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Grandpa’s Song

My dad’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis wasn’t a surprise, as we had seen the signs for a long time. My mom had been slowly readjusting their lives to fit his needs, and, of course, as the disease progressed, so did the pace of the adjusting.

My daughter has watched all these changes, in both my parents, and has used her music to work through it. Today, she put out her first single: Grandpa’s Song.

It’s about my mom, telling my dad about how she will always be there for him. It’s about remembering their past, with a tentative eye on the future. It’s about how this wretched disease has stolen so very much from them.

Singer Girl, whose true name is Frankie Torres, has been honing her craft for more than 12 years. From singing in clubs, on stages, in bars and in huge arenas, she has waited patiently for the day she can share her OWN music with the world. Today she started seeing that dream become a reality.

Grandpa’s Song is the first of three original songs she will release this year. They are all three incredibly personal, and reference her experiences in some way. This song hits the closest to home for me, of course, because it is about my dad and mom. But the other two touch me in a completely different way. When I hear them, I can’t see the little girl who idolized Kelly Clarkson and wanted to be her one day. Now I see the woman who she has become, one who is a star in her own right.

Two weeks ago we thought we were losing my dad. Alzheimer’s patients often lose the ability to swallow, aspirate, and get pneumonia. That’s what ultimately kills many of them, and dad was struggling. He aspirated. He got sick.

My brother and his wife flew out from Washington — just in case. We all had special moments with him. I played him the song.

Dad hasn’t spoken much in years. But when he heard the song — HIS song — he hummed along. The rest of us wept.

Please take a listen on whichever streaming platform you prefer I’ll list a few links below. If you like what you hear, say so! Like/share/download/follow her on them, and on her Facebook page and on Instagram at frankie_torres3.

Thanks for listening. Hug your parents, your grandparents, and your kids. They all deserve a song.

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/7h6eW2mDInB03whHhgnM0i

iTunes: Grandpa’s Song – Single

youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2Yj3maF6pc&fbclid=IwAR3VeHwzPRppFpD320tQMrXp13Nb0cBIoBKNoGAqF1oUB2WZXZLlvVD-G6k

Back to School, Back to Date Nights!

When Singer Girl went back to school in August, we realized it was time to kick date nights back into gear. It’s harder now, in some ways, to find wild, new, interesting things to do. I mean, the world is kinda shut down, so options are fewer. That just means we have to dig a little deeper. But hey: every little outing feels like a gala ball when you are starved for social interaction!

In September we tried several new places, while still finding time to visit a few treasured faves. The first weekend of the month we were in Madeline, and I covered that last post. The next week we had two date nights, one picked by me, the other by him.

First up: my turn! On Thursday night we did a double appointment with my acupuncturist, Kate at Peak Life Clinic. Ironically, HWSNBN is the one who got me started with the needle life, but he’d never been himself. So our date nights worked well to get him there (remember the rules: one person plans, and the other has no say!). Afterwards we visited Cast and Cru restaurant, where we haven’t been in far too long. It’s weird seeing the Old Log Theater quiet. We also realized that this winter Cast and Cru probably won’t open up the little cabin bar we enjoyed squeezing into last year. But a well-poured cocktail from the C & C bartenders does help dull that pain!

For our anniversary, HWSNBN took the lead. He has always liked basing gifts and celebrations on the “traditional” gift guides for anniversaries. The gift for 26 years is evidently photography, so we wandered around some lovely galleries in Minneapolis looking for a lovely piece of art to put on our sadly barren walls. Some of the places we enjoyed included the Groveland Gallery and Galeria do Beija Flor.

One of the best parts about exploring the world on foot is getting lost and finding treasures. One such place was the amazing Brickmania.

We caught sight of the amazing Lego reconstructions of the USS Missouri. Cannot wait to bring Sailor Boy here some day. He will geek out, just like we did.

