“Guest Post” by Boone

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Here is my shelter portrait

Hi, my name is Boone or, at least, I think it is. Sometimes my humans call me Abe, but whenever they do that, they’re quick to say “Boone” right after. I was a puppy in Kansas for a while, which was boring because my first home was just a basement, and there was no one to play with me. When I went to the shelters, it was still pretty boring because there wasn’t enough snow and a machine played calming classical music whenever they turned out the lights. BOR-ING.

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I really like the snow

They made me wear a Christmas bandana for my picture, which Katherine loved. Maybe that’s why she and Matt drove all the way to Kansas to get me. She hasn’t made me wear any bandanas in Laramie yet- probably because she knows I’d chew them all up. I love to chew.

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Sometimes chewing gets me in sticky situations, like here when the curtain attacked me

It’s probably my favorite thing- except snow. I like to chew snow, too. And socks, curtains, blankets, beds, shoes, toys, the couch, balls, rugs, leashes, pots for plants, sticks, dirt, poop, and actual food. There- I think I’ve named all the things.

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Almost forgot the frisbee incident. Thankfully Matt and Katherine were there to help me- after they took a bunch of pictures

The people at the shelter thought I was going to be a big dog. Sometimes Matt likes to measure me with measuring tape, or take me to the nice place with treats where everything smells AMAZING like other animals to weigh me. It’s hard to stay on the scale though because I have a lot of wiggles in my system to get out.

Going to the dog park is a great way for me to get all of my wiggles out, unless I have to ride in the car to get there, which is VERY SCARY. Once I’m there, I get to play with other wiggly dogs and annoy all the ones who aren’t as wiggly. I also like to get my wiggles out all over the couch and Matt and Katherine’s laps. They are always so still and quiet on the couch- it is very BORING. Wiggling on the couch is also a great technique for me to shed some extra fur.

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Matt and I are both smiling on the couch in this picture, but I am doing more wiggling

Last weekend Matt and Katherine picked me up (which I DON’T like) and put me in this scary thing called the bathtub. They poured water on me and scrubbed me with this stuff that smelled very weird, like oatmeal, and not like dog at all, which I’m pretty sure is how I’m supposed to smell. I hope they never do this ever again.

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Me in the bathtub- yuck

Anyway, I like my new home because I get to run around in the backyard, go for walks, do some tricks like SIT, SHAKE, DOWN, and LEAVE IT, but not others like COME HERE or DROP IT. But most of all I get to chew.

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Here I am taking a break from chewing on a big stick

Matt says when the snow goes away, we can go camping. I don’t know what this is, but if it has anything to do with chewing, and nothing to do with riding in the car or going into the bathtub, count me in!

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Bye for now!

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Meet Us: Matt & Katherine, a Valentine’s Day Post

I was inspired by this blog post from Free People to create a similar question-and-answer format post about Matt’s and my relationship. With Valentine’s Day coming up, it seemed like a perfect time to do it! I hope you are as uplifted by our answers as I was by Matt’s.

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At Summersville Lake in West Virginia, 2010

  1. How did you two meet?
    Matt: Katherine and I met at a UNC Outing Club meeting in the fall of 2008. However, Katherine does not remember this and thinks we met at the climbing wall about a week later. I guess I didn’t make a good impression at the meeting and it took some sending to get her attention.
    Katherine: Apparently I don’t remember the first time we met, but I do remember the second, at the climbing wall at UNC, where we were both undergraduate students. Even though Matt is older than I am, he was also new to campus because he had just transferred schools, which I think made me less intimidated by him. I liked his freckles and eyebrows, and I was impressed by his climbing expertise. And his muscles.
  2. Briefly describe one another.
    Matt: Red hair. Cold hands. How briefly?
    Katherine: Matt is very kind and somewhat introverted. He has a great sense of humor and takes responsibility for his actions (sometimes too much responsibility). He loves being outside. He has auburn hair, brown eyes, and an adorable dose of freckles.

