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Our Favorite Outdoor Summer Activities

It’s summer here in central Texas…and it’s HOT!  But, with four mobile kids, being stuck inside all day, despite the heat, just isn’t an option.  So, today, I thought I’d write about some of my kids’ favorite outdoor summer activities.  Some are childhood classics, some are definitely ‘farm kid’ pastimes, and others will just downright make you cringe!  Keep reading, if you dare! 

1. Playing in the Pool

What kid can resist playing in the pool?  We make occasional trips to the “big pool”…you know, the kind where the water is higher than your ankles.  But here at home, we don’t have anything fancy like that.  We buy a wading pool at the beginning of each summer.  We still haven’t found a way to keep them usable from summer to summer, so we have to get a new one every year.

I spend many an afternoon watching the kids splashing around.  Their splashes keep me just cool enough to stand being outside!  They play all sorts of imaginary games.  Dolphins, whales, “fast fish” (whatever those are), crocodiles, sea turtles, and even the occasional mermaid…my front yard is full of aquatic wildlife when the pool is out.  My husband and I are constantly amazed by the amount of communication skills that go into a single game of make-believe!

Plus, we (and by we, I mean my husband) can give the garden a good watering when it’s time to empty the pool.  Nearly everything – even playtime – has to pull double duty around here!

2. Rope Swing

Sometimes, though, playtime is actually an object’s second duty.  Several months ago, my husband slaughtered a pair of hogs.  I know many who read this may find that horrifying, but that’s just how life out here works.  Meat doesn’t come from your grocer’s freezer…not originally, anyway.  But, I digress…

My husband put a rope up in one of the trees to aid in processing the hogs after they were slaughtered.  The next day, our kids came out and found the rope still hanging from the tree branch.  They didn’t see a hog rope, they saw a fun time!  My kids are weird, remember?  They stand on the side of my old truck, hold onto the rope and jump off, swinging across the yard.

Occasionally, only under proper supervision (they know they’re not allowed unless one of their parents is right next to them), they get to “foot swing”.  They put a foot into the loop in the rope and (usually) their Daddy swings them up, high and fast.  Their ol’ Momma has even tried it a time or two.  It feels like flying…at least until you can’t hold on any longer!

3. Giant Building Logs

The. Best. Christmas. Gift. Ever!

These logs were a collaboration between my dad and my husband.  My husband came up with the idea, and my dad brought them to life.  These are landscaping timbers cut into varying lengths.  Then, Dad drilled holes at even increments along the flat sides of the timbers.  Pipes can then be inserted by the builder through all the layers to make sturdy structures…much like Lincoln logs, but on a much bigger scale.

These logs have built castles, houses, boats, backyard fences, corrals…you name it!  If Bear is missing, you can almost bet that she’ll be outside building something.  The rest of the kids really get into it as well, giving her ideas of new structures to build.

4. Bubbles

What list of outdoor activities would be complete without bubbles?  I usually make our own bubbles at home with a little Dawn, water and sugar…otherwise, we’d go broke buying bubbles all the time!  The kids really enjoy blowing bubbles.  They especially like to chase each other’s bubbles across the yard in hopes of popping them before they fall in the grass or float over the pond.  Occasionally, a bubble will float past a dog who will try to catch it.  Sadly, the dogs never have anything to show in victory, other than a bad taste in their mouth!

5. Catch

I know what you’re thinking when you read that title.  But, you’re probably wrong.  Our Border Collie, Patch likes playing with the kids.  She also likes playing catch.  A lot.  She’s usually the dog that ends up catching bubbles.  But, Patch will try to catch pretty much anything thrown in the air…tennis balls, sticks, dirt, fertilizer (much to my husband’s consternation), and of course, balls of mud.

One of the kids’ favorite variations on this game is throwing small twigs or pebbles into the pond.  Patch will then take a flying leap into the water (what’s not funny about that?) to try to retrieve whatever was thrown in.  If was a stick, she’s usually successful.  However, if it was a pebble. she’ll swim around desperately trying to find it.  Of course, the children think this is quite hilarious.  I wind up with four sets of muddy feet and a dog covered in pond scum.  What joy is mine!

6. Pond Hunts

Our pond starts to dry up in the late spring.  If we’re lucky, we get enough rain during the early summer that our pond doesn’t completely dry out (our first year living here was 2011, and by the end of the summer the pond was bone dry, not even a muddy spot left!).  But, either way, it gets much smaller.  Our children often form a little roaming band and tramp around the pond bed finding interesting critters, or playing some imaginary game.  The game often degenerates into playing mud-ball catch with Patch.