One of our favorite crazy places to shop is Architectural Antiques. I mean, from door knobs to church pews, bowling alleys to antique crystal chandeliers, they’ve got it. We have bought many special things here over the years — like our copper front door, and the stained glass double doors on HWSNBN’s office. We didn’t buy anything today, but oh, man, did I want to!

We also enjoyed a jaunt around the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Afterwards it was dinner at PS Steak, then we stayed the night at the cooler-than-us Hewing Hotel.

The next weekend I had a puppy party for work so we borrowed a couple of puppies to be our arm candy at Excelsior Brewing Company, our fave neighborhood beer joint.

The next day we double dated with our friends Matt and Kristy, and hit a few breweries and wineries out west.

The next weekend, the last in September, our weekend was a little busy so we couldn’t do much just the two of us. But we managed to squeeze in a PHENOMENAL meal at Vann Restaurant, a place we’d never yet tried.

That food was simply elegant and delightful!

As I write this we’ve already done a few fun October date nights, but TBH it’s gonna get harder with the double whammy of COVID-19 and a Minnesota winter. But we’ll prevail!

Oh: and stay tuned for a super exciting post in a day or so!!!

Same Island, Different Feel

Once again, when the calendar turned to Labor Day weekend, we packed the car and headed to Madeline Island, WI.

Our plan was to leave no later than 10am, which would put us at the ferry in Bayfield around 2:30, but HWSNBN got sucked into phone calls and couldn’t pack up the car. Usually I drive so he can do work calls and sleep, but this time it just didn’t happen. And normally, showing up late isn’t a big deal, as ferries typically run back to back about every 20-30 minutes. However: we received an email from our rental landlords (the wonderful Madeline Island Vacations) the night before, letting us know that winds were high and the last ferry would be around 8pm.

When I read the email, I wasn’t worried. That would be an exceptionally late time for us to arrive.

But as his calls lingered on and on and on, and the hours passed, I started getting concerned. We made good time on the drive up, but, as we approached Bayfield (where we catch the ferry), I suggested that he check the website and see if there had been any updates. Sure enough, the winds were really bad, and the last ferry was now going to be 5pm.

It was 4:30, and we were 40 minutes away.

HWSNBN started to panic, urging me to drive faster and faster. I sped up, but decided that even though I was the only car on a pretty straight, relatively flat country road, I wasn’t willing to break the sound barrier just because he was late leaving. I calmly asked him to start looking into places for us to stay the night. He refused. He called the ferry, hoping to ask them to wait. They didn’t answer. As we reached town, of course I had to slow down, which of course meant his heart raced faster. I pulled up to the ferry line where the boat was still docked, but there was a truck towing a trailer in line before us.

We sat, and waited, and wondered if they’d let us on.

The ferry people were walking around the truck and trailer, and the guy finally shook his head and motioned us forward. We got the last spot on the ferry, simply because trailer dude didn’t fit. We sailed across (with our ass hanging off the back of the boat, according to HWSNBN), not nearly as relaxed as we usually are on the ferry to Madeline. But there is nothing like it once you are there!

It was an unusual start to an unusual weekend. The island has five restaurants, and two were closed early for the season due to COVID-19. The others were take out only. The place was unusually busy, crowded with lots of new faces. I guess everyone needed a getaway, and you saw folks all over the island wandering around with maps. Which is really funny, because the island may be 14 miles long and 3 miles wide, but the business district can be walked end to end in 10 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot to see and do. But, sadly, not as much as usual. Yeah, Tom’s Burned Down CafĂ© was open, but only allowed a few folks in at a time. You could get a garlic burger and Superman ice cream at Grandpa Tony’s, but you wouldn’t be sitting at a table with an oversized playing card signifying your order number.

As we ran into the map clutchers, we gently suggested they come back when the pandemic was settled, as the island usually has a much more vibrant energy .

As for us, we did just fine. We stayed at a new cabin this time, called Haven House, and it may just be our favorite ever. One of our friends asked if we get tired of staying at new places all the time, but not at all. It’s great finding new island treasures, and this one was fantastic.

