Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Our Dog Jake

Life with Jake began in May 1994 when 12 year old Catherine came to us with a proposal. "Mom and Dad, all I want for my birthday is a dog. If you can help with the cost of buying a Golden Retriever , I'll take care of him and you won't have to do anything." Catherine was becoming a teenager and her greatest desire was for a dog? We were in. Despite Catherine's best efforts to train Jake, the day came months later when Jake started taking Catherine for walks instead of Catherine walking him. He would see or smell something interesting and run as fast as he could; she had to hold on for dear life. Perhaps Jake contributed to Catherine's fine career as a runner! Fred spent a day installing an invisible fence which worked for a while until Jake decided it was worth the pain to break free and say hello to someone walking down the street. After many attempts to repair and improve the invisible fence system, Jake won. He took his welcoming duties at home very seriously, and greeted all visitors with wild enthusiasm. "Jake went nuts when he saw a new person at the door. He would jump up on them and speed around their feet. To our surprise, he never injured anyone," Fred remembers . One of our teenage male visitors described Jake as "the Pierce's moat". In order to enter our home to see one of the girls, a young man had to get through the moat. True to Jake's retriever nature, he loved water, and our pool suited him fine. He would get in for a nice cooling dip, roll in the combination of grass and mud near the pool, and shake himself off right next to someone. Why not make sure that they were cooled off too? He was very thoughtful that way. Like all dogs he loved to forage and chew things not usually considered edible (including my bathing suit).
Somehow we all survived Jake's prolonged adolescence. Jake began to show his true nobility of character when Jen had a burst appendix in the summer of 1996 and a long recovery at home. Jake slept near her, and provided the comfort of his watchful presence. For many years, Grandma was one of Jake's biggest advocates, and enjoyed spoiling him with treats. With that extra snacking at Grandma's place Jake became chubby, weighing in at over 100 pounds one year. He did slim back down eventually. Grandma loved Jake's company; she was the one at home the most during the day so they were a good pair. Jake loved everyone, and was especially gentle with children. He usually won their confidence that he could be trusted despite his great size. Some avowed dog haters among our dear family and friends were converted because of Jake's affectionate ways. When Jake was five Catherine went off to college, and four years later after marrying Tom she moved to Minnesota. The baton of caring for Jake was handed off to us; what a surprise! Jake slept at the foot of our bed, and I remember one night when Jake woke us up at 3 AM and just had to make an emergency trip outside. True to his sacrificial nature, Fred put on his coat and trudged outside into the winter cold with Jake. Fred and I took Jake for meandering walks, since Jake enjoyed the lovely smells in each person's yard and added a few of his own. Jake was well known by our closest neighbors, especially the Martinos and their dog Bailey, Jake's best friend. They wrestled and chased each other like puppies. Bailey always looked envious as Jake jauntily trotted through the invisible fence surrounding the Martino's yard. Our neighbor across the street, Mr. Courtney,was very sad after his dog died, and Jake paid him frequent visits, and was often invited in for dog biscuits. Jake was gloriously happy when the whole family was together and he could plop down in the middle of everyone. Of course he wedged himself under the table during family meals. What could be better? Jake knew who would slip him a few treats from the table at holiday gatherings. When his family was outside playing, Jake was ecstatic. That was his idea of heaven! He would joyfully run around the yard with his favorite people, in his favorite place, the beautiful outdoors. The golden years of Jake's life began when Fred returned home from the hospital after almost a year. From April 5, 2005 until his death, Jake's mission was to protect and comfort Fred, always at his side. He pressed his body against Fred's bed; anyone visiting had to step over Jake. Despite his aging body, weakened hind legs, and difficulty in walking the last few years, Jake was never more than 10 feet from Fred. Jake's zeal and unflagging love resulted in painful encounters with Fred's wheelchair; he had his paws run over a few times! Jake lived with great gusto and joy until the very end. He taught me so much about basking in the presence of your loved ones, and just being. Jake's devotion and unconditional love will never be forgotten. Thank you, Catherine, for the gift of Jake!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Thank God for the McDonnell Family