Bear will often bring her nature journal and nature identification guide with her.  She takes great pleasure in finding, drawing, and identifying little creatures and plants that have made their home in the dried-up pond goo!  I’m glad they have fun, and I suppose it’s even a little educational.  But, again, it tends to end in mud-covered shoes, clothes, and dogs!

7. Mud Fight!

Ah, I’ve saved the best for last!  I know this one is likely to make many of you shudder.  But, this is, hands-down, my kids’ favorite game!  They run outside as soon as it stops raining (usually before if there’s no lightening) so they can get to the puddles before they dry up.  As you can tell from the pictures, they get gross!  But, it’s nothing a water hose can’t fix.  I suppose all that fun is ultimately worth the mess!  If you would like some tips on how to deal with kids and mud without losing your sanity, check out this post.

 

And, because you really can’t get a real feel for this last one from just a picture, here’s a little video clip:

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This is the last post in a three part series about our dog Trinity, who passed away last weekend.  If you missed Part One, you can find it here.  You can find Part Two here.


Even though Trinity really enjoyed living out in the country, I had an economic decision to make.  It was just after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Gas prices had skyrocketed.  Driving back and forth to town every day for class and work became more expensive than the rent I was paying for my room in the house.  So, I decided to move back to town.  It was back to apartment life for the two of us.

Trinity adjusted fairly well.  She enjoyed all the walks she got again, though she would have preferred them without the leash.  I had graduated from college, then went to work for a lab in my former department.  It was there I met my husband, Andrew.

Andrew met Trinity on our first date.  He was a little surprised…Trinity was a Border Collie mix.  He had a Border Collie of his own.  Trinity liked Andrew a lot.  He would bring his dog Blaze over, or I would take Trinity to his apartment, and we would all walk to the closest park.  Andrew and I would fish, and the dogs would gaze longingly at the ducks.  They would occasionally hop in the pond for a quick swim (and a quick duck chase).  Andrew was also a runner, and he would occasionally take Trinity with him on a run.  We went camping, and canoeing, and played frisbee.

It was during this time that I started working for a veterinary diagnostic lab at our university.  While I was working at this lab, I was able to do a lot of testing for Trinity for free.  As a result, we found out that Trinity had a simple deficiency.  With vitamin B12 supplementation, her digestive problems that she had dealt with since her poisoning simply went away.  She didn’t even have to have special food anymore.

Andrew and I eventually decided to get married.  We became one big, happy family.  Soon, we were expecting our first child.  We moved into a small house in town.  When we brought Bear home from the hospital, Trinity and Blaze were so excited.  They had something new to take care of!

As Bear grew, and learned to walk, Trinity had to find a few hiding places.  But she was always gentle with Bear…even when Bear wasn’t so gentle with her!

We soon moved to our little farm.  Trinity was finally able to return to the farm life, she had enjoyed so much in her younger years, but she was much older this time.  Chase was no longer her game of choice.  She now preferred to wander around, smelling all the fantastic smells that farm life had to offer.

We had three more children.  Trinity was amazingly gentle with them all.  She enjoyed her life in retirement.  Blaze died a few years after we moved out here.  He had always helped Andrew with the cattle.  After a rather unfortunate and scary incident with the cattle, Andrew and I agreed that he needed a new cow dog…Trinity had absolutely no interest in playing with the cows.  She was in retirement, after all!  Along came Midnight and Sandy.  Then a year or so later, when neither of them was very good with the cattle either, along came Patch.  Trinity eventually learned to accept each new addition…well, when they got bigger than she was, anyway!  Sandy continued to let Trinity boss her around, and Trinity took that responsibility very seriously.

Trinity’s experiences with mange that I wrote about in this post would soon come to an end.  After the first snake bite, Trinity took to snake hunting.  Fortunately, she was only bitten once more a few years later.  Though we thought she wasn’t going to make it again, she miraculously pulled through one more time.

About three months ago, she started getting sick for the last time.  It started with a persistent cough.  Sadly, there was a tumor growing larger and larger.  It was finally inescapable.  The dog who had cheated death so many times was finally dying.

We are grateful, in a way, that she was really only seriously uncomfortable for about a day.  We didn’t have to make any decision about putting her down.  She died during the night, peacefully and on her own terms.  She always did do things on her own terms!

Trinity knew a lot of people in her long doggie life.  She was a legend.  In the end, she was loved by her family…by four small children and their two parents.  Her antics will be remembered for years to come.  Perhaps, then, she’ll never die after all.  One thing is for certain, Trinity will be missed.

