Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Home is Where the Heart is…and More

Written by on January 14, 2015 1 Comment

In November, my sister, Aby, said she was coming “home” to spend some time with my mother.  Aby lives in Illinois, and during her visit “home”, she got to talking about what “home” really is, to her and to her children.  We were at P.F. Changs.  It was a bit noisy.  I had a beer.  And I remember thinking that I hadn’t thought about “home” all that much, and I wonder what got her thinking about “home?”

Afterwards, though, I thought about it for a bit. In fact, for quite a bit.  Over time, I came to the conclusion that for me, Aby and our brother, “home” growing up was where Mom and Dad and our siblings were.  Going “home” after school was to be with our family.  Then, when our mom and dad got divorced in the early 1980s, our “home” was sold.  My mom moved into a condo, my dad into a house in another town and I, in college, suddenly didn’t feel I had a home any more.  I felt homeless.

Now, looking back at the time of my parents’ divorce, if “home is where the heart is” then I could have adopted the attitude that I had two homes, instead of just one.  My mom’s condo could have been considered “home” and my dad’s house in another town could have been my second “home.”  But those places didn’t quite seem like home to me.

But why?  What else made a house a “home?”

Then I thought about the home I bought in 1996 with my husband, Mark.  If ‘home is where the heart is,’ well, let’s just say that Mark has a big heart, loves me as much as my parents (he says more!) and he’s now the person I go home to every day.  He is the primary “heart” in my home.

Mark with Snickers and Winston.

Mark with Snickers and Winston.

But just looking at that photo it’s obvious there’s a lot more to this place called home.  Home is also where two dogs engage in bone wars…

Winston, right, about to lose his bone to his brother,  Snickers.

Winston, right, about to lose his bone to his brother, Snickers.

…where a young cat plays with the dogs…

Snickers playing with Preto.

Snickers playing with Preto.

…where an old cat grumps mostly wants to be left alone…



… where animals are tended to until–and including–their dying day…

With Dusty the day he died.

With Dusty the day he died.

…where wildlife can get corn and sunflower seeds year-round, whether they come in alone…

8-point buck that visits our yard.

8-point buck that visits our yard.

…or with a few of their pals.

Our record - 21 squirrels on the deck at one time.

Our record – 21 squirrels on the deck at one time.

Home is also where I can wear sweatshirts, jeans and a baseball hat and they don’t have to match because unless I go outside or answer the doorbell, nobody else will see. Home is also where my outfits get even worse when I stain or paint.

My staining outfit.

My staining outfit.

Home is where I can ponder cleaning now and again and actually do it even less often.

Home is also an imperfect place whose imperfections I can ignore or fret about–the crack in the kitchen ceiling, the brass light fixtures in the hallway that don’t go with the rest of the house, the crack on the bathroom floor.  At the end of the day in my home, it’s the hearts that matter.  The rest can–and does–wait.

Preto on Mark's lap, which makes Mark as happy as Preto.

Preto on Mark’s lap, which makes Mark as happy as Preto.

Home is also the structure whose walls hold the photos of days gone by, capturing brief moments that happened inside and outside these walls.  On winter days in particular, I look at those photos and know how blessed I am.

Photos on the wall.

Photos on the wall.

Home is also where what I say or do stays in my home.  It’s like being in Los Vegas without all the crowds.  And unlike Los Vegas at night, it’s safe in my home–my thoughts are safe, my actions, my words, secrets, and expressing whichever part of me I want to…even if I’m not sure what part that is.

Home - amy with hat on


Home is also where I roll over in the middle of the night and find someone who loves me at my side, that same someone I can call cute names without anyone else hearing.

Home is where my step kids come to visit with stories of their travels, their careers, their hopes and dreams.  Home is also where we laugh and sometimes cry, and raise a toast to one another in celebration.

Family at Christmas.

Family at Christmas.

Home is also where home-made cards are cherished like no other presents, no matter what home they were made in.

My birthday card from two of my step kids.

My birthday card from two of my step kids.

And while only two of the four step kids lived here for any length of time, I hope they know that my home is their home when they need it to be–it’s where they can always come no matter what.

That, of course, got me to wondering how they define home.  And so it goes.

The Last of Moving Mom

Written by on October 29, 2014 No Comments

Prior to moving my mom into an assisted living place the end of May, my mom had lived alone in a condo for over 20 years.  For most of those years, she lived independently and had kept up a place that had been the gathering place when my siblings visited from their distant states.  Mom’s condo was also where Mom and my siblings met my future husband, Mark.  And it was where my mom’s friends had come to visit.  To  my mom, her condo was her home.

Mom's living room view.

Mom’s living room view.

Several weeks ago, when I told Mom that we’d gotten and accepted an offer on her condominium, I took her to her condo one more time.  I had left all the drapes and curtains opened so potential buyers could see the nifty view out the back.  The shot above is out her living room window.  The one, below, through the basement sliding door.

Moms view


Mom’s response to seeing the house like that was to shut the curtains “so nobody can see inside.”  What she’d feared the most living alone was somebody peaking in at her.  So shutting the drapes in every room before she left was apropos.

As she walked back up the basement stairs she turned off the lights behind her, making the place all the more cave-like.  She stopped at the main level for one more look around, pausing at the fireplace to reflect upon how her neighbor had cut the tiles for her and how she and I had installed the tiles together.  “Yup,” I said, hugging her, “and I think we did a nice job.”

Moms fireplace

As Mom walked past the dining room, she paused and asked what my plan was for the rest of her furniture.  I told her a man was coming to buy her buffet, dining room table and chairs the next day.  With that, she opened a random cupboard in the kitchen, made sure the pantry was empty and took one last peak into the one-car garage.  She shut and locked the garage door and said she was ready to go.  It was oddly unemotional, and I wasn’t quite sure what to think.

