A Year and Then Some…

A very long year…

It’s been fourteen months since my last blog about the extraordinary support we received during my daughter’s illness and death from colon cancer.  (And, again, if you’re due for a colonoscopy, please don’t put it off. Yeah, the prep tastes like fruit punch infused with rusted metal and laced with turpentine, but a day’s discomfort is nothing compared to having cancer or watching someone you love have cancer. Absolutely nothing.)

I actually tried several times to post here, only to find that I had no words. It has been a long year, one in which I’ve felt I only have a third of my brain, and this next one promises to be long as well. I don’t say this asking for sympathy. We all face grief and loss: it is the cost of living.

Hoping Spring Is Just Down the Road

But now February, a depressing month in its own right, is two-thirds gone. The days are lengthening, and here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the laurel leaves glisten in the bright sunshine. (I won’t mention the wind!) The birds outside my window sing their belief that we’re on the cusp of spring. I’m planning my garden and working on several new books, including a new Doodlebugged mystery.

Speaking of which, I have good news. 

Ruff-Housed, the fifth Doodlebugged Mystery, is out (finally!) in ebook form, available at all major ebook retailers. It will be available in paperback in March. This time, Doodle takes the Canine Good Citizen test, which, in the way of things, leads to his and Molly’s investigating stolen pets, helping a troubled girl about to lose her beloved nanny, and participating in a big immigration rally near the White House. Naturally, I’d love it if you rushed out and bought a copy, especially if you then left a review. 🙂

And, if you haven’t read any of the Doodlebugged books and are interested in starting the series, you’re in luck. Bed-Bugged, the first book, will be free for the next few weeks.

Next, for some time I’ve promised/t/h/r/e/a/t/e/n/e/d/ to launch Doodlewhacked, a memoir about our adoption and raising of Shadow, the super-energetic, obedience-impaired labradoodle whose antics served as the inspiration for Doodle. Barring technical difficulties (i.e. I’m an idiot when it comes to web stuff), it should get its own tab on this webpage, with regular posts. But for now, I’m posting the first chapter here.

Chapter One: How Not To Get a Puppy: Part One

© 2016 Susan J. Kroupa

I stand in the biting November wind cradling a warm lump of curly black fur in my arms. It’s unusually cold, even for late fall in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the sky’s uncharacteristic drab gray makes everything look a bit bleak. Behind us, stands a modest farm house, and behind it, an old barn that has been converted to kennels, from which rises a cacophony of barking and howling from maybe twelve or fifteen dogs. My husband shivers beside me as the breeder, a tall woman with short, salt and pepper hair and a friendly smile, tells us about previous puppies she’s placed.

“We have one in Waco, Texas, and several in Pembroke, from this group of puppies. Daisy is showing in Pennsylvania and Sketch has just gotten his therapy dog papers in Norfolk. Brady is still in Maine taking care of her family and Oscar is in Weisbatten, West Germany doing things at the US Army base there. Plus a slew of others around the east coast that are also being wonderful dogs in their American families.” She beams at us, proud of her dogs, even though she’s confessed that she’s having to give them away now, because of the economy.

The two puppies in the sagging, two-stall shed beyond the house don’t look like future therapy dogs. Muddy, and according to my husband, stinky, they’re busy pawing into the half-full bag of Ol’Roy, ripped open to the food line.

“Do you only have the two?” I ask. I’ve done enough reading about labradoodles to know that unless the pups have labradoodle ancestry going back three generations—the so-called Fn labradoodles– some will favor the Labrador retriever and some the poodle side of the gene pool. We are definitely after the poodle side, but the two puppies in front of me both have straighter coats and broader noses of a Labrador.

“No, we have a few more. They’re down the gully. There’s an old deer carcass there they like to chew on.”  She dispatches her son, thin, silent, shy, maybe around twelve or thirteen, to go retrieve the rest. He gives no indication of whether he’s happy we might take a puppy or resents our presence. While we wait, stomping our feet against the toe-numbing cold, I remember the advice, culled from countless books and websites, on how to get a new puppy. (This is assuming you’re buying from a breeder and not adopting from a shelter. I’m not going to debate the merits of each method here.)

  1. Only buy a puppy from a reputable breeder, one who has done extensive genetic testing and careful breeding to insure the health of the pups.
  2.  Get a puppy in the late spring or early summer when the weather is mild, because with any new puppy (except the smallest of breeds) you’re going to be spending a lot of time outdoors.
  3.  Don’t judge a puppy by its coat or color, but by its personality and energy level.
  4.  If possible, meet both the pup’s parents. See what type dispositions they have.
  5.  Pick a relaxed time when you can play with the puppies and watch them interact to find the onewhose energy and dominance levels best fit your lifestyle.
  6.  Take your time. Don’t make a rushed decision as the pup you pick will be with you for a long time.

There are, of course, more things to consider, but you get the idea.

So here I am, at the beginning of winter, on a run-down farm, looking for a pup that will have the coat of a poodle, from a backyard breeder. How is it possible that I’m pretty much breaking every rule in the book? In every book?

To be continued…”Dreaming of Doodles”

What Love Looks Like

If Christmas is about helping people in need, then this is a Christmas story.

On December 11, almost seven months after she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and only a day short of her 34th birthday, my daughter, Sarah, passed away.

IMG_3326I am not going to write here about our grief, or the devastating loss her absence leaves for all who loved her, especially her husband and five young children.

