Sunday, October 28, 2012

Octo Mom: Filling the Void

Personally, I would not give a fig for any man's religion whose horse, cat, and dog do not feel its benefits. Life in any form is our perpetual responsibility. - S. Parkes Cadman

Gus and Lily Hunsaker
I've never heard a dog fart so loud as I did tonight. I thought it was Andy. But Andy is 30 miles from here, on stage playing Edna in Hairspray right now. (That's another story). There was a human-sized burst of blustery wind followed by noxious gasses that could only belong to a dog on steroids. Which is true right now.

Gus stopped walking about two weeks ago. It freaked me out just like it did ten years ago when Piper stopped in her tracks and a year ago when Lily was exhibiting the same signs. WHY do I continue to buy dachshunds?!?!?


A year ago, we took Lily to the vet - seemed to be a virus in her spine and $750 later she was bouncing around again. Gus usually bounds out of the kennel every morning and straight out to the grass. But, it was starting to get really cold in the morning and he was getting slower and slower at the bounding.

I attributed it to the fact that choosing a "potty place" for Gus is serious business. He might as well be choosing shoes or cologne. Now that it's late October in Utah County, walking through cold, dewy grass for Gus is like going through a doggie car wash and paying to have your undercarriage done with imported water from Antarctica.

So the morning he stopped wiggling to get out of the kennel and I had to get on my hands and knees to dig him out, I cocked my head to the side and furrowed my eyebrows a little. Knowing Gus, I said "I know it's cold buddy, but you know the rules." I lifted him out, opened the outside door, sat him down on the cold cement and gently pushed his butt toward the stairs. But he didn't move. "Gus! It's freezing out here! Get to it!" I picked him up in frustration, walked up the three steps and set him down in the grass. He didn't even pull his legs under him. About 5 second later I saw steam rising from under him and I realize that he is relieving himself without standing up. He was laying in his own liquid.

I a.m.a.b.a.d.m.o.m.

I walked about three steps from him and called his name. He didn't come. I offered him a treat. Still he laid there. My worst fears had come true. If Gus won't come for a treat, he is surely dying. Start the steady stream of prayer. I did not have the time nor the constitution to lose a dog that day. This was opening night of the Fall Feaste, a Shakespeare recital also on steroids.

Luckily, Andy was on Fall break from one of his jobs. Poor Andy, he can't even have a break. He had to perform for the school that night and I had a thousand things to do including make a costume for him, the Lord of the Feaste, the plot pusher, the dinner driver. He would set the tone for all Feastes to come. He would show our constituency what we can do with a few Shakespeare scenes and a caterer. I needed him to be ON that night.

I've been accused of favoring Andy at our new job. They've never had a married couple working at their school, so I get it, but if they only knew! Consequently, I FIGHT that biased stereotype and Andy is always getting the short end of the stick. "You'll have to do this...You'll have to do that...OH and by the aren't getting paid for any of it because people will think I'm favoring you."

I digress.

So Andy didn't get to sleep in on his vacation day. He went with Gus to the vet and I went to the dollar store to get everything I still needed for the sold-out show that night. You do what you gotta do when a show is opening the same night as your dog is dying, you just do it with a lot more stomach acid, a lot more impatience for store clerks and a NO regard for the law.

I bought 100 beer steins, salt, two wooden bowls (which we never found later), 12 forks, 10 tiny fishbowls for tips (thank you dollar store) and stopped by the fat lady store to get Andy some tights for the show. I was breaking every traffic law...all the while praying "please Heavenly Father I can't lose Gus today, I can't lose Gus today." I was sure that if I got stopped, no cop would believe why I was hurrying if they looked in my car. "You're carrying 100 beer mugs, you're husband wears tights and your rushing toward a paralyzed weenie dog? Here's your ticket ma'am."

Gus had five compressed vertebrae and was nearly paralyzed from the waist down. He was given three prescriptions, a page full of instructions including, "you might want to think about acupuncture."


But not today, I thought. Today we will put him in a drug-induced coma so he can't move while we open a damned show. Tomorrow we will look around for an animal acupuncturist... if there is such a thing in this state...if he lives until then. "Please Heavenly Father, can you help me [keep Gus alive] until this show is open? I just need time to properly deal with the two colliding storms." How many times have I said this prayer, inserting a different subject between the brackets...[not have a migraine]...[keep this car running]...[keep my eyesight]....[keep this baby]....

