Do you know Mary Oliver? She is a wonderful American poet who has won many awards and published a whole lot of poems over the course of her career. I was over in Laramie not too long ago and picked up a collection of her poems (among a few other things)(of course). I have been reading a few at a time, and was nearing the end but hadn't quite finished on Tuesday. That's the back story.
On Tuesday morning, I had to run the bi-annual Dillow Dentist Appt Circus first thing so Ellie didn't get her regular walk. After I got home, my window of time to spare for our regular route was closed but I decided we would just take a short trip around the 20th AF building and back the long way through the alley with camera in hand so I could check out the glorious trees that are fighting off the April winter that keeps hitting us.
(It really is among the most glorious parts of the year, these eight days of spring)
I had to get after Ellie near this big pink tree because she pulled on her leash and managed to get a rabbit bone in her mouth; big enough to choke her, so I had to pry her mouth open and cause a scene for anyone looking out of the 20th building as I wrestled it away from her. Gross. We kept on walking, around the alley to check out some more rare Cheyenne blooming things.
And then she pulled again—while she is the best dog, she's also an occasionally nasty one who loves to eat gross crap off the ground—so I got ready to pry her mouth open again and get whatever bone she grabbed out of her reach.
EXCEPT IT WASN'T A BONE.
IT WAS A SMALL RODENT HEAD AND ITS CREEPY LITTLE RODENT TEETH WERE PERFECTLY ALIGNED FACE FRONT IN HER MOUTH.
At this realization I whoooooooped and flailed around in an "OH HELL NO" dance of epic proportions. I certainly wasn't going to touch that, so we marched home with me muttering like a crazy person back through the alley.
Of course I wasn't letting her in the house with whatever decapitated head was rolling around in there, so I made a big show of how nasty herding dogs can just stay outside with their gross rodent heads and put her on her tie out, where she stayed for almost an hour doing whatever "I win" dance she was doing out there. When she barked, I finally let her back in because I knew she couldn't bark with it in her mouth.
Seriously. Dogs are so gross sometimes.
When Maddie came home, I told her the whole story (flailing OH HELL NO rodent stories are always a hit) and we went on about our day. Bridget and I had to go to a serious and intense meeting about the school situation for next fall, so we took off and left Maddie and Gracie at home (note: Matt was on TDY at the Tribal Council/Air Force meeting, foreshadowing).
Fast forward to about 45 minutes later, when Bridget and I are sitting at the serious and intense meeting which Maddie KNEW we were going to—and the phone rings. It's Maddie. I immediately decline the call and tell her we're at the serious and intense meeting, remember? and what does she need?!?
She texts back immediately: I NEED YOU TO CALL ME RIGHT NOW.
So I excuse myself and racewalk out to the hallway to call her back; when she answers, she is H Y S T E R I C A L. Like, I can't understand a word she's saying. She sounds like she's retching and bawling at the same time, and I realize that Ellie has probably had a massive heart attack and died in the time it took us to drive across town. Except no, that's not it—she finally gets enough words strung together that I understand that there is A PRAIRIE DOG HEAD ON HER BACKPACK.
[insert all the "you have to be kidding me" thoughts that one has when presented with the problem of a half-chewed prairie dog head on one's child's backpack]
I try to hiss-per her through her options (so as not to disrupt the meeting) and she eventually hangs up on me apparently because I cannot apparate to save her and her other parent is in another state. She was only able to carry her backpack to the top of the basement stairs where she LEFT IT FOR ME covered in paper towels; I made all sorts of slow motion startle noises while trying to pick it up with rubber gloves on and without accidentally uncovering it from the paper towels. After we recovered, Maddie finally found a small amount of humor in the notion that Ellie had carefully saved her prairie dog head to share with one of her favorite sheep; Maddie's always sharing her beef jerky with Ellie, so she was returning the favor! It was not our best evening.
Later that night, I finished my Mary Oliver book. One of the poems in the last section was this one:
by Mary Oliver
My dog came through the pinewoods dragging a dead fox—
ribs and a spine, and a tail with the fur still on it. Where did
you find this? I said to her, and she showed me. And there
was the skull, and there were the leg bones and the shoulder
I took them home. I scrubbed them and put them on a shelf
to look at—the pelvis, and the snowy helmet. Sometimes, in
the pines, in the starlight, an owl hunches in the dense needles,
and coughs up his pellet—the vole or the mouse recently
eaten. The pellets fall through the branches, through the hair
of the grass. Dark flowers of fur, with a salt of bones and
teeth, melting away.
