Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmases Past

Christmas has always brought a special kind of magic with it. Last year was my first Christmas away from my family; this Christmas is my first Christmas without my dad. Even with snow, twinkling lights and Christmas carols, I just haven't felt the Christmas magic this year. But today I realized that instead of focusing on getting through Christmas present, I should take a look at Christmases from yesteryear. So from my heart to yours, here are some of my fondest Christmas memories.

Braving the Crowds
Sporadically throughout my childhood, my dad worked as a traveling consultant. This required him to be gone during the week and home only on weekends. There were random little holidays he missed, but he always made it home for the big ones. Some years, he wouldn't get home in time to go Christmas shopping. So every year, on Christmas Eve, he would take my sister and me to brave the procrastinating crowds. I can imagine that it would have been easier for him to go on his own to choose my mom's gift, or even pick it up somewhere he was traveling. But instead he created the extra burden of dealing with two small girls and all the special requests and demands they entail, and crafted a tradition. He made the day extra-special.

When we were older and he was no longer traveling, we kept up the tradition. Getting two teenagers out of bed early in the morning on Christmas Eve couldn't have been enjoyable. Yet he always found a way of perking us up, whether it was with breakfast and coffee or, one unforgettable year, opening the sun roof on the car to cause a cascade of snow to shower us and make us laugh. Though he didn't really need our 'help' to pick out a gift at any point, he always listened to our ideas and found some small way of incorporating them. This first year without him, Christmas Eve will be harder than Christmas day, even though I'm not physically there to not go shopping with him. I'm still going to try to make it into at least one store, just to keep the tradition alive.

Santa Left a Mess
One year, the childhood version of myself  (let's be honest; I'm not that different now!) went running into the living room to discover---SHOCK! Santa left a mess! The milk and cookies were gone, but he left behind sooty boot-prints from the chimney to the tree to the cookies. Bonus! He left a note, in a penmanship I later discovered to be remarkably like my mom's (quality, Mom, quality) apologizing for the mess. I have no idea what gifts I received for Christmas that year, but I do remember the pure joy of knowing that Santa had been in my living room, and was considerate enough to leave a note.

Fast forward to a future Christmas when some meanie-face tried to convince my third grade self that Santa wasn't real. A heated debate ensued, with me promising to bring my note from Santa in the following day to prove him wrong. When my mom discovered me turning my already disaster-area room upside down to find said note, she broke the news. I have yet to forgive her for lying to me and telling me Santa wasn't real, as Santa is clearly very, very real. But I'm sure she meant well. ;)

The Case of the Not-Hungry Reindeer
One year, my school decided it would be a good idea to give us all little bags of hay and tell us to put them out for Santa's reindeer, as Santa gets fed all night while the reindeer do all the real work. After much convincing, I did not climb up onto the roof to spread the hay where it would be most convenient for the poor, hungry reindeer. Instead, we tried tossing it up to the roof and spread the rest in the front yard. The lack of snow in Oklahoma that year made the next morning slightly less disappointing, as it was difficult to tell what was simply dead grass and what was uneaten reindeer snack.

My parents and sister did their best to convince me a significant portion was, in fact, gone and must have been eaten by reindeer. Eventually someone just said, "Well, maybe they just weren't hungry. They must have stopped at the other kids' houses first, so they'd already had their fill of hay."

Do you notice a trend? My family likes to lie to me at Christmas. The things you realize as an adult...

It's Snowing-- Inside!

Every year, my mom, sister and I bake approximately a million cookies to decorate together.The first step is always spending some portion of time searching for the recipe. I always hate making the dough, because it has sour cream in it (ew) and has to chill (my family may be liars, but I am simply impatient). However, once my sister and I were older, the dough making became more interesting. Mostly because we started a tradition of making it snow-- inside the house.

At some point in our cookie making history, someone (there's truly no discerning who began this war) threw flour at someone else. Someone else proclaimed that it was snowing inside. A huge flour fight ensued, with everyone from the bakers to the dog to even innocent bystanders attempting to get one bite out of a piece of leftover pizza in the fridge (ahem, that would be one-bite-man, AKA my dad) would get caught in the crossfire of flour warfare, and get pelted with the soft white substance. By the end, the kitchen and those of us 'baking' would be covered in a thin white film of flour. The flour fight occurs each year, despite threats from my dad or stern looks from my mom (yet, I recall, she often starts it. Or at least participates.Or fails to stop it. Possibly all of the above). Regardless of infringement, the flour fight must occur.

