Monday, August 28, 2006


Home is where the heart is. For me, this simple, well-known phrase is very true.

When I was in my 20's I moved about every 2 years. It became of joke in my family. But, I moved to better locations, larger apartments. Looking back, I believe I was always searching for my "home."

My parents moved into the house I grew up in when I was five days old. They lived there for 23 years. After I moved out on my own I started having dreams of that house. They were all pretty similar. I would be floating through the house. Sometimes the new owners would be there, but they couldn't see me. I would float from room to room and watch the activities of the people who lived there. At the time, I couldn't figure these dreams out.

Within a few years after Bill and I married (Bill being my late, ex-husband) we bought a typical Milwaukee ranch house. I don't think you could find two more excited people then we were. We put our hearts and souls into that house. And, we cultivated a beautiful garden. Bill had stunning rose bushes. The dreams stopped. I had a home.

When we divorced, Bill bought me out of the house. I moved into an apartment for 2 years. I had a very nice apartment and it was only 2 blocks from Bill. So, I was close to my old home and to Bill, as we remained friends and an important part of each other's life.

After two years in my apartment, and a long set of circumstances, my friend (and old family friend) Ray came back into my life. He quickly took an assessment of my situation and said, "Julie Ann, you need to buy a house." Yikes! I had no money, yet he persisted. So, with Ray's encouragement, I started looking for a house. Any house as long as it had a roof over it. I found out about a non-profit group that helped first time home owners purchase houses. Since I was single and had never bought a house on my own, I qualified. I took a 3-week course and received a small grant to be used towards closing costs. I looked for houses. I looked at houses that were falling down, I looked at houses so small my furniture wouldn't fit in the rooms, I looked at houses that while structurally sound, needed a ton of work just to be inhabitable. Finally, I found my house. Built in 1888, it was in good enough shape to live in. Just about every major item eventually would need to be replaced, but I could move in and do it all slowly.

So, I bought my house. My dear friend Sally came to the closing with me and we worked our asses off those first two days setting up my kitchen and cleaning. But, before we did anything, Sally and I smudged the house. Using sage, water and salt, we went to every corner of the house, both inside and out, bottom to top, blessing my new home. Ray came over and we painted. Friends helped me move. My dear brother-in-law, Marty, made repairs. Over the years, if I tried to count all of the things Marty has done for me, I'd need a calculator! Shortly after I moved in I had a house warming party. My friend Scott, a minister, blessed my house in front of friends and family.

And so, I had a home.

And, over the years I have replaced just about everything - a little at a time. Furnance, air conditioning, hot water heater, bathroom, roof. I survived a flooded basement and major plumbing work. Every year I had a little bit of electrical work done as my home sorely lacked outlets. I had my trim painted. Marty tiled my bathroom floor and Bill installed my medicine cabinet and vanity. When Bill died he left me enough money to remodel my kitchen and put in all new windows. Every room was eventually repainted. The staircase banister was replaced. The woodwork on the 2nd floor was replaced and/or painted. Repairs have been made to the back screened-in porch. My foyer, after being torn up for 6+ years, was finally completed this spring. I thank and bless each and every friend and family member who helped me.

All along, this house was my home. From the minute I moved in I felt safe and secure here. It has protected me from the elements and been my haven from all storms - literally and figuratively. With every improvement I have made I have felt the house give a sigh of relief. "Ahhhh", it seems to say, "that feels good. I think at this rate I will be around another 118 years."

I believe this house welcomed me with open arms (or doors, so to speak). It welcomed my dogs. My friends and family feel welcome here. It is comfortable and it is loved. I think my house reflects all of this and it reflects my personality.

Once, when I was in my 20s, a co-worker told me I was a "nester." It took me years to understand what she meant. I make my nest, feather it well, care for it and in turn, it cares for me.

There have been times I've screamed it at my house when there have been problems with plumbing, electrical or a million other things. Sometimes I've spent sleepless nights wondering how I would pay for something. For 2 years I worked a part-time job, along with my full time job, just to have some extra money. But, it has always worked out one way or another. Now, that so much as been done, my house shines for me. Sally has always talked to her houses. I do, too. Despite everything over the last 7 years, I have always thanked it. I thank it for keeping me safe and sound.

I am certainly not the first to live here and I won't be the last. I hope when I move to another place this house is as welcoming and comfortable for the new owners as it has been for me. That won't happen for some years to come and in the meantime I will continue to care and nurture my home, as it does for me.

This spring, while on vacation in Georgia, I bought a plaque that reads, "I am so blessed." When my foyer was finally finished, the plaque was hung on one of the foyer walls so that it can be read by all who enter my home. And, it's true. I am so blessed.

Home is where my heart is.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Doggie Parks/Doggie Walks

I love walking my "girls," Gracie and Lucy Lou.

Usually, we walk the neighborhood, taking different routes. Long before Lucy Lou joined us, Gracie and I knew every dog in a 12 block radius of our house. When Lucy arrived, a friend gave me a great 2-lead leash. It was a big adjustment for both Gracie and me to walk with Lucy. Lucy has 27 pounds on Gracie (who is a mere 11 pounds) and would shove her over to get to a good smelling tree. But, over time, Lucy has basically learned to walk on the left side and Gracie on the right side.