The next day I met a man at Mom’s condo who bought up all of her furniture except her monstrous sofa-bed.  I didn’t have the heart to tell Mom that due to health concerns, nobody would take her sofa-bed in the basement and that I’d have to get rid of it myself.  I charmed the furniture buyer and his friend and Mark and we all worked together to carry the beastly sofa to my car.  Twenty minutes later, we paid $15 at the transfer station and dropped off the sofa for good.

Moms couch

The last item to find a home for was her old fashioned dollhouse.  Mom had bought a kit many years ago and spent countless hours putting it together, adding a roof, fencing, all sorts of stuff.  On the inside, she’d decorated rooms, and she’d bought furniture and miscellaneous pieces over the course of many years.  Her request to me was that I try to get some money for it.  Mark and I loaded it into my car in the hopes I’d figure out an easy way to make Mom some money.

moms dollhouse


With the dollhouse in my car, Mark and I had only a final sweep through the condo to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.  We opened every cupboard, every drawer, and throughout the house we found all sorts of things I’d overlooked before:  an old towel and luffa in the bathroom, a glass pitcher in one cupboard, and an entire cupboard we’d missed on previous sweeps that contained a bunch of very stale crackers and cookies.  How’d I missed those?  I also loaded up the last of the cleaning supplies, the last waste basket, a few rolls of paper towels, three brooms and a toilet bowl brush.  And then I locked the door for the last time, wondering all the while what the new owner would find that I left behind.

Matk and I stopped at GoodWill to donate the items that were donate-able, then went to Kelly’s Consignment in Okemos where we learned we can bring the dollhouse to consign in early November.  We unloaded that into my garage temporarily, put the crackers and cookies and toilet brush in the trash.  And with that, the job of moving mom’s stuff was done.

The next day I went to the closing and signed on the dotted line.  Afterwards, I squared away the water bill and energy bill, and cancelled Mom’s house insurance .  Oddly, as I drove to work  I felt rather empty.  In several strokes of the pen I had made disappear the central gathering place for my brother and sister visits.  In the same few strokes, I’d gotten rid of all my obligations related to Mom’s home–no more wondering what might be happening inside her empty condo, no more running off to sign papers for the title people or the realtors, no more calls to the maintenance people about the need to fix this or that on the outside.  And no more stuff to sort, store or get rid of.

Mixed with the sense of relief, though, was a type of guilty feeling for having free time on my hands. In fact, when I took last Friday off to go fishing with Holly–who moved to New York on Monday–it took me until the moment captured below to relax and really start enjoying myself.

Mom - fishing afterwards

To make sure I continued getting used to having fun in my new spare time, Mark and I went fishing on Sunday, too.  Afterwards, I took Mom to the grocery to get some “necessities.”  And that was a good thing, because I was starting to miss her.





When it’s Time to Move the Little Old Lady – Phase 2

Written by on June 26, 2014 1 Comment

In my last post, I shared how my brother, sister and I came to the conclusion that it was time to move my mom.  And while it was tough coming to that conclusion, the act of physically moving the Little Old Lady (LOL) to an assisted living place was even more difficult.  See, while the LOL admitted she wasn’t using her dishwasher, oven, washing machine and dryer, and was sporadically unplugging her TV and phone, she was still adamant that she would make her own decision as to when it would be time for her to move. She had decided that Bickford of Okemos was where she wanted to be some day, but “some day” hadn’t come, said she.

Now, I’m occasionally more stubborn than the person from whence half my genes came, and so I contacted a few close friends to make sure they’d step up to the plate if the LOL refused to move.  Next, I contacted her primary physician to make sure he supported me, and I made sure my brother and sister hadn’t had second thoughts.  Then I took the LOL back to Bickford, because her memory of what it looked like had faded.  I gave her my own tour, touting all the great amenities, including the fact that the cooks  could accommodate her 30-year habit of having oatmeal with frozen blueberries for breakfast.  And I mentioned the fact that some of the residents had four legs, including this 14-year-old dog that Bickford kept when the owner passed away.  That says a lot about a place if you ask me.

One of the Bickford residents.

One of the Bickford residents eating his favorite snack, baby carrots.

After we toured Bickford the second time, I put down a deposit on a room and had another conversation with the LOL.  This time I mentioned who all was behind me.  She responded with, “What did I do to deserve this?” I pointed out that she had done really well on her own, and as with her driving, it was a good idea to quit while she had a good record and hadn’t hurt anyone, including herself.  I said that her safety was my primary concern, and that I was also interested in her getting more social interactions.  She looked at me with a defiant glare and said,  “Okay but not until I see my family doctor.”  The following Saturday, we met with her family physician, who–after beating around the bush and bringing me to a near state of panic–finally looked at my mom and said, “It’s time.”

And that, luckily, was all the LOL needed.

The next step was for me to bring in reinforcements for the move.  Now, every team needs at least three people, so I selected my brother and sister.  My brother , Lloyd, brought from New Jersey a sense of humor, musical abilities and an engineering prowess, while my sister, Aby, brought from Illinois a sense of humor, impeccable organizational skills and a knack for interior decorating.  My brother also brought some interesting t-shirts, like this one which read:  National Sarcasm Society.  Like we need your help.

MM - my helpers


The first thing  Team LOL did is go to Bickford and take some measurements.

Aby inside the LOL's new room.

Aby inside the LOL’s new room.

My brother wore a different shirt for this occasion.

MM - lloyds shirt


Back at the LOL’s condo, Aby and I put boxes together and packed while Lloyd made miniature pieces of furniture to scale so we could see what might fit where.

Our visual game plan for the move.

