This Old Dog

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Backyard lilacs a couple of weeks ago

You know the old saying about not being able to teach an old dog a new trick.

And yet, you can.

Or an old dog can choose to learn something new if properly motivated.

With her hearing disappearing over the last year, Cleopatra has learned to watch our hands as we gesticulate at her. (This is usually done after calling repeatedly with raised voices that only the neighbors and horses can hear.) But she now follows the direction of where we point, which is usually towards the house to come inside for cuddles, love and play or bedtime, or towards her outdoor kennel for breakfast or supper.

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“What?”

Which is something new for a dog who is at least 13 years old.

And not that I’m calling myself “old” or anything but I’m certainly not a youngster. As I traipse through middle age I realize there are certain things I do that may make me seem “set in my ways.” Much of those behaviors are more to do with liking being organized and perhaps having a slight over-achiever tendency and Type A personality.

Like my color-coordinated closets and alphabetized CDs and spices.

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Its just easier this way, trust me!

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OCD-Spice-Girl

But I can also learn new tricks…

You see, I won an online cooking course through a local grocery chain’s “Monopoly” contest they ran this spring. I get carried away each year collecting game pieces, and choosing items and brands to purchase based on whether or not they could earn me one more chance to win big.

Each game piece can also be an instant-winner, which is why we have a plethora of table salt right now.

 

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There’s even more on the shelf above…

A little bag of flour, several small tubs of sour cream, bagels, a $5 coupon, photo prints and a canvas bag from Shutterfly… these are all the goodies this cheap Doukhobor and the cheap Scotsman she married coveted even though we didn’t win the million bucks or the dream home.

When I peeled back a game piece and saw that I’d won an online cooking class I honestly had no idea I would learning some new tricks this spring.

I looked the school up (Rouxbe.com) and it seemed reputable and professional enough but I still figured I would be watching a 15-minute segment on scrambling eggs. I had to claim the course before the end of May so last month, when Alistair was in Bismarck, I grabbed a pen and small notepad (you never knew, maybe there was an integral part of egg-scrambling that I had missed my entire life) and chose “The Cook’s Roadmap” to watch before whatever golf I had DVR’d was going to start.

 

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My course…

I’ll just say, we aren’t scrambling eggs.

What we are doing is learning! 10 Units, 173 tasks and 224 videos comprise this particular course and I am absolutely loving it! Its not even like I sucked as a cook- I kind of thought I was pretty decent, actually. Nor was I in a rut as I have always experimented with new recipes when Alistair isn’t here, sharing them with him when I figured I had nailed it or it was something I knew he would enjoy.

I had my classic chicken mozzarella, my alfredo, the onion-olive dish, artichoke chicken, spaghetti, honey mustard chicken, stir fries and big Montana breakfasts and generally all the food got eaten when company was here.

But now I’m learning how to create dishes on my own. I’m learning the why’s, the how’s and the not’s about cooking and I’m learning the basic science behind it all.

 

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Tools of the trade.

I’ve learned to embrace stainless steel and how to cook so that food doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. I’m learning about so many different oils, acids and salts and how to combine things to make my own vinaigrettes in used glass jars that I can use for mixing. I’m learning to use my steamer for a variety of different things and that rice can be so much more than a backdrop for other dishes. I spent last night learning a lot about grains, which I had always avoided because I had no clue what to do with them.

For a whopping $6 I roasted a chicken for Alistair and I the last time he was home that was as ridiculously easy as it was flavorful and simple.

The course focuses on health and balance and they offer non-course video segments on plant-based diets for general information.

More learning!

Its the perfect time for this right now because the weather hasn’t been very friendly for my golf habit.

 

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Happening right now.

Its grey, cool, dark and drizzly and while I enjoy suiting up with Alistair when he’s here and pulling the sides down with the heater on in Norman, it isn’t anywhere near as much fun by myself.

