A Little Ball of Fluff.

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Mid-August, 2010. It’s been just about exactly five years now.

In April of 2009, my dad died suddenly and I know I’ve written about that here before. It was unexpected and difficult to absorb for  a long time. After all, for so many years he had been such a big part of our family. My parents had always been a huge part of my children’s lives.

There is that strange numbness that happens after a death, when grief seems to have hold of every piece of your body and everything you do seems to become mechanical. You’re on autopilot, without even realizing it.

At some point that year, through the stupor of mourning, it clicked with me that my children had stopped laughing.

I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before, other than I guess I had just been lost in my own head, my own feelings. But it struck me hard that day, when I realized I couldn’t recall the last time I had heard one of my kids burst out in laughter.

I didn’t know how to fix it. I could not even fix myself at that point.

One day, my two boys who at the time were about eight and ten came out of their room hauling filled-to-overflowing trash bags.

“Mom,” they said, “we need a pet. We want to sell our toys to get a dog. PLEASE.”

Now, the subject of getting a dog had come up before. But as a kid I had developed an allergy to most furry animals, and even as an adult, I could not even visit my sister and her min pins without a large supply of Benedryl and still having the delight of spending a couple days afterward with swollen eyes, hives, and an asthma flare. There are a lot of things I’m willing to sacrifice for my children, but I didn’t think oxygen could be one of them.

At the time, my husband was in college and had been talking to a classmate about the kids’ request. She told him she had a litter of puppies that were hypoallergenic, and he could have the pick of the litter. He came home and told me this, and I had a hard time believing such a thing existed. It sounded a whole lot like waterfront property in Arizona. After doing some research and finding such a thing was actually possible, we agreed to go and take a look at her pups, mainly just to see if handling them caused me to have trouble breathing or break out in a rash. But by the time we had come to this decision, she had already sold her litter.

Neither of us had had a dog since childhood, and we were both unsure of how to proceed from where we were. The last time I had a dog, my parents had gotten a Yorkshire terrier/poodle cross puppy from a friend. We named her Dixie. She was my best little buddy and she was run over by some little jerks on four wheelers when I was ten. That had been my last pet.

I was honestly reluctant about getting a puppy. I wanted to see the kids happy, I really wanted to hear them start laughing again. But as a mother of four kids already, I knew full well the majority of the work would fall squarely on my shoulders, and I didn’t really want a dog. But I was willing to give it a go. We called some local breeders and asked if I could come by and see if I had any sort of allergic reaction to their puppies, but they were not willing to let me do that.

At this point, my daughters had also caught the bug and were begging for a dog.

It was the middle of August, 2010. We had taken the kids to the mall to shop for school clothes and shoes. There was a newly opened pet store at the mall and we went in. They had little fenced in areas where potential buyers could take a puppy in to play, and we thought this might give us an idea of which dogs would not cause me to hack and wheeze.

If I had the information then that I have now about pet stores and puppy mills, I might have made a different choice. But at the time, I didn’t have that information. I didn’t know anything about dogs or shelters or breeders. I just knew that if we were going to do this thing, I first needed to make sure the animal wasn’t going to kill me.

So we went in and had a couple of puppies brought out. They were cute, for sure, and after explaining about my asthma and allergies, the staff was careful to only bring me puppies that shouldn’t cause me a reaction.

But there was this one pup. Up in the top corner square of glass, a little tiny ball of fluff. She was white with big brown eyes and a few brown spots and brown ears. She put her paw up on the glass and stared at my husband. He put his hand up to her paw and stood there, staring at the glass. A few seconds later, I saw one of the staff taking her down from her space.

I played with her a bit and held her close to my face and waited, but my eyes didn’t itch and my breathing was steady. I put her down for the kids to play with, and she turned on the charm. In what seemed to be a fraction of a second, my oldest son began to cry, big, fat tears streaking down his face. “Please Mom,” he begged in a broken little boy voice, “please. I love her already, Mom. Please don’t make us leave her here in this place. Please.” As I turned around, I saw my husband handing over a credit card. “Wait, wait,” I wanted to say. “I’m not sure…”

But the kids were so happy, and my husband was grinning and his ears were turning red, which was a sure sign of happiness. So we left the pup there and drove across the street to the pet supply store to buy a harness and leash and a crate and a few other necessary things. We went back to pick her up and bring her home. I felt completely unprepared and still slightly in shock of this huge commitment we had just made. I thought to myself about all the responsibilities I would now have, about getting up at night with this baby dog, and all of the extra expenses.

