Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Good Dog

One of the finer things in life in The World According To Dan is a good dog. Dogs are the only creatures on the planet that truly, honestly can be counted on to find you endlessly fascinating and truly the best thing that ever happened to society. Well, since the advent of the chew toy, anyway.

The people in my life know my feelings on this, and so it was that I received for Christmas a fine book: A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life by Jon Katz. I'm only halfway through, but I love what I've read so far enough to know that I will be buying and reading more of Mr. Katz' offerings.

In it, he speaks of a term that I don't believe I've come across before, the "Lifetime Dog". That is a dog that bonds with a person so well, and the person with the dog, that they have the sort of relationship that many people--even lifetime dog owners--don't ever get to experience. I've known the meaning of that phrase for a long time, but I never knew the phrase.

Bobo was my "Lifetime Dog". I lost him shortly before I started this blog. Here is what I wrote about him elsewhere at that time:

I know it's trivial compared to what's been going on in New Orleans, but everybody else is covering that to death, and I've got a smaller, more personal pain that I'm bearing today and I need to write it out, if only for myself.

I had a wonderful dog. He was a giant of a beast, but gentle as a summer rain unless someone threatened one of his people. He loved stuffed toys, rawhide, being brushed and he LOVED it when I would clean the crud out of his ears with q-tips. He loved walking with me, and we explored the world together for over 7 years. He was one of the best friends I ever had, and for sure the best dog I ever knew.

This morning my friend went to wherever our beloved pets go when they die. He had reached the point where he couldn't make it down the deck steps to pee. He was doing well last spring, but it's been a pretty steep slide over the summer, and this morning we called the vet out to help him go easily.

He's now laying in his freshly-dug grave (with two of his stuffed animals), and I'm only waiting for his "mom" to get home so we can bury him together. She has come to love him, and he her, almost as much as me. It was a pleasure to know such a fine animal, and I have a hard time picturing myself ever finding a better companion.

But I won't quit trying. I've done this before. There's life after Bo. It just doesn't feel like it right now...but I still have one dog, and when her time comes, there'll be another. There always will be, because I'm cursed with a love of dogs...a curse I'm happy to bear even now during the worst part.

Bo: I'll miss you friend. I hope we'll meet again, and if we do, it will be a happy day indeed. Until then, I'll remember the good times and ignore the times you shook your head and splattered the wall with slobber. Slobber cleans off. Instead, I'll remember the time you discovered the rabbit in the back yard and almost killed yourself chasing him. I'll remember the time you bounded over a 4-foot fence from a sitting position when you spotted a squirrel and decided it needed to die. I'll remember the time you got your foreleg stuck in the fence gate and I had to leap oever it to rescue you before you broke it. I'll remember the first time I watched a 150 pound monster running toward me from ground level. I'll remember the times you jumped in to catch a fish I was trying to land. I'll remember the time I took you to the Renaissance Festival and you drew a bigger crowd than the jugglers, played with a hundred kids and ate until even you couldn't eat any more. I'll remember a hundred other times that you made me laugh and cry. I'll keep you in my heart and wherever I go, you'll be right there beside me.

Love you, monsterdog.

As I was preparing to do more work on the basement last night I was thinking of what I had read so far of this book, and it came to me that that is exactly the type of book I should begin my actual writing career by writing. Never mind that it will probably come off as a copycat of this book...though our story is so different from this one it wouldn't really be a copycat. They always say that you should write things you know and that you are passionate about. Check and check.

I always wanted to write, but was afraid to actually start typing the outline for reasons I don't really understand. Now an outline is forming itself in my head against my will. Maybe this is finally the winter when I truly bring what writing talent I have to bear for the first time.

It would be a wonderful thing to have a book sitting on my shelf with my own name on it as the author and a picture of my Bobo on it.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

We had many good things to eat and many people over for the holiday. We're now down to Auntie J and husband, and we're still without "Jenny", who will supposedly be rejoining us tomorrow. I have tomorrow off from work, so I'll likely be sleeping in, and then going back to the basement to hit it again.

While Mom & Dad were here, we got the CO/smoke detector officially wired and set in the new basement bedroom, so we're officially ready with another room for the kids. It's had several temporary occupants so far, and it's gotten good reviews. Hope the kids find it as nice.

Through some more elbow grease and one late night of work, Dad and I also got the plumbing for the new bathroom set into the floor. I'll be getting some sackrete and filling in over the dirt and smoothing it probably sometime this week.

