Sunday, July 20, 2014

Crazy is the New Normal

Throughout this past 3 months, I’ve discovered a whole new term to the meaning of “normal.” Yes, it’s still just a setting on the dryer, but it’s something that I achieve daily to be, and typing that out actually sounds weird. Our lives as of late are so upended that crazy is the new normal, and honestly I am so damn tired I just can’t keep up. I hear all the time, “You can do this! Just keep trying.” Not to sound like a total cad, but seriously? Why didn’t *I* think of that? I should just get right up off this couch and start trying! I knew there was something I was forgetting to do today!

I don’t sleep anymore, I rarely eat, and at the moment I’ve gained back the 20-pounds I lost. With no job, no income and the VA upending everything financially, my biggest fear is coming true. I’m about 95% sure we are going to be living in the car by the end of August. Now add to this stress 2 sick service dogs. I get up at 5AM not to go and sew, but to clean, because as soon as the dogs are up, I have to focus on them and their health needs as well as Steve’s. I’m cooking 6 cups of rice and boiling 4-6 chicken parts daily so it can cool off, I can separate the fat, skin and bones then prep baggies of meals with pumpkin so the boys will have their bland diet in hopes that this horrible tummy yuck will stop and I can get them back on their healthy kibble and take that food budget and put it back to the humans. By this point I wash my 3rd set of dirty dishes just so I can keep the chicken fat smell out of my house. Which, by the way, is driving me so mad that I all but vomit as soon as the chicken starts to boil. No, I don’t have a dishwasher, it’s all by hand, so my skin is trashed and bleeding.

By 8AM, I go and work with Steve and get him up and moving which these days is a real treat both emotionally as well as physically. It’s hard enough mentally to take rejections over and over for jobs you’ve applied for, but when you are physically hurting on top of it, you start to take things personally and the whole thing snowballs. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that he is in more pain now then I’ve ever seen him. He’s no longer even trying to do daily exercises or stretches and is having to use a cane to help take the weight off the right hip. The one breakthrough with the medical VA was his neurosurgeon getting him a full back MRI in September. He’s been waiting for this for 10 years. He’s applying to jobs hand over fist, daily, with little to nothing to show for it. Most of these job are now for things that have absolutely nothing to do with his degree, which, FYI, for those of you who know the VA system should be pretty pissed about because it was your tax dollars that sent him to school; thank you. He’s had some amazing interviews and a few possibilities but there always seems to be that one little hitch: Charlie. The only assumption I can come up with is the fact it’s not about the dog, it’s about what the dog stands for.

My Valkyrie business is not where I want it either and honestly, I’m just not in the right frame of mind to make it work. I’ve talked to 2 different people/groups who’s whole job is to help small businesses like myself get the info and guidance and support they need, but apparently I have to be the squeaky wheel and demand these people help me over and over or I have to have more money, or holler louder to be heard over the “other women” who have more money because their husbands have the start up for them. Yeah, I’m fighting like hell to keep my girl afloat, but there’s only so much fight left in me and guess where my priority is at the moment?  It isn't the fabric that's for damn sure.

By 10-11 AM I’m on the phone with local officials desperately trying to get answers or help. I’ve contacted our state’s congressmen and senator: Steve Danes, John Walsh, as well as John Tester’s offices. All told me that while the situation is not uncommon, they are very busy and will need time to figure out a way to help. They need time? Well cool beans, let me know when they come up with answers in the meanwhile I’m going to go start packing what belongings I want to keep and start selling off furniture and things in order to pay for rent and my electricity because you have people in the system doing one thing and saying another! One of the staffers even asked if they could use this as a sound bit to help with his candidates campaign. Without having done anything! I’m discussed. At the same time, I’m also talking to the American Legion (which Steve is a member of), I’m talking to the VA, I’m talking to state officials, I’m talking to federal officials, I’m talking and talking and talking and it’s going NO WHERE except to making holes in my stomach that hurt and another day go by being closer and closer to no reason at all as to why Steve should have gone back to school; this had to be the dumbest damn decisions we've ever made.  I’m told go to the food bank (which by law you can go to only once every 30 days and you can get a 5-day supply). I'm told go get food stamps, which will take 45-60 days to process. I’m told his VA medical is too much to help with rent, even if the amount is wrong and has been wrong for 5 years but it's sure site not enough to pay the rent. I’m told to talk to this person then go talk to that person, who tells me to go back and talk to the first person who doesn’t know how to help.