We had no idea what we were doing. We brought the puppy in the house and sat on the floor in a circle around her. She ran in crazy circles, her tiny fluffy white legs a blur. We laughed, all six of us.

We laughed.

I looked at my kids and they were grinning, laughing, falling over each other in glee.

We named the puppy Zoey, because it means ‘life’, and as cliché as it may sound, we really felt she had brought new life to our family.

I know there were a lot of ways we went wrong, trying to train this dog. Housetraining was a nightmare and I took a lot of bad advice from people I thought knew better than I, but I also read a lot of books about raising dogs and learned a lot in the process. And sometimes I would be cleaning the dog crap or vomit from the carpet and grumbling about how I never even wanted a dog.

But in the last five years, that little ball of fluff has grown on me, and somehow I’ve become her particular human. When I’m writing, she curls up on my feet. She’s my walking partner. When my sister was dying and I was lying in my bed, unable to function or care for my family, she stubbornly sat next to me in my bed, or if I sent her out, she refused to leave my door, sitting there outside my room for hours. When I’m sick, she’s right next to me.

As it turns out, I’m more of a dog person than I thought I was.

And the sacrifices I thought I was making to give this dog to my kids have come back to me tenfold.

I can’t imagine our family without this goofy ball of fluff.

We have another dog, a little yorkie, named Ziva. The two of them are partners in crime.

Every day we laugh, watching them run around the house. We take them on vacations with us, camping and to Ren Faires.

Even though they are a lot of extra work, and money spent when we don’t always have it…

It’s been worth it. Because no matter how much I spend on them, I’ll never be able to pay back the one thing they gave us when we needed it the most.

Laughter in the midst of grief.

And that has been well worth every penny.

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Cloud Watching.

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I’ve spent the summer fascinated by clouds.

When I was a little girl, I spent countless hours lying on the grass, watching clouds float by, trying to see dragons or trucks or sand castles in the fluffy white shapes twisting and shifting in the bright blue sky.

And this summer, for whatever reason, I’ve gotten back in the habit.

I’m still trying to find dragons. But it seems as I’ve gotten older, the shapes change faster than they used to.

No more do I see the shape and I blink and…it’s gone.

And I think, this is life.

For so many years, my father was a steady part of my life. Always there. Always ready to watch one of my kids when needed, or show up to help when something at my house needed fixing, or to offer advice when we were unsure about the next big step we should take. The last time I saw him, he was power washing the house, smiling and waving at me when I dropped my mom off at home.

And the next morning, he was gone. Just like that.

As I fell on the floor of the garage, crying out for my daddy, I wanted to rewind. I wanted so much to reach out and grab hold of the days before, squeezing those moments in my hands, holding them close to my heart and never letting them go.

But I couldn’t. Because clouds keep changing, even when we aren’t ready.

When my sister was sick, it seemed for a while that the clouds were frozen in space.

Everything was frozen. Even me. My soul.

Numb and frozen.

Then suddenly everything was in frantic motion again, and I wanted to re-freeze it. The night my sister died, I held her ankles. Everyone else was holding her hands or kissing her face and the only free space was her ankles, so I held on with everything I had.

But the cloud shifted anyway, and it cracked my soul with such violence, I wasn’t sure I could ever watch the clouds again.

It’s hard to live that way, not looking at the clouds.

It’s hard to watch my mom keep trying to shift and adjust when the clouds change.

Two weeks ago, my mom’s little dog got out of the fence and disappeared.

Immediately, my kids drove over to Mom’s house to look for him, but he wasn’t anywhere to be found. I put his picture up on Facebook, on local animal shelter pages, on Craigslist.

Every day since he’s been gone, I get up a little earlier and check the animal shelter pages for stray dogs.

I keep hoping to see his tiny face, so I can get him and bring him home to my mom.

No luck, so far.

I hate it.

