Friday, February 24, 2017

Utah, baby!

We just got back from our 3rd annual family ski vacation in Park City, Utah. Jonathan and I love the mountains and one of our goals is to have a place of our own someday, so we have been sampling different ski communities for a few years now. Park City definitely has a lot to offer, the number one factor being how close it is to Salt Lake. A direct flight and a 30 minute drive had us to our condo about 6 hours after we left our house in Houston. 

We stayed at Park City Mountain resort in the thick of the action. Our balcony literally looked out onto one of the major ski lifts on the mountain and Forest’s ski school was located right downstairs from us. 

Now I will say that with the convenience came quite a bit of noise, both from late night revelers and early morning snow groomers. I haven’t quite decided if not having to tote ski equipment around was worth it. At 3 AM I didn’t think so, but it sure was nice at 1 PM when I just had to ski down the mountain and ride up an elevator to get home and then skip downstairs to pick Forest up from ski school. 

Most ski schools start around age 4 but you can find a few resorts that offer full-day programs for 3 years olds. Forest did the ‘Ultimate 3’ class from 9am-3pm and absolutely loved it. 

They discourage parents from watching, just because it could make them upset to spot mommy and daddy, but I couldn’t resist. The problem was, on day one they decided F was ready for the ski lifts and was skiing a beginner greens so spotting him was harder than I thought. It seemed like most of the little boys and even some girls were wearing red and from a distance 3-6 year olds are pretty comparable in height. 

When I finally spotted him on the first day I thought he was looking a little rough. He seemed to be falling quite a lot. In his defense, it was the first day he ever just blew through nap time without a rest, but I was certainly thinking that skiing wasn’t in his natural athletic skill set. 

Well it turns out I read the situation all wrong. As you can see from this video, there are 2 instructors to 3 3-year old boys. Each of the other boys is basically one on one with an instructor the whole time while Forest is ‘allowed’ to go by himself- hence the fact that he’s falling more often than them. When I picked him up his teacher said he did awesome, had a blast, was the leader of his group and was moving up a level. The next day he apparently moved up ANOTHER level (3 of 3) and spent basically the whole day on ‘First Run’, on and off ski lifts. 

I happened to spy him from our balcony and raced down to get some pictures and videos. I couldn’t believe how well he was doing and how much he improved from the day before. 
He still took some tumbles here and there but actually looked to have good balance and control the majority of the time. These toddlers on skis are incredible. And adorable. For instance, I think it’s safe to say that Toddlers getting on a ski lift has officially dethroned toddlers wearing backpacks as the cutest thing ever. 

Oops, he spotted me...

When I picked him up at the end of the day his new instructor said he was doing great and had even learned to turn a bit. He said next year he’d probably need a day just to relearn everything but by day 2 he’d be building on his skills even more. He also said they loved Forest and that he was (direct quote) “Seriously the easiest and most chill kid I’ve ever taught.” I almost choked on my hot cocoa. Forest easy and mellow? Bahahahahaha. That’s one of the perks of his shyness- he comes across as really well behaved until he gets comfortable and then he is full on distracted and joyful puppy. 

As far as my skiing goes, I feel like I’ve gotten worse! I’m just not as in shape as I used to be so my muscles got tired really easily.  The awesome thing about Park City Mountain that I haven’t seen anywhere else is that it’s extremely beginner friendly. You could go to the very top and have a few options to ski greens down the whole mountain if you wanted, whereas on most mountains you have to be able to at least ski blues if you want to get much elevation. 

I technically *can* ski blues without wiping out but I don’t have much fun. I’m just not an adrenaline junkie. So I really loved that I could do super long green runs without having to step a ski on a blue. They even had signs at every crossroads that pointed you towards the easier option, and the ‘easiest way’ was clearly marked the whole way down. I LOVED THAT!!! 

Jonathan got a little bored with it though and would leave me to my hot chocolate and ski-school spying to ski some more adventurous terrain. We’ve talked about doing snow-boarding school together next year to kind of even the playing field since he’s got so much more experience that I do with skiing. But we both suspect it’s not lack of athleticism holding me back from more challenging skiing- it’s complacency. I don’t WANT to go faster, longer, harder. And now I’ve found a mountain where I don’t have to. Huzzah! We can even ride the lift to the top together and meet at the bottom. 