This year, while my super pregnant self is thousands of miles away in Alaska, my mom and sister will be baking cookies at my Grams' house. I've given one of them secret instructions to begin the flour fight. But which one... (insert ominous music of your choice here).

After the flour fight concludes, we use cookie cutters that have mysteriously multiplied over the years. We then bake batch after batch, becoming weary with the process of putting cookies in, taking them out, accidentally slightly burning the last batch while we craft the icing, etc. Then the second most fun part begins (the flour fight is clearly the first most fun): decorating them. The earlier cookies are intricate and detailed, with each cookie becoming sloppier and plainer until we get to the point where we'd rather...well, do anything except finish decorating those dang cookies.

Of course, part of the tradition is also eating about a dozen cookies each while we decorate them. And about half a pound of cookie dough each while we roll and cut the cookies out before baking them. No, we don't eat them between baking and icing. We eat raw cookies or overly sugared up cookies. One nice cookie and several sloppy ones typically get left for Santa.

The Christmas Eve Present Debate
Each year, my sister and I debate our parents and, now that we're married, our husbands to let us open just one present each on Christmas Eve. We win.

There are an assortment of photos of my sister and I growing up, sitting in front of the Christmas tree with our pets surrounding us. The year is more easily distinguished by the fads of the time than our ages. I'd post photos of this to prove it, but if I put a picture of my sister with her crimped, permed early 90's hair, purple leggings and hot pink sleep shirt on the internet, I'd be dead before morning. (If I mysteriously die in the next 24 hours...look to her. Just kidding! I love you, sister...). It's harder to distinguish by just me, because my hair was always long and dark and I was pretty much always wearing a Lion King shirt.

Reflecting on what makes Christmas special to my family helped restore a bit of the magic during this season. My husband and I are slowly establishing our own Christmas traditions, and I'm already planning for what we'll do with our son when his childhood Christmases come around. The memories from each year are worth so much more than I can put into words, especially now that our family is one smaller this year. Thankfully, next year we'll be bigger by one.

What are some of your fun Christmas traditions and memories? Feel free to share in the comments below.

May your days be merry and bright; Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Charlie Goes to the Vet

In October while my Mom was visiting, I enlisted her help while trimming Charlie's toenails. His nails are always long and have always varied in color; some are white, others on the same foot are black. He's generally pretty good about getting his nails trimmed, but his trusting nature puts even more pressure on me not to take too much off. I'm always afraid of cutting his nails to the quick, which would hurt and cause bleeding. I noticed, and had my Mom look at it, one of his odd nails. It seemed to have split vertically. The way the split was angled, I couldn't cut it. My plan was to leave it to Mother Nature for a few weeks and see if it got long enough I could cut it easily.

Fast forward a month and a half. Charlie is once again getting his nails and Clydesdale-esque foot hair a trim since we finally got some snow. His nail looks much, much worse. Though it hasn't torn anymore, the area inside the nail is crumbly and brown. We called our vet, who has only seen Layla before, and made an appointment.

On Thursday at 4, we wrangled Charlie in the car (getting a 70 pound, claustrophobic collie into a 2 door car is hard enough; add in the addition of a car seat base to one of the seats and it becomes akin to the clown car sketches at circuses). It's been excessively cold here in Alaska (highs around 1 or even in the negatives, temperatures staying in the negatives all day) and on top of that, we were under a high wind advisory. The biggest issue with the wind is that it blows snow drifts into very inconvenient places, like the middle of roads. It also blows snow off the parking lots, leaving a thick layer of ice without any traction on top of it. Being 37 weeks pregnant, I'm not a fan of this. Walking is hard enough; ice skating without the skates just seems cruel. We were so confident that this little toenail matter would be cleared up quickly, J almost left the car running.

If only we'd known. Before even examining Charlie, the vet mentioned that typically vertical splits were difficult to deal with, and the best solution was complete removal of the toenail from the nail bed, which requires sedation. My heart just about stopped. Sedation, to me, is surgery. The only other time Charlie has had surgery is when he, ah, lost the ability to procreate. He's nine years old now, and all vets seem to think that makes him a 'senior dog'. I don't know why they don't understand Charlie is simply immortal, because I've had him since he was 7 weeks old and he tormented me so much then that I was guaranteed never losing him to something as passive-aggressive as time.

