steve I don’t say enough how much I respect and admire you. You know I love you with all of my heart and soul. I am so glad that we met that day seven years ago, and I am so thankful for every day that we have had together since. Thank you for the love, joy and adventure you have brought to my life.