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    Goofy in San Francisco, 2015

  3. What do you admire most about one another?
    Matt: Katherine’s resilience in the face of difficulties has surprised and impressed me. She always finds a way to find joy in the little things, even when life is throwing obstacles at her. I didn’t really know this about her until we had been together for a while, because life is pretty rosy when you are in college and the whole world is your oyster. When the real world kicks in — grad school rejections, annoying or malicious co-workers, unanticipated bills — things change. I know these things are still troubling to her, but she doesn’t let them consume her and is still able to jump for joy at the prospect of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. I’m not this way at all. I also admire how dedicated she is to teaching yoga. Getting up at 5:30 am in below-zero weather for very little pay is insane.
    Katherine: His ambition- Matt has high expectations for himself, and I love to watch him meet or exceed those expectations, like when we go climbing together and he sends a hard route. I also admire his willingness to go out of his way to be kind to others, even when it is inconvenient for him. Matt is a very thoughtful, intentional person, which makes his actions very meaningful. Watching him be kind to others warms my heart-  it’s like a little validation: “Aah, this is the person I love.”
  4. What is something people may not know about your relationship?
    Matt: She is the messy one.
    Katherine: Having a dog is a great way to test out your boyfriend. I love to watch Matt play with the dog, laugh and cuddle with him, and even sing to him. Yes- he sings to the dog! This probably just means I’ve rubbed off on him. Also, Matt doesn’t appreciate throw pillows, so I know when Matt’s been on the couch because all the pillows end up stacked on the armchair.
  5. What is your favorite thing to do together?
    Matt: Taking a walk or hike with the dog.  The house can be filled with distractions, some of which are stress-inducing (clutter, bills, chores to be done) and can pollute the dynamics of our relationship.  Getting outside gives you some space and perspective.
    Katherine: Although I do love camping and hiking and climbing with Matt (I’d totally get lost in the woods without him), I also really enjoy more mundane moments- couch conversations, beating him at Boggle, playing with the dog, etc. These little moments remind me that we’re spending our lives together, which is lovely.

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    Us + Abe in Ten Sleep Canyon, WY in 2013

  6. What is the most romantic thing she/he has ever done for you?
    Matt: She moved to Wyoming with me.
    Katherine: One Valentine’s Day Matt recited some of Pablo Neruda’s poetry to me in Spanish, which (obviously) I loved. I also like to tell people about when Matt was trying to convince me to move to Wyoming. He actually created a PowerPoint presentation with information about Laramie, including things specific to my hobbies and interests, and then pitched it to me. *Swoon.*
  7. When did you know you were in love?
    Matt: I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the word love (as used by dating couples, not parent/child, etc.) because it is very vague and means something different to everyone. To texting teenagers love means infatuation. To elderly couples it means a lifetime of understanding. As a couple in your 20’s, you are navigating the space in-between. I think this leads to a lot of disappointment for people.  How many times have you heard some variation of, “He/she said they loved me, but he/she did this!” It is possible that the offending party lied, but it is also possible that they have a definition of love which is not inconsistent with their behavior. Maybe their definition didn’t include a commitment to the relationship if the other person moved far away, but the other person’s definition did. My preference is to try to define love based on observable actions or attitudes. Love means a willingness to sacrifice your own well-being for the other person. Love means a consensus about what things are important in life. Love means physical intimacy. Love means patience and acceptance. Ideally, I would like to think that how Katherine and I define love has evolved together and that our definitions have converged, but I think this process takes a very long time. There are a lot of divorces. So, back to the question — when did I know I was in love with Katherine? Probably when we adopted Abe and started building a life together. Although, as my definition of love matures and evolves, maybe it was actually when we moved to Wyoming, life threw us some obstacles, and we found out how to still make it work and make each other happy.
    Katherine: I like to think of love as total acceptance. When people say “I love you,” they mean (or should mean), “I accept you as you are, in every way.” Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things with which I disagree, or that I would change, if I could. But to love someone is to acknowledge that person as they are, and to realize some things may change, and others may not. I loved a lot about Matt when I first met him. He was gracious, funny, and handsome (that always helps). The first time we said “I love you” to one another was the summer after we’d started dating, maybe 7 months into the relationship. I said it first (no surprise there), and he said he’d have to think about it and get back to me. I know. Was he playing hard-to-get? Probably. He “got back to me,” if I remember correctly, later that week. And the rest is history!