By 1PM I’m madly sewing to get the daily orders out, and getting them to the PO before 4PM so I can then take some time with the dogs and go and walk them in hopes of a solid poo. Yeah I said it, but that is the goal. I live for the day that my dog poo solid again and my stomach doesn't clench when I hear Steve come in telling me Charlie is still off, maybe we could call the Vet again?  By this time the smoke is all over the valley from the WA and Canadian wildfires making everyone sneeze and itch. Can I risk turning on the AC and hoping I can find a way to pay the bill? I go back, answer calls, answer emails and start on dinner for Steve and I, usually mac and cheese in a box or if I managed to save a few bit of chicken that. By 6:30 I’m shutting down. By 7PM my muscles have locked up and I am in so much pain I can’t walk my dog for the evening and Steve has to take Bentley. By 8PM all I want to do is curl up and sob because I’m replaying everything in my head over and over and I can’t get it out or straightened out. This is my day for the past 3 months. It is agony.

The cherry on the top was on Friday when we finally got the paperwork back from the “new” councilor for Steve’s Voc Rehab, who’s whole purpose is to help him look for work. This is the same guy who was “helping” Steve in December. The one who didn’t even take the time to help with the resume, but tells him to go research and figure it out. Oh, yeah, that whole 6 month stipend thing we were told by both Seattle VA as well as University of Montana VA? Nope. He only get’s 2 payments total. One after 30-days from 7-14 with 10 days to hit the bank account and one after 60-days with 10-days to hit the account. That. Is. It. We are totally screwed. I’ve even asked others with very well meaning intentions to help Steve out with the resume. Most are associated with groups we are a part of, and we understand he is one small fish in a very large pond of fishes. But right now, I’m not too worried about the other fishes, I really need these bigger fishes to turn around and see this smaller fish trying to keep up and help him out. I have to figure out a way to get a handle for Charlie’s vest so Steve stops getting tangled up in the leash and miscueing and Charlie. In reality, it's just a $20.00 handle should be that big of a drama right? I mean come on, $20.00!  That, now is 2 days worth of chicken for the boys to eat until their stomachs settle. What do you think I’m going to choose?

So while I’m thrilled to see the photos of the family beach pictures, and ball games and new cars and all of that fun stuff, please understand, I’m not trying to be awful nor mean.  I'm not ignoring you on purpose. I’m not trying to be bitter. I’m not even trying to be a debbie-downer. The reason I'm not responding is because it hurts, because *I* want to be on the beach drinking something fruity and I want to go to a ballgame and eat a sausage or be on a cruise with my family and seeing the whales jump up! My family is sinking. Hard. I’m scratching and clawing and desperately trying to not just keep my head up, but those of my husband and our service dogs going in hopes that we will get that *one* special company that will extend their hand and offer Steve a chance. We just need that one chance, and he will knock their socks off with his work. We just have to keep moving forward. One toe, one paw, one foot; one forward movement at a time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The ADI Public Access Test

As most know, Charlie is Steve's Giant Schnoodle Service Dog that was given to him from K9's For Warriors back in April 2013.  Prior to meeting up with Charlie, "K9's trainers spend months training each dog prior to matching the dog with a warrior.  This training includes behavior modification, general obedience and manners, plus service dog and public access skills." Once Charlie and Steve met up, they "began a three week stay in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. Our Warriors come here, meet, & train with their new dog. K9s For Warriors focuses on the recovery of the warrior. We offer monthly classes and can accommodate up to 5 Warriors a month. We believe that by including the warrior in the training and giving them the training tools necessary the warrior is also becoming part of their own recovery. We are seeing amazing results." At the end of the three week training, the Service Teams take the ADI Public Access Test (ADI PA Test).  The purpose of this test is to ensure that the dogs that have public access are stable, well-behaved, and unobtrusive to the public. This test is not what makes them service dogs! What makes them service dogs is their specialized training for the person's disability.  The PA Test just shows that they have advanced obedience and will not be a "disturbance" to public areas. As we are finding out along this journey, it's one that is vital to making PTSD/Mental Health Service Dogs a legitimate service team.  In theory, once the Team takes the ADI Public Access Test and passes, they really don't need to take it again.  In reality, that's not the case.  If we don't use certain commands everyday because they are not really needed for our disability then they are forgotten, right?  However, what if there is that one time that you really need your dog to do Fill In The Blank command? Taking the test yearly just shows that your dog is up to speed on his/her obedience and if there is room for improvement, you know where to start! It's not to prove your team is failing or you are somehow wrong. It's about the health and welfare of a good team working together and communicating in a fashion that shows non-serve dog users this is what a properly train service dog look and works like. What SD team wouldn't want that?  Well, you'd be surprised by how much drama the fake service dog teams are making over this; hence how hard it is to not only take PTSD/Mental Heath Service Dog Teams seriously but in my case, Self Training a PTSD/Mental Heath Service Dog!