I haven’t minded the new Couch Time in the evenings with Sport and Bebe purring away while the instructor’s voice describes how to sweat the veggies (or, mirepoix) versus saut√©ing them. Or how to mix up the rice you’re going to Pilaf and which rice to use along with which aromatics to throw in there. And let the stuff rest for Pete’s sake! (Who knew?) I used to have a fear of rice. Just ask Alistair. Rice has always been his domain but now I’m ready to fight for that honor with a bounty of grains and techniques I’ve yet to perfect.

 

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I love learning. I also love island golf…

Which is another fun part of all of this- the practice. Like anything worthwhile I’ve attempted and tried to learn in life, I have had to practice. I couldn’t heat the pan to the right temp the first few tries any more than I could land the first axel I tried. Or the first suture knots I threw. Certainly not the first golf ball I tried to hit!

My vinaigrettes have been too oily, my steamed potatoes took way too long and my garlic got browned and sour the first time or two I’ve tried new methods so far. Even chopping with the Chef’s knife is an art form to be continually worked on.

I’m even loving the fact that I’m humbled by what I am learning. Not unlike the golf game or surgical techniques, there is always much more out there and my brain wants to grasp it and my body wants to master it.

 

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I didn’t learn how to be this overnight!

So I will happily, eagerly let my perfectionist, Type A self work her butt off to become a damned good chef! Just like I worked to be the skater, the veterinarian, the writer and the golfer. I continue to work at these things because I will never be an expert at any of them. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, especially if its something enjoyable. If its fun, then practicing doesn’t seem like work.

I do believe I’ll sign up to be a Rouxbe student after this free course is over. As long as I’m smiling and having fun and as long as I’m not poisoning Alistair, that is.

And who knows… if the LPGA plans don’t pan out in my future maybe one more hat to wear will be a fluffy white chef’s one. Maybe this old dog has a few more tricks up her sleeves!

 

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More things that took work, perseverance, patience and time…

 

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Celebrating my 3rd book this month with good friends in Seeley Lake!

 

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Another of my skill sets… stay tuned for a summer return to the coaching side of things for me!

 

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Practice, practice, practice back in vet school… ūüôā

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And We’re Off the Meds

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Loki snooooooooze

 

We had an interesting couple of weeks.

More like, Loki had an interesting couple of weeks.

Or, one week specifically, when her veterinarian Step Gammy and her MD Gampy made the decision to put her on phenobarbital for seizure control.

I’ll back up a bit.

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Last night at the dinner bowl checking to see where Calypso the ferret might be. He makes a point of stealing her kibbles one by one right under her nose.

The first seizure we witnessed was in August, in the truck driving to Montana from North Dakota. It lasted about 10 seconds and she piddled.

She had about 1 witnessed seizure a month since then and each one was the same.

Loki seemed to learn when one was coming because she would sit down by us beforehand. She has been more clingy with both of us as well and hasn’t liked being left alone anywhere in the house.

It might sound alarming but one seizure a month for a dog or cat isn’t a huge deal. Seizures themselves aren’t lethal (unless we’re talking about a toxicosis type of event). The danger lies in obstacles like stairs or falling objects or a prolonged event like status epilepticus or in aspiration if the pet vomits.

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Snoozing in Bismarck in CP1a (Cute Position 1a).

In our case there weren’t any stairs and we have removed most threatening objects from the hallways because Loki is completely blind.

So we kept on keeping on and tried to keep her head up for the 10 second seizures because she did bring up a yellow bile-like frothy liquid each time and we would talk her through the events knowing that some humans who have had seizures say that hearing is the first thing to come back and we’d run her a bath afterwards and everything was alright.

I mean, sort of alright.

Older dogs don’t just “get” epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a¬†young pet/person’s disease and Loki is 14.

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“Did you just call me old, Step-Gammy?” (Loki, last winter).

So I have worried about a brain tumor lurking somewhere in her little round, kissable head but she has been otherwise fine.

Until she had 3 seizure events in one week and the last one lasted way too long.

Neither of us witnessed when it began, either but what we did see lasted about 20 seconds and she took about 1/2 an hour to get her balance back afterwards.

