The Bridge Club

Elton HillsI grew up in a fairly idyllic neighborhood. We had sidewalks on which to roller skate, or throw annual bike parades. Basketball hoops in the driveways, a skating rink and sledding hill. Dad’s who went to work in the morning, and ate supper with their families every night. Mom’s who led girl scouts, baked class treats and made sure you got home for dinner when the street lights came on. We had sandboxes to play in and sprinklers to run through and played house in the basement and danced to the Monkey’s in the living room. On summer nights we sat on the porch and watched the big kids drive by, flew kites in the school yard and made forts under the picnic tables. And every third Wednesday night of the month our Mom’s played bridge.
On the day of bridge night at our house, I would come home from school to the sight of two card tables set up in the living room. The “bridge cards” set out and new bridge tallies on the tables. The bridge tallies usually had a theme, depending on what time of the year it was and there were always small dishes of candy and peanuts. On the dining room table the dessert plates and coffee service was set and there was always something special made for the “bridge club”. Yes, on the third Wednesday night of the month the neighborhood Mom’s ceased being mothers and became, “The Bridge Club”.  Bridge tallies

As a child I can remember laying in bed listening to the slap of the cards, the murmur of conversations and the bursts of laughter. Always wondering what they were talking about and how as a group they could set their tone so that little ears upstairs could not hear anything! Bridge night was sacred, Dad’s went to the basement, kids made themselves scarce and bedtime was adhered to, no whining or complaining. If we were lucky there was a little extra dessert made for us.

I am not exactly sure what year the bridge club started. Suffice it to say, it has been around as long as I can remember. Well over 50 years of cards, stories, and laughter. Kids grew up, and one did not. Parents died, and grandchildren were born. Anniversaries were celebrated in silver and gold and retirements flourished. Cancer and Alzheimer’s, new houses, new neighborhoods, RV’s and winter’s south. Life moved on every day but for the third Wednesday night of the month.

Eventually the third Wednesday night was traded for the third Thursday afternoon as spouses died, and eyes grew dimmer. Dessert was traded up to lunch, and great-grandchildren were born. Canes and walkers, hearing aids and trifocals had all been added to the mix, but cards and stories and laughter remained. Bound together by tradition, friendship and a deck of cards, eight women, over 50 years, a story in and of itself. On Monday they will gather, one less in their group, to say goodbye to Beverly. Seven women, bound together by tradition, friendship, a deck of cards and love.

Bus Riding Poodle!

Vivian added a new volunteer venue to her resume this past week. She is now an official Life Care Medical Center volunteer! Life Care is the hospital and nursing home in our neighboring city of Roseau, and we got interested in going there when we met Deb the RN at the health fair in Warroad last October. It took some time, a few emails and a call to the local bus to figure out the “How” and on Monday we had our volunteer orientation.

As some people know, I am visually impaired and no longer able to drive a car. I can see, but some things are distorted and other things may appear to be closer or farther away than they really are. I tend to trip over non-existent bumps in the road, walk into door jambs, and have given up on applying mascara, because the wand ends up in my eye more often than not. Technology is my friend, and I love my kindle, my 40 inch TV, my IPad, and my 32 inch computer monitor. I also love my chauffer, Mr. Puppyjackpot, who takes me wherever I need to go. Marvin flight at 5:30 AM on a Monday morning? No problem. The grocery store, the pharmacy, the bank, the Warroad Senior Living Center, he is on it. But asking him to take me to Roseau, to volunteer seemed just a bit over the top. Therapy Dog work is my dream, not his, and he already gives up an hour and a half each Saturday to take me to the Senior Living Center.

According to their website the FAR North Transit bus is GENERAL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION, and is for everyone. It is handicapped accessible transportation and anyone can ride regardless of age, race, sex, religion, or income. So did anyone include a black, standard poodle therapy dog? A few emails later and I had my answer; my therapy dog that was going to work at the hospital would be allowed to ride the bus as long as I was with her. Vivian is a really good and smart therapy dog, but so far she has only been allowed to work if I am with her, so no problem there!