In Washington, inside the building of glass and stone, and
down the long aisles, and deep inside the drawers, are the
bones of women and children, the bones of old warriors.
Whole skeletons and parts of skeletons. They can't move.
They can't even shiver. Mute, catalogued—they lie in the wide
So it didn't take long. I could see how it was, and where I
was headed. I took what was left of the fox back to the
pinewoods and buried it. I don't even remember where. I do
remember, though, how I felt. If I had wings I would have
opened them. I would have risen from the ground.
And that's when I knew: I am the opposite of Mary Oliver. When her dog finds a dead and decaying wild animal, she politely asks it where it came from. When my dog finds a dead and decaying wild animal, I throw an outdoors fit of epic proportions. When Mary Oliver has to decide what to do with said dead and decaying wild animal, she decides to carefully wash the bones. When I have to decide what to do with said dead and decaying wild animal, I kick my dog outside and tell her she can STAY THERE UNTIL SHE ISN'T SO GROSS. When Mary Oliver looks back fondly on how she felt about burying the dead and decaying wild animal, she imagines herself rising with wings in a triumphant swell of glory. When I look back disgustedly on how I felt about throwing the dead and decaying animal away in the trash can without actually touching any part of the trash bag or trash can, I shake my head and giggle over the ridiculousness of it all.
My friend Laura posted a funny question on Facebook today: what movie scared you to death when you were a kid? The answers were wide-ranging and often funny, because what's scary to one person isn't always scary to another (i.e. someone said Beetlejuice, which is a movie I inexplicably loved and watched multiple times growing up). And sometimes what's scary just makes no sense at all, as evidenced by our Clue-tastrophe in December 2013. Which, by the way, both Gracie and Bridget will use as their answer to this question when a friend poses it to them in 20 years.
It took me exactly .01 seconds to determine my answer to this question: hands down, The Day After. It was a made-for-TV movie that I watched in third grade (why, parents, why?!) that scarred me for life. LIFE, I TELL YOU. The gist was horrifying: the USSR launched a nuclear missile attack on the U.S., everyone's car mysteriously stopped on the interstates and highways just before impact, then everyone was zapped so you could see their skeletons and whoever didn't die immediately died a slow, terrible death from radiation sickness. I can still see the zapping skeletons walking down the street, and despite the fact that Matt assures me the car bit would never happen in the event of a nuclear strike, I still live in low-level fear of all the cars around me abruptly losing power. ZAP.
Aside: it is all kinds of ironic that I married a missileer, whose primary job in the Air Force is to mind the nuclear weapons.
As I was thinking about this horrifying chapter in my movie-watching history, I googled The Day After to see if it existed somehow on the internet. And then I found this article from the Washington Post, which made me screech to a halt:
What!??? THIS SCARRED OTHER PEOPLE TOO???
I have not watched The Americans but I think I might need to now. And the author of the article? He is older than me, but he gets it. It not only was a scary movie, it mirrored a scary time in which people like me really did worry about impending nuclear holocaust (at least some of the time). I don't think I will take the suggestion to relive it on YouTube, but I feel strangely comforted that there might be other people out there who get a little panicky when a car stalls nearby. Give me Beetlejuice anyday. Heh.
I will be honest: I don't pay that much attention to the different theories and technicalities of funding local government as a general rule. I do have a general distaste for the mysterious way in which schools were funded when I was growing up (and probably still) in Ohio, because it always seemed to be [this close] to failing—in fact, when I was in high school, there was a terrible game of tax chicken played that resulted in cutting the entire bus system for a school year and a whole host of other unpleasant losses as a result. I was too young to understand the details, but I sure remember how awful it was to have buses and sports and extra-curricular activities and investing in good schools be the bargaining tool of very angry people.