So, Steve and Charlie had their one year re-evaluation.  As much as we really wanted to be able to send them back down for a day or two for see the K9's Team, we just couldn't afford it, so I made a video of Steve and Charlie working the various test requirements with the help of my Trainer, Ron Murray from Montana Murray Kennels who called the commands needed.  We did this at Town and Country Foods, our local grocery store and deli, and only having to explain once to an elderly lady that Ron really was not trying to scare or hurt Steve and Charlie when he walking up behind them and dropping a tray (startle Charlie) she really DIDN'T need to call for help. (grin)  So with permission from Shari Duval and K9's For Warrior's I am proud to show of my AMAZING husband and his DIVINE dog, Charlie, taking the ADI Public Access Test.

And yes, I had a little fun editing it and music and things. I had to!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

It's Cool In the Furnace

Now that the snows have melted (you jest, but there are still little bits here and there up on the Bridgers and Spanish Peaks) I decided to give our car a good bath and "de-fur" the back and see if I could actually remove "pounds" of Bentley fur. Besides nothing says "I'm totally going to get this job!" like your derriere in black slacks covered in fur.

At the car wash, I happened to be right next to one of Bozeman's Finest who was in a K-9 Unit.  Now for those who don't know, I happen to be terrified of the police.  As in totally shut down can't function going to keel over and not see the world scared. Today was different.  He too was wearing black and covered in dog hair.  As we opened our respective doors, both of our interiors blew out a ton of dog hair and we cracked up.

After sucking up the courage I began to ask him a few questions regarding how the police travel with their dogs, where was the best place for them to travel, how to they push the air in the back to the dogs, to the cool down the cars first, on and on.  Before I new it, I'd been standing there 30 minuets and didn't even realize it.

It. Just. Rocked.  He even came over and helped me "safe" our car for The Boys and pointed me in the direction to the car parts store to ask for certain inexpensive things to make it even better. The Boys are "forced" to lay down, they have a chew toy to distract them and not the driver and I now have a large gallon jug of water I will take with me until the hot weather is over so when they get back in, they can have a drink and stay hydrated.

So after Ms Elainie got her bath, and the $5.00 worth of vacuuming time (I'd like to note, the police man got his for free with a super secret card he used!) I ran over got the window clings and made the changes.  The only thing I couldn't find was a 12-volt fan but Amazon has one and if I make a sale this week I'll order it!  We just tried it out and the Boys were SO much happier, Steve wasn't distracted by a head popping up and blocking his view, the window clings are high enough so we can roll down the windows but also block light, and Bentley couldn't weasel into the middle of the front seat because of the Kurgo seat cover now converted to a barricade.

The Mobile Dog Palace and Watering Station

Per the officer's suggestions, we will get a 12-Volt fan to stir the air around and clip it to the pocket.

I found window clings that can be moved and reused.  The Kurgo seat cover makes a wonderful barrier and doesn't block the aid coming from the front.

Now this all being done and said, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please do NOT leave your dog in a hot car!  Not even for a moment! EVER!  If we find out you did, we will call the police on you!  Our dogs go with us inside places so we know they are OK, but you can't keep your 4-foots safe and healthy in a car when the outside temperature is 70F/21C or higher.

Oh, and FYI: There are laws in AZ, CA, IL, ME, MD, MN, NV, NH, NJ, NY, ND, SD, VT and WV that can result in one's imprisonment and fines if you're one of the idiots that make a guess that your dog will be fine in the car for "just a few minutes" in the hot weather.  Just sayin'.

Friday, June 27, 2014

We Don't Need a Hand Out. We Need Opportunities and Questions Answered (Per Charlie Schnoodle)

Hi, my name is Charlie.  I am a 2 ½ year old Giant Schnoodle (Giant Schnauzer/Standard Poodle).  I am a K9’s For Warrior’s graduate and have been certified using the ADI Public Access Test as well as the AKC Canine Good Citizens Test.  I’ve also been trained with very specific tasks to help my Warrior, Steve, mitigate his daily tasks so he can be a functioning, active Veteran (and give me lots of cookies).  Everywhere my Warrior goes, I go. That's the law.

My Warrior is a 2014 graduate of Montana State University with a BS in Earth Science - Human Geography - GIS.  I went with him to classes, so I can prove he’s been there. We’ve also had multiple semesters of Arabic and statistics as well as a solid background in ArcGIS.  Steve has been looking for a job since the beginning of the year; well before graduation and has sent over 100 resumes to places all over the United States ranging from a Night Auditor at a hotel, to a GIS Technician (his ideal dream job).  He has only been called for 2 interviews, both ending with, “Thank you but no thank you,” or “Thank you for coming, but I don’t think you are a good fit for this position.”  Steve has been more than qualified for both positions, what it boiled down to was the stigma attached to why My Warrior actually needs me.