Between sewing a costume for Andy, setting up the room, decorating the room and getting 50 kids in their new costumes, I called my good mom throughout the day to see if Gus was moving at all and he was not. Just laying there. He was, however, still wagging his tail, which I knew was a good sign. A year ago, Lily wasn't even moving her tail. THAT is a freaky thing if you ever see it on a dog. A dog's tail is the window to their soul.

I felt at peace knowing that Gus was with my parents instead of alone at home. That was a blessing. Maybe that's why we're having such a hard time finding our own place. My parents were able to watch him while we worked. I wish I didn't have to work away from home.

And the Feaste came off with about a dozen hitches, five hot flashes and over $1000 in TIPS alone. WOOT! Good thing I bought those jars. It turned out great...the laundry's done and it's packed up for next year. Ah!

Two days after Gus started his treatment and the Feaste was over it was obvious that he was not bouncing back like Lily did. I could not face the possibilities. One of the scariest things to see is your dog trying to cross the room to get to you by using his front feet to claw at the ground as he drags his back feet behind him. But Gus wasn't incontinent and that was a great sign, and Heavenly Father had indeed helped us find time to focus on him apart from school. We decided no amount of money was too much to keep a dog alive and enjoying his life as long as he wasn't in pain. WHY CAN'T THEY JUST TALK?!?!  It's so frustrating.

When you don't have children of your own, your dogs become your children. Would you put your child "down" before you had exhausted every single therapy known to man to keep them alive? (Depends on the day...never mind, don't answer that.)

So we found a vet in West Valley City that was about the nicest woman I have ever met. Dr. Kim at West Valley Vet is a certified animal acupuncturist and also a certified awesome dog lady. It's true. And there are apparently...a dozen solid reasons that acupuncture exists and one of to fix dachshunds, because she sees a couple of them a week. She said Gus wasn't in (much) pain and he was "fixable." She said it wasn't 100% effective for a million reasons...but she had seen dogs bounce back in three days.

Dad and Gus...both freaking out a little...
Gus had three visits to Dr. Kim over 8 days between rehearsals for Hairspray, Legally Blonde, sleeping and teaching and will have another visit this week...because he's back on his feet! He isn't jumping up on anything, or taking the stairs at all, but he is running again and I thought that would never happen. He's going to be fine. I'm so grateful.

Despite the trouble, the money, and the worry, they are 100% worth it. They eat two cups of food a day, they are completely entertained by nasty, hairy tennis balls, they have no interest in the latest immodest fashions, they will never be addicted to drugs or break their curfew. They never tire of my lap or licking my face.

So tonight when he farted...after I buried my face in the nearest blanket to avoid death myself, I said a little prayer of thanks for those medications that are causing his flatulation, and those doctors that love dogs as much as I do.

Gus, the perpetrator, didn't even move from the couch after letting that fart into the atmosphere. He just opened his eyes really wide and then looked over at me like "Whaaaat was that?" Then he yawned and buried his head in the blanket again like he had just played a joke on me.

All those years my dad blamed our dogs for breaking wind and we knew it was really him, maybe it was the dogs after all.

So that's why I haven't been blogging lately. I've started three blogs in the past about my niece Shayne who submitted her mission paperwork about three minutes after the church announced the new age requirements (waiting for the call to add the smash ending!), one about Andy's new alter ego Edna, and one about doing things you feel are beyond your capacities...but all of those things have been eclipsed by the need to showcase other people's kids and the journey of keeping a little dog alive. Because everything stops when your children are sick. That does not change even if your children are not human.

When you're a mom, the primal, innate and God-like passion for creating things and keeping things alive, does not go away even if the plumbing is broken. Dogs are indeed man's best friend, but I also think they fill an infertile woman's empty nest. I didn't give birth to these two but I'm awfully grateful to the bitch that did. (I meant that in a purely scientific way...;-)

He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds... He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for living by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to take care of me...He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace...his head on my knees can heal my human hurt. He has promised to wait for case I need him. And I expect I will - as I always have. 
                                                                           Gene Hill

Friday, October 5, 2012

Shakespeare and the Unicycle

You know those days when you stop toward the end of it and say, "what the heck just happened?" At 6:18 PM I stopped...thought about the past 13 hours and just started laughing.


