Coming Home

A dragonfly hovers over the white rose bush as a lone cricket begins its evening song. The cool, end of summer breeze drifts over the front porch while Ella sits at my feet. She stares out at the road, her nose twitching as she sorts out the smells in the air. A rock and some pieces of mulch lay beside her. Only minutes ago serving as chew toys, they now lay forgotten due to her always changing interests. She currently has one thing on her mind. Her mom coming home.

The setting sun softly touches the pages of my book, turning them orange. Traffic seems to pick up, and the hum of the neighbor’s air conditioning unit now drowns out the crickets. I look away from the words in my book and glance at Ella as she watches a man walking a dog down the sidewalk. He’s wearing an orange sweatshirt and carries a small Bluetooth speaker in his pocket turned up as loud as it will go. Rap music blasts throughout the neighborhood as he passes. 

As he walks behind our lone standing tree in the front yard, the music fades, and I notice a single branch has turned red with color. Leaves once full of life now wilt with the first signs of autumn. 

The sun sinks lower behind the house and shadows arc long and dark across the grass. Ella grows with a familiar restlessness knowing her mom will be home any moment. 

Finally. I smile as the Jeep slows in front of the house. It turns into the driveway, its headlights shine onto the porch and Ella’s tail begins to slice the air with pure excitement. An amount of excitement I’m pretty convinced no human has ever experienced. She stands up. Her tail begins to spin in circles, faster, like a helicopter taking off from its pad. You can hear a door slam, muffled by the walls of the garage. Ella’s mom is home from work. 

As soon as Erica rounds the corner of the garage, Ella can no longer contain herself, and she sprints off the porch and down the walkway to say hello. Erica bends down, her face slathered with puppy kisses. 

Usually we can point to our mouth, tell Ella, “kiss,” and she will give a quick lick of acknowledgement, but when her mom gets home, there is no stopping the rush. 

After a minute of kisses, petting, and more tail wags, Ella bolts out into the yard and runs in a handful of circles. Erica joins in and they chase each other, only stopping to flash a quick smile for the camera. A smile that says it all. I am happy you are my mom, and I am happy you are home. 

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The Paper Anniversary 

Our relationship, having started with a short note penned on a piece of paper, is now five years into its two-hearted love story being lived out between book covers. I remember when we first met how nervous I was to talk to you. So, leaving you little notes here and there was my way of getting to know you until I gained the courage to talk to you more in person. Paper is the essence of communication, and communication is key to a strong relationship. So it’s only fitting that, traditionally, the first marriage anniversary gift is paper. 

It’s without a doubt that this first year of marriage has been one of the best of my life. We continue to build each other up and our relationship’s roots have grown deep. Proof that it can withstand any storm that may come our way. 

I love nothing more than coming home to you at the end of each day and sharing everything we have to talk about. Every moment we spend together means the world to me, and I’d gladly give up all my possessions if it meant making more memories with you. 

The profound respect I have for you as my wife and as a person will never fade. Your hopes and dreams are also mine, and I know you are capable of fulfilling each and every one. I am so thankful that I get to be right beside you throughout all of it and that I can be your biggest fan. 

Thank you, from the very bottom of my heart for being all that you are. I can not express how grateful I am for having you in my life. And thank you for an amazing first year of marriage. You’ve surpassed all expectations I’d ever had, and I hope my vows to you, written in word on paper one year ago, still and always hold true in your heart. Never forget how much I love you each and every day. Happy first anniversary! With many, many more to come, you are and always will be my truest love. 

Our first date took us to the Clare County Fair where we rode a few rides, played some games, and walked through the animal barns. Although I’ll never forget any of it, what sticks out in my mind most was the funhouse. Stepping in, you could tell we were both a little nervous. Neither of us wanting to fall or get turned around looking like a fool in front of the other.

But once inside, we grew more comfortable around each other as we encountered many different obstacles ranging from uneven, moving floors and an overwhelming maze of mirrors, to a revolving barrel known in funhouses as a “barrel of love.” As we reached the end, we also came across a few of those familiar curved mirrors. And like everyone does, we stopped to admire the strange, unrecognizable shapes our bodies reflected by moving closer or farther away. The whole time we stood there, the only thing that didn’t change shape was your smile and the shine in your eyes. Right then as I watched you, I fell deeply in love, and I knew I would love you for the rest of my life. 