HWSNBN and I usually go up on Thursday, while our friends follow the next day. So the first night we ordered take out from The Pub, opened a bottle of wine and played cribbage in front of the fire. It was a perfect kickoff to the weekend.

The next day I read a book outside while he hit a bucket of balls, and Stevie Nicks kept an eye on the local wildlife.

When our friends arrived on the island, we all grabbed takeout again, this time from Cafe Seiche, and ate it at their cabin. After dinner we played drinking games and let all our dogs run amok on the golf course (it’s a pretty casual place, is Madeline).

Saturday was golf for the fellas, and the beach for the dogs and the ladies.

Sadly, this was not a warm weekend. The windy theme that rushed us onto the island Thursday never let up. Our paddleboards didn’t get any use — they just enjoyed a nice roundtrip strapped to the top of the car. We hosted dinner that night, and finished the night by the bonfire.

This swing was great, in theory. We sat on it and it immediately fell to the ground. Maybe too many Spotted Cow beers and Dot’s Pretzels the day before?

Sunday was pretty much a repetition of Saturday — golf and beach, but with a little stroll downtown in the afternoon, including a visit to the charming Bell Street Gallery, which is always good for live music and an adult beverage, and, of course, lovely local art work. Then we meanedered back to enjoy a cocktail at The Pub’s fantastic new patio area (it’s not a Madeline Island trip without a Bootleg or two!).

The group all headed back to our place to play Kubb, a fun game at which I do NOT excel. then dinner at their place, with more laughs and dog merriment.

It’s a predicable weekend, and maybe that’s why we love it so much. We know we will eat, drink, laugh and run around after dogs. After the craziest 6 months the world has ever experienced, that’s all you really need.

Emptying That Nest Again!

After the longest summer vacation ever, the kidlings of the world are back to school, and that includes Singer Girl.

One last stick throw for her dog!

We packed a dozen suitcases and flew her back to Michigan a few weeks ago. If you recall, she attended a different university her freshman year, and quickly decided that was not her place. she attended a different university. Last year, she transferred to this school and started over. Now, as a Junior, she was ready for a year of really getting into her education, and enjoying all the normal experiences of college.

Frickin’ COVID.

She was supposed to move into an apartment with her two best Wolverine friends, but one decided that the distance learning was not worth paying for housing, and chose to virtually commute. So the remaining two were put in an apartment with two strangers. It was kind of like starting over for the third time for my baby.

No in person classes, unless you count 3 times a semester for one class. No sorority formals or fraternity parties. No a Capella competitions. No football games.

She considered staying home, and taking everything online. But the apartment contract was signed, and we were gonna pay for it no matter what. And I told her that attending zoom-college in an apartment with other kids, in a college town, was way more of a college experience than logging in from her parents’ basement.

It’s not a normal college experience, buti t is HER college expereince.

Her 4 bed, 4 bath partemnt is super cute. It’s in a hge highrise complex, with a freaking amazing pool area in the middle (all teh aprtaments overlook the space, whch has grills and big screen tvs and lots of place to gather, hopefully safely).

She is getting along fine with her new roommates. She is cooking healthy meals (I’ve seen the instacart receipts and I feel ashamed when I compare her grocery lists to mine).

While we were still in Ann Arbor, we did some shopping for her place and helped her set up. We hit the farmer’s market, took her out for meals, and even got a date night in.

We sadly have no plans to visit. Originally we were going to attend the Michigan-Wisconsin game later this month, and I was way stoked about that. SIGH. Maybe next year…

As for HWSNBN and me, we are doing okay. The house is quieter, and clearner. I am way more prodctve with no puppies or kids around, and HWSNBN even goes into the office on most days.

I miss my girlie, of course, EVERY SINGLE DAY. If the pandemic had any silver lining, it was the amazing evolution of the relationship we have with our now-adult daughter. We sent more quality time together in the past 6 months than we have in the past 6 years (I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it is huge). It made it a little bit more painful to say goodbye this time, but it’s only 3 months.