My new job basically requires that I use my skills to increase the value of a Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts diploma. Branding, basically. I go in, diagnose and exploit the resources available to me to upgrade what already exists, to spit and shine, to invent more money, to put the school on the map...the map of really great schools. No biggie. Really. It's no big thing.

But it's a terribly huge amount of little things.

It's the details. For example...this week...cutting coupons to take to JoAnn's Fabric to get one piece of Shakespearean trim that will turn an ordinary black dress into an extraordinary Shakespearean costume.  I do not have time to make a trip to JoAnn's for 3 yards of $7.99 trim at 40% off. So those little details, whole piles of them, jump around in my brain so that when I happen to pass a JoAnn's in my travels, I am prepared to turn on a dime, park and run. With the coupon. It's seriously that obnoxious sometimes. By the end of the year I will have turned in literally hundreds of receipts...$3.42, $12.08, $2.87...I sewed costumes for our Shakespeare team until 4 up at 6 and drove back to the school.

My bosses asked me to mount a Renaissance style feaste/faire that would showcase the kids, celebrate their success, bring people into the school and make some money. In the past they have done a "recital" of their competition pieces just for the parents. Now let's be real, Shakespeare is my buddy, but sitting through one piece of 500 year-old poetry after another? I'd rather eat dirt and so would most people. So yes, they commanded, use your skills to elevate the recital into a popular fundraiser. A long term, repetitive FUNdraiser. (sigh) I know how to do that.

Schedule dinner for 100...three nights in a the set...write the program...find a caterer that can come to a venue without a kitchen... and will do it for under $10 a plate... find and order paper plates that will hold chicken, veg and potato...go plastic...bowls...napkins...thousands of napkins (no need to order utensils for this meal)...baskets for the napkins...two per table...find the tables...order tablecloths...iron the tablecloths...find a kid to iron the tablecloths...find the iron...fluff the matching centerpieces...convince Andy to donate his time (again) as the Lord of the him a costume (left the old one at Tuacahn)...the Master of the Salt...the salt...the little bowl to put salt should be wooden because of the time period (where did I get that one I left at Tuacahn?)...and the kid that brings the salt around, he has to be comfortable having old ladies kiss him on the cheek as payment for the salt...find the cast member...have the talk...add a piece of elastic to his hat because he will be constantly bending over (learned that lesson back in 1998) I have any elastic that isn't an inch elastic...find a way to print the set design since you have the only color printer in the school and it's out of yellow ink...caterer leaves a message...chicken breast or thigh and leg please call her all the teachers with performing groups involved and make sure they pass out the information packet to the their kids...make the information packet...distribute the information packet....hope they read the poster...order the poster...get the poster the poster for the paper...write a press release...take a picture for the press release...will they be costumed for the picture...will all 65 performers be costumed... No!...only the wenches and key named characters...make 42 Renaissance style costumes...pull what the school already has...where is that stuff...being used by another class...trip to all my sisters and gather their JoAnn's coupons...why do I feel like I want to throw up all the time...because...because creating this monster project will prevent me from coaching....

Coaching is my real skill. The time I spend working out the vowels, consonants and pauses...the meaning of the text, breaking vocal habits, breaking down walls...that time I spend with kids is my joy, my work, "my all the world." And we did reach out and help other coaches at other schools when we could, but because of all the little wasn't nearly enough.

It's selfish really. ( FAKE MOM )

This morning, and every first Thursday of October, for the past two decades, I have gotten a team of kids on a bus, driven to Cedar City, Utah, and gathered a few awards at the Utah Shakespeare Festival High School Competition hosted by Southern Utah University. I have had the honor of watching hundreds of kids grab hold of Shakespeare and spend the rest of their lives seeking him out. Some of my dearest friends are tournament officials that I have loved 30 years since I was a student there. Some of the people I respect most in the world are teachers from other schools who follow their kids around with a bag of safety pins in their pocket. It's required. I know their spouses, I've seen their children grow up. We've commiserated and communed as coaches behind the Adams Theatre now for more than 20 years.