As a vet, when you tell me a story like this I will tell you about the amazing old drug, phenobarbital.

That it will likely cause some sedation and wooziness for the first couple of days but it usually passes and that it used to be dirt cheap and hopefully it will keep seizures from happening more than once a month and that humans generally have way fancier anti-seizure meds now but they used to use the very same drug all of the time.

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I just happened to have some…

But it wasn’t an easy decision because Loki is blind.

I had to have a talk with my morals about this because, as her veterinarian, I am her voice.

But I’m also her Step-Gammy and my 2 worlds often collide.

Step-Gammy wants Loki here forever and the seizures to stop. She wants Loki to feel the warmth of springtime again along with grass beneath her paws instead of the snow. She wants to see this bossy little tyke run around our yard avoiding trees and bushes with a confidence ill-suited to her lack of vision. Step-Gammy thinks that last seizure frightened Loki as much as it did her.

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“This is Bull Chit!” (a couple of weeks ago)

But Dr.Tanya Fyfe is concerned that we will dull her senses and her mind on phenobarb. And that Loki relies heavily on her sense of smell and diminishing sense of hearing and she’s concerned about that possible brain tumor and what the drug could do with that.

The vet in me wrestled a bit more but then decided we could at least try it at a very low dose and see.

The first low dose wasn’t low enough.

Talk about stoned.

Poor Loki was completely confused wandering our hallways, turning herself around and around and then figure-eighting and pin-balling her way through the foyer. She sat and licked Gampy’s bare foot for a full 15 minutes with deep, slow, full-tongue intensity.

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“Did you just tell them about the foot thing, Step-Gammy?”

She barked at closed doors. Then at open doors. She stumbled and bumbled and definitely slept a lot more than we were comfortable with.

The second, lowered dose was less intense but she just wasn’t herself.

Alistair and I kept waiting for her body to become accustomed to the medication¬†but even after a week¬†it just¬†didn’t happen.

Then she started going to the bathroom inside, which is definitely not a Loki-thing.

It was always on tile floors, thankfully, but cleaning pee and poop up every single day wasn’t cool for either of us.

Or for Loki.

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snoozing peacefully on the Magic Blanket last night

It was time for Dr.Fyfe to have a word with Step-Gammy.

I always used to counsel my clients when we were discussing senior pets and any changes they noted and how the people actually felt about the changes.

It was significant for me when I would see tears creep into peoples’ eyes or I would hear their voice crack if they chose words like, ‘frustrated’, ‘angry’, ‘wrecking the carpets’ or ‘I know its not their fault but…’

I have always maintained that you don’t want your last weeks or months or time with your beloved animal companions to be filled with frustration and anger. Not only can the pets sense that and realize there has been a change, your memories of that time together will also bring back those feelings.

And that’s not what I want for any human-animal bond.

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A couple of weeks ago, navigating the piddle path we’ve cleared for her.

Its not what I want for Loki.

Loki Fyfe, the sassy-pants, bossy, big-dog-trapped-in-a-little-dog, hairlipped, heart murmured, snoring, prancing, impatient, arm-licking, adorable love bug went off the phenobarbital.

She has always had tons of dignity and spending all day in a drug-induced stupor seemed to diminish that.

She’s in charge once again and is back to normal.

Sleeping on my feet as I type.

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Loki and I in Bismarck this summer.

We haven’t witnessed any seizure activity since stopping the meds but we will.

And maybe her time with us won’t be for as long but it will be good time. Great time. Sassy-pants time. Quality time.

We owe her that much.

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Helping Gampy model his awesome leather wrap this summer.

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Loki loves a good back scratch & wiggle!

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Our stylish grand-dog last winter!

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Cuddles with Gampy, UB and Cleo in Bismarck this summer.

Milestones and Memories

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From our whale watching on Maui this past January

We just celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary!

Talk about your milestones!

While I never had any doubt about our future together back in 1994 when I met Alistair, I know there were a few doubters.