The vet gave Charlie a full physical and determined he also has osteo-arthritis, another issue with older dogs. I didn't feel the need to share my Charlie-immortality theory at this point. She then examined his toenail, and said he definitely needed to have the whole thing removed. J, being much more fluent in medical gibberish than myself, asked about alternatives to full sedation. His reaction reassured me that sedation seemed quite serious, especially over a toenail. Surgery makes me worry about Charlie simply not waking up, which would destroy me.

The vet explained that sedation was the best option because local anesthesia couldn't guarantee numbness in the toenail bed, which is where the pain would be worst. We agreed to the sedation, signed some paperwork, and were told the surgery and waking-up process would take about an hour and a half. Though worried, I knew there was nothing I could do except wait and pray. So I did a little of the former and a lot of the latter. We went to grab a bite to eat (at this point in the pregnancy, I'm basically always a little hungry. Seeing as how we thought this appointment would be quite short, I hadn't even had a snack between leaving school and taking Charlie to his appointment.) We returned to the vet and waited some more.

After the surgery, the vet explained that Charlie was awake, but not himself yet. She'd removed the toenail all the way to the base, hoping that it would grow back normally. His foot is bandaged, he can't get it wet, he can't walk in deep snow, he can't lick it or chew on it. He has pain medicine he takes twice a day. His toenails are weird, most likely due to genetics, but we have to keep them really short because of their peculiarity. We need to keep him stimulated and alert to verify the sedation has fully worn off. The cold air and wind woke him up some when we got him outside, but he immediately wanted to doze when we got back in the car.

When we got home, J carried him in from the car; Charlie hates being carried, but was completely compliant. Nala and Layla thoroughly sniffed him while he swayed on his feet, leaning heavily against me. Layla licked his long snout. J made him walk all over, trying to keep him alert. Charlie laid down. We tried rubbing his face. Yelling in his face. He was still falling back asleep. Finally, I said, "Charlie, I'm going to run."

No running, ever, for any reason, is Charlie's number one rule. His head snapped up. I stood. His eyes followed me.

"I'll do it. I'll run," I teased.
"Do it. Run," J instructed. I looked at him dubiously. I'm currently the same size as a small whale. Running is not my friend. I slowly jogged in a circle around the dining table. Charlie made his typical groaning noise, but at a small level. I did another circle, all the while singing, "I'm running, I'm running!" Charlie's groans increased in level and severity with each lap, until he stood up and barked and began what he thought was chasing me. If I was running slow for me, Charlie was running in slow-motion for himself. I'm sure he thought he was very fast, and his eyes were dancing excitedly for playtime, but he was walking.

When I tired, J began running through the house, Charlie slowly following and yelling at him, but clearly having fun. He was still pretty loopy. Once the running excitement wore off, we needed a new tactic. Since he was a puppy, Charlie and I have played Hide-and-Seek, where I hide and he finds me. So we did this for a while.

In our defense, we tried to get him to play with his favorite toys, but he chose sleep. If you've ever met Charlie, he greeted you with a toy in his mouth. His disinterest in his toys was the biggest concern.

When hide and seek lost its luster as well, we resorted to Pavlov. We've conditioned our dogs with the Jaws music. When we do the, "do-do, do-do,do do do do do do!" music, we tickle them at the end. Even though it's just tickling, they think it's the biggest deal. So we resorted to the Jaws music.

Finally, enough time had passed so we could let him rest. We needed rest too at this point; keeping him alert was exhausting!

I'm glad to report the patient is doing well, though he has developed a limp. He has shown only little interest in licking or chewing his bandage, and is very much over being walked instead of allowed to run around his yard. The wind has blown knee-high snow drifts around the deck, meaning he has to be walked in the front yard. Charlie is quite modest and doesn't like doing his business in front of people, so he isn't enjoying these walks very much. He's whined and cried some from the pain, which is the hardest part for me. I give him his pain medicine as often as I can, which is twice a day, but he's still uncomfortable and in pain. Poor guy. We also discovered he know weighs 79 pounds, instead of 70 as we thought. But the weight may just be his winter coat.

Thankfully, his bandage gets removed tomorrow. He has pain medicine for a week, but he's getting lots of love and attention to help make up for the gap the medicine leaves.

Moral of the story: toenails are serious business.