After 2 days of skiing, we used our last day to explore Utah a bit. We made the drive down to Sundance resort (so fancy!) and did some sightseeing along the way. 

After playing at Sundance (and taking some shots for a photography class I’m in), we stopped at a historic railway to let Forest explore real live train tracks and steam engines. 

Rethinking that power struggle over not wearing mittens.

He is in peak train obsession right now so he loved this. Seriously, skiing, hot chocolate, frolicking in the snow, and trains???? Forest had the best week ever. 
We even saw moose on our way back to the condo for naptime! A momma and baby moose wandered into the resort and munched on the local trees for the rest of the afternoon. 
If you ask Forest, this was his favorite part of the trip. It might have been mine too! I mean, how often are you just driving by and see a moose having a snack on the side of the road? Maybe if you’re Utahan it happens a lot because these two gentlemen don’t seem to even take notice. Ha! 

After a big nap we loaded up to visit High West Distillery up high on a mountainside on Blue Sky Ranch. It was set to close at 5 and we got there at 4:15 hoping we could do a tasting and explore the grounds a bit. Unfortunately they had just done last call when we strolled in since they were closing early for an event. Jonathan was definitely bummed but we still had a good time taking in the views and the smells. 
The aroma and snowy mountain atmosphere definitely transported us back to Scotland. Aaaaah. We headed back to the resort for some burgers and cocktails and Jonathan even sampled some of the High West Distillery whiskey at the restaurant. That night Park City got 8-10 inches of fresh powder and we considered pushing our flights back a day to ski some more but knew we needed to get home to Samson.
 It was such a fun and successful trip and we are looking at maybe spending some time in the area this summer for hiking and biking. Texas, you are great and all but you could really use some more mountains. Forest even said he’d rather go back to Utah than Disney World. Parenting win.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Samson

About four years ago, we learned that Samson had early symptoms of a heart disease that eventually kills most of his breed. Our vet took a baseline and asked to check him again 6 months later, at which point it had progressed rapidly. She told me that soon it would be just a matter of monitoring his quality of life. I remember this being about a week out from my due date with F and we knew that our assignment in Scotland would be over within a year. 

We asked our vet if it would be wise to go ahead and send Samson back to the US with my mom and dad (who were coming for a visit for Forest’s birth) and after discussing it with her colleagues she said she simply couldn’t approve him to fly. When we found out 2 months later that we were moving to California, one of my first thoughts was how we were going to get Samson to our new home. When his heart stabilized at a level 4 (out of 6) for the 4 months prior to leaving, our vet decided she’d ok the transatlantic flight afterall. He flew to my parents in Louisiana before joining us in California a few weeks later. 

For 3 more years he continued to enjoy daily walks and road trips with us without his heart ever giving out. 

About a year ago we noticed he was having some trouble with his back legs. When he’d stand up he’d stumble and bit and walk sideways before correcting his gait and resuming his normal walking. Progressively over the next few months it kept getting worse and worse until he could no longer walk on slick surfaces like wood or tile. He’d fall and wouldn’t be able to get up and just yelp in distress until one of us could rescue him and put him back on carpet or a rug. 

In the past 2 months, he lost the ability to even stand up on carpet. We tried several medications, none of which seem to improve his mobility at all. After taking him for injections a few times a week I finally told the vet, ‘I don’t think it’s working. Is there anything else we can try?’, to which he basically replied, ‘with Sam’s life expectancy with his heart, there’s really not much.’ And then he took a deep breath and said ‘It just may be time.’ And even though I’d been bracing myself for those words for 4 years, it still hurt to admit them to myself. This little pup has survived and thrived these past few years against all odds. Who was I to say he didn't have any life left in him? 