I can’t blame them. I was 21 and he was divorced with a couple of kids.

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Eloping in Watford City, ND, 1996

As Sinead O’Conner sang, “how could I possibly know what I want when I was only 21?”

I guess I just did.

So we eloped on a day 2 of our best friends couldn’t come but they gave Alistair a couple of hours off from the pager and another friend could watch the kids and his nurse, who was a pastor at a strange church had the time to marry us and that was that.

19 years ago.

Of course we had the infamous skating wedding a couple of months later which included our families and friends and the 2 friends who missed the first one (on the left in the picture!) and a brave bridal party in spandex and on ice skates.

(The gentleman playing the bagpipes and our Justice of the Peace didn’t wear skates.)

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Photo op for the paparazzi

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Happy hubby and wifey, Sept.14th, 1996, Grand Forks arena

Getting married, whether its your first, second or third time is a major milestone in one’s life.

In fact, much of life is a series of milestones. What we make of them at the time, who came along for the ride, and how we look back on them is what frames us today.

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Alistair’s father, Alan, my groom, his ‘little’ brother, Ian and my dad back in 1994

My series of milestones themselves isn’t much different than anyone else’s although my timelines may have been shorter.

First job. First car. First kiss. First boyfriend. First breakup. First crying-on-the-phone-thinking-its-the-end-of-the-world-please-lets-not-break-up. First moment of realizing my own self worth. First apartment. First time juggling 2 jobs and college. First love. First engagement. First ice show. First time breaking someone else’s heart. First skating club of my very own. First boyfriend who shares your world view. First horse wreck and¬†subsequent first broken bone.¬†First time playing house. First step kids. First kitty and ferret.¬†First grand theft auto. First marriage. First degree. First year vet school. First clinic of my own. First time getting 2¬†tractors and one truck¬†stuck. First Dog Days of Summer. First trip to Hawaii. First time to stand up and make a choice with tremendous consequences for the community and the animals in your care because its the right thing to do. First swing of a golf club. First blog. First book.

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That fateful morning with Alistair & Lynn before the first swing of those borrowed golf clubs!

Every first is accompanied by anticipation, fear, excitement, worry, angst and questioning.

“What if I can’t hit the golf ball?” (I didn’t much of the time).

“What if I can’t care for a pet?” (No problemo).

“What if I can’t find anyone else to love me?” (I did. And its real.)

“What if people are mad at me?” (They might have been but then they were supportive when they saw me smiling brighter, looking healthier and happier than I had in years… and they bought my book.)

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Koshka, my first cat. xoxo

Having Alistair by my side through several of these milestones has certainly been a huge boost.

Its frightening making changes that affect yourself, let alone ones that affect several animals in your care or all of the animals in your community.

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Ah… Seeley Swan Veterinary…

Perhaps part of the reason we still like to wake up in the mornings together after so many years is because of our mutual respect for, and support of one another.

Its not like we instantly think each others’ ideas are wonderful or perfect.

Like when he wanted to get alpacas and llamas for packing in the mountains.

One milestone we didn’t need to get past.

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I actually quite like alpacas. It just don’t think we need any of our own.

Some milestones, like our anniversary, are fantastic, happy occasions that deserve celebration and recognition.

We played 18 holes of golf that afternoon and enjoyed a wonderful supper at beautiful Holland Lake Lodge that night.

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Enjoying a drink on the lawn in front of Holland Lake Lodge, one of our favorite places to hang out.

It was fun to dress up and visit with the owner and allow ourselves some special time together.

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Cleaned up not badly! So excited with my bling (www.chloeandisabel.com/boutique/tanyafyfe)

And then there are shared milestones you don’t want to even think about. The ones that don’t warrant any mention at all, let alone a fancy supper and a sparkly necklace.

Milestones that shape us no differently than the terrific ones because they still touch us and are still a part of our memories and who we are.

Like the one coming up with dear Cooper.

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Cooper-Cat, a few years ago with one of her many collected Garter snakes in Bismarck.