Instead, I want to write about how my husband and I survived the transition from a peaceful retirement to the 60+ hour a week job of helping to care for her and her children while she was ill, how we were able to sustain the privilege of being able to be with her for her last seven months of life. The short version is that we didn’t do it alone. First, we didn’t come close to the even longer hours and herculean efforts that her husband, Brent, put in. And second, well, we had a village.

handle-laundryThere is a meme going around FB that says instead of telling people in crisis that God won’t give them more than they can bear, how about showing up to do a few loads of laundry? We have been surrounded by people who live that meme, by people who have shown us what love looks like.

Her friends organized a fundraising campaign almost immediately after the cancer diagnosis through https://www.youcaring.com/sarah-dunaway-361857. and not only did many friends and family donate, but also people who didn’t know Sarah at all, but who wanted to help a young mother with cancer.

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Her friends also created a signup sheet to coordinate service through Volunteer Spot, https://www.volunteerspot.com/.  In addition, members of her local church group worked to help us. Here is just a partial list of their constant and ongoing efforts:

A neighbor, who lost her own husband to colon cancer, came over and mowed the lawn every week or ten days all through the summer, and another neighbor raked up all the autumn leaves.

We had meals brought in twice a week (three times a week for awhile) and cleaning crews show up every week. And a group of nine or ten women came for four hours on a Saturday before Thanksgiving and did a thorough deep cleaning of the house.

IMG_3435After the first month here, when my spouse and I discovered we were burning out watching the kids while Brent was at work—not because of the kids, who are wonderful, but because they are kids, with kid energy and we’re old and tired–we asked for help. After that, babysitting was added to the sign up list, and we had people show up five days a week for a couple of hours to give us a break and some personal time. In addition, Brent’s and my family members have regularly come by to babysit or take the kids on outings. We wouldn’t have made it without them.

Sarah’s friends put up all her Christmas decorations and decoratedIMG_7092 (1)
two beautiful trees because they knew how much Sarah loved Christmas, and they regularly visited her and brought her lunch and goodies.

Sarah and Brent were able to take the kids to Disneyland because of the generosity of his boss and my niece’s family.

Youth groups weeded the yard and made gift baskets for the kids, as well as frozen casseroles for us to heat up on days we didn’t want to have to cook.

Hospice nurses went above and beyond the call of duty to help make my daughter as comfortable as possible, and allow her to die at home surrounded by loving family.

These acts of kindness come from busy people with children of their own, jobs, and lots of reasons that they shouldn’t have time or means to help us. They continued to help us, not just for a week or two, but for seven months, and the help is still ongoing.

They are the face of love, and they have eased the way of our terrible journey.

C-Change . . .

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Shadow leads the way on a walk in the hills above Utah Valley

I’m a sporadic blogger at best, but the last post here was April 13, seven months ago. As Doodle would say, “Whoa.” The blog was titled, “Times, They Are A’ Changing.” That turned out to be sadly prophetic in a way I couldn’t have possibly foreseen. Our lives have undergone a sea change, or, as I prefer to say, a C-change.

Merriam-webster.com defines sea change as “a marked change; transformation,” and dictionary.reference.com calls it “a striking change. . .often for the better.”

Our life and that of all my family underwent  what I call a “C-change”–C for Cancer-– when one of my daughters was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, shortly after the birth of her fifth child..She is only 33. [Note: if you’re over 50 or have a history of colon cancer in your family, GET THAT COLONOSCOPY NOW! And read this.]

Since the diagnosis, we have traveled back and forth from Virginia to Utah in order to help her and her wonderful husband care for their children. It has been a difficult  time for all of us–an unspeakable one for my daughter and her family–but one made easier by an overwhelming outpouring of support by my daughter’s friends and family. People have cooked meals, cleaned the house, kept up the yard, and babysat the kids so my spouse and I could get breaks. They have donated money and food and all sorts of wonderful, useful things to help my daughter, and they have done this for almost six months.

That’s the Very Bad News ( the cancer part of it, not all the wonderful help we’ve received.)

The Not So Nearly Bad News is that the next Doodlebugged mystery, scheduled for this Bad-MouthedSeptember, will be delayed until sometime next year, probably late spring or summer. But there will be several sales of the existing Doodlebugged books, including a promotion Nov 12-15 of Bad-Mouthed, normally priced at $4.99, on sale for only $0.99. The sale is good on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. (To find out about future sales, subscribe to my newsletter.)

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Shadow and my daughter watch a soccer game

Meanwhile, Doodle’s alter-ego, Shadow, has had a host of new experiences, since he has accompanied us on some of our trips. Some have been positive such as living in a household with five kids under nine (aka, his new minions), exploring the dry hills of the Utah mountains, and attending events like soccer games. Some have been not so positive—such as having to stay in a fenced yard and having to be on leash much of the time.

And surprisingly—I say this because he IS the quintessential country dog, used to roaming the neighboring woods in search of dead things to bring home—he has adapted beautifully to city life.

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Shadow with five of his minions

To say he was a hit with the neighborhood kids is an understatement. Somehow, this super-energetic, high-strung dog has matured into one with Inner Calm. Who knew?

Finally, while we’re speaking of changes, we’re closing in on the fifth anniversary of my first ebook publications, three Christmas stories that were released in December 2010. Laurel Fork Press is planning to update the covers of two of them, the acclaimed “Walter’s Christmas-Night Musik” and the romantic “Courtesy Call.” (The third, “Gabriel & Mr. Death“, got a cover update a few years back.)

Sign up for my newsletter below for a free copy.

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But first, I’m offering coupons for free downloads of those stories to all my newsletter subscribers. You can sign up for my newsletter HERE and be the first know when new books are released. I’ll never share your information and I’ll only contact you when I have new releases.

Meanwhile, we’re hoping the future brings us a sea change–“the striking change, often for the better”–that leads to my daughter’s recovery and good health, and leaves the terrible C-change as something she endured and conquered.