I got this.

Massively Mastiffs

Da babies grew up and became da toddlers — and now they became someone else’s dream dogs!

Alice and Thimble went home to their forever families last week, When they left me, the once one-pound struggling critters were 19 and 22 pounds each — at 10 weeks old. Gonna be HUGE!

Thimble’s adopters contact me all the time with pics and videos. She is now named Nora, and is a total daddy’s girl. She also has four human sisters — two sets of twins! She also has cat and dog siblings, so no worries about her being lonely.

Both dogs have continued their character traits at their new homes. Thimble likes to sleep (a lot) and sleeps under things as much as possible. At my house, her fave space was under my desk. Her adopters report she likes to squeeze into quiet corners for some shuteye. If that doesn’t work, she has been known to crawl under a pillow and snooze! Thimble lumbers about like a happy, over-served bar patron. Her squat legs don’t quite seem up to the task of holding her girth upright. And her wrinkles are getting jowlier, and the drooling has commenced. (Can dogs wear bibs?)

Alice is now Matilda, and just as sassy as ever! Some of the staff at Secondhand Hounds nicknamed her Karen due to her insistence to tell them her opinions about everything!). She has a big ole mastiff brother named Walter, and her parents adore her. Walter thinks she’s cool, too, but wants her to hurry up and grow so they can play together more safely. Be careful what you wish for, Walter! She is pretty brave, and jumps right into the middle of the action, whether it is meeting new people or greeting much bigger dogs.

When they were living with me still, we worked hard at Dogging 101. During the day, I played YouTube desensitization clips, and it seemed to help. They sleep through storms, and don’t seem phased by barking dogs. I took them out to socialize on walks and to events. They made their first bar appearance, where, of course, they were crowd favorites at the Excelsior Brewing Company! They and two siblings were the star attractions at an event at The Vine Room in Hopkins, where folks cuddled them up while supporting a great local business.

During the last few weeks with me, I had to travel a few times, so they experienced life in other homes. For a few days they slept over with some siblings, on another occasion they lived in a kid-filled house, and on a third they hung out with a big dog named Rosie. Alice loved Rosie from the get go, but Thimble was a bit cautious. By the end of the weekend, however, they were best pals.

Here are some other fun shots from their last weeks with us. I miss them already! (But not the pee. Or the poop. Or the drool…)

Ain’t no Mountain High Enough, Ain’t no Water Blue Enough

I’m a Minnesotan by choice, but I was raised a California girl. I don’t miss much about the Golden State, besides the people I left behind, as there’s not much there I can’t find here. Except for one thing: mountains.

I recently flew back west to enjoy a girls’ weekend with some high school classmates. One of them has a stunning house in Truckee, so we headed up there for some sun, fun, wine and lip syncing! Not much I’m gonna say about all that (what happens in Tahoe, stays in Tahoe), but I do want to share some of the gorgeous scenery. If you’ve never been to Lake Tahoe, you really should put it on your bucket list.

Enjoy!

The drive up to Truckee

The next day we went boating — thanks Chip for being our Captain, and Shabi, the dog, for being the bestest mascot!

No social distancing on the beaches!

Lake Tahoe’s water is famously stunning!

We boated by the Thunderbird Lodge, which I’d ever heard fo before. So beautiful, and evidently lots of history.

The next day we hiked around before lunch and driving back to the Bay Area. The other girls were after exercise — I just wanted to play tourist and soak up a few last moments. It had been at least 12 years since i had last been in the mountains, and I have no idea when I will be luck y enough to go back!

Big Dogs in Progress

Ah, puppies.

We are back to fostering after an almost 4 month break. Pre-COVID, there weren’t enough fosters, and animals were languishing in shelters and rescues all over the country. But when folks realized they had lots of time on their hands, fosters and adopters came out of the proverbial woodwork, so I stepped back. I thought I’d let some of the new fosters have a shot at dogs, as we simply couldn’t keep up with demand.