Cooper has been a Fyfe fixture for 19 years. She found our root cellar in Creston and moved right into our hearts and home.

She was an adult then so she is at least 20 years old.

At least.

I’ve asked her about her age but she’s always been coy about the subject.

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Cooper enjoying a snowy spring morning in Montana

So its no surprise to know we will be saying goodbye to her soon but it still sucks.

And makes those pesky tears well up in my eyes yet again.

2015 has been hard on our animal companions.

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Coopie and I just last year

And while her story is for another time, I must face the fact that our time together is coming to an end.

I will do all of the things I have counseled clients and friends to do- watch how much she is eating; monitor for signs of pain or discomfort; palpate; see if she still wants to do her usual things; watch for signs from the other cats.

And I know what she doesn’t have because I’m a good little scientist and I’ve ruled them out.

But I strive to be a good Mummy, too, which is why I’m going to have to talk to that damned vet inside of me very soon.

And make The Decision.

One more milestone.

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Happier things

Until then I will enjoy each day I have with Cooper and all of our aging companions at Fyfe’s Farm for Wayward Pets and Unwed Mothers.

Each day is a gift.

And every opportunity to reach another milestone is a gift as well, regardless of how we choose to deal with it.

As with all of my milestones, they have made me the woman I am and I am richer for each and every one of them.

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It was carrot cake and it was yummy and I’m smiling at the memory! xo

I Am Completely Normal (or, The Case For Step-parents)

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I have never wanted to have children of my own.

There.

I’ve said it and I’m glad.

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Luigi and me!

Not human ones, anyhow.

I remember telling the dressing room of skaters my feelings about that as a kid.

It was one of those group discussions about how many kids each of us planned to have and I announced I would be having none.

That I would have to find a man who already had his own kids because he wasn’t getting them from me.

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Apparently I had things all figured out back then…

And it isn’t because I don’t like kids. That’s not it at all.

I love kids. They’re fun, they’re goofy, they like to play make-believe, they giggle freely, they like my stories, they like Rhonda, they like to watch me skate, they are full of wonder and, generally, they trust and believe openly.

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Harry and I back in the first version of my little vet clinic with the local pre-schoolers

I am completely comfortable around groups of kids regardless of whether I’m doing veterinary education or coaching figure skaters or hockey players.

I don’t break out in a sweat, I don’t have panic attacks, and I actually quite enjoy kids of all ages.

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Slightly blurry pic of a pic of our real wedding day with Gareth

So it was quite fortuitous that I met and married a man with all of the requirements.

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Same day, with Whitney

I had no expectations because, at 21, I had no friends dating older persons with their own kids.

None of my friends or siblings had any non-infant children of their own at that point so there was nobody to turn to for questions or suggestions.

I just winged it and tried to make our family as normal as possible.

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A long-ago blonde phase with Whitney & Gareth on our trip to Disney World

The kids even moved in with us in Watford City when Gareth was in grade 4 and Whitney was in grade 2.

At that point a few friends thought I was crazy (think I was 22 by then) but it never occurred to me that it was wrong.

Its not like Divorce was unheard of in the ’90s, its just that it didn’t happen much in the close-knit Doukhobor community and family I grew up in.

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Fyfe Family time on the outdoor ice rink in Watford City

So there was no reference point other than having 2 loving parents who wanted to make the best life possible for their kids.

Even if they weren’t my kids.

It has always helped that Alistair and his first wife had a fairly amicable divorce.

There was no throwing of cutlery or evil phone messages.

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Visiting the kids in Vancouver (with Rhonda)…

It may have helped that the ex lived in Vancouver, many miles and a country away. We have a mutual respect for one another, (particularly now that the kids are grown) and appreciate that we offered very different ‘mothering’ styles to the kids.

Maybe it also helped that I was so young- there are as many years between Alistair and I as with Gareth and I.

Which was fun when they were teens and we could sometimes sort of hang out.

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Camping trips with the kids & their friends

And listen to the same music and share our friends¬†and learn to be a different but normal type of family and shop at Abercrombie together and be a part of each other’s lives as we were all growing and changing.