Our visual game plan for the move.

While we worked, Mom entertained neighbors who stopped by to say good-bye.

Mom with one of her neighbors.

Mom with one of her neighbors.

We packed everything up on the Thursday before Memorial Day.  The next day, Two Men and a Truck showed up.  That’s one organization that’s perfectly named, because sure enough, two men showed up with a truck to move the heavy furniture.  They gift-wrapped all the furniture, loaded it up on to their truck, drove the 3/4 mile trip to Bickford and unloaded everything.

Two Men without their truck.

Two Men without their truck.

Aby put things away.

Aby unpacking.

Aby unpacking.

Lloyd unpacked.

Lloyd unpacking.

Lloyd unpacking.

I took photos, including a selfie.

Amy unpacking.

Amy unpacking.

We left the LOL at Bickford for her first night, returned to her condo and thought about playing a friendly game of cards.  We couldn’t think of a friendly game, so we played the fast-paced game we call Scrunch.

Lloyd and Aby smiling, moments before I began to trounce  them.

Lloyd and Aby smiling, moments before I began to trounce them.

The next day we took the LOL to Binder Zoo so she could feed the giraffes.  I had my fish-eye lens so that we could get another stellar selfie.

Family selfie at the zoo.

Family selfie at the zoo.

We all got to feed the giraffes. And while I think my mom enjoyed herself…

Lloyd and Mom with the giraffe.

Lloyd and Mom with the giraffe.

…I think Aby enjoyed it the most.

Aby feeding the giraffe.

Aby feeding the giraffe.

We spent the rest of the evening and the next day packing up stuff to donate, taking a few more things over to the LOL’s new place, and getting her new TV remote going (thanks to Lloyd).  We also went out to dinner at El Azteco.

Another amazing selfie.

Another amazing selfie.

On the way home, we, stopped to see an old friend, Sparty, on the MSU campus.

Me, Aby and Mom in front of Sparty.

Me, Aby and Mom in front of Sparty.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Aby’s and Sparty’s feet.

Aby's and Sparty's feet.

Aby’s and Sparty’s feet.

Lloyd left the next morning (Sunday), Aby on Memorial Day.  Over the next few weeks, I took an entire car load of paper, plastic, etc. to get recycled, and went through every item left in Mom’s condo with her so she had a choice about whether something got donated, sold, stored or taken to her new place.  I also made several trips to the Salvation Army and Goodwill,  the former of which will NOT take Christmas goods this time of year, I learned.

My Element crammed with recycle stuff.

My Element crammed with recycle stuff.

The LOL, meanwhile, was settling in quite nicely at Bickford.  One evening last week, as the LOL and I were about to leave Bickford to clean her condo, she  saw some of the residents in the lobby at Bickford, turned to me and said, “Do you mind if I stay here this evening with my friends?”

Mom's new friend Betty with her dog, Teddy.

Mom’s new friend Betty and  Betty’s dog, Teddy.

I  gave my mom a big hug and said, “No, I don’t mind at all.”

In fact, as I drove to her condo alone, I couldn’t have been happier for her.


When it’s Time to Move a Little Old Lady

Written by on June 04, 2014 1 Comment

Once upon a time there was a woman I affectionately called the Little Old Lady (LOL) who lived by herself in a condominium for 30 years.  She was an independent woman, driving hither and yon, doing her own grocery shopping, cleaning her house, and navigating two flights of stairs with ease.  But in 2010 things began to change–after getting lost en route to see her younger daughter in Illinois, the LOL was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.  In 2011, her driving was limited to 50 miles.  In April 2013, she failed the written driving test and was no longer able to drive.  From April 2013 until just last week, the Little Old Lady’s three children–Amy, Aby and Lloyd–witnessed a slow, but steady decline.

Last week, we moved the Little Old Lady to an assisted living facility.  It was both one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done and one of the best things I’ve ever done.  The LOL’s condominium is a tri-level, so she had three sets of stairs to navigate every day.  Over the winter of 2013-2014, when she was unable to drive and get out to walk on a regular basis, I saw her strength dissipate.  I went to bed most nights hoping she wouldn’t fall down the stairs.

LOL's condo and home for 30-some years.

LOL’s condo and home for 30-some years.

Of course, my fear that she might fall didn’t make it such that it was time to move.  But I did start planting the seeds. And those seeds were quickly dug up and pulverized by the LOL.  See, while my mom acknowledged she had Alzheimer’s and said she would have to move one day, she also thought she’d be able to tell when that day had arrived.  I suggested otherwise…and was pulverized just like the seeds.

So for quite some time, I remained quiet and took her grocery shopping, walked the mall with her once in a while, and took her to doctor appointments.  And I kept notes.  First, I noted little things.  For example, in February 2013, Mom no longer sent birthday cards or anniversary cards.  And that was one of the things she had ALWAYS done.

Mom birthday and anniversary reminders, hanging on the kitchen wall.


The LOL also complained that her calendar was all messed up.  One of the reasons, I discovered, is that she had not one, but two calendars.

Mom calendars

I also noticed that she struggled with paperwork, including sorting the important stuff from people wanting her money.  The LOL and I had more than a few discussions about legitimate organizations and the ones I referred to as vultures.

Mom mail

I also noticed a decreasing ability to use electronic devises.   Starting about 12 months ago, the LOL started washing her dished by hand because she claimed the dishwasher didn’t work.  Nine months ago she complained that her oven didn’t cook things right, so she started only “cooking” things via the stove and the microwave.  Six months ago, the LOL unplugged her phones, turned off her answering machine and then didn’t know why nobody called her.  After I reset her answering machine, she forgot to retrieve messages and call people back sometimes.  The microwave went out, but that’s because she blew a fuse, which I was actually able to fix.  And yes, the stove worked, but given that nothing else worked from her perspective,  I worried for a long time that she’d burn the house down using the stove.  The most recent sign that things weren’t quite right in the world of electronics was when I discovered a note she put on a switch plate in the kitchen intended to denote the garbage disposal from the light switch.  Check out the spelling.