That day in front of the funhouse mirror, I made myself a promise. I promised that I would love you fervently, honestly, and with all the kindness you truly deserve. And today, I make the same promise to you. As we nervously, yet comfortably, go through another funhouse together called life, I will be your balance when the ground becomes shaky and uneven. If you become overwhelmed, I will be your support and motivation. And should you happen to trip in a revolving barrel, my arms will be there to catch you. Even though life can be difficult, it is meant to be fun, and I promise you that you will always be my best friend. I will be there to always make you laugh and to share and enjoy all the little moments.

And there will come a day when our children will have moved out all grown up with families of their own, and we will stand together in front of our mirror. We will stop to admire the strange, unrecognizable shapes our bodies reflect from age, the only things unchanged being your comforting smile and the same bright shine in your eyes that you’ve had since that day you first told me good morning. At that moment as we stand in front of the mirror, I will love you more than I did on our first date, and even more than I do today. I promise you as we grow old together, my love for you will also grow with us. Never changing, but always strong and always infinite.

Remember the Good Patients

I spent two days this last week in a Dale Carnegie: The Leader in You class, led by a phenomenal lady who at one point in her life had been invited to his office and personally thanked by Lee Iacocca for training his directors. We focused on topics such as leadership goals, valuing differences, managing stress, and coaching. On the first day, we also touched upon something called an “innerview,” a way to get to know the people you work with better. After class discussion, we were then challenged to go home and innerview one person of our choice. The only person I’d end up seeing that night was Erica, and I didn’t think Ella would really be up for a longer father/daughter conversation than normal. Of course, after almost five years together, I believed it’d be pointless to have this innerview with my wife because I already knew everything about her. I’m glad that thought didn’t stop me because I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumption. 

Erica is one of the best people I’ve ever met. As a nurse assistant working her way up to one day becoming a nurse practitioner, she has one of the biggest hearts a person can have towards all her patients. Even the ones easily irritable, making sure they all get above and beyond the proper care.

After she got home and changed out of her scrubs full of hospital smells, I asked her the typical question of how her day went. She told me it was really busy and that she didn’t get much time for breaks and rest. The usual strenuous day due to a hospital’s lack of scheduling proper patient-to-nurse ratios. 

After a few of Erica’s quick stories about her current patients, I asked her if she had a patient she’s cared for that stuck out most in her mind and why. To my surprise, even from all the wild and crazy stories she’s told me, she couldn’t think of one. I asked her the question again thinking maybe she needed a little more time to consider it. After a few seconds of silence, she simply responded, “I remember all the good patients.”

 Of the hundreds and hundreds of patients my wife has had in the three years of her working at the hospital, she remembers the good patients. Of all the incontinent, deranged, suicidal, and even murderous individuals she’s dealt with who have criticized her or have been entirely ungrateful of her care, she remembers the good patients. I was in complete awe of my wife. I knew she was a positive woman, but this took my appreciation and love of her to a whole new level. I had learned something new about the woman I spend every day with.

Later that night Erica stayed up studying for an exam she had the next day. I crawled into bed while she was out in the living room, her nose in her studies, and I started my own small homework task to read “Chapter 15: Learning Not to Worry” of The Leader In You for our second day’s training session. A few pages in I came across a quote from singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka that said, “Take each day as a gift. Try to live with the good and the bad, looking more at the good.” At this point my jaw just dropped. Again, I knew my wife was a great person, that’s one of the reasons why I married her. But, I didn’t know she was this great. Here’s a woman who works with some of the worst patients in healthcare, works under the unimaginable stress of a trauma floor, and is only looking at the good of it all. My wife is a true leader, exactly someone I want to be like.

Some characteristics of a great leader

In my two day Dale Carnegie class, we learned some of the characteristics a great leader should have. Erica embodies every single one of these. She sets the bar high in the nursing field where leadership is important. It’s hard to carry criticism with a gentle tone, to manage stress, and to help coach patients through the healing process even when they are mad at the world the way that Erica and most nurses do. So to all the nurses in the field, thank you. Thank you for taking care of us when we most need it, and for lifting us up when we may be at our lowest. You are some of the best leaders In this world. And to my wife, thank you for giving me reason to love you more each and every day and always surprising me with new things. For making me want to be a better person, and for sharing all your amazing characteristics with the many people you come into contact with. 