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    Atop Stone Mountain in North Carolina in 2010

  8. Any relationship or dating advice you would give?
    Matt: No, I have no idea what is going on.
    Katherine: Go on trips together, and prioritize mutual experiences over material gifts. Being able to say, “Remember that time we went to x and did y?” and reminisce together is invaluable. Building these experiences also brings you closer together because it gives you common ground, and helps you think from similar perspectives. The last advice I’d give, mostly because I’ve read it and find it super helpful, is to simply be kind to one another. People have a tendency to treat others who are closest to us- our family, namely- like crap when we’re in a bad mood, or not feeling well, or when someone else has wronged us. Not only is that unfair to your partner, it also sucks them into your poor mood, and disregards their needs. What if they have some great news to share with you, or if they were feeling particularly good about themselves, and you just walked in the door and tore all that down with your bratty mood? Even if your self-pity or whatever is totally legitimate, your partner still deserves your kindness. Be polite. Be interested in what they find interesting. Listen to them. Be considerate of their preferences, just like you would to a coworker, or a stranger, or someone you just met.
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Being fancy in North Carolina in 2010

Happy Valentine’s Day! Tell your loved ones you love them. Love to all!

When Life Ends But Love Doesn’t

My grandmother, Anne Carter Webster, passed away at home on Tuesday December 15th. She’d been diagnosed with terminal leukemia a week prior to her death. She was 75 years old.

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Gammy in 1961

My mom asked if I’d write something to read for the funeral last Tuesday, the 22nd. The following is what I wrote, and subsequently read.

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A note before I begin: Anne Carter was our “Gammy,” so feel free to substitute “Gammy” with “Anne” throughout, if you’d like.

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From L to R, Gammy, Granddaddy (Bob Webster), my mom (Meredith), and Gizmo the 16-year-old miniature poodle

Mary Oliver writes a poem that goes: “To live in this world/ you must be able/ to do three things/ to love what is mortal;/to hold it/ against your bones knowing/ your own life depends on it;/ and, when the time comes to let it go,/ to let it go.” At some point in life, we all struggle with any of these: how to have the courage to love the transient things and beings we come to know in this world, and how to cope with loss, once death has taken away those we’ve loved. Not to mention how we struggle with our own mortality, our impending, inevitable, mysterious departure from this earth. Mary Oliver calls for us to let go when the time comes, a response that’s imbued with such trust– trust in God, in God’s plan for our lives, and the wisdom of knowing that, sometimes, fighting circumstance accomplishes no more than furthering suffering.

God guided Gammy through a beautiful life, and she knew God would guide her, through death, to a heaven of unimaginable beauty. So then, how do we tackle this paradox- to love Gammy, but to let her go? To cherish her life and memory while accepting her death? This is one of life’s great big beautiful mysteries, isn’t it?- to accept all truths- not just accept, but to let it all in; to let them “violently sweep your house/ empty of its furniture,” as the poet Rumi says– even when they tear at our understanding of justice, or love, or the fundamental laws of the universe.

The great writer Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful/ though you have considered all the facts.” So here are the facts: Gammy had terminal leukemia, and it ended her life. She also lived that life, 75 years of it, among and with us, and she loved us as she trusted God’s plan for her, and for her to be with and love each one of us.

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Gammy holding her two children, my Uncle Penn and my mom

I am reminded of the last conversation I had with Gammy. It was over the phone this past Thanksgiving. I’d just euthanized my dog, Abraham, after a month-long struggle with illness, and she said two things to me. The first, after expressing her sorrow, was, “Aren’t dogs just wonderful?” The second, “You need to get another one.”

What a terrific way to live- to get to say, “that was wonderful,” and, “let’s do it again.” So, if Gammy was your friend, bask in the beauty of that friendship. If she was family, continue to cherish your family now. Because, in the shadow of loss, and sadness, isn’t life still wonderful? Because, by now, I know you’ve considered all the facts- so let us now be joyful, and hold that joy against our bones as if our very lives depended on it because, in a way, they do.