 

This is the second in a series of posts to remember the life of our dog, Trinity.  She was a dog who escaped death many times.  If you missed the first part of this series, you can read it here.  And here, you can find another story about one of Trinity’s many scrapes with death.


After Trinity’s unfortunate adventure at my parents’ house, we got back to my apartment and got settled in.  Eventually, she recovered fully.  She still had some digestive issues that stayed with her.  I put her on a special hypoallergenic food, and that mostly solved the problem.  Otherwise, Trinity was a happy, healthy young dog.  She had a happy tail that wagged constantly.  It could put a bruise on your leg, or knock your drink off the coffee table!  Sometimes, it was hard to tell who was wagging who!

A year went by.  I moved into a house with a couple of friends.  Trinity would have a backyard to play in.  She would have other dog friends to play with (once she got used to them, of course).

She was happy living in that house, and so was I.  We’d take walks around the neighborhood together.  We played fetch with Trinity’s toy hedgehog in the backyard.  We played chase in the backyard.

One day, one of my roommates fried up some venison backstrap.  She put the trimmings and scraps in a plastic bag in the trash.  Apparently, Trinity couldn’t resist.  She got into the trash, ripped open the bag, and ingested the contents.  She got very sick – again.  This time, it was, according to the vet, E. coli…or an E. coli-type infection.  She had to stay with the vet for a couple of days.  Again, she made a full recovery and was able to come home.  We resumed our life as a care-free college student and her dog.

Another way, another move.  I moved a little way outside of town.  My new roommate already shared the property with a dog and two horses.  Trinity really enjoyed the rural life.

About a week after we moved in, my roommate had her horses tied to the front yard fence, washing them.  I came home and let Trinity out of her kennel, and out in the front yard to do her business…just as I did every day.  I was obviously not thinking clearly!  She went charging out the door, straight for those horses on the other side of the fence.  She ran up to them, barking.  As she got to the fence, though, she looked up and realized just how incredibly big those horses were…and how small she was!  Just at that moment, the younger of the two horses reached his head over the fence, and began to nibble up and down Trinity’s back.  Trinity froze.  It was the funniest thing I had ever seen.  Trinity had met her match.

She remembered her lesson for a while.  But one day, I had the bad luck to let Trinity out at exactly the same time that my roommate was letting the horses out to graze.  They would always take a few minutes to run and buck and play before settling down to eat a little.  One of Trinity’s favorite things to do was chase things.  And that’s exactly what she did.  She ran straight for the fence, scooted underneath it, and ran after those horses.  I don’t know if the horses even noticed her.  She chased them to the back of the property.  The horses came back, making their full circle.  But Trinity didn’t.

My roommate and I started walking out towards the back of the property, calling for Trinity.  We walked a little way, and finally saw Trinity coming…on three legs.  One of her front legs was very clearly broken.  My roommate very kindly offered to drive us to the vet.  
So, I lifted Trinity and carried her to my roommate’s truck.  Off to the vet we went.  It was fairly late in the afternoon, so Trinity had to stay overnight to have her leg set and casted.  I brought her home on my way home from class the next day.  She was still the same happy Trinity with the same happy tail.  The cast made it hard for her to walk, but she soon figured it out.  It took about two months, but her leg finally healed.  Needless to say, I as on a first name basis with the entire staff at our veterinary clinic.

Trinity got used to her newly-healed leg.  She was back to running and playing chase in no time…just not with the horses!

 


Part Three of Trinity’s story is now up, too.  Enjoy.


This weekend was a little emotional here in our home.  We’ve had to say goodbye to a beloved family pet.  Trinity wasn’t doing well Saturday, and when we woke up Sunday morning, we found she had died during the night.  I must say, it wasn’t unexpected.  She had been sick for quite a while.  And after all, she was 17 years old.  But how do I say goodbye to a dog who has been a constant companion to me for the past 16 years?  How do I help my kids say goodbye to a dog who has been part of the family for their entire lives?  After all, this dog has escaped death so many times.  It’s really still a little hard to process that she’s actually gone for good.

One of the ways I do it is to talk about (or write about) all the crazy shenanigans Trinity has gotten herself into over the past 16 years.  She really was a funny dog.  She was a constant guard of the food bowl.  In fact, we don’t know exactly how we’re going to keep Sandy from eating too much anymore, now that Trinity is gone.  Trinity was Sandy’s self control.