Monday, I took the afternoon off, went home for lunch and picked up Vivian and her volunteer gear. Mr. Puppyjackpot dropped us at the parking lot at work where the Far North bus picked us up. As he opened the door the driver looked at us a little skeptically.
“Is that your therapy dog, the poodle?”
“Yes, this is Vivian” I replied.
“I thought she would be little”
“Is she too big to ride?” I asked.
“No, but they said she would ride on your lap.”
“She might, she fancies herself a lapdog and she has never been on a bus, so she might be a bit timid” I told him.
“OK, I got room, come on up”

Vivian walked up the steps with a little prodding, walked to the front seats, jumped up and took the window seat. I sat alongside her. As we headed down the road, Vivian sitting regally next to me, the driver kept shooting her looks in the rearview mirror. “I have never seen a dog like that!”

“A standard poodle?”
“No, a dog that thinks it’s a person”
“That my friend, is because you have never met a standard poodle!”

At the next stop Vivian watched as a man entered the bus, greeted the driver and sat across from us. Vivian leaning forward, turned her head and stared at the man, which I will admit was probably a little rude, but she is a dog.

“Tell your dog to quit looking at me”
“Vivian, stop looking at him,” at which point she turned forward and gazed out the window.
“Your dog understood that?” the driver asked.
“Apparently” I replied.
“What kind of dog is that again?”

And from the back of the bus, came the reply; “A very smart dog!”

Vivian is a therapy dog, volunteer, bus rider, poodle ambassador and yes a very smart dog!
riding bus

Poodle Commands

Mr.Puppyjackpot and I are heading home, after a weekend trip to the cities for our first ever Wild Hockey game. It is Monday morning and we are currently traversing the “bog road”, which reminds me of my first trip down this road. Almost 16 years ago I moved to Warroad with my heart poodle, Anna. This road gave me a serious pause, in the “this is a good move” mantra that was running through my head, and occasionally being said aloud to Anna, who was happily snoozing in the backseat next to my prized possession, my personal computer. Yep, it was on this road that it dawned on me that I had never asked if there was internet connectivity up here, and based on the road, the trees and the overall lack of civilization I was a bit concerned that my PC might become a doorstop!

My fears were unfounded, Warroad had dial-up, and while slow, it allowed me to connect with my poodle peeps on the informative, fun and somewhat volatile “Poodle Support Group”. Who knew that all these years later I would be sitting next to my husband writing my blog on my iPad, happy to be headed home. 16 years ago I knew nothing about husbands, IPads, or blogs! I wrote stories, but on my PC in Word Perfect!

Today on our way north, I pointed out the rest area where Anna and I stopped on that initial trip, and it got me thinking about those early years with Anna. She was not quite three when I moved to Warroad, the same age Vivian is now. She loved a car ride and like Vivian would jump in the back seat and snooze until we got our destination. It did not matter if the trip was 18 minutes or 18 hours, she would lay down in the back seat for a little nap. However, just as I remember doing as a child, at every town, she would pop up as though to ask “are we there yet?” On longer trips she would occasionally sit up, woof once, and lay her head on my shoulder which was her signal for “get off at the next rest area please”!

Anna was not quite two when she discovered the horn. I was living in Shaker Heights Ohio, and would often take her with as I ran errands. A couple of places I frequently stopped at were the dry cleaners and a favorite Chinese food restaurant that were in the same strip mall. One day while waiting for my clothes, I heard a horn honk. Turning around I saw Anna in the driver’s seat of my car, so I smiled and waved at her through the plate-glass window of the storefront. As I turned back to pay, I heard another short bleat of a horn but paid it no mind. One more somewhat longer blast and the owner of the cleaners wondered aloud, ” who is honking their horn?”, with a shrug of my shoulder’s I indicated I had no idea, went out to the car and praised my sweet poodle on her good behavior in the car!