Needless to say, I love the concept of how Laramie County funds the things that make Cheyenne so liveable: the sixth penny tax. The state sales tax rate is 4%, and there's another 1% in our county that is used for specific purposes like roads, and then a voluntary 1% tax (the sixth penny tax) that goes into effect when the community votes on adding it to save up money for projects deemed good for the city. Once the money is collected, the tax stops until it's voted to be started up again. This is how our beautiful, state-of-the-art, never-can-find-a-parking-space library was rebuilt; it also benefits the more rural parts of the county by providing a revenue stream for projects that would otherwise be too expensive. Anyone who pays sales tax on a purchase contributes—tourists in from overseas for Cheyenne Frontier Days to 9 year olds spending their birthday money at Target—and eventually, enough is saved to do something important. I do not mind this tax even one little bit, and take pride in how our money spent locally benefits this community we've called home for a whole lot of years. (Incidentally, we've been legal voting residents of Wyoming since 2000, because transient military life allows you to establish your residency somewhere and keep it.)
There are nine 6th penny propositions up for a vote on May 2, totaling many millions of dollars, and spanning a wide variety of projects. One of those propositions includes a replacement facility for the city's gymnastics program, which is a very important part of our everyday life around here. While the City of Cheyenne does offer USA Gymnastics accredited programs (multiple levels of Xcel and Junior Olympics), it isn't just benefiting competitive gymnasts—the program currently offers over 30 classes, open gym sessions, and cheerleading training in addition to a Special Olympics program that operates during the school year. The gym is so well-run as a program but the current facility, built in 1974, is woefully inadequate for space, condition, and equipment:
Come see for yourself—it isn't a frivolous request to fix these issues.
The city gymnastics program has been in existence for over 25 years, serving hundreds of kids in that time; even if most don't go on to the crazy competitive gymnast schedule we run, there is no question that gymnastics is good for kids of all athletic abilities. It teaches discipline, safe risk-taking, physical awareness, and strength; it's also a great way to burn off some energy in the middle of the winter, which is how we got started in the first place so many years ago. Proposition 7 raises 6th penny money for a few causes, and building a modern replacement for the current facility is just one of those projects.
We've lived in enough places to know that it isn't always a guarantee that communities invest in themselves. Cheyenne has managed to build and maintain world-class facilities that make it a truly great place to live, and I so hope the option remains to continue funding the various visions of citizens who love it here, too. Polling stations will be open on May 2.
Ellie and I reached a big milestone today: our purple badge on the Nike+ app. To reach this milestone, the Nike+ app elves arbitrarily chose 1,553 miles as the goal—why not 1,550 I'll never know. We don't go fast, we don't go as far as we used to, but we stick to our routine in a very slow-and-steady-wins-the-race kind of way.
Even in the snow.
About two months ago Ellie and I were walking on our morning patrol and a car pulled up slowly beside me; an elderly gentleman rolled down the passenger side window and leaned over to tell me how nice it was that I took my dog walking so often, and that he often saw us on his way into the gym on base. I told him briefly about how I think all this walking has helped extend her life in the face of her terrible, no-good heart condition and he told me I was probably right, and to keep it up as long as I could. It was a nice exchange, and as he drove off I was touched that he stopped to tell me.
I took this picture to celebrate all those walks, because I don't know for sure if she'll make it to the end of the school year for our annual picture on the last day of school. On one hand, she has lived for 18 months on this heart medication. But on the other hand, she has lived for 18 months on this heart medication. After we came in this morning, soaked and cold from the heavy spring snow, I gave her a little bit of sausage that Matt saved out for me last night when he was preparing a dish for the Stride Cook-off tonight. I have been watching our progress and knew we would hit that mark today, and I wanted her to celebrate, too, because she earned it. Everyone's dog is the best dog, I know—but Ellie really is the best.
This might have been the longest gymnastics season ever this year—in both the worst and best ways. Despite the wear and tear on all of us from moving around so much the last few years, we've had some truly stellar gyms to land in—good atmospheres, good coaches, good teammates, good parent support, etc. Our year in Albuquerque brought the girls all of those things plus some lifelong friends for all of us. Moving away was hard. The girls went back to their old Cheyenne gym when we arrived this summer; even though things didn't end particularly well before we left in the move of 2013, we decided to give it another chance for multiple reasons: fresh start, new facility, etc.
It ended up being a disaster. For multiple reasons.
We switched gyms to the only other option in Cheyenne right after Thanksgiving (the city-run Parks & Recreation program), after more hand-wringing and advice-seeking and trepidation than is good for a family. We measured distances and cost and time commitment required to travel to Fort Collins, and came up with the same answer no matter how we looked at that equation: CRAZY. For gymnasts who spend 4-6 days of every week at the gym year round, a 50 minute drive at nearly twice the tuition just didn't reconcile right now. It was a difficult decision that came with letting go of a whole lot of baggage (long story) but it was the very best decision that we didn't expect to work out as well as it did. I would say one of the biggest highlights of the year was addressing that baggage, deciding to set it down, and watching it dissipate into the ether almost immediately. It was nothing short of miraculous, and we are so much lighter for it.