The first time I met Trinity, I was looking to adopt a dog from the pound.  I was in college, and I had grown up with dogs always in the house.  So when I moved out of the dorms, and into my first apartment, getting a dog was my first order of business!  Off to the pound I went.  There were all sorts of dogs, all barking and anxious for attention.  But one dog in particular caught my attention.  She was standing with her front feet up on the kennel door, jumping up and down, desperately barking at me, and trying to dig her way through the chain link door.  I told one of the employees that I wanted to visit with that dog.  I took her out into the yard area they had there at the pound for people to use to get to know the animals.  She stole my heart right away.  She was active and personable.  I just knew she was the dog for me.  So I took her to the front to start the paperwork and pay for her.  

The adoption fee was usually $75.  The lady at the front tap-tapped on her computer for a minute, and then frowned.  She said, “I’m afraid we may have a problem here.”

“What’s the problem?”  I asked, concerned.

“Well, this dog has been adopted before.  She has already been spayed, so her fee would only be $25.”

“I don’t see the problem there!”  I joked.

“Well,” she frowned, “she has been adopted before, and they brought her back this morning.  They said she was too much trouble.  It was an older couple though, perhaps she was just too active.  She is scheduled for…” she trailed off.  “You are sure this is the dog you want?  She may be a problem.”

“Yes, I’m sure this is the dog I want.”  Even though she hadn’t said it, I knew perfectly well what this poor dog was scheduled for, and that wasn’t going to happen to her!  I knew I couldn’t save them all, but I could save this one.

“Alright then,” said the woman.  “Just in case it doesn’t work out for you though, I’ll hold your check for a week.  You can just bring her back and you’ll save the money.”

Well, I had just been challenged!  There was no way the dog was going to come back to this place.  I didn’t care how “difficult” she might be.  She was my dog now, and we’d figure it out. 

We went straight to the pet store to get some dog food and a proper collar and leash.  I got her a kennel to use while I was in class.  I took her to the vet for her shots and check up at the first opportunity.

It turns out, she did have a few quirks.  She was not a huge fan of other dogs…a fact which made visiting my parents and their three dogs a little challenging at first.  But she got used to them.  Well, all but one of them.  But it was easy enough to keep the two of them separated while I visited for a weekend.  She got agitated whenever she saw other animals of any kind…especially large animals like cattle and horses.  That made the car rides back and forth to college rather interesting since the roads led through 3 hours worth of rural Texas.

She was a very active dog, and still rather young.  The vet estimated that she was about 10 months old.  So she wasn’t completely out of her puppy phase yet.  That explained why she was still a little “difficult”.  We played a lot, and she had tons of toys.  She seemed to be pretty happy.  She took to kennel training very well.  The kennel was her own little house, and she was perfectly happy to stay there while I was in class.  Night time was a completely different story, however.  Soon, even though I had every intention of having her sleep in the kennel, she had wormed her way out, and was sleeping at the foot of my bed.

About a month after Trinity first came to live with me, we went home to visit my parents.  We had plans to go to the state fair.  So, on Saturday morning, I put Trinity outside in the back yard while I was getting ready to go.  I walked by the door, and noticed her laying on her side…she appeared to be sleeping.  That was odd behavior for her so early in the morning.  I went out to check on her.  She could barely stand, and was obviously very sick.  I called to my mom and dad.  They helped me get her in the car, and drove us to their vet.

It turns out, she had been poisoned.  Mom and Dad told me that they’d been having some trouble with some boys in the neighborhood, messing with their dogs.  Chances are, someone had tossed something over the fence, intended for my parents’ dogs, and Trinity had eaten it.  Since it was Saturday, my parents’ vet got Trinity stabilized, then we took her over to the emergency clinic, where I had worked so many years in high school and during the summers in college.  Fortunately, I had an employee’s discount, so I only payed the hospital’s cost for all of her treatment.  Even so, I had to have help from my parents in order to afford all the treatment.

By the end of the weekend, she was still weak, but she was healthy enough to come back to school with me.


On pins and needles?  Now you can read Part Two.

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We’ve all heard stories of old about the infamous snake oil salesmen, selling all sorts of remedies for all kinds of ailments.  Well, perhaps they may actually have been on to something!

My dog, Trinity, has escaped death too many times to count in her 17 years.  From poisonings, to being run over by a horse, she’s had plenty of close calls.  But those are all stories for a different time.  Today’s story is about Trinity and mange.  It doesn’t really sound life-threatening on the surface, does it?