LOL's sign on her wall for her garbage disposal.

LOL’s sign on her wall for her garbage disposal.

The LOL also said that people on the TV were staring at her.  That was only a bit disconcerting, and also the reason the TV was unplugged again and again.  I “fixed” her TV several times over the winter (by plugging it back in) and she once hired the very honest and reliable guy from the TV Den to fix her TV, too, which required any actual fixing, either.  And that was all okay, until about three months ago when she told a friend that people were coming out of the TV and walking around her room.  The people were all friendly, though, so her friend wasn’t worried.  But I was worried, so I wrote a letter to her neurologist about what I thought might be hallucinations.  When he didn’t call to express his concern, I let the people continue staring at the LOL and walk around her room now and again.

I also noticed a change in the LOL’s clothing and towels.  For example, a couple of months ago, I noticed that LOL’s favorite corduroy jacket had mung on it and was in need of a trip to the dry cleaner.  I took care of that, not thinking much more of it because other clothes seemed to be clean.  A couple of weeks later, though, I noticed she was wearing the same clothes over and over again, some of which were being held up with safety pins (for reasons that were not clear to me); some had holes in them.  She said she needed to go out and get more clothes, yet she had clothes she’d forgotten about in her two dresser drawers…the contents of which she’d forgotten about.  It was only when we actually finally moved the LOL that we discovered she hadn’t used her washing machine for quite some time.  It, too, was “broken,” she claimed.

A towel found during the move.

A rather stiff, hole-y towel found during the move.

About two months ago, I noticed that the refrigerator and pantry contained expired products and duplicates of the same products.  But since I can claim the same situation in my own house sometimes, I didn’t pay much attention until I noticed that the LOL’s fridge had three bottles of Ken’s raspberry vinaigrette, two opened and half-eaten containers of yogurt, and some deli meat that was moldy.  In her pantry was an opened jar of applesauce that should have been in the fridge.  I also found Kleenex boxes everywhere in the house–every room, every cupboard.  Now, you’d think that since  I took her to the grocery store the last year I would have noticed some of these things, but it wasn’t until the last month that I realized this was going on.

Duplicate and unlabeled items.

Duplicate and unlabeled items. 

Starting around Easter, the LOL got to the point that she couldn’t remember where we were going five minutes after being told, and she often asked where we were going en route to an appointment.  Also, two hours after we went somewhere, she couldn’t tell me where we’d gone.  My sister and brother were both concerned after she spent Easter with Mark and me, and two hours after I dropped her off at her home, said she hadn’t seen me all day.  The next day, she had no idea who Mark was.

As a result of her quickly declining memory loss, I also lost confidence that she was taking her medications.  I’d tried taping a list to the kitchen counter where she kept most of her meds, but she didn’t like a list there. I’d tried putting them in the M-F plastic box she had, but she said that box was only for vitamins.  I had tried calling to remind her to take her meds, only to hear that she couldn’t remember if she’d taken them.  Over the last three weeks or so, I had no confidence she was taking her medications.

Mom's meds.

Mom’s meds.

I also noticed that neighbors and friends fell off the radar screen one by one and rapidly.  Over the course of the last three months, the LOL lost the ability to name one neighbor after another.  Jill, the school teacher–whom she seldom saw–was first to go.  A month later, the LOL failed to come up with Cheryl and Bruce, two people who’d come into her condo to fix things over the years.  The LOL recognized Cheryl but couldn’t come up with her name.  A neighbor named Suzanne and her dog, Lulu, were recognized but nameless.  Cindy, the lady next door, was the only name that has remained of her immediate neighbors.  Her closest friends from Livonia are easily named, as are her closest friends in town.  But my four step kids confuse her; my sister’s two kids (especially her son) are impossible for my mom to come up with; my brother’s two daughters’ names come and go; and neither of my siblings’ spouses are named anymore.

Mom also didn’t act like her old self.  Fact is, the LOL was slowing down in many ways.  While she took pride in the speed with which she walked the mall or went up and down stairs, she was doing both at about half the speed she used to.  She had also become more withdrawn, perhaps afraid to report on things that weren’t working or weren’t quite right in her home or in her head.

In spite of all of these signs–and knowing in my heart that the time had come–I struggled with moving her to an assisted living place because there is no checklist for when it’s time to move one’s mom.  Neither her primary physician or her neurologist had said, “It’s time to move.”  And her friends did not tell me much unless I specifically asked.  

But before my brother, sister and I made the decision to move our mom–and anticipating she would resist–I contacted several of her closest friends to see if they’d observed anything disconcerting about my mom. And once I got each of them to talking, they all expressed concerns about her living alone.  The one friend that had told me that Mom had said people coming out of the TV and walking around her room said she supported the idea of assisted living.  Another friend expressed concerns about the LOL getting lost on one of her walks.  Another said that she was very engaging in conversation but was sometimes repeating herself.

Armed with all this ammunition, I got Mom to agree to go to visit a large assisted living facility that both her parents had lived in “back in the day.”  We were both immediately confused about the lay-out, where the lunchroom was, how to get to the trails.  While all the people were friendly and nice, the place was just too big.  Afterwards, we stopped at the chiropractor, walked the mall, got some ice cream.  It was 3:30 that Friday when I suggested we stop by Bickford of Okemos, a memory care facility less than a mile from mom’s house that we’d driven by hundreds of times over the years but which I’d never thought about.  Amazingly, the LOL’s face lit up when we walked in.  I knew we’d found her new home.