I have had to adjust my movements, too - keeping an eye on both dogs and well as being alert to where we are and any other animals in the immediate vicinity. Not to mention keeping track of their "moments" if you get my gist. (I should have stock in the "doggie poopie bag" companies!)

So, most days we walk twice - once in the morning and once in the afternoon - making our routes and enjoying the day.

I have always heard of dog parks located in Milwaukee County, but had never visitied one. That is, until this week.

Loading the "girls" in the car and driving 7 miles to the dog park is a pretty simple task. Both dogs love to ride in the car. Gracie, being the diva, sits in the front. Lucy Lou is very content in the back seat, checking out the surroundings.

Once there it was interesting to see their reactions. At first, Gracie liked the "idea" of the other dogs, but wasn't real sure. Lucy, being shy, didn't appreciate being sniffed at all. I noticed her hackles up every time a new dog came over and kept her very close. However, once in the park they were always off leash, I just really made Lucy Lou stay close.

This is a huge park, fenced in with nothing but open space. There are several paths to walk with a few picnic tables spread out. There are also "stations" which hold free "poopie bags" and a place to put used bags (owners must clean up after their dogs). Other owners have left dog bowls around, which can be filled up with water that you bring. There is a separate, fenced in area for puppies. To walk the whole park is a 3/4 of a mile walk. It costs $20 for a year to become a member of the park for one dog and $5 for each additional dog (up to 3 dogs per household). Such a deal! Your dog receives a special tag for their collar, which inidcates that they are a park member. The dog parks are run by Milwaukee County. You may also join ROMP, which is a advocate group promoting the dog parks. I plan to join very soon.

Now, after 5 or 6 visits, my girls are getting use to the park. By the second visit, Gracie trotted up to the very biggest dogs for some good sniffs. She adjusted very quickly and found lots of friends to run the fields with. Little by little, Lucy's hackles stayed down.

Today we went to the dog park and were joined by my sister and her Springer Spaniel puppy, Sadie. They went into the puppy area, while my girls and I walked the trail. For the first time, Lucy Lou actually ran ahead of me and off over the fields. She was so playful she actually scared little Gracie with her eagerness to play. I could see the smile on her face and she spun around with glee. She was one happy dog! It was wonderful to finally see Lucy Lou running freely with that crazy smile! But, as we approached the entrance and other dogs ran up to greet us, Lucy moved in closer to me and I put the lead back on her.

I am very enthused about the dog parks. I have noticed many people sitting around the entrance, chatting and have found them friendly. I'm hoping to make new acquaintances the more I go. And, I'm anxious to become active with ROMP.

Tomorrow morning the girls and I will walk the neighborhood. The dog park visits will continue, but we like our "in the 'hood" walks the best.

Alzheimer's La La Land

My Dad has Alzheimer's. Thankfully, he is living at a "health care center" a place previously known as a nursing home. It is part of a larger, elderly living arrangment complex. Actually, it is a nice place located on acres of beautiful, well maintained land with a river running through it. When my Mom was alive, they lived in independent living and had their own large apartment. After Mom died, Dad stayed in indpendent living, but his Alzheimer's slowly got worse and we moved him to assisted living.

In assisted living, he still had his own, small 2 room apartment and paid for the extra care he needed such has getting his meds, being reminded to go to meals, activities, etc. He was still very active and I loved going out there and walking along the grounds with him and my dog, Gracie. My Dad was always active and loved long walks.

After a fall and knee surgery last October we moved him to the health care center, where he has remained. Since then he had another surgery. After each surgery, the Alzheimers gets worse.

Today at his facility, there was a band concert on the grounds. My sister and I drove out and put Dad in a wheel chair and wheeled him outside to the concert area. It was lovely and so many people were there who knew him. However, he didn't remember them. At one point I said, "Do you know who I am?" He didn't remember. He didn't remember my sister, either.

It's sad. But, I try to see the best side of this situation. My Dad is very happy and always cheerful. He loves any type of company. He has always been a very friendly, social man and still is. Conversations with him are limited. He may not know who we are at any given time, but he is happy to see us. He really enjoyed the couple of hours outside, listening to the Dixieland jazz band. They played the "oldies, but goodies" music and he sang along. He talked briefly of playing the accordian in a band when he was a young man- in the 1940's. In fact, he seems stuck in the 1940s. That's OK. It was the best time of his life - he met my Mom, had 2 of his 3 daughters - life was good. Although he served as a medic in WWII, he was far behind the lines and never saw any fighting - just the results. The '40's were very happy years for him.

My Dad is 88. He has told us over the last couple of years that he would like to live to 90. Physically, despite his bum knee, he is very healthy.

Today, at the band concert, when I told my sister that Dad didn't remember we were his daughters or our names she teared up and said, "Maybe we should tell him he's 90."

Maybe so.