Until this year.

This year, the team at SPA was already in place when we got there. There was no need for us to coach. I didn't really think about it. I thought  "I'll contribute my costuming skills. I'll travel down with the team, I'll cheer for them and be their school administrator. But I will not coach unless I am asked. Even then, everything their coach says must trump what I say." And that was my plan. I would still have one butt cheek on the bus, so to speak.

So I kept the filing cabinet marked "Shakespeare," locked. The one in my mind. And for the first time in decades, literally, I never even opened the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I planned a giant dinner for 300 instead. I know its important, but it could not seem LESS significant to me today.

Because there is so much to do on the Renaissance Feaste, and because I did not want to steal focus (and it would have been so awkward seeing the Tuacahn kids while my SPA kids still wonder who I am.) I opted to stay back and finish the Feaste. It was easy to say "I. N.E.E.D. M.O.R.E. T.I.M.E." And true. But when the bus pulled away from the school this morning, full of kids, coaches and costumes, I waved, turned and briskly walked toward the school. The SPA coach came running after me, damn her intuition, and she hugged me. All I could say was "twenty-two years." And she knew.

I have not cried in front of this group of people nor did I want to start. So I hurried back into the costume shop, sat at my new awesome sewing machine with the full intent to put that damn trim on another vest and I could not turn it on. I did not have the energy to reach up and turn the machine on. I just hung my head and cried for a good twenty minutes. I had my little pity party and then I left the room. I went back to my office and had a fabulous conversation about Commedia del Arte with the vocal teacher. He stayed home because his wife is expecting their baby a.n.y. s.e.c.o.n.d. This just added to my grief! The one excuse I would respectfully give myself for missing the Shakespeare competition is one I will NEVER be able to use! Instead I used "I need more time." Lame.

What would happen if just once, some kid had a big piece of fabric tied around their waist instead of a lined, trimmed and grommeted vest? I will never find out.

I never returned to the costume shop today. I found other things to piddle with. I gathered the school announcements, worked on accreditation, answered email, re-designed a ticket for Legally Blonde, took an order for tickets over the phone, talked to the caterer, sent an email out to the parents...and then I found myself opening a word doc and typing out the words "Rehearsal is cancelled." 

I CANCELLED AFTER SCHOOL REHEARSAL FOR ME. But mostly so that I could cry without embarrassing other people that still don't know me very well. But I cancelled rehearsal.


SO...last week my sister called to explain that she had ordered a unicycle for my nephews birthday and forgot to change the shipping address. Subsequently, it was delivered to their old house in Salt Lake instead of St. George. She wanted me to go and get it. It was on 10th East over by the U of U. I went there after school that day and no one was home. Then I got caught up on all the little things and forgot about the unicycle until today - after school - when I had a car and a peaceful brain. I refused to allow myself to do anything related to work after I left the school...(this is also why I'm blogging...even though I did bring the sewing machine home just in case guilt reigned as it usually does.)

I got all the way to 3300 South and turned around to get the unicycle. That would still be productive, but not theatre related. Well - it was a in some theaters... Anyway, I got to 8th South and 8th East and realized that the University of Utah's football team was playing The traffic piled up around me instantly. My dream of going home early...not gonna happen. By the time I got three blocks over, the road was blocked off for the game and I had to circle around the cemetery to be able to get to the house with the unicycle. That is a HUGE cemetery. My anger was rising. I tried two separate routes to find a way to turn right without going up to the "U" on the mountain and turning around, but suddenly, I found myself stopped in the middle of about 200 tailgate parties. MAN! Those Utes know how to party!

It took me nearly 30 minutes to get out of the middle of all that. My anger, my blood pressure...rising...over a UNICYCLE.

I finally got to the house but there was nowhere to park. They already had four cars parked on their lawn. It was spitting distance from the stadium. So I pulled into the Little Caesars two doors down. I was determined to knock on these people's door and say "DO YOU LIKE RIDING MY NEPHEWS UNICYCLE? DO YOU KNOW I SPENT AN HOUR TRYING TO GET HERE?! DO YOU KNOW WHAT KIND OF TIME AN HOUR IS TO ME? DO YOU EVEN CARE YOU SLOTHFUL U OF U PARTIERS!"