Ella’s Side: An Entry in Two Parts (Part Two)

I was a lucky dog out on those rocks, but even luckier today when my dad worked from home. I love nothing more than when one or both of my parents are home with me. I understood mom had to go work at the hospital to make her patients feel better, and dad, having to focus on his work at home, was unable to spend as much time with me as I wanted, but even so, I had to try. 

After going for a walk, I came home and took a short nap. It wasn’t long after that and I was as spunky as ever. Mom thought I’d be tired today from all the weekend activities, but moms don’t always know everything. 

I made sure to scratch on the door wall every few minutes to get dad’s attention. At first it didn’t work too well, so I tried pulling a bunch of my toys out of my basket hoping that might help. When it didn’t, I went back to scratching the door wall and threw in a few cute whimpers. The more I worked up the drama queen sized act, the more I slowly caught dad’s attention. He finally decided it was nice enough outside to bring his computer out with him to sit on the patio so I could explore.

 

While dad worked, I chewed on some rocks, sniffed the bushes, and ate the occasional rabbit turd laying in the back yard. Rabbits are an obsession of mine. Almost every time I go outside, I have to stare down the bushes along the side of the neighbor’s house to see if I can see any rabbit moving inside.

On the other side of the house from the bushes, and around the corner out of sight from dad, there is an old storage box the previous owners had left. I can sometimes smell rabbits along here as well, so after no luck with the bushes, I headed towards the other side of the house. I could feel dad watching me as he and mom usually don’t let me go around the corner by myself. I had my training collar on and I waited for the slight vibration that told me I had gone far enough. It never came and I looked back at dad standing at the patio table focused on his work computer. 

I learned this game from my parents. They run down the hall and into one of the rooms where they hide behind the door. Then they proceed to call my name so I come and find them. Although they hide behind the door every single time, I never think to look there and it usually takes me a little while before I sniff them out. Today, I decided I’d try a variation of this game, except I’d be the one to hide. 

While dad wasn’t paying attention, I quietly sniffed around the air conditioning unit and flower bed. The back of our house hangs over the edge of the foundation about two feet, and there is plenty of room for me to crawl under without being seen. I did exactly that. I laid down and relaxed on the cool stones as the warm sun beat down on me. Since I was near all the mulch, the earthy smell just became too much for me to handle and I felt the urge to get some onto my tastebuds. After what seemed like forever, I saw dad walk off the patio and around to the corner of the house. I had completely forgotten the last time he had looked at me was when I was acting like I was headed over to sniff the storage box! I knew he was looking for me, thinking I had gone around the side of the house, and when he peaked around the corner only to find I wasn’t there, I giggled to myself. Dad couldn’t see me with the air conditioning unit blocking his view as he walked back over to the patio to grab the remote for my training collar. However, he stopped short, and when he came from around the unit, he laughed, looked right at me and asked “what I was doing.” I picked up another piece of mulch in my mouth and wagged my tail knowing that I had completely tricked him. 

After our fun outside, I still wasn’t ready to relax. Dad sat back down at the kitchen table to do more work on his computer while I played with my toys. I again pulled as many out of the basket as I could, but quickly became bored with this. 

There is one toy that can be found laying in a basket, other than my own, that is even more fun to play with. I hadn’t checked there in a few days so I was pretty sure one may have shown up since then. I headed to the guest bathroom, and sure enough, sitting on top and easy to grab, was a recently finished toilet paper roll. I quietly placed it between my teeth and began to tiptoe out of the bathroom. Peeking around the corner of the bathroom door, dad was still looking down at his laptop. He hadn’t seen me, so I casually made my way over to my bed where I laid down. Unfortunately, I was too loud when I set down the tube, and dad turned around only to catch me in the act. I hurriedly picked the roll back up hoping he wouldn’t take it from me. And of course, he pulled out his phone to snap a quick picture to send to mom. I’m sure she will lecture me about that one tonight. But, both mom and dad know it’s all in fun, and more often than not, let me tear up the toilet paper roll. 