A couple of days later I went to pick up my Chinese food order. I am patiently waiting for my food when I hear a short beep, followed a short bit later by a slightly longer beep, then beep, beep, beep in rapid succession. In walks the kid who delivered for the restaurant asking, “who owns the poodle in the red Oldsmobile?” I indicated it was me and asked if something was wrong, to which he replied, “I think she wants you to hurry up, she is sitting out there honking the horn!”

So my city poodle, who knew to stop and sit at every curb, knew which way was right and which was left, learned another new command that week. That age-old obedience command “No Honking!”

Peggy and Anna 1995

Peggy and Anna 1995

There is a reason they call it a Nursing HOME!

Not long ago I read a facebook post that likened prisoners to residents in nursing homes. In fact it stated that prisoners were treated better than nursing home residents. I have to admit, I physically recoiled when I read that statement. I have actually worked in a prison, filled with incarcerated adult males and I currently volunteer in a nursing home. To equate one with the other, when it comes to CARE-taking is, I believe, inaccurate and unfair.

I am not talking about funding, or resources, I don’t want to get into that debate; but this post was simply saying that prisoners were cared for better than those in nursing homes. Really? What are the metrics behind that statement? How many nursing homes or prison’s, for that matter had the writer been in? What is their definition of care?

I am in a nursing home weekly. I know the nurses, the aids, the activity coordinators, the receptionists, the cooks and the housekeepers. I have watched them clean up rooms, serve food, hold hands, play bingo, do nails, serve a Pepsi or a cup tea, locate a favorite CD or bring their puppies and new babies in on a day off. This in addition to also taking care of the residents health needs; no small task when we realize that most people don’t enter a nursing home due overwhelming “wellness”. Viv and feathers

I have watched nursing home caregivers provide a space for memorial services, serve the lunch after the memorial (because that is what we do in Minnesota) and I have seen them lead the memorial service when there was no one else to do it.

I have also seen them cry. Cry when a resident dies; cry while hugging a family member. Yes, even cry along with the volunteer dog lady the first time she experienced the death of one the residents she visited.

Frankly that wasn’t my experience at the prison. Three meals and a cot, isn’t the same thing at all. Now I am not saying that the people who work in prisons don’t care. I certainly did. But it is different kind of caring and a different kind of caretaking. And by comparing the two you belittle the nursing home professionals, the family members and the residents. A prison is where you stay, because you did something wrong. A Senior Living Facility is home.
Viv and Peggy volunteering

Slow Down, You Move too Fast!

It is hard to believe that yet another year is winding down. My husband and I were born in the same year; me in January and he in December. So yes, he is an entire 11 months younger than I am. This weekend while celebrating his birth, we both commented on hard it is to wrap our heads around our age! I am not one to dislike birthdays, as they sure beat the alternative, and frankly I adore a day that is all about me, but still it surprises me to realize that I have probably celebrated more birthdays in the past then I will in the future. With our mutual birthdays comes the realization that another year has sped by and seemingly faster than any preceding it. I so clearly remember sitting in class at Elton Hills Elementary School thinking that the clock would never get to 3:30! Now I routinely yelp “Yikes!” when I realize that I have worked late and my husband is patiently waiting for me in the car to go home at the end of the day.

Vivi Christmas cardWhich brings me to the dogs! I know they have some concept of time, as when I have been home with them they routinely know when to sit in the window and wait for Greg to come home from work, and at 9:45 AM everyday they want to go out (that is when Nana comes up to see them every day, but even on the weekends they head to the back door at 9:45). So what tips them off? The sun in the sky? Their bladders? My first poodle Anna headed to bed every night at 9 PM. A party could be in full swing and she would stand up, stretch and walk into the bedroom. Bedtime for her was 9 PM and no one kept her from it; not even Daylight Savings Time! Do the days seem endless until we get home, or do the awaken at 3:45, stretch and go to their watch stations (Ike in my recliner, Vivian in Greg’s) to await our arrival, thinking we just left?