I should point out at this point that since we moved in, I estimate we've probably saved ourselves at least $10,000 doing the labor on these projects ourselves, since all we really have to buy is the materials (which are murderously expensive as it is...the deck alone cost us close to $2,000 in treated lumber and assorted other things). If we hadn't done it this way, even cashing in my old retirement account, we probably wouldn't have touched the basement yet. But we couldn't wait. These kids need a house with space for them, and we need these kids to fulfill our lives.

Thus it is that I'm actually becoming competent at things I never thought I'd be able to do, and I'm living in a house that is rapidly becoming the type of house I never thought I'd be able to own.

I also mentioned earlier that I was in six fantasy football leagues this year...the results are now in, with this being the championship week for the season. I won first place out of twelve, first out of ten, first out of ten, first out of ten, fifth out of ten and sixth out of ten respectively. It was a good year for The Naughty Dogs...yes indeed.

All in all, a very successful holiday season and year overall. I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to.

Tomorrow we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the day we greeted "Josie" at our door. It kicked off a tumultuous, maddening, exciting year that we can only hope will be repeated again and again in the next few decades.

Here's to the next kids that stumble in the door without decent clothes, a good family or a safe place to stay. They will find newly reinvigorated foster parents who have rededicated themselves to watching out for those who can't quite watch out for themselves yet. I think we're definitely up to the task...and if not, I guess we'll just keep doing the best we can. It's better than nothing, right?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I had aliases picked out and was going to introduce the three new kids tonight with character posts. I've taken a real liking to them, and I was only waiting for them to be permanently placed here to begin relating the fun we've been having.

So the judge decides they should go home. Just like that, they don't even come back to the house.

Now, in this case I do understand why the judge decided what he did. The parents hadn't started drinking again and they were getting better about their issues...they just were showing warning signs that they wouldn't follow through much longer. Things like not going to AA meetings and the like.

But there was just something about these particular kids. It was a joy to come home and know they would be around. When either of the girls smiled, it lit up the room. The boy said the most foolish things. None of them seemed to have issues of the kind we've had to deal with from the others (though of course nobody is perfect and I'm sure things would have come out over time). I simply forgot to not fall in love with them instantly.

So yesterday we found out there would be no adoption imminent, today we lost our three foster kids, and tonight a friend of the family took "Jenny" for the night. Neither of us has anything to do but mope around the house and feel sorry for ourselves.

It's a bad night.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In Which "Jenny" Nearly Stumps her Foster Dad

WARNING TO ALL ATHEISTS/anti-Christians: the following post contains many religious references and even a quotation from [gasp] the Bible. If that offends you...

Tough. This is my blog. God is (occasionally) spoken here.


I was sitting at the computer the other night figuring out my fantasy football rosters for the playoffs when "Jenny" walked up and blew me away.

She has taken an interest in Christianity in general and the Bible in particular. As I've outlined before, we encourage that if the kids show any interest, but this was the first time she asked a serious question about it.

She was carrying the bible we had given her as a gift...we know she reads it fairly often because we find it laying open around the house to various passages. She asked me if I could answer a question. I said "sure". She sat down on my lap, opened her bible to Exodus 32 and read a few verses:

Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them to their shame among their enemies) then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, "Whoever is on the Lord's side--come to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel: 'Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.'" So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. Then Moses said, "Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother.
She then looked up at me with a furrowed brow and a concerned look and asked "how come they killed all their friends and family and then they got a blessing for it?"

Whew. Talk about a complex theological question. This is the sort of thing that, if answered wrong, could turn a kid off of Christianity for life. I have no doubt there are some who will read this that will say to themselves "that's EXACTLY the kind of thing I hate about Christianity!"

Well, I thought about it, took a deep breath and tried to explain. I told her that before Jesus came along and died for our sins, God was much more wrathful with His people. He had much more nasty ways to keep His people together than he does now, and people also thought differently back then.

I explained to her that starting with the book of Matthew you begin to see the softer, more generous side of God. He had a generous side in parts of the Old Testament too, but He also had what can only be described as a really wicked temper and wasn't afraid to show it when He needed to.

The simple answer to her question was that the people who did that didn't want to kill their own people, but did it anyway because God commanded it, and in that way showed their faith and devotion. I preempted her probable concerns about that happening here and now by pointing out that that sort of thing was part of the reason that Jesus died on the cross for us. We don't have to worry about that sort of thing anymore...at least not until we meet Him when this life is done and have to give an accounting of our conduct of this life. Then all bets are off again.

My Jewish readers (I know there are at least a couple of you) undoubtedly have a different view of how this all works, but I think this is a fair representation of the view most Christians take toward many of the nastier events of the Old Testament.