A Letter to My Wife on Valentine’s Day

I have the privilege of turning thirty this year. I’m not excited about it by any means, but it’s inevitable. My wife turns twenty-two, however, we joke that she’s the older one of the relationship. Her knees are going bad, her eyesight turning more blurry. Even on our honeymoon, one night at dinner, I must have looked the younger one as I was carded by the waitress and she wasn’t. On the plus side, I wouldn’t rather fall apart and grow old with anyone else, and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere but with her on our first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife. We will always keep each other young at heart. 


My Wife, My Love,

          You are one in a million. More so even than that. You are one among all stories of lives written in the history of the world, and I get to be the fortunate soul married to you. Imagine that. Me, married to someone like you, getting to celebrate the most romantic day of the year. Who am I to be so blessed?

          Your vintage and mature individuality challenges me on a daily basis. Pushing me to be better, to strive for perfection in all I do, especially when it comes to loving you. Because you deserve nothing less.

          There is no one else comparable to you. From your wholehearted honesty to the quick wit that helps keep me on my toes. When I was younger, I sometimes tried to imagine the type of girl I’d marry, and tried to imagine how great of a life it’d be to share with someone. You by far surpass all I’d ever hoped for in a wife – and a friend – to share each day with. You are someone my brain did not even have the capacity of dreaming up. Your beauty on the outside rivals the same beauty found within you. It’s as if the last flash of light from each sunset as the sun sinks below the horizon was somehow bottled up and used in creating that unique shine in your personality. Or perhaps God already decided on creating you, and after seeing your alluring existence, you became the influence in His creating the sunsets we sit and watch together. At least that’s what I like to think.

          I love you, today, always. Every bit of who you are. Every smile, every laugh, every little wrinkle found in the corners of the two most beautiful eyes I’ve ever looked into. I love you because you’re you. And I hope that as the years pass, you will always know how strong that love for you is. Being in love with you will never grow old as I will only grow old loving you. 

                                           Always Yours,

                                           Dustin


The Lab Assistant 

None of us would be able to get anywhere in life without help. The help of family, of a close friend, or a stranger on the street. Help with homework, help with raising children, help getting a job, a house, or a car. When we try to do too many things on our own, especially during life’s hardest moments, we can become arrogant and selfish, pushing away those closest to us. Pushing away those who’s love and support we need most to get us through the hard times. But, no matter how self-centered we become, or how much help we reject, there’s one sort of help that can never be ignored. One kind of help that will always come back again and again. A unique kind of help that, no matter how many times we tell it no, will break us down into the humblest of beings.


I admit I get a little jealous that Ella, our almost three-year-old lab, gets more kisses from my wife than I do. She even gets more cuddles and hugs, but believe it or not, Ella assists with our relationship. She helps bring my wife and I closer together than we’ve ever been, and it’s because she teaches us how to focus on others instead of ourselves. Ella has taught us how to better put eachother’s needs ahead of our own, which is exactly what helps make a marriage so great. 

Whenever we take Ella to the open-air mall for walks, her wagging tail speeds up with every person we pass. She brings joy to all people in her path. Some stop to pet her on the head while telling her how good she is or how cute the flower on her collar is. And yes, she enjoys the attention, but you can tell by the way she looks into their eyes that all she wants is to make them smile, and make them see that the world is not so bad. For some of those people, meeting Ella just might have been the best part of the worst day of their life. Having Ella with us at the mall – or wherever else we may go – is like taking a lighted tealight candle into a large, dark room. The candle itself may be small, but the light it gives off is remarkable.


 I truly believe God created dogs for the purpose of assisting us through life. For softening our hearts and teaching us how to treat each other with the kindness and selflessness we all deserve from one another. I wish everyone in the world could meet Ella and share her passion for life. Life is short, and Ella’s life is even shorter. Although she doesn’t know that, she still lives each day to her full potential. It’s as if she really does understand the limited time she has, and the strong influence she has on those around her that can help impact and change lives during that short time. If only we could all live this way, and create the same unparalleled quality of life.

We hope to get Ella into therapy dog training soon. This way she can further help and assist those in need of a smile. She can do what she does so well on a higher level. To be so selfless, putting everyone’s feelings before hers, and make all those she comes into contact with that much happier. It’s truly an amazing thing to learn so much from a creature that cannot speak but yet can still say so much

Ella, Too

It was a chilly day in May 2014 when Erica and I made the trip to an animal rescue located in a small town a little over an hour from our apartment. The drive seemed like it took days. We had been full of excitement, and lacked patience knowing that we were about to pick out a puppy who would spend the rest of its life with us but wouldn’t be ready to bring home for another week. Nonetheless, we were still pretty ecstatic to meet our soon-to-be dog child.