Because of the gym switch, Bridget got to compete in two separate seasons: the Colorado circuit which stretches from September to December, and the Wyoming circuit which stretches from January-March. All in all we traveled 4,630 miles to and from meets, including the drive I made to and from Denver to pick up our beloved Gianna who came for a choreography workshop.
FOUR THOUSAND PLUS MILES.
Here are some pictures of the highlights to help ease that craziness.
To avoid having the girls be on their own to choreograph their routines, we managed to hire Gianna to fly up from Albuquerque to run a two day intensive workshop. She is a masterful choreographer, and the routines she designed were wonderful. We miss her terribly but happily got to see her two other times during the season—at Winterfest in Denver, and at Regionals last weekend in Albuquerque.
Bee's First Meet in Sleeves
It's kind of a big deal when you move to long-sleeved competition leos, and Bridget was super-excited to compete in hers as a Level 3 last fall. (Less highlight-y: having to pay for three competition leos and warmups for a gym we left, but as many people pointed out it isn't worth sticking around just because you bought them.) She had a relatively OK season—threw her round-off back handspring at every meet, getting stronger and stronger as the season went on. It was a big challenge that she worked on very hard with her beloved Coach Stacey in Albuquerque before we moved.
Discovering a Secret Tattered Cover
OK, so this isn't exactly gymnastics-related, but it was still a highlight—on the way home from one of the many Denver meets last fall we stopped for lunch at Noodles & Co. in a fancy strip mall (lifestyle shopping center?) and discovered there was A TATTERED COVER NEXT DOOR. Happy days! We enjoyed a post-meet bookstore adventure and our noodles very much.
And then we switched gyms and things got so much better.
Here's a glimpse of that. Seriously. I have more to say about this particular facility in another post, but for now, I'll just repeat it was an #awesomeawesome decision.
The Crazy Sock Christmas Party
One of the benefits of switching was that our new gym has a very active team booster club that does fun stuff like have a Crazy Sock party for Christmas. Gymnasts are solo competitors, but teams are so important and it was nice that Maddie and Gracie especially had some different kids besides each other to look at all the time.
The First Meet of the Season
All three girls were able to borrow old competition leos for their first meet as Cheyenne Gymnastics gymnasts because we had to order them so late into the season. (If you're counting, we have SIX different competition leo + warmup sets now since all this competition stuff kicked off in 2010). They are bright. They are loud. But we've grown to not mind them as much. They lost a lot of time between June and November on skills training, but they felt ready enough to compete as Level 7s (and Bridget got four more bonus meets out of the deal). They qualified to compete at state at their first meet in Casper and that was a huge relief.
Having This Photo on My Phone For a Few Months
So this photo has nothing to do with the Dillow girls, but my dear college friend Alicia texted it to me and it was a highlight all the same. Her daughter trains in the same gym in Texas as Simone, so it's practically like we do, too. Haha. Alicia is one of my gym mom confidantes and I wish we lived in the same town.
That Time Bridget Beat Almost All the Ka-Larks in Casper
That Time We Got To Have Dinner With Jessica in Casper
Jessica is one of my beloved former students from Montana, who is now a full-fledged adult with a family of her own who happens to live in Casper; we were able to arrange to meet for dinner after the second Casper meet and it was so much fun to catch up. The last time she saw Maddie was when we hired her to be a weekend nanny when Jill and Curtis got married in 2003, so that was fun, too. Incidentally, Jessica was Maddie's age when I first had her in class. Time just FLIES.
Winterfest at University of Denver
This is probably my favorite meet of the season; the girls have competed at DU three times now and it's just such a cool experience. Even better: Maddie and Gracie were scheduled for the same session as their G Force teammates from last year, so there were many hugs and much happiness to go around. (Maddie has more pictures of her "bigs" teammates from last year that were there too, but I don't seem to have those handy). We really clicked with that gym and those teammates, so it was wonderful to see them if only for a session. Also: Megan came with us, and that was great fun. She plays hockey, so a gymnastics meet was... not like hockey. She had a good time though!