Well, this story starts about eight years ago, not long after Bear was born.  We still lived in town.  I noticed a small spot on Trinity’s back where she was missing her hair.  I thought it was a probably a sting or bite at first, and didn’t really think much of it.  But a week or so later, I noticed it was still there…and it was definitely bigger.  And was that another small bald spot on her face?

Having worked as a vet tech all through high school and college, I already knew it was likely to be mange.  My question was…sarcoptic, or demodectic?  Only the vet could answer that question.

So, off to the vet we went.  A couple of skin scrapings and microscope slides later, we had our answer.  Demodectic mange.  This type of mange is a nuisance to the dog, but it is not contagious to other dogs, or to humans.  It is treatable, but the effectiveness of the treatments varies.

We tried dips first.  No such luck.  Large doses of ivermectin were typically our vet’s next suggestion.  However, Trinity is part Border Collie.  The breed has a known sensitivity to ivermectin.  He advised against that type of treatment, as it could easily kill her.  We should only attempt it as a last resort.

We did some research on our own, and found a flea and tick prevention medication that had fallen out of favor for its intended use.  However, many folks were have a lot of success using off label to treat demodectic mange.  We decided to give it a shot.

The first time we used it, Trinity’s hair started growing back within a few days.  It stank horribly for a day or two, but if it was going to get rid of the mange, we were willing to deal with it.  It was a monthly treatment.  Low and behold, just before the month was up, here came the bald spots again.  So, it was monthly treatments from there on out.

We used that treatment for a couple of years.  We moved out of town, on to our little farm.  The effectiveness of the treatment began to wane.  Soon, the monthly treatments were only keeping the bald spots from getting bigger.  They weren’t going away anymore.  Eventually, we started treating more and more often…once every 3 weeks, then every two…

Then, the company that made the treatment finally took it off the market.  We couldn’t get it anymore.  What would we do for poor Trinity?  She was nearly completely bald, and she was miserable.  She looked like pictures that pop up occasionally that people take of some poor creature they found that they are just sure is a chupacabra…but they always wind up being some sort of canine with mange.  She just laid on her pillow all day long, not moving much unless it was to scratch.  

We decided it was time for the last-ditch effort.  We had ivermectin for the cattle.  We were hoping that Trinity had enough non-Border Collie parts to keep the ivermectin from killing her.  But, the unfortunate fact of the matter was, we were going to have to put her down if we couldn’t find anything to help her…she was just too miserable.  So, we got the dosage for ivermectin to treat mange in a dog her size, and, with a bit of trepidation, tried it.

Luckily, it worked…and she lived through it.  We kept treating, gradually increasing the dosage as it became ineffective.  Soon, we were giving her the maximum dosage twice a month.  But mange kept winning.  We again started to discuss whether euthanasia was the most humane option we had.

One day, just as the kids and I were getting home from a long trip to visit their grandparents, Trinity was out sniffing around in a patch of tall grass in the pasture.  As I pulled the truck into our parking area, she ran out to greet us…we had been gone several days.

Less than an hour after we got home, we noticed that Trinity was even more lethargic than usual, and there was a giant lump swelling up on the side of her face and neck.  She was already quite old, and she was weak from the mange.  We were afraid nature had made our decision for us.  Trinity had been bitten by a snake.  It was, in all likelihood, a copperhead.

We took her collar off, and tried to make her as comfortable as possible.  We waited for what we believed to be inevitable.

But the next morning, something strange happened.  When we got up, there was Trinity, laying on her pillow, slowly wagging her tail at us.  She was obviously still hurting from the bite, but seemed much better than she had the night before.  The swelling in her face and neck was starting to go down a little!  It didn’t seem possible.  

By the next day, she was up and around again, up to her usual antics…busily guarding the food bowl (the one activity for which she has always had the energy).  In fact, she even spent a lot of time outside, hunting the vile creature that had bitten her to pay it back for its crime.  We were shocked, to say the least.  But, an even bigger surprise was coming.

A few weeks later, I looked at Trinity one evening, and it looked like…it had to be my imagination!  But it looked like some of her hair was growing back.  I asked Andrew if he had given her more ivermectin.  He hadn’t.  He had given up.  I told him to come look at her.  We agreed…it looked like some hair was growing back.

Within three months, our hairless wonder had regrown a full, healthy coat.  It’s now been over three years, and the mange has never returned.  Now, Trinity has plenty of other health problems (as many 17 year old dogs do), but mange is certainly not one of them!

If only we had known sooner…snake bites cure mange!  Who knows, maybe those snake oil salesmen of yesteryear knew what they were talking about after all.

 

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Sincerely, Paula