My Warrior just found out that the VA program he was under (Chapter 31, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment) gave us incorrect information and we are now in financial trouble.  The university will not be processing his graduation certification until mid-August.  Once they have that done, this will be sent to the Voc Rehab Councilor who transfer him over to a new counselor who will “guide and follow” Steve for 4-6 weeks and “council” him in the job hunting experience, you know, things he’s been doing since January?  Once the new councilor is satisfied Steve is on his way with the job hunt, this councilor will release the funds that were, as we were told in the beginning of this whole process, to happen within 4-6 weeks of him graduating (May, 2014).  These funds will not happen until September, maybe.  As of 31 July, the Voc Rehab stipend he was receiving stops until the certification and the 4-6 weeks of shadowing occurs.  That’s it. No way around it.  

Now, we are not sitting at home on our laurels waiting for someone to just hand over a job.  My Warrior and I have been working with a local job bank in hopes of getting his resume spruced up, his interview skills polished and refined, and looking for new networking resources.  No, he will not be flipping burgers or being a stock boy. I can’t be around open food preparation per the ADA, and my Warrior is physically broken so lifting heavy things isn’t really an option.  Yes, he is looking at all the aspects he can for any job at this point that will accommodate our needs, but apparently, we must be pretty needy.

What I want for Steve is a chance; a fighting chance at a job that he has worked so very hard for these past 5 years for.  As an honorably discharged Army Veteran, as a student who worked his tail off in school, and as a guy who is painfully aware that the odds are not in his favor, I need for a miracle to happen before 31 July.  We can’t change situations we don’t take responsibility for, and we both know this can happen.  We are learning to humble ourselves and allow others who might have resources or answers to enter our little chaotic world and point us in the right direction.  We are not asking for a hand out, rather we are asking why is this process so messed up, and why can’t we find even an emergency job that can accommodate us?  I love my Warrior very, very much.  I know he’s made my life better and I’ve made his better too.  If you have answers or even ideas, we’d like to hear from you.  Thank you for all of your help!

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Being a semi-good scandinavian girl, I've been trying to keep with various traditions celebrations and introduce them to Steve as well.  With a bit of digging through my various family members (a.k.a. cast of characters), I've discovered that I am not only Norwegian, I am also Swede, and Danish.

Did I mention I have an affinity for Ikea? Must be the Swede in me.

Anyway, this past year, I decided that I really wanted to embrace my scandinavian roots and this included cooking and lifestyle. The fact that Midsummer happens to be the day after our wedding anniversary is no coincidence. We wanted to be married on the 21st, however that year it landed on a day of the week that wasn't going to work, so the 20th it is.  Just means two special days for us!

This year, I decided to have a Midsummer/anniversary dinner for just the two of us outside and just enjoy the summer breezes, and in this case the rumbling of thunder and dancing of storm clouds. I made a broiled marinated salmon, boiled potatoes with parsley and dill, deviled eggs, fresh bread and butter, dill pickles, mead and beer. A yummy, almost traditional, and very special dinner.

It. Was. Divine.
FYI, I'll put the marinade recipe I used below.

Salmon Marinade
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ⅓ cup teriyaki sauce
  • ⅓ cup warm water
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ pounds salmon fillets with skins

  1. In a small bowl, stir together lemon juice, teriyaki sauce, water, garlic powder, salt, pepper and olive oil until completely combined. 
  2. Place the mixture and fellers in the ziplock bag and let marinade in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the grill to a medium heat (not hot!) and lightly oil the grate.
  4. Place the fillets on the grill and cook for 6-7 minuets on each side or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Smartphone Apps for a PTSD/TBI Household

When my father broke his neck way back in the late 1980’s, we didn’t have smartphones let alone apps for a phone to look up for reminders and helps and WebMD. Shoot, we weren’t even up on PINE yet for the internet all though, if I remember correctly, my folks were running several CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers) computers. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is we are really fortunate these days. Between Apple and Android Apps, we can keep track of daily activities, help with panic attacks, calendars, alarms you name it. In this household we pretty much live on our apps, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I have the memory retention of a turnip and get overwhelmed very easily. Steve has a lot on his plate and his hyper-focusing can get in the way of daily chores as well. And you know what? It’s perfectly OK to use technology to help us out! It’s not the lazy way out as it was so adamantly pressed upon me by several older doctors. This way, we can be “almost normal” or at least some facsimile there of. So, here is our list of our favorite “How to Keep a Orderly PTSD/TBI Household and Not Lose Your Damn Mind Apps.”