Jonathan was still in Angola at this point so I asked the vet if we could wait to decide until he got back into town. He said of course- since Sam seemed happy and not in crisis, we could make the decision in our own time. More than anything I prayed for peace and clarity. How do you know for sure when it’s the right time? Do you wait until they are in crisis or do you spare them that? We decided to give ourselves 2 more weeks with Samson- to take him on on car rides, let him sleep in bed, and give him bacon every morning. And even through that spoiling he declined and became more and more distressed that he could no longer follow us from room to room the way a Cavalier was bred to do. 

I had the clarity I'd been praying for and Friday morning we said our goodbyes to him. 

In his honor I’d like to just tell you a little bit about this dog who was seriously special and the best dog I’ve ever known. We adopted Samson from Cavalier Rescue USA when he was 4. His owners surrendered him after a divorce and we were the lucky ones who got to scoop him up. We were overjoyed at this addition to our family. We wanted a tri-color male who was house trained and Samson fit the bill perfectly. 

When we went to pick him up from his foster home he hopped right into my lap, and remained in my lap the entire 5 hour drive home to Midland, TX. Shortly after adopting him I had him qualified to be a therapy dog. Though he lacked the requisite obedience skills, the evaluator passed him because she said he had the perfect temperament for the job. He was friendly but not boisterous or obnoxious about it (like his sister Bailey).  He was gentle and patient and loved people of all ages and sizes. 

Samson could make a dog lover out of anyone. My grandmother was a notorious cat person and I never saw her pet any dogs we brought around, but she’d pat the couch next to her for Samson to hop up and snuggle against her. 

Unlike most spaniels, he liked to snuggle but REFUSED to kiss anyone. It was if this very spaniel-like trait was trained out of him. Occasionally after a long separation, he’d get so excited to see me that he’d lick each of my ears exactly once. He had this neurotic habit of licking walls which I’m pretty sure stemmed from his desire to smother everyone with kisses and his supernatural restraint to not do so. Everytime he’d meet some one new, he’d enthusiastically greet them and then saunter off to the wall for some licks. I stopped noticing it but sure enough everyone upon meeting Samson for the first time would ask ‘Is your dog licking a wall?’. 

From Midland we moved to Houston and traded in our suburban life (and yard) for city life. Samson adjusted beautifully which is another hallmark of his breed. Cavaliers are rated the best dogs for apartments because they are low maintenance and adaptable. 
From Houston we got transferred to Scotland (aka Dog Heaven.). I was a nervous wreck as our pups flew separately from us and went through their own border patrol into the UK. They were delivered to us safe and sound and I’ll never forget that joy and relief of that moment. 

Some of my happiest memories happened in Scotland, and so many of those moments involved our dogs. Samson was terrible off leash so was normally relegated to a lead while his puppy sister (mostly) roamed free. 

Though he was tiny, he was strong and could walk hills with the best of them. 

 Our favorite Scottish walk with Samson was just down the street at Johnson gardens. 

Everyone oohed and aahed over him everywhere we went. It was like being friends with a celebrity. Even when he was attached to the stroller, no one noticed the angelic blue-eyed cherub in the basket when there was a gorgeous Cavalier by his side. 
I remember people would ask me ‘how old is he?’, and I’d have to realize they were asking about the dog, not the infant. 
Who is more handsome? It's a toss up!
Sometimes people would even pull over their cars and roll down their windows to ask about him. He had that characteristic charisma and charm that all Cavaliers seem to have oodles of. Yep, he was a textbook cavalier- friendly, gentle, beautiful, non-complaining, happy just to be in the room with their family. But he also ended up with the textbook health problems that seem to occur in this breed later in life.We are still surprised it wasn't his heart that quit on him in the end.

Our vet has been working closely with me every step of the way and I’m so grateful for his compassion and empathy. When we brought him in and said ‘its time’ he said simply ‘I agree’. So even though I’ve known for a long time that this day was coming, it’s still so hard to think I’ll never pull him onto my lap again. He’ll never use his paw to roll down the passenger seat window and stick half his body out into the wind. He'll never again neurotically lick our walls anytime someone comes over to visit.

Well, at least he won’t do those things in an earthly sense. I do believe all dogs go to heaven and I think their heaven has to be somewhat similar to Scotland. I’m just happy that we got to take him there and witness a little bit of what heaven has in store for him.