She seemed relatively satisfied with my answer, and made me promise to ask the other guys about it at my Bible study tonight, which I did. They thought I had explained it adequately, only adding that there was one other consideration. God's people had just come out of Egypt when this happened and they were a brand new nation. Many of them had already started worshipping false Gods, and the corruption was spreading even to the righteous. Something had to be done...and in those days everybody (not just the Israelites) settled matters in a way that would make most people blanche today. This was God's way of trying to keep his baby nation under control and focused on Him.

If she comes to me sometime with questions about Revelation, I think I'm just going to hide.

I normally don't write a lot about the Bible, because it normally doesn't come up a lot (so far) in our fostering experience, but this seemed a unique event in "Jenny's" growth. She really seems to be taking an interest...and her mother even came with us to church Sunday. She had been thinking about coming to our church for some time apparently, and this Sunday "Jenny" was part of the Christmas program the kids were putting on and she wanted to see it.

It would be so wonderful if we could help bring a somewhat broken family to the same kind of spiritual happiness that we've found...but I'd settle for "Jenny" just finding a way to deal with life and her family in a constructive way. For her, maybe it's Christ. The Wife and I certainly believe so. I guess we'll have to see over time if she agrees.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Activity Update and Refined Mission Statement

And another five-child weekend is in the books. We had "Jenny" as usual, plus "Tammy" for her now-usual once-monthly weekend respite. We have the new trio as well, as the court hasn't figured out what to do with them. Our church seems to be highly amused with our ever-changing entourage, and the kids seem to enjoy, or at least put up with, our churchgoing ways. The oldest girl had the only negative comment, declaring that our pastor's sermon-delivery style "sucks". Heh. He does ramble a bit.

Today after church we had a meal of roast pork, baked potatoes and carrots plus homemade bread. The kind of meal I remember having with my folks when I was growing up. Then The Wife spirited the kids away with a large group that was going to a play together, and I had the house to myself for the first time in awhile.

I had the option of watching football, and I did...for awhile. But the girls seem to REALLY love their new room, and I felt guilty for not quite finishing it yet. Downstairs to touch up paint, fasten trim better than we were able to do last night, and tidy things up in general. They are now moved in and vocally wishing they had local friends that could come over so they could show it to them. Who knows? Maybe one or both of them will be staying, and they'll enroll in the local school. If that happens, I suspect we'll be back to having friends over for supper and I'll be under increasing pressure to finish the rec room. Hope the money stretches far enough to get it done...but even if I can't get it right away I guess I can get it far enough to be a decent place to spend time, anyway. After all, what is a basement if not an ongoing project?

The kids we have now are a challenge, I won't deny that. But they also all feel like my own. I know they'll all be going back to their parents at some point and in many cases that is a good and worthy thing. In many cases, even most, reunification should be the goal and we should be a tool to help that happen. I've come to believe that "Jenny" belongs with her mom (though her sister probably belongs elsewhere, in my humblest of opinions). I don't know enough yet about the new ones to judge at all whether home where they should be, but I'm assuming it is if their parents can straighten things out.

The kids come here for the most part with the idea that this is some kind of prison sentence and we're going to treat them like cattle or something. That's not something I can do. Each one is an individual, with their own fears, talents, faults and wondrous surprises. They've been told things about foster care by friends or parents that are inaccurate or simply made up. Unfortunately it's true that there are bad foster homes, but my experience locally is that those are few and far between. There are several seemingly average ones, perhaps one or two questionable ones, and one or two that are what I aspire for us to be. Mostly I want us to be what Mom and Dad were...a safe and friendly place to stay during a bad family time for many, a fun and wonderful place to stay for some, and a lifeline and lifelong family for a few that fit us just right.

We must be doing something right. The three that just came in had heard good things about us "on the street". I didn't even know we had a street rep yet, but apparently so. We've heard through other channels that there are kids who, from what they had heard about us from their friends, wished they could live here. Not bad for a couple of old foagies whose main job is to rain on kids' parades when they're doing things they shouldn't.

We've gotten on the short list for an adoption placement...more on that if we hear anything.

And that's how life stands at the moment. Hopefully after Christmas things will settle down and I'll be able to do more writing. I miss the daily routine of sitting down to do a brain dump before bed. I need to start that again before Auntie J comes down here and--maybe with the help of my sister--smacks me around for not sufficiently entertaining her.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Situation Critical: Situation Normal

It seems we have quite a handful with this particular little gaggle of humanity. Everything is all up in the air legally, it seems our placement is because they couldn't find anything more appropriate (especially on short notice) and we have no idea if any of the three new ones will be with us a week from now.