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Fyfe Life classic… Old Maid with Morgie!

And I can’t tell you how many of the kids’ friends I keep in good touch with via social media.

And some we even hang out with when we can.

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Morgan and I enjoying a great meal together in Bismarck a couple of years ago

And I think I am a very lucky woman to have the relationship I have with my now-adult stepkids.

They have never called me “Mom”. I was adamant about that because they already have a mother.

I was “Tan” back then and I’m “Tan” still.

Just because a person didn’t give birth to a child doesn’t mean they can not love them.

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Gareth’s high school grad with Whitney & I in Bismarck

Or be immensely proud of them and their achievements.

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Whitney’s high school grad a couple of years later in Vancouver

I have loved helping raise these 2 cool young people and I have so enjoyed watching Alistair raise them and care for them, too.

They aren’t my own children but I am his partner and I worry about his worries and I’m excited for his excitements.

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Proud Dad with Whitney’s hockey!

The main difference, which I had to remind the kids from time to time (like after the group of AAA hockey boys made a run on the Go Karts a living Hell for the owners of the place… AGAIN or the one prom night I won’t go into), was that I didn’t have that built-in ability to love them no matter what.

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Gareth, assuring me it wasn’t going to be like the summer before when we all almost got kicked off the course… (he was very, very wrong)…

When I used to say that I didn’t want kids I would get the typical responses:

“You will change your mind when you’re all grown up.”

“Once your friends start having kids you’ll feel differently.”

“You don’t mean that.”

But I did mean it.

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Me. Not wanting to have kids.

As years went by those comments turned bitter:

“You’re being selfish.”

“What’s wrong with you not wanting kids?”

“That isn’t normal.”

You know what, though? It IS normal for me.

I have always been career-driven and I knew, as a little girl, that children might get in the way of that.

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One of my careers

I also knew that I was extremely motivated to succeed- whether it was on the ice, with my textbooks, coaching, writing, slinging bling- whatever.

I moved away from home at the age of 12 to pursue skating at the highest level.

I graduated high school at 16 to get going on an education.

I moved by myself to Tokyo at 19 to make some money teaching English.

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Training & competing at as a high a level as I could dream. I couldn’t do that in my home town.

And deep down inside where you have a core that you know is your true self I knew that there was the slightest, teensiest possibility I could have a child who wouldn’t be like that.

And that would disappoint me.

And that would be wrong.

I knew that you shouldn’t ever be disappointed in your own child but there it was and I never, ever wanted to resent a child of my own.

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4th grade boys at their track meet in Watford City

So I didn’t mind that Alistair had his own kids. Heck, they could pee and eat on their own by the time I showed up so that was a huge bonus right there!

I took an active role in their parenting and have never felt like I missed out on anything.

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Whitney and I in Saskatoon, right around my vet school graduation!

And I absolutely love the young adults they have become and the journeys they have been on and we celebrate together in person or over a phone line or Facetime or we say goodbye to a group of animal companions that each and every one of us has loved on a sunny day with pink roses and we cry and hug together and laugh at shared memories and encourage one another’s dreams and we enjoy the good old days and the great ones now and the endless possibilities ahead.

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Whitney & I show-girling with the Luau men on Kauai

And I appreciate how truly lucky I am to have the relationships I do with these two.

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Vet school grad, 2005, Saskatoon

And I look forward to the times ahead… perhaps on a golf course or two…

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We are in the process of corrupting Whitney by making her a golf addict. We had both made par on her first day playing last month!

And its still fun to look back at where we all began.

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Hallowe’en, 1995, Watford City (goodness, there’s Rhonda again!)

And I know I am normal for me and you are normal for you.

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Whitney & Mulder a couple of years ago visiting us in Montana

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Gareth and the RX-7 for prom… (no, that’s not THE prom story…)

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Much younger Gareth and much younger Boomer back in Bismarck

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Lucky stepmom, (taken a few years ago in Vancouver)