I probably will never understand the concept of dog time, I just know that this is the time of year for reflection. 2013 was a good year. Vivian matured, as two year old dogs will do, and Ike has settled into his role of big brother/put-upon Golden with grace and dignity. He growled at Vivian once this year, and that was over a stuffed duck. Don’t mess with Ike’s stuffed toys. I think he could growl a bit more, but he is a gentle giant and will probably continue to put up with Vivian’s playful and not so playful ankle biting for the rest of his time with us. “Vivian, leave Ike alone!” is a daily statement at our house. Ike, Ikey, Iker is a lover, not a fighter and makes us smile every day. People ask me why Ike isn’t a therapy dog and I tell them, “He is, he just has enough private duty work at home to keep him busy”.Ike snow smile

Despite her need to pester her big bro, Vivian really did mature. She has taken her responsibility as a therapy dog to heart and seems to revel in her work. Together we truly have become a therapy dog “team” and it has been such fulfilling work. As will happen when you volunteer at a nursing home, some of our residents have died, but then we meet new residents who want to talk to Vivian. I knew we had made an impact when one day a nurse tracked us down on our rounds and asked us visit a new resident. She told me that Vivian was just what he needed, and after we visited commented that his smile when petting Vivian was the first she had seen since he had moved in a few days prior.

In 2014 I hope to add some more responsibilities to our repertoire, and perhaps work with kids who have trouble reading. I have no doubt Vivian would be good at it, I just need to figure out how to fit it in. To get her ready to venture out into a more public arena with different kinds of people we have volunteered at our Company Health Fair, and at the Library Holiday Open House. We not only get to educate people about therapy dog work, but also do some breed education and dog citizenship education too.

As for the people of Puppyjackpot, we had a good year as well. We continue to work for a great company and are surrounded by great friends; are able to enjoy the beauty of Northern Minnesota, travel when the mood hits us, and have our wonderful moms and siblings in our life while reveling in the accomplishments of adorable kids we didn’t raise but love as our own; our nieces, nephews and now great nephews! We also celebrated 14 years together and six years of marriage this year.

In the interest of time I should really wrap this up, so as the clock heads toward 2014 I wish you a happy new year, filled with love, laughter and puppy licks! Christmas card 2013

Time for a flu shot!

August, September, October; how time flies when you are having fun and then recuperating from having fun!cruise balcony sweden

August found me and Mr. Puppyjackpot flying to Europe on a long- planned and much- anticipated Baltic Cruise. Since this is not a travelogue, I will not bore you with details but suffice it to say we had a fabulous time and the hardest part of the trip was leaving the puppies!

I often hear from other dog owners that they have never left their pups in a kennel, AND NEVER WILL!! They always say that last part quite adamantly as though a stay in a boarding facility is akin to a prison sentence. Then they ask me, “What do you do with your dogs when you travel?”

Guess what? We leave them at the kennel. I strongly believe that you should get your dogs accustomed to boarding from the time they are young. Get recommendations, find a kennel that you think you might like, visit it a few times prior to leaving your dogs, and then leave them overnight for just one night the first time. See how it goes. Once they get use to it, and realize that when they go to the kennel, you always come back for them, it will be fine. The kennel we go to is clean (probably cleaner than my house), spacious, and the owner keeps track of eating, peeing and pooping. What more can you ask for? The puppies arrive wagging their tails, and when they leave they always pause to give Mrs. Kennel Owner a good bye lick. I love my dogs, but frankly I am not going to give up traveling for the next 15 years. Not to mention, if every dog in my extended family showed up for Christmas there would be no room for the people.

Vivian comforting momVivian has been somewhat lax on her therapy dog visits, although through no fault of her own. August was a busy travel month and so we only were able to visit once. Upon our return from Europe both Vivian and I were excited to get back to work and we had fun reuniting with all of our friends. Vivian got lots of pets and I got lots of reprimands for being gone for so long. Shortly after that visit I came down with bronchitis, which quickly morphed into pneumonia and thus ended our visits for several weeks. But Vivian, ever the therapy dog, simply transferred her work to home, and became a home health therapy dog!