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My mom and Gammy being joyful on my parents’ wedding day in 1985 (my dad is in the background on the left)

What Dogs Teach Us

In the morning I am careful not to step over any of the pawprints dotting the snow in our yard. In fact, I find one with particularly crisp edges, not yet touched by sunlight, and I squat down to touch the cold circles and corners. I do this because, once this snow is gone, no new pawprints of this same shape and size will ever grace our lawn again.

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Matt and I made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize Abe the afternoon of Monday, November 23rd. Abe’s health had been deteriorating for a month, to the point that he was no longer himself, physically or emotionally. Toward the end of this post I detail exactly what happened regarding Abe’s health, in case you are curious, but I’d like this post to be primarily about Abe’s well-lived life, not his death. So in this spirit I continue.

This past summer, at our family beach vacation in North Carolina, my aunt Morgan brought up the subject of pets. My little cousin Catalina, her daughter, had begun asking for a dog. As you can imagine, at the age of 4 she was starting to realize many of her friends had dogs at home. Morgan never grew up with dogs, and didn’t really understand the appeal. To her, it seemed like the only dog stories she ever heard from her friends were how their pets peed on the new carpet, chewed up articles of clothing, racked up vet bills, or ate food straight off the counter. So then, why have a dog?

Thank goodness there are many thousands of lifetimes’ worth of evidence in support of how awesome dogs are. I offer you just one.

I’ve already written about how I came to adopt Abe, my best friend. Matt and I are still in shock from loss but, as we continue to reflect on our time with Abe, we’ve realized how incredible a presence he was in our home and in our lives. Here are some of the lessons Abe taught us.

  1. Treasure the downtime.  During certain moments, we (people) have a tendency to take a step back and knowingly say to ourselves, “I’m adding this one to my highlight reel of memories.” These are often the big moments: college graduation, the first time I saw our house in Laramie, taking Abe from the shelter straight to PetSmart because I didn’t own anything a dog owner should. But small, subtle moments are added to this highlight reel too, and they often become more representative of our time together than the big ones. Abe loved to be in our backyard, after much hubbub about the doggy door. It was one of his favorite places, even though he allowed the rabbits to wreak havoc on my garden.
    IMG_9055I snapped this photo of him doing his typical rounds of the backyard, after which he’d lie down in the grass and fall asleep.
  2. Smell ALL the roses. Not just one, because not all roses are the same. And if you’re not going to smell them, then why the heck are you outside in the first place?!
  3. Patience is unconditional love in action. Dogs are basically the epitome of unconditional love, in case you haven’t heard, but they are also animals living in human homes. Accidents happen. Once, shortly after I got Abe and before we knew that he couldn’t handle rawhide, we gave him a rawhide bone and he subsequently had diarrhea all over my carpeted apartment. In the extra bedroom, he pooped right in the center of the room, then nosed a book from the bottom of the bookshelf over to cover up his mess. (Author’s note: I do not have a picture of this incident. You’re welcome.) I could tell he’d screwed something up because, when I came home from work, he was cowering in a corner and wouldn’t make eye contact with me. Sure, it took me the better part of two hours to clean everything up- but it wasn’t Abe’s fault. If there was blame to be assigned, it fell with me for giving him a treat his system couldn’t handle. So, to look a gigantic, terrible mess in the face and sigh, then deal with it- knowing it’s useless to be angry- that’s one thing Abe taught me.
  4. Don’t hesitate to show your affection. Smile at the people you love when they enter the room. Greet them every time they come home. Give them hugs and kisses. Be happy and grateful that you have the opportunity to love them, even if they’re not paying as much attention to you as they should.
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

    Abe in the backyard, taking himself very seriously

    Abe in the backyard, taking himself very seriously

    Stop thinking so hard about it. Take time to step away from the stressful situations in which you find yourself. We are fond of saying that Abe decompressed situations. Often Matt and I would be on opposite sides of the kitchen or living room, arguing about something we’d heard on the news, and Abe would saunter in, sit between us, and fart- loudly. We couldn’t take anything we’d been saying seriously after that. Though it’d be presumptuous of me to say that Abe took pride in his ability to dissolve our arguments, I don’t think it’s a very far-fetched assertion. When you find yourself in the midst of an intense or difficult situation, take a brief moment to step your mind out of that experience, and breathe.