One of the greatest joys of my life is to be part of a big family. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for your openness to life, and for giving me two brothers and four sisters. There is much happiness to be shared in the good times, and consolation and strength from our family during the tough times. I am eternally grateful to God , the author of life, and each of you!! We received a great foundation of love and acceptance that prepared us for adulthood. From my vantage point as a grandmother I am blessed to give and receive love as part of the magnificent McDonnells. As Fred says, we are not perfect but we're priceless! Fred particularly relishes his role as president of the "I Married a McDonnell "club.
Kudos to Eileen for her vision and fortitude in planning our recent family reunion. Four generations of our family gathered at Sandy Cove retreat center, situated on a peninsula with glorious views of the Chesapeake Bay. We enjoyed good meals and conversations, entertained each other with skits, swam in the pools, and played basketball. There was time for some fishing, and admiring a beautiful sunset from the dock. Packs of cousins of various ages darted to and fro, with the fourth generation of great-grandchildren watching in awe and trying to keep up. We spent a good amount of time outside with such a lovely setting to enjoy. The grownups chatted while the children played. Several of the boys had great fun riding their skateboards down a steep hill towards the water , adding that special touch of chaos integral to a large family gathering. Unfortunately not everyone could be there , but the absent members were not forgotten. There are always events to celebrate with sixty people. We arrived at Sandy Cove on Father's Day; we are thankful for the devoted fathers in our family. We're grateful for Pat and Katie's beautiful marriage; they just celebrated their 25th! The time honored family tradition of attending Franciscan University of Steubenville will be continued by Sarah, who begins her nursing studies in August. She just missed Greg, a 2008 FUS grad with a degree in business.
May God our Father bless each member of our family, and may we all help each other to reach our ultimate home in heaven.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More beach vacation memories

Our 32nd Wedding Anniversary!
Our house was conveniently located less than two blocks from A La Mode ice cream shop.
Fred's favorite spot to visit in Ocean City- the boardwalk! Our grandsons seem to agree.
We liked the company, the rides , and the boardwalk food. We missed out on boardwalk fries.We'll get them next time!

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Joy of Grandchildren

Some of the great joys of our life now are our grandchildren!! Our daughters Jen, Carolyn, and Catherine and their husbands are phenomenal parents to their rapidly growing families. It's exciting and inspiring for us! The saga of the Brown Family has included 3 children in the first five years of marriage- John Paul, Gabriel, and Monica. The Berg Clan has followed a similar pattern with two sons, Frederick and Jack, and Gemma, our youngest grandchild, born April 23, 2008. The Heil Family saga includes Lydia, who will be one year old on July 24. In December Lydia will learn to share Mommy and Daddy when her new brother or sister is born. Until July 2007 we had only grandsons, but three granddaughters have been born in less than a year! Thank you, Carolyn and Luis, Catherine and Tom, and Jen and Matthew, for your beautiful marriages and families. Your children are a great gift. As Grandad says, life goes on! Thank the Lord!!!

We're joining the wonderful world of blogging!

We've been enjoying the family blogs tremendously. We're ready to plunge in! It seems like a great way to stay in touch and capture the moments and insights of daily life.
We recently returned from a week at the beach with the family the last week of June. The rhythmic sounds of the waves and the salt air were just the tonic we needed to relax. We had great company, delicious meals, happy hours, and a good balance of togetherness and personal time. It was heavenly!! One week didn't seem long enough. We loved having the whole family together. It was a highlight for Grandad to meet Gemma for the first time! The grandchildren certainly enjoyed each other, as well as their parents. Greg and John assisted with Fred's transfers, and helped with their nephews and nieces. John could only stay a few days,and unfortunately a bad sunburn got the better of him. We celebrated Gabe's 3rd birthday,and took a trip to the boardwalk. Thanks to everyone's help, Fred enjoyed the beach several times in a beach wheelchair on loan from the Ocean City Recreation Dept. Luis and Tom fished from the beach and each caught a sand shark. I didn't realize how close I came to swimming with the sharks! A highlight was celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary on June 26. We were treated to breakfast out, and mimosas made by Matthew. Our festive dinner was a scrumptious collaborative effort by Jen, Carolyn, and Catherine. For dessert we walked two blocks to an ice cream shop where Greg treated us to sundaes. Yum! We had fun a few evenings playing "Apples to Apples" after the kids were in bed. Our house had a great setup, with an elevator,and a ramp to the beach right outside our back yard. With great teamwork, the week flowed smoothly. Fred says it was such a joy to be at the beach with the whole family.