"Jenny" has been acting out a bit...lots of dead people pinching her and so forth. It was actually interesting the other night; I went in to calm her because she was beginning to cry herself to sleep and I knew I hadn't given her as much attention since the new kids came. I simply sat with her and hugged her for a few minutes. Suddenly she sits up and looks at me, and I could see that she was debating whether to tell me that there really were no dead people. She didn't...but that's okay. She knows and she knows I know, I think. We understand each other well most of the time. Probably because emotionally we're pretty much contemporaries.

The other three, which shall still go without names until at least next week, have been really good. The social services system, not so much. They now have The Wife driving them over an hour each way every day to bring them to their old school because the social workers didn't want them to miss too much school or to enroll in the local school for one week. That's fine, but both my Mom and I told her we would have told them where to stick it. She seems pretty sanguine about the whole thing, though, so whatever I guess.

If those three stay, my job is going to be very challenging, I think. The 14 and 16 year old girls are both very pretty, and while they're pleasant to have around that means there will be little male dirtbags sniffing around in record time after they move in.

That's alright, though. I'm up to it. If I could stay up late several times trying to bust "Josie", I guess I can do the same for these two.

I will get one of them someday. I already busted one of them for contacting her dad when she wasn't supposed to.

A hint for any dumb foster kids that might be reading this: if your foster dad is a software engineer, don't think that you can do anything on his computer without him knowing. He's a tech-savvy and kid-savvy person, and he cares about you. He'll know.

And thinking of "Josie", I owe her a letter. I suspect I'm the only one that's written her letters since she's been in the residential care facility, and she made it pretty clear the last time she was visiting that it meant a lot to her. Since she has me wrapped around her little finger, I guess I'd better get cracking so I don't let her down. She's had a lot of people let her down. I'd just as soon not join that particular parade.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Child Rodeo

Just when we had gotten comfortable with just "Jenny" around and my attention had gotten comfortably divided between work, basement and single child, along comes one of those not-unheard-of events in fostering to explode our world, if only temporarily.

Last night we received three new additions to our family in the form of a sibling-group emergency placement. I don't yet know the circumstances surrounding the reasons for waking up this morning with extra responsibilities and I'm not sure how long they'll be here. Therefore, I won't bother coming up with aliases just yet...I'll just say that they're a sibling group composed of two girls of 16 and 14 and a boy of 7.

Last night they seemed very subdued. I always like them the first few days. That's the honeymoon period, after all. There is always a period as short as a day or two and as long as a month or two before they run up their true flag(s) and go to war with you. Right now they're in the condition that melt people's hearts and make people wonder why we get paid for this. If they were to stay here a month, they'd likely revert to their true selves...the condition that make people feel we're saints for doing this.

The girls are both very pretty, and very obviously sisters. The boy instantly put me in mind of Harry Potter, complete with glasses. They came with very little, and we have no idea how much they would have had with them if they had had the chance to bring it, but the social worker that brought them made encouraging noises about an imminent shopping trip.

The Wife is under the impression that I make the best popcorn in the history of the culinary arts, so she detailed me to make popcorn while she mixed up the perfect batch of colored flavor-water and we all sat down to get used to each other in front of a babbling TV that nobody seemed to pay much attention to.

The kids seemed to be a little in shock. The oldest girl is an acquaintence of "Josie's" and is originally from the same town, though this family moved to a nearby town recently. She had previously been in foster care for whatever reasons, but the other two were still at home and she apparently didn't do well because she was worried that her sister and brother weren't getting the proper care. Sigh. She's probably had to grow up too fast. That has good side effects sometimes, but mostly I think it changes a kid in ways that are less facile. I hope she's able to relax a little for whatever time she's here...I'd like to at least be able to give her that much.

Now if you'll excuse me, the people demand breakfast, and The Wife probably wouldn't mind a hand with whatever needs doing. Then I think I shall retreat to the basement to polyurethane a lot of newly stained wood, tape and goop seams in the sheetrock, and probably see if I can make the newly legal bedroom down there a little more conducive to human habitation.

Who knows? Depending on the situation behind these kids, that room may be needed sooner than we imagined. And being the dad around here, I guess it falls to me to do stuff like that.

Plus...maybe the boy will come down and watch like I used to do sometimes when Dad was doing stuff like that. Then maybe I can squeeze information out of him. Heh.

Holy crap. Mom and Dad just walked in the door. The Wife's comment upon hearing them on the stairs: "Oh, I forgot to tell you Mom and Dad were coming." Sigh. Guess there's more to do than I thought.