Bickford of Okemos.

Bickford of Okemos.

Getting her there was the hard part, of course.  More about that, in the next blog posting.

Valentines Day to Make Most Women Jealous

Written by on February 15, 2014 1 Comment

It’s true, I’m spoiled.  And this year, Mark spoiled me with not only a Rago Rat fishing lure, but also a chocolate cake with my name on it.

My Rago Rat lure and the allegedly chocolate cake.

My Rago Rat lure and the allegedly chocolate cake.

The Rago Rat lure is the floating lure of choice when going after feisty fish like pike or bass.  Just throw it out onto the water, wiggle it now and again and wait for the water to boil.  The cake needs no explanation, of course, but it did turn out the cake was not chocolate–it was yellow.  The cool thing was that when I told Mark “It’s the thought that counts,” he thought some more and there appeared another fishing lure.  One I’d never seen before.

My waxwing fishing lure.

My waxwing fishing lure.

It’s called a Shamano Waxwing and it looks quite strange because it seems to have fins on the top of its head and underneath its head.  This lure will go down about 1.5 feet and then waggle back and forth under the water.

I then learned one waxwing is not enough, so there appeared another one.

My third and final fishing lure for Valentine's Day.

My third and final fishing lure for Valentine’s Day.

I know, all you ladies out there are super jealous, but consider that it’ll be several months yet before I’ll be able to tell you if these lures catch any fish.  Meanwhile, I’ll be enjoying on a delicious–albeit yellow–cake.  How sweet is that?

What Pups!

Written by on February 09, 2014 No Comments

Once upon a time, we had a dog named Dusty, the Angel Pup, who, with his pal, Little Dipper, filled our hearts and our days with happiness.  In August, 2012, Little Dipper passed away and in August 2013, Dusty went off to heaven to join her.  The next day my beloved, retired husband, Mark, spent a full day in the house without a pup.  And that was all he could take.  He was on the Internet looking for a pup the same mix as Dusty and Little Dipper–Lhasa Apso mixed with Bichon Frise.  Soon Mark found this black and white pup.

The face that won Mark over.

The face that won Mark over.

We drove from Michigan to Pennsylvania to look at the pups, and when he froze–absolutely terrified–we asked if he had a sibling.  Out came his brother who made everything okay.  We brought both pups home, get the black and white pup on August 24 and had a contest to name the pups , the winners of which received a free, autographed copy of my humorous, touching memoir, Something Furry Underfoot.  The winning names were Winston and Snickers.

Amy with Winston.

Amy with Winston.

Amy with Snickers.

Amy with Snickers.

The pups have been with us about five months and I can honestly say getting both of them was the best thing we’ve ever done.  From their perspective, having a sibling nearby probably made it easier to leave their mom and other siblings and travel cross-country with two strange people.  Getting used to the noises of the average suburban home–like the dishwasher, the squeak of the front door, and cars driving by the house–was probably easier with a brother around, as was going to the vet and the groomer.

From my perspective, coming home from work and being greeted by two happy pups is awesome.   Snickers likes to get picked up and gives me an old-fashioned greeting.

Snickers' greeting.

Snickers’ greeting.

Winston prefers to give what we call a “nose nib,” which is a super gentle nibble on the nose.

Winston giving me a nose nib.

Winston giving me a nose nib.

The puppies also remind me to have fun, which has been really import an during this very long winter.

Snickers and Winston running on the snow.

Snickers and Winston running on the snow.  (Winston has a leaf).

And for Mark, the pups are the best companions a retired guy could have.

Mark with the pups.

Mark with the pups.

So thanks for coming home with us pups and making our lives full up again.

For more tips and factoids about dogs and other pets, check out Something Furry Underfoot, my humorous, touching memoir about raising frogs, iguanas, hedgehogs, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, a stray cat, mynah birds and tropical fish.








New Year’s Resolution: 10 Things to Remember Before You Bring Home a New Pet

Written by on December 31, 2013 No Comments

In 2014, countless numbers of pets will get new homes.  Some pets will come from pet stores, some saved from puppy mills, some rescued from shelters.  Many pets are gotten on a whim;  other pets are brought home by people with a particular goal in mind, yet things don’t always work out according to their expectations.  Neither situation is good for the pet.  This blog posting is to help people make good decisions before they bring a pet home.

1.  Any existing pets.  Some pets are tolerant of other pets; others not so much.  If your existing pet does not adjust easily to new pets, then you shouldn’t consider bringing any more into your house.  Remember, your first commitment is to the pet(s) you already have.

2.  The lifespan of the critter you’re thinking about.  If you are considering a guinea pig, you’ll learn online that guinea pigs live on average 5-8 years.  But what happens if instead your guinea pig–like ours–lives to be 12 years old?  Will you be there for the guinea pig if it lives longer than you originally thought?  My recommendation:  take the “average lifespan” of the pet from online information and add several years, just in case.  Then look into the future and see where you might be down the road.  Can you commit to that pet for its entire life?

When we took in Purrkins as a stray kitten, we knew we were committed to what might be a 20-year lifespan.

When we took in Purrkins as a stray kitten, we knew we were committed to what might be a 20-year lifespan.

3.  Your pocket book.  When we got our two puppies, Winston and Snickers, we got them for a “deal” because they were four months old and because one puppy had a scratch on his eye.  But, while we “only” spent $450 on the two puppies, the vet bill for their exams, shots, and heart-worm and flea prevention cost over $450. When Winston had an allergic reaction to his rabies shot, an emergency trip to a clinic cost us another $125.  A couple of months later, both pups needed grooming; that cost another $90.  So we spent over $1,000 not counting food, beds or any of dozens of chew bones.  In Something Furry Underfoot you’ll read how we rescued a rabbit we had to get neutered to address some behavior issues; we also paid about $500 to fix several very bad teeth.  My recommendation:  before you bring a pet home, have $1,000 saved up, and build that account back up as soon as you can after your initial purchase.
Snickers, our "deal of a dog" that will likely need eye surgery in the future.