But last month Secondhand Hounds received word of a couple of dogs in Kentucky who needed help — and one was heavily pregnant. Popeye, the daddy, is a one year old Neapolitan Mastiff.

Mama Olive Oyl is a two year old Neo Mastiff.

Mama went into labor before she could get up here to Minnesota, and now, instead of one foster for dad and one for mama and her brood, we needed many more fosters, as Olive Oyl decided her job was done and elected not to nurse the babies. So: fosters experienced in bottle or tube feed itty bitties were needed, and since I had experience from last year (remember the yellow lab puppies I had?), I was asked to help out.

Mama gave birth to 14 pups: 4 were stllborn, and 4 passed before we received them. So that left 6 babies, divided among 3 fosters. I got Thimble and Alice when they were just 11 days old, eyes and ears still closed. They weighed barely over a pound each!

Every 2-3 hours I bottle fed them formula. We use a very interesting formula recipe, which includes goat’s milk, whole Greek yogurt, whole ayo, karo syrup and egg yolks. So every few days I whipped up that mixure in the blender. The pups liked the formula,but hated the bottle. I swear I must’ve tried 5 different types of bottles and nipples. The feedings were taking about 45 minutes each time, and I was pretty wiped. I was spending about eight hours a day total feeding them! So at night I decide to tube feed them, so that cut the feedings to about 20 minutes total. But during the day I wanted to keep them on bottles, because they seem to need the sucking.

When they were 19 days old, Thimble got really, really sick. I consulted many times with fellow fosters and our vet, and we all decided she needed help. Her breathing was labored and she was so, so limp and lethargic. Before I handed her off to the emergency vet, I actually said my good byes. The vet confirmed aspiration pneumonia. I wasn’t surprised, given that they just fought and struggled with their bottles.

She came home and both puppies promptly moved into an oxygen chamber that took up half my kitchen counter.

We started antibiotics, and switched from bottles to syringe feeding. They loved that. Just sucked the formula down! We also started adding canned food to their diet, a little at a time. I had a feeling they’d be happier when they got real food, and they were.

They were also a mess!

Soon they were gaining weight, breathing better, and scooting around! Every day we try to make the food little thicker. Now I am taking dry kibble and soaking it in formula to mix with the canned food. As their teeth grow in, I will start making the much dryer and crunchier.

We are socializing now too. I invite folks over all the time to play with them, as I want the pups to love everyone. Thimble is definietly the more easy-going of the two, while Alice s a bit of a diva. Thimble is also MUCH bigger, and looks like she will be jowlier than Alice.

I’m about to go on a trip, so they will stay with another foster for 5 days, and I am eager to see how big they get by then. Thimble grew by almost 60% this past week, Alice by 25%. Pretty sure I won’t recognize them when I return!

I’ll keep ya posted!

Summer is for The Dogs

You’ve heard it said before: our pets are loving quarantine. The only thing Stevie Nicks likes better than us staying home with her, is her going on vacation with us.

For the fourth of July weekend, we travelled up north to one of our fave places, Madeline Island, WI.

It was a different trip than usual: no dining inside restaurants, no bar hopping, no hanging by the pool. So it was take the dogs to beaches, day after day.

They loved it.

This was Stevie’s second trip to the island, but it was the first for her friend Lyle, and the umpteenth for old man Monte. At first Stevie was swimming laps around Lye-Lyle corocdile, butt after a day or so Lyle was kicking her doodle butt at stick fetching!

Lyle, the black doodle above, has a neat trick: he likes to dive for rocks. We didn’t understand at first, but as you’ll see in the following slideshow, he likes to sort through the rocks underwater with his paws, and pull one where he can get it, then sticks his head underwater!

Monte is the handsomest boy, but he has never been a big stick chaser. He’d rather catch water in the air, or the occasional rock. He’s 14 now, and fighting cancer, so we were happy to see him enjoy himself!