During the few months prior, we had stopped in at multiple shelters and rescues looking to find the perfect dog that we could take home. None of the animals really seemed to share that connection you have when you know it was meant to be, and so we continued to look. We also ran into the trouble of rescues not letting us adopt due to the fact we lived in an apartment and didn’t have a fenced yard. This was frustrating. We knew that we could provide a great life for any dog regardless of not meeting the rescue’s criteria, but it didn’t matter. Some of these places seemed to be willing to hand over a dog to anyone who owned a house and fence. You could run a dog fighting ring in your back yard, but as long as the yard was fenced, feel free to adopt as many dogs as you’d like! If you would treat the dog as your own family and raise it with the utmost care and love, but lived in an apartment, forget about it. You obviously would never take it outside of your small living quarters to run and play.

With my mom’s many rescue connections because of her job as an animal control officer, we were able to visit this last rescue knowing the apartment thing wouldn’t be an issue. We pulled into the drive, and as we got out of the car and approached the front door of the house, we were greeted by a kind woman and three happy dogs. They had seen us pull in and took us right into the garage where the rescued dogs were kept. Multiple areas in the garage were closed off with small fencing to create separate pens, and each pen contained anywhere from three to six puppies of different breeds. Some were ready for adoption, and some were even younger with a few weeks left to go. In each pen, there was an area boarded off full of cedar chips for the puppies to potty train. Each pen also contained a few boxes full of blankets where the pups could hide in and sleep.

As we walked through the garage, we came to a pen containing six little black lab mixes. Three boys and three girls all doing their own thing. Unsure of how much interaction we were allowed, we waited for the woman to tell us it was okay to get into the pen with the dogs. We then opened the gate to step in and were suddenly rushed by the most enthusiastic bunch of little wagging tails and floppy ears. Erica – never having a dog for a pet while growing up – squatted down as the pups jumped all over her, and with the biggest smile on her face, began to soak up every second of playtime.

While we played with them, we pointed out what we liked about each of their tiny, individual characters, and which one we thought would be right for us. Two of the boys were very energetic, jumping all over us and biting at the key lanyard hanging from my pocket, while the third boy was more calm, laying on the blanket in the box. One of the girls was the same as the two boys. Lots of energy and a fascination with biting human fingers. A second girl was the same as the one boy laying on the blankets, just relaxing like no visitors were there to see them.

And then there was the third girl. Not too rambunctious, and not too lazy. She seemed to love playing with the empty toilet paper rolls strewn about the pen, and enjoyed stretching on her hind legs while resting the front two on your lap to reach up and lick you on the face. This one particular pup was full of kisses, and so full of love. Her markings compared to the others made her even more unique. She was solid black with patches of white on all four paws, her chest, on the front of her neck, and a grayish-white chin that made her look as though she was an old dog that had already lived life to the fullest, but living it in a puppy’s body.

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As we held her in our arms, she looked straight into our eyes, soaked our faces with kiss after kiss, and we knew that she was the one who would be coming home with us in a week. We continued playing with her, and it just felt like it was meant to be. I don’t remember how long we stayed to visit our new baby, but Erica and I both had a hard time leaving her there when it was time to go.

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The next week dragged on, and with a whole new excitement, we drove back to the rescue to bring Ella home with us. She whined at first, but it didn’t take long before the lull of the moving car rocked her to sleep.

It’s been almost three years since that day we brought our puppy home, and Ella has lived the best life a dog could ask for. She gets to go to the dog park on a regular basis, rides everywhere in the Jeep with her head stuck out of the window, goes on trips to the mall, swims and dives for rocks, goes camping, sleeps in our bed every night between Erica and I, and so much more that you’ll definitely be hearing about during the life of this blog. We didn’t know it at the time, but the day we brought her home changed our lives forever. Imagine yourself as a piece of clay on a potter’s wheel. You meet many people in a lifetime who will help shape you into who you are and what you will become. It’s absolutely amazing how one animal so full of love, and yet so full of simplicity, can take that drab vase you’ve become and add a color and pattern to your life that you never knew existed. For us, this is who Ella is.