Snickers, our “deal of a dog” that will likely need eye surgery in the future.

4.  Whether the pet is for an adult or a child.  Keep in mind that buying a pet for a child is often actually buying a pet for an adult to supervise, if not, assume care for.  My stepdaughter did well caring for the guinea pigs every other weekend she visited, but between visits, and when she went to college, I was the primary caretaker.  Every parent should be prepared to stand in for their children.

5.  Your lifestyle.  Do you have time in your life to give a pet the attention it deserves?  Or, do you travel so much or have such a tight schedule that you’ll seldom be home for your new pal?  Do you work 12-hour days and hope that if you get a puppy it can “hold it” while you’re at work?  Finally, do you need a neat, finished, perfect look to your house?  Answers to each of these questions will help you figure out if the pet you’re considering is the right one for you.  Here are some pet-specific things to consider based on experiences I shared in my memoir Something Furry Underfoot:

  • If you get a ferret, you’ll need to ferret-proof your house so your fuzzy can’t get harmed.  Ferret-proofing our house resulted in adding plastic covers (secured with duct tape) to each of our potted plants, rubber bands on our kitchen cupboards, and duct tape on the underside of our La-Z-Boy recliner (because a ferret in a recliner can be lethal to ferrets if someone sits on the chair!)
  • Rabbits are cute and fuzzy, but our rescue rabbit clawed on a bedroom wall and door frame.
  • Our two iguanas were very messy and needed their cage cleaned at least weekly.
  • Our male hedgehog went missing for three nights before we finally found him…he emerged from the kitchen cupboard.  Finding him required three night sitting in the dark, waiting.  (Read more in Chapter 4 of Something Furry Underfoot!)
  • Our new puppies damaged one baseball hat, one of their own beds, one contour rug, and they chewed a hole in the doorway to our bedroom.  We think that adds personality to our home.  Would you?
Winston posing by the damaged door frame.

Winston posing by the damaged door frame.

 6.  What you need.  If what you’re looking for in a pet is a companion, you probably shouldn’t consider a hamster, because most hamsters are solitary creatures that are perfectly happy alone, albeit with occasional run in an exercise ball.  If what you’re looking for is something to care for, there are plenty of shelter pets that need your TLC.  If what you’re looking for is an interactive pet, I can tell you that many cats are stand-off-ish and some are more lively at night than during the day.  So, before you bring a pet home, think about why you’re getting a pet, then do research to figure out what pet best meets your needs.

Smokey Joe, the mouse we rescued in our barbecue, has a home with us forever.

Smokey Joe, the battered mouse we rescued in our barbecue he deserved better than to be battered any more. (Note the very short tail, the torn ear).

7.  Your abilities in relation to the pet.  Ferrets are like toddlers stuck in the “terrible twos–they need to be watched closely while romping around.  Ferrets can live 5-9 years.  So let’s say you’re 16 and planning to go to college.  Or let’s say you’re physically unable to get around quickly to grab a ferret when it opens a cupboard.  Either situation makes for a bad deal for a ferret–the college kid may subject the ferret to irresponsible college kids who, albeit accidentally, are likely to cause the demise of the ferret; a physically challenged person may not be able to prevent the ferret from getting into trouble.  My opinion is that college students have no business getting pets; physically challenged people should consider pets other than ferrets.  So, think about your abilities in relation to the pet.
Smiggles, one very energetic ferret.

Smiggles, one very energetic ferret.

8.  What you can adapt to. Keep in mind that the pet you bring home may or may not be the pet you were hoping for.  We had a ferret named Coco that loved to bite, and loved to bite me in particular.  We didn’t get rid of Coco; instead, we learned to deal with her bite-i-ness by wearing heavy sweatshirts and moving quickly to stay out of her way.   Before you bring a pet home, please realize it’s a commitment no matter what that pet turns out to be like.
Hampy we got that nearly escaped from his box before we got home.

A hampster that nearly escaped from his box before we got home.

9. Your Plan B.  My stepson works at the Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary and said somebody dropped off two rabbits because the two rabbits didn’t get along.  A Plan B–a plan to deal with the likelihood that their two rabbits wouldn’t along–should have been formulated before the owner got those two rabbits.  My friend, Brenda, came up with a Plan B when it turned out her two rescue rabbits didn’t get along:   one rabbit gets the run of the upstairs; the other the run of the downstairs.  Have your Plan B–your “What if?” game plan–formulated before you commit to a pet.
9b.  Your Really Final Plan B.  Fact is, none of us make it out of this life alive, so it’s important to include in your “after-life” discussions with family and friends what you want to happen to your pets.  My friends all know that I own nothing I value more than my pets, so I know they will find good homes for all my pets should I not outlive them.  Be sure to have that conversation.
10.  Your commitment.  The common theme in this blog posting is that before you bring a pet home, you need to ask yourself whether you can commit to making the best home possible for that pet?  Will you be with it in sickness and in health, in good times and bad?  Will you always think of it before you make any life-altering decisions? I know of a woman who allegedly loved her pet parrot but fell in love with a guy and plans to move to an apartment out of state that does not allow pets.  Taking home a pet is commitment no matter what the future brings. 
Me and my two puppies, one of whom will likely need eye surgery in the future

Happy new year from from me and my two puppies, Snickers and Winston.