Lyle and Monte are brothers, and they tried to play together a bit, but Lyle is a puppy and his crazy speed revs a bit higher than Monte’s.

Oh yes: there were humans on the trip as well!

Goof balls. They managed it, but man they looked silly!

We head back up in a month or so. I think the dogs are already in the car, waiting to go!

Baby Steps Back

It seems the world is slowly waking from its COVID-coma, taking tentative steps into the light. I am not sure if it’s wholly a good thing, but I will be totally honest: I do like having more freedom.

We have been to restaurants — one dinner outside, one inside. We went to a brewery. We even had friends over for an INDOOR dinner party.

I got my nails done, and then, the following week, my hair.

I’ve had in person meetings, not just Zoom ones.

As a rule, we are a family of mask wearers. I hate going into a store or office and seeing people with bare faces. I have chosen to not continue patronizing a few places when I have seen the people working there without masks, and seeing the clientele without them. I have never told someone to put a mask on, but I have definitely felt aggression towards me from those who don’t wear them. I don’t get it.

But then, we have been guilty ourselves of breaking some COVID rules. We sadly attended a funeral wake last week, and not only did we not wear masks, we even hugged some people.

My daughter is socializing again, mostly with the same people. But I did allow her to go camping with these friends and several other new people. I felt massive guilt about it. I know that means I should have said no. That’s what I tell my kids: if you feel wrong about doing something, you shouldn’t do it. But I did.

Today I got to do something I haven’t done since February: see my Dad. In case you didn’t know, Dad has Alzheimer’s and lives in a care facility. His incredible home locked that shit down at the first sign of trouble — earlier than most — and has not had a single COVID case. Great in some ways, dreadful in others. Residents lived in their rooms, away from other residents and all group activities, for 4 months. Last week, they satrted allowing socially-distanced meetings: masks n, no touching, temperarure checks and hand sanitizer for all.

Because of her camping trip, Singer Girl did not come. Too risky.

But Mom and I did.

He looked the same — which isn’t great, but not worse. He didn’t fuss with his mask, but frankly I don’t think he was too cognizant of it.

I’m so glad we got to go — evn if it was tough hearing Mom apologize to Dad for not coming sooner, and trying to explain about this wretched virus.

We will definitely hop on the old Sign Up Genius to schedule another visit. As we left I told mom That when things shut down In March I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see him again. She agreed, and commented it was good that we got another memory. He even smiled and laughed for us at the end.

And that is a gift.

Feeling Helpless?

I’ve held it together pretty well during pandemic shelter in place, grimly confident that while it was bad, I would come out okay. While I still feel that way to some extent, I actually feel guilt about how OK I will probably be (see previous blog post about privilege).

This weekend I’ve been lower than I’ve been in a very long time.

The chaos on the streets of the Twin Cities has been gut wrenching. Politics has yet again come to bear. Who is at fault? Who is in the right? Watching the news is like watching the waves crashing on the beach: information rushing forward, new revelations as the water recedes, then another rush of information moments later. It’s dizzying.

Meanwhile, on a personal note, Sailor Boy is going through a crisis and I can’t help him. He can’t help himself. He feels all alone. By the end of the day today someone will essentially decide the course of his future. No, he hasn’t done anything wrong, so it’s not like he’s being punished exactly, although it feels that way to him.

So whether I look outside my home at my community, or within my home at my family, I feel helpless and out of control.

On Saturday I was able to do two small things which made me feel like I could make a small difference.

HWSNBN and I donated blood in the morning, and I did a 4 hour round trip drive to help save some dogs.

In the grand scheme of things neither was a big deal. But as the technician placed the bandage on my arm at the blood bank, he thanked me and said “you just saved three lives.”

And when those 7 dogs stared at me from the back of the transport van, I knew I had played a role in saving their lives.

So while I cannot put out fires on Lake Street, or can’t change the systemic injustice that sparked them, and I can’t tell the admiral to let my son have his hard-earned transfer, I can do something.

We can all do something.

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