I wish the clouds could just stay put. Just for a minute.

Just long enough to find the shapes and be able to sit and enjoy them.

Long enough to catch them in my hands and hold tight.

But they won’t, because that isn’t the way of clouds.

So I have to learn to appreciate those fleeting seconds when the shapes are just right, just exactly what I was looking for.

Because I know that in a fraction of a second they will change, but at least I had the joy of seeing the dragon.

I ain’t no follow back girl.

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“…and thus, if someone shall follow thee on Twitter, thee must also follow back in return, within twenty-four hours, or thee shall be smote with the fated curse of Twitter Isle.”

I’ve lost count of how many times I see rants about “I followed someone, and they didn’t immediately follow me back! I unfollowed that jerk!” or “My Magical Unfollower app told me that this person unfollowed me yesterday, so I unfollowed them! Hmmph!”

A few weeks ago, I went through my social media feeds, unfriending and unfollowing people I’ve never interacted with. Because honestly, why? If I haven’t interacted with someone in two years, why do we need to follow each other? I don’t know them, I’m not interested in what they are posting. They obviously don’t know me, and aren’t interested in what I’m doing. We aren’t family. We aren’t friends. I’m trying to clean my feeds up, get rid of spammers and those god-awful Twitter pyramid scheme posters.

Within hours, I started getting messages about “Oh my God, why did you delete me? Do you hate me? What have I done wrong? “

Which is bizarre, right? Because why are people so obsessed about this? People unfollow me all the time, and I only know that because I see my follower number fluctuate. And you know what? If you aren’t interested in what I’m doing, what I’m posting, then go. That’s fine. You are a human being with limited time, I expect that you want to have people in your feeds that you’re interested in seeing and keeping up with. Just like me. If I’m not what you’re looking for, please feel free to unfollow me. I’m not going to stalk you, spamming you with messages, begging you to follow me back. You are a person. You know what you like.

I realize I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Dude, I don’t even LIKE tea.

And I don’t have eleventy bajillion followers. Last time I looked, I had seven hundred and some odd. I’m a newish author, and still figuring out what I’m doing. But I know for certain that I’d rather have seven hundred legitimate followers, people who actually care about what I’m doing, who are interested in my writing news, or enjoy bantering with me on Twitter, than eleventy bajillion followers who are only there because they felt trapped into some weird “I followed you first and now you’re obligated” blood oath, or worse, because we’ve all signed up for some nightmare Twitter service that promises to RT my book sixty million times as long as I RT their porn and sunglasses. WHAT EVEN IS THAT.

I get that people maybe get excited seeing lots of numbers, but if nobody is actually interested in your book, what does it matter how many shares it gets? It’s just becoming a piece of spam, your book, your little baby you nurtured for so long, staying up late at night, getting up early to work on, because you believed so hard in it.

Look at the “big” authors, the ones who have absolutely made it. The ones we talk about only by last name.

They act like people on social media, right? They aren’t auto DMing, they aren’t RTing porn and sunglasses. They are writing, talking, joking, laughing, and writing.

I think the real key here is to be a person, not a bot.

Nobody wants to interact with a bot.

So I’ll be straight with you here: If you follow me, I might not follow you back. And the reverse is also true. I might follow you, with no expectation of reciprocation.

If I think you are funny, if I like your work, if I think we share common interests, if you like Outlander or the Walking Dead, if your books are on my TBR or my already read list, or if you are, say, for instance, Norman Reedus or Tobias Menzies, heck yes, Imma follow you.

That doesn’t obligate you in any way to follow me.

Let’s all put forth some effort into behaving like grown ups, shall we?

Even though it may seem like it is sometimes, Twitter, or any other social media is not the elementary school playground.

We are not five year olds, so we don’t demand things like, “Meet me by the swings at recess or I won’t be your friend anymore!” and we don’t throw temper tantrums over Twitter follows or send demanding messages asking why people have unfollowed us.

I ain’t no follow back girl.

I don’t expect you are, either.

Can we begin rewriting the “rules” of following on social media?

“…and the light shined down, and thus the Social Media goddess said unto us, “Thee is free to follow whoever thine heart wishes, because thee has free will, and the Immediate Follow Back law is no more.”