This One’s for Pick Up That Poop

Written by on November 29, 2013 No Comments

About two weeks ago, I saw @Pickupthatpoop was not only following me on Twitter, they were reading my humorous, touching memoir about pets called Something Furry Underfoot. @Pickupthatpoop’s singular cause is to get people to pick up their dogs’ poop.  And since they’re helping me out, I figured the least I could do is to write something to help them.  This posting is to let everyone know why it’s important to pick up your dog’s poop.

See, dog poo contains bacteria E. Coli bacteria, which on a web site called–home of some very cute stocking stuffers–looks like this.

E. coli Plush Doll
So, if you don’t pick up your dog’s poop and your neighbor or their dog steps in it, then you’re exposing them to E. Coli.  Oh sure, dog poop can be washed off shoes and hands with water and anti-bacterial soap, but why expose people to something that may result in nausea and other related problems?

Now, for those that poo-poo E. Coli please note the other scary things in dog poop.  Say your dog has kennel cough and you leave your dog’s poo where others are exposed to it.  Your neighbors’ dogs could pick up this cute little fella, called bordetella.  Wouldn’t that make you feel kind of bad?

Cough Plush Doll

Dog poop might also contain giardia (a.k.a beaver fever), which will get your neighbors’ guts in knots and provide them quality time in their bathroom.

Giardia Plush Doll

And it can contain Salmonella,which will provide your neighbors the pleasure of feeling sickly at both ends, so to speak.

Salmonella Plush Doll

And then there’s my personal favorite, a tapeworm, which allows your neighbor to eat a lot but steals all their nutrients and can migrate to their brain and kill them.

Tapeworm plush doll

Now, I know there are few people who are not bothered by passing a few microbes to their neighbors, and to them I ask consideration of the environment, because the bacteria from dog poop can contribute to E. coli in our lakes and streams.  Too much E. Coli in our lakes and streams may make it so that you–and your dog–shouldn’t swim in said lake or stream.  And what’s more fun than that?

Little Dipper on Lake Michigan.

Little Dipper on Lake Michigan.

Finally, for those of you who still think I’m full of poo, I offer you this:

  • People don’t like stepping in dog poop.  Ever.
  • Dogs don’t like stepping in dog poop.  Mostly ever (okay, some dogs do roll in gross things, but let’s move on).
  • People shouldn’t have to look where they are walking to avoid your dog’s poo.
  • While there is no reward in this life for picking up your dog’s poo, it’s the right thing to do.  For people, for pets, for the environment.

To help support this effort, not only can you pick up after your own dog, you can follow my new pal at AND  go to where you’ll see information about picking up dog poop, and biodegradable poop bags, metal yard signs, and–coming soon–t-shirts. Something Furry Underfoot and those cute microbes at also make great presents for the holidays.

Now go walk your dog, and do the right thing.  Thank you!


10 Things You Should Know Before You Get a Hamster, Mouse or Gerbil

Written by on November 11, 2013 12 Comments


A lot of people get their kids hamsters, mice or gerbils as pets.  And the thing is, most of these small fuzzies only live 1-3 years.  Here’s 10 Things to Know to make those good years for your fuzzy pal:

  • Most pet stores will send your small fuzzy home in a cardboard box.  We live 7 minutes from our pet store and the hampy we got yesterday almost chewed her way out of the box by the time we got home!
Hampy we got yesterday about to escape from its box!

Hampy we got yesterday about to escape from its box!

  • A good cage is one that snaps securely shut.  Most cages for small fuzzies have plastic bubble-like end caps that are easy to forget to snap into place after cage cleaning and easy targets for your fuzzy to chew.  Habitrail Ovo cages snap shut securely and the end caps are less prone to being chewed completely, though, having said that, we did have one hampy that chewed its way out!  Habitrail Ovo cages can be as big as you want to make them, because the inter-connecting tubes fit snuggly together, allowing your hampy different cubbies for pooping, for peeing, for storing food, and for sleeping.  These cages are also very easy to clean.
  • Even with a Habitrail OVO cage, it’s still possible for a hamster, mouse or gerbil to escape, because all it takes is for someone to forget to re-latch a latch or not connect one piece well to another.  As a result, it’s critical to keep your little fuzzy in a room that will keep it contained if it escapes from its cage.  Our hamsters are secured in a spare bedroom; when two escaped the day after we cleaned all the cages, we found both on the floor behind a storage container, alive and well.
  • Hamsters, mice and gerbils are all chewers to varying degrees.  After our gerbils chewed their way out of their cage (and we got a new cage because they’d done such a good job destroying their first one!), we began feeding them our junk mail.  All three were like professional shredders.  Other small critters prefer apple twigs and chew sticks that you can get from pet stores.
Mama gerbil surrounded by her paper shreddings.

Mama gerbil surrounded by her paper shreddings.

  • Hamsters, mice and gerbils need access to food and water 24 hours a day because they have very high metabolic rates.
  • Hamsters, mice and gerbils are very fragile.  Put cages on short storage containers, shelves or dressers so that if your pet escapes, the distance from the cage to the floor is less than a foot onto carpeting.  Also make sure that if people handle your small pet, put the cage and the people that want to hold the pet on the floor so that if your fuzzy pal happens to fall, it won’t get hurt. 
  • Most hamsters, mice and gerbils don’t bite, but if one does—and no matter how hard you try–its bite will make you jerk your hand away, which may send the little fuzzy flying.  When you first get your small pet and until you are used to handling it, put the cage and yourself on the floor.
  • Hamsters, mice and gerbils can run over 5 miles a night on an exercise wheel, so be sure your cage has an exercise wheel suitable to the size of your pet.  For variety, you might allow your pal to run inside a ball for 30 minutes, but be sure he rolls around in a safe environment, free from stairs or other dangers should it escape from the ball.
Flip in an exercise ball.