Earlier this summer I mentioned that I have been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. While unhappy with the diagnosis, and not thrilled with the treatment, I am happy to know the devil I am dealing with now. I am not an RA blogger and don’t intend to become one, but if you want to know more, is a great source of information. What I do know is that the dogs have been a great source of comfort, cheer and reason to move this summer and fall. When my depressed immune system decided not to fight the nasty European bug I caught, I could have easily fallen into “woe is me” syndrome; however the dogs wouldn’t let me do that. They have to be fed, they have to potty and they require a certain amount of petting everyday or they get crabby. Mr. Puppyjackpot would say that sounds a lot like his wife! Ike sleeping

So with a little lovin’ from Therapy Dog Vivian, her big bro Ike and the fabulous Mr. Puppyjackpot, I am feeling better, back to work and looking forward to our visit to the Warroad Senior Living Center tomorrow. To all of our local fans, visit the Marvin Windows and Doors Health Fair and the Warroad Senior Living booth October 28th and 29th. Vivian will be there from 2-5 PM for petting, photo opportunities and some emotional support before you get your flu shot!

It is hard to believe that summer is in the past and we are halfway through September! I live in Waytofarnorth Minnesota for the quality of life, the quality of men (I met my husband here) and the fact that after 15 years it has become home; but I do not live here because of the weather. Nope, summer is perfect but way too short as far as I am concerned and autumn, my favorite season by far, is often way too short or nonexistent as well. Let’s see, according to the photos on my Facebook page, snow flew on October 4th last year which is a mere two weeks away.

vivian hoseSo as I bemoan the end of summer, the pups continue to enjoy each and every day and whatever the weather brings! Vivian and Ike do not share my former poodle Anna’s fear of storms, for which I am grateful. Loud, sudden noises for which they are unprepared scare the living daylights out of them but thunder or hail does not seem to faze them at all. And going out in the rain? No problem! Vivian probably thinks that rain is just a giant hose from above! Vivian continues, ate age 2, to enjoy a romp in the hose. Ike, being older and wiser enjoys watching Vivian romp from behind Greg’s perch on the porch swing. Ike is funny, he doesn’t like getting doused with a hose, but open up the shower door and invite him in and he is happy to take a refreshing shower in the house. He especially likes the massaging showerheads!

Both enjoy being out with Greg and helping with “stuff”. Early on with Vivian we worked and worked on recall because I wanted Viv to be able to go outside and hang out with Ike and Greg. All the work paid off and she is a rock star when it comes to sticking around and not going outside the confines of the yard. Interestingly, neither dog really wants to be out in the yard without me or Greg. If we go in the house, they are soon at the front door ready to come in as well. Ike fishing

After work each night Greg changes clothes and asks the pups, “Who wants to go to Nana’s?” Nana, aka Mom, aka Donna lives next door, across a farm field. At Nana’s there are all sorts of fun things; a shed filled with critters, a garden to weed and trees to serpentine through. Not to mention Nana herself, who has a dedicated kitchen drawer for dog treats! This summer Vivian learned how to weed the garden and dig potatoes. Of course once the potato was dug she just ran around the yard with it in her mouth, but one lesson at a time, next year is soon enough to learn the next step in harvesting.

vivi fishing juneVivian and I continued our volunteer work this summer. We had to work around fishing, so sometimes we went on Saturday mornings and other times later on Sunday afternoon, but pretty much weekly we made it to the Senior Living Facility. My favorite visit this summer was on the 4th of July. We decided to go in that morning, before the festivities began in town, not realizing that the 4th is a big time for family reunions and that the residents might have a lot of company that day. Sure enough the place was packed and as we headed around a corner I heard “It’s the Therapy Dog! There is Vivian!” Suddenly Vivian was surrounded and getting her picture taken with various people, both small and big. As I looked around I realized I didn’t know any of these people, yet they all knew about Vivian. It was then that I realized I had started something I could not quit, Vivian means something to the residents and therefore we are in this for the long haul!vivian Sept