  6. Take pleasure in the simple things & don’t be afraid to ask for more– mainly food and belly rubs, even if they are part of your routine. Just because you eat three times a day doesn’t mean it’s not still amazing. And don’t be ashamed of your passions and desires; embrace them. You have passion because you are alive, and because you want to be alive! Don’t rob yourself of that beauty.
  7. Life is short. Matt suggested I add this one. It’s true. I adopted Abe on Saturday, August 27, 2011; we were together for just over 4 years. Matt and I feel robbed. Four years were not enough, by any measure. It is a cliché now, but don’t take for granted the time you get to spend with those you love, especially during this holiday season. Say what you want to say. Make that time meaningful. Put away your phone or your new Christmas present so you can have a real conversation. Tell your loved ones that you love them, unabashedly, and without attachment to their potential response. Be honest, and loving.

We were so lucky to have Abe in our lives for these short four years. He converted every person he met into a dog-lover. We love you always, Abe.

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Here is what we know about Abe’s illness.

First, he stopped eating, and what he did eat, he threw up or regurgitated. Then, right after Halloween, he contracted pneumonia and was on IV antibiotics for several days at our local vet’s office. After blood tests, x-rays, and an ultrasound, they determined he had megaesophagus, a condition with many possible underlying causes that is characterized by failure of the muscles in the esophagus to propel food into the stomach. When food does not end up in the stomach, it is either regurgitated or aspirated into the lungs, causing pneumonia. There are special ways to feed dogs with megaesophagus, none of them quick or simple.

Abe contracted pneumonia a second time a couple weeks later, and was not recovering at our local vet, so we drove him down to the veterinary school and teaching hospital at Colorado State University. They admitted him as an emergency patient and put him on both oxygen and an IV in canine ICU. Abe continued to lose weight during this time since he was not eating. CSU is in Fort Collins, which is a little over an hour’s drive from our home in Laramie. We were able to visit Abe once during his stay, but it was hard on both him and us to be separated. After five days on oxygen, the vets at CSU determined Abe was stable enough to return home. All of our various tests for the common causes of megaesophagus (autoimmune diseases, lead poisoning, local tumors) came back negative, so there was no known underlying cause for us to treat. We left Fort Collins with an armful of medications and cautious hope. Normally 65-75 pounds, Abe’s weight was down to a sobering 51 pounds.

Saturday evening (11/21) Abe did well. On Sunday he endured considerable discomfort after eating breakfast, and Sunday night he was awake and in pain all night as he regurgitated food and had accidents throughout the house. Matt stayed up with him, and at about 6AM, with nothing left in his system, Abe was able to sleep again. On Monday morning, Abe’s weight was down to 49.8 pounds.

It is so hard to see a loved one suffer, but it is especially hard to watch him suffer and not be able to communicate. We couldn’t ask, “How are you feeling? Are you in pain? Do you understand that this isn’t your fault? That you are very sick?” Instead, we had to make the call on his life without consulting him. We believe it was the right thing to do but, of course, that doesn’t alleviate our sadness.

Love to all.

Easy to Forget

Below are a few brief thoughts I wanted to share with you all before I get back to doing what I should really be doing. (That ever-growing pile of clothes next to my bed isn’t going to fold itself?)

A wonderful description of love I came across today, from this poem:

“I have one way
to be happy
and she is that way.”

I believe it is easy to forget the love others have for us and the love that exists in our lives, the same way it is easy to forget the existence of stars, and whole worlds that orbit them, while living under the dark night skies of a downtown somewhere.

We are not just this conversation on the sidewalk under a streetlamp. We are not that failed hour of practicing piano that turned into watching YouTube videos, or the forgotten promise to walk the dog. We are what they are – all those stars and distant, distant planets.

This image from the Hubble space telescope is estimated to contain 10,000 galaxies.

This image from the Hubble space telescope is estimated to contain 10,000 galaxies.

We are the entire universe “becoming conscious of itself.” We are energy the same way starlight and symphonies and ocean currents are energy – but we also have love.

“If you are comforted
by this thought you are welcome
to keep it.”