But then as I was getting out of my car, a hired Little Caesar's security guard said "Ma'am you can't park there unless you buy a pizza."

?!*#^!inner monologue!*$#!!bad words@$!#%more bad words*#$!%

Then I walked over the LINE of FOOTBALL PATRONS waiting to buy Hot n' Ready. I just needed to talk to the lady with the unicycle sitting in her living room twenty feet from the line. But a pizza and bag of breadsticks later... (they were only a buck with the pizza.) I threw them in my car and raced over to the unicycle-nappers and prepared for a fight.


A very nice older woman opened the door. A younger girl, obviously her daughter, was sitting on a nearby sofa holding a baby that could not have been more than two days old. "Hello," she said calmly...saint-like...still glowing in the my-baby-is-now-outside-my-body-and-I-feel-like-Mary-the-Mother-of-Jesus glow.  "Hello. My name is Jan Shelton Hunsaker and I am JoEllen's sister," I stuttered.
(My sister's in-laws are related to the owners of the house. They didn't know JoEllen. DUH. Why would they?)

     New mom: (blank stare)

     Jan: "Did you get a unicycle delivered to your house last week?"

     New mom:  Why, yes we did. At least I think we did. It was from a bike shop but we didn't open      the box. We called UPS and they came and picked it up right after they delivered it."

     Jan: (of course you didn't open the box.) OH, I'm so sorry...I...I...I'm probably a step or two behind the news about that. Sorry to bother you. I'll let them know you sent it back. Sorry to sorry...

I got back in my old blue Honda, the one that I've been driving for 16 years and burst into flames. JUST KIDDING. I nodded at the security guy like "I told you I was only going to be two minutes!" And I turned RIGHT without thinking, instantly buried in masses of people wearing red and BBQ-ing ribs under endless tents.

I was spouting green smoke out my ears at this point.

I took a breath. I opened the box of pizza. I knew it was going to be awhile. And the pizza was exactly what I imagine eating pizza in the celestial kingdom will be like,  It WAS hot n' ready! The breadsticks were like cloudy pillows of garlic and butter encrusted goodness! WOW! I hadn't eaten all day! In my pity party I had forgotten to eat! That pizza was so good I almost cried.

One entire bag of breadsticks and four brake pads later...I was finally within breathing distance of freedom from the tailgaters. It was six o'clock  and I had left the school at four...WHEN...a man walked out in front of me and held his hand out for me to stop. It was a crosswalk after all...but in my mood I may have killed a stray rib eater on his way into the stadium if the guy hadn't jumped out in front of me. But it wasn't a rib eater.


I'm not kidding! They rolled (and you band geeks know what I mean) through the crosswalk in a double line...two by two...must of been 150 of them. They were wearing big Trojan helmets with glorious red and gold feather plumes shooting out of them. Their uniforms were perfect. Instruments golden and shining. They were all "holding their nickles." (When I was in band our teacher told us to walk as if we had a nickle stuck between our butt cheeks and don't let the nickle drop. There you go. Don't say you didn't learn anything today. That's how they do it.) 

I love marching bands. !

I sat in reverent awe as they passed right in front of me. I felt my spirit stand up. I felt the disastrous day flee my temperament. I said "Thank you Heavenly Father, for the band."


I know He knew I needed that band today. And the pizza. That was good pizza. And I can go to bed now because I left the little things behind, just for the afternoon, and I chose to take time to write a blog today and that always heals me.

Still . . .

Chad, Josh S., Josh L., Heidi, Mindy, Neal, Stewart, Jim, Agnes, Rock, Andra, Glen, Big Al, Richard, Melanie, Brad, Alyn, Phaidra, Julie, Katie, Christine, Fred, Scott, Michael, Doug, Brad, Peter, Brian, Melinda, Sabrina, Anni, Cam and especially ... Jen and J.P...    I missed you today. 

But there is no pity party that a unicycle, some hot pizza and a marching band can't crash.

Break many legs in Cedar tomorrow, everybody! I'll be making a trip to JoAnn's instead and its O.K.