The first picture isn't exactly a highlight, but it is funny. When we got in the car in Cheyenne to drive the 3.5 hours to Rock Springs, it was around 65º. When we got out of the car, it was a raging snowstorm. We weren't exactly prepared the next morning for the cold weather (because when are we prepared for drastic weather changes in the Dillow house?) but it warmed up later and we even found a pink car parked that was worth a U-turn!
I took the gym photos again this year—smaller gym so not as much time as last year but still awfully fun. I kind of tolerated the warmups, but I loved their bright leos—they might be among my favorite of the six sets partially because they were just so different. You can't miss gymnasts from Cheyenne Gymnastics in a gym. Ha.
Grandma was able to come to Rock Springs with us for state which was fantastic! Less fantastic was that we brought Ellie with us as well, because she just can't handle the kennel anymore. She did not enjoy most of her time in Rock Springs. In fact, she didn't enjoy it so much she decided she would show us for bringing her there and threw a fit of dramatic deathbed proportions. Nothing that extending our hotel room for a night so she could take an afternoon nap on a hotel bed couldn't fix. SIGH. Highlight: she perked right up the minute we headed for home. Grandma enjoyed her time on the road far more and did not throw a deathbed fit, thank goodness.
The good news at state: everyone medaled! The bad news: everyone had something that didn't go right. But the good news: they all mostly shook it off. Maddie's "didn't go right" thing was the most alarming; it's a story better told in person, but it was a horrible, awful, and terrible in every way vault story. She brushed herself off and managed to win two gold medals and a bronze medal, earning fourth place all-around and a ticket to Regionals for Region 3 in Albuquerque.
If you're counting, that's four gold medals on balance beam in four different states, four different levels, four consecutive years in a row. (!!)
Gracie missed qualifying by the tiniest of margins and it was a crushing blow that took some time to recover from. But now she is bound and determined to make it next year for sure, and we have no doubt she will.
Two days after state Maddie catastrophically sprained her ankle. It was bad. Capital B Bad. However...
She did the hard work to get her sprain healed and even though we weren't sure she could pull it off, maybe even to the point of scratching one or more events, she DID IT. All four events, no further injury, and a 9.325 on floor with that beautiful floor routine that Gianna created for her back in September, the one she earned a gold medal for at state. It wasn't her best showing of the season but it was her most triumphant for sure. Our trip to Albuquerque last weekend marked the end of the season. It was really fun to share the experience with some very good Air Force friends who live in Albuquerque (incidentally, some of who are also hockey players) plus some G Force teammates who came to cheer her on. She got hugs from her old coaches, all kinds of good encouragement from her current coach, and the loudest cheering section in the room. Will, who is right in front, shouted in his little six year old Will voice: YOU CAN DO IT MADDIE! NOTHING CAN BRING YOU DOWN! during her beam routine and it might have been the sweetest thing ever.
They all can do it. They work hard, harder, and harder still, and they still love it. Which means I guess we'll be back for another year.
Working on more client projects all at once than I've had in a long time. Four, to be exact, all with deadlines on the sooner rather than later side. All good and exciting ones, so I'm certainly not complaining.
Thinking about how I used to do a much better job knowing what it was we were going to eat for dinner (see above).
Worrying about the terrible news that Bridget won't get to attend our beloved elementary school next year because the school district unceremoniously cut the (very successful) program the girls have all been part of in the interest of saving money. We've done nothing but talk up how exciting it will be for her to have the chance to attend the same school two years in a row (a first for her) and now that's not going to happen. (It won't affect Gracie, as she's headed to a new school for middle school in the fall). We had a long talk about how we know how to be tough in the face of new situations and school changes, but also that it stinks because we were so excited about not having to be tough for a year. Sigh.
Reading as much as I can squeeze in, which has helped me reach 17 books by mid-April. My goal is 35 for 2017, which in theory could happen. (!!)
Crossing my fingers that the icky weather forecast for the next four days will not keep the trees from fully blooming in full-flowered glory, which they are on the verge of doing.
Crossing my fingers again that the Cavs keep playing like they care to win some basketball games and don't get injured in the process.
Planning to host a dear former student and her husband for dinner on Sunday and I am MOST EXCITED. It is so bizarre to me that she was Maddie's age when I first had her in class. She wraps up her PhD program next month. I've said it once and I'll say it again, I know a lot of smarties from Montana.
Wishing for more hours in the day, which always means I just need to give up and go to bed.