Flip in an exercise ball.

  •  In chapter 5 of Something Furry Underfoot, my Tip #28:  It is important (although not easy) to know a boy gerbil from a girl gerbil.  The same is true of hamsters, gerbils and mice.  One boy and girl together almost always equals babies, so be sure to check and double-check the sexes of your hampies at the pet store.  The basic rule of thumb:  if the holes are the same distant apart, then they’re the same sex.  If they’re not the same distant apart, one is a boy, the other is a girl.  And if you’re wrong—or unlucky like we were when we bought a hamster we didn’t know was already pregnant—you’ll have babies to deal with.
Eight baby hamsters.

Eight baby hamsters.

  • Boy hamsters, gerbils and mice usually need their own cages.  Every set of boy hamsters, mice and gerbils we had needed to be separated and put into a separate cage. Female siblings may get along—we have twins that have been together over a year—but always be ready to separate your small pets.

Bonus tips:

  • As your hamster, gerbil or mouse ages, it may not be able to open and chew some seeds (like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds).  I give my older hamsters small pieces of grapes and tomatoes and  pepitas (the inside, edible part of a pumpkin seed) which are softer than other seeds.
  •  Wet tail is a disease that’s not uncommon in larger (sometimes called Syrian) hamsters.  A hamster with “wet tail” has a wet tail due to having diarrhea caused by a bacterial infection. There are several online sites that provide ideas on how to deal with wet tail, including here. Sadly, most hamsters—including 3 of ours—do not recover from wet tail.  Ask the pet store or breeder you get your Syrian hamster from if there’s any history of wet tail.

Read more about hamsters, gerbils and mice in Something Furry Underfoot, available at and

Happy National Cat Day – 10 Things You Should Know Before You Get a Cat

Written by on October 29, 2013 No Comments


Today is National Cat Day, so congratulations to all the happy kittens and cats out there and all the happy people who own cats!!  In honor of National Cat Day I wanted to share some things I’ve learned about cats that may help other people before they run out and get a cat, or kitten, for that matter.  So, here goes:

  • Cats can live anywhere from about 5-7 years for an outdoor cat to an average of 13-17 years for an indoor cat.  I know of several indoor cats that lived to be over 20 years of age.  So consider the commitment involved with getting a kitten or young cat.
  • Compared to dogs, cats are generally less expensive to care for.   After Purrkins $100 hairball, described in Chapter 6 of Something Furry Underfoot, and one mishap with a sewing needle someone left lying around, we’ve had no medical issues with Purrkins.  Over the same time period, our dog, Little Dipper, cost us over $1,400 in vet bills for teeth problems.
  • Always take your new kitten or cat to a vet for a check-up.  Purrkins was a hit at our vet’s because he had both lice and fleas, which, thankfully, the vet treated with one shot.  After the basic check-up, note that there are differences of opinion as to whether cats need annual vaccinations.  Some vets encourage annual vaccinations, especially for outdoor cats, but many say a blood test should determine what the cat is susceptible to and what shots it needs.
  • All cats should be spayed (females) or neutered (males) because there are simply too many cats in the world in need of good homes.
  • Cats take to litter boxes with little or no training.  Purrkins was probably 12 weeks old when he showed up under our deck, yet he took to a litter box the first day he was inside our house.  To keep your kitten or cat happy, plan to empty its litter pan every day.
  • Cats have a natural instinct to kill.  Keeping a cat indoors will protect outdoor critters.  But if you have other indoor pets, you also have to keep them safe from your cat, too  Purrkins was great interacting with our rabbit and most of our ferrets, but when our ferrets got oler and were less inclined to play, I had to supervise them so Purrkins wouldn’t play with them.
  • Cats love fresh water. Purrkins seldom drinks out of the dog bowl on the floor and he ignored a special water bowl I once filled daily for him.  Instead, he follows me down to the bathroom for a fresh drink from the faucet.  If that’s not your cup of tea, you can find special watering devices for cats that keep the water fresh and bubbly.  The downside of these gadgets is that your cat may play in the water and splash it all over the floor like Purrkins did when we had one.
Purrkins getting a drink of water from the faucet.

Purrkins getting a drink of water from the faucet.

  • Long-haired cats create hairballs and will need hairball medication.  You can find anti-hairball medication in bite-size chews, laxative tubes, and included in dry cat food.  Purrkins would have nothing to do with bite-size chews or an $8 laxative tube I purchased, so he gets Iams Proacive Health:  Mature Adult Hairball Care which we mix with his preferred food, Purina Cat Chow, with a morning side dish of Little Friskies canned food.
  • Some cats are pretty communicative.  If Purrkins walks in front of me and falls over, he wants to get petted.  If he walks in front of me, meows and walks to the front door, he wants me to open the front door (with the storm door closed) so he can “hunt” by looking outside.  If he walks in front of me and guides me to his food bowl, he’s telling me I didn’t get put out the right kind of canned food and “Might you try again?”
  • Cats are independent for the most part.  Many cats merely tolerate a good snuggle every now and again. Purrkins likes a good rub-down in the morning, a brief snug when I get home from work, and a mere pat on the head when I wander to bed.  Other than that and a little play time right before I go to bed, he’s happy if I leave him alone.

Source:  PetMD and my own experience.  Read about Purrkins in Chapter 6 of Something Furry Underfoot.  Purrkins is also featured in my rhyming e-book for kids called Purrkins, the Cat in.  See comments at by clicking on “My books” or go to or and type in Amy L Peterson.

Happy National Cat Day to Purrkins!

Happy National Cat Day to Purrkins!