For the Mind
“SuperBetter is a tool created by game designers and backed by science. Playing SuperBetter helps build personal resilience: the ability to stay strong, motivated, and optimistic even in the face of difficult challenges. Resilience has a powerful effect on health—by boosting physical and emotional well-being. Resilience also helps you achieve your life goals—by strengthening your social support and increasing your stamina, willpower, and focus.“

“At their core the Optimism applications are mood charts, designed to help with managing mental health. They are used as self-help or self-improvement tools, for depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions.”

T2 Mood Tracker:
“T2 Mood Tracker is a mobile application that allows users to monitor and track emotional health. Originally developed as a tool for service members to easily record and review their behavior changes, particularly after combat deployments, it has now become very popular with many civilian users around the world.

The app records a range of emotions for anxiety, depression, head injury, stress, posttraumatic stress and a user’s general well-being. Users can also create items to track their progress in unique areas. The saved results are displayed in an easy-understand graph. The data is saved in a graphical or spreadsheet file which can be transferred by e-mail or other wireless connection.” T2 Breathe2Relax:
“Breathe2Relax is a portable stress management tool. Breathe2Relax is a hands-on diaphragmatic breathing exercise. Breathing exercises have been documented to decrease the body's 'fight-or-flight' (stress) response, and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management.Breathe2Relax can be used as a stand-alone stress reduction tool, or can be used in tandem with clinical care directed by a healthcare worker.”

PTSD Coach
“PTSD Coach was developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD in collaboration with T2. The goal was to develop a mobile application to assist Veterans and Active Duty personnel (and civilians) who are experiencing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).It is intended to be used as an adjunct to psychological treatment, but can also serve as a stand-alone education tool. The PTSD Coach app is available for download on the Apple iTunes App Store and the Android Market. Click on the links or scan the QR codes shown on the right side of the page.”

“Lumosity is an online brain training and neuroscience research company based in San Francisco, California.”
“Lumosity's groundbreaking program is based on extensive research in the field of neuroplasticity. Our in-house R&D team works with researchers from several of the nation's top universities to learn as much as possible about Lumosity training.”


Cozi Family Organizer:
“Cozi is a free online organizer that helps families manage crazy schedules, track shopping lists and to do lists, organize household chores, stay in communication and share memories—all in one place."

Grocery IQ:
“Grocery iQ is an intuitive shopping list that allows you to build new lists quickly with features like predictive search and barcode scanning. You can customize the arrangement of categories within your list so you can check off items in an orderly fashion as you navigate the store.”

This app will allow you to photograph, document and keep track of all of those important items in your household.

Your Cellphone Provider App:
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and most major carriers have their own app. This will save you a metric ton of time to pay your bill or contact someone in the accounting department to make payment arrangements. You can also monitor incoming and out going calls and monitor your data usage.

Your Bank App:
This is another no brainer. Go to your bank’s website and find their app. Online banking is our friend. Being able to look at your balance before going to the store and double checking that this payment cleared is essential.

The Weather Channel:
“Get all the weather information you need to enjoy the best day possible with the most accurate forecast available."

Pet Phone:
“Pet Phone makes tracking your pets health needs easy and fun. If you're like us you have piles of old pet bills with your pets history laid out in a complete mess. Now you can enter everything into Pet Phone and have all the information at your fingertips.”

We live and sleep by this app. We have separate alarms to feed the dogs, the cat, get up, take pills, prep laundry, on and on. We use different ring tones to indicate different things that need our attention.

“Not enough time for all the books you want to enjoy? Download the app by Audible, an Amazon company, to listen to books on the go.”

Dragon Dictation:
Two words for you: Doctor’s appointment. Ask first though. “Dragon Dictation is an easy-to-use voice recognition application powered by Dragon NaturallySpeaking that allows you to easily speak and instantly see your text or email messages. In fact, it’s up to five (5) times faster than typing on the keyboard.”

Find My Phone:
For She Who Has The Memory of a Turnip…”f you misplace your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac, the Find My iPhone app will let you use another iOS device to find it and protect your data. Simply install this free app on another iOS device, open it, and sign in with the Apple ID you use for iCloud. Find My iPhone will help you locate your missing device on a map, remotely lock it, play a sound, display a message, or erase all the data on it.”

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Breakfast Puffins

I found something like this on Pinterest a few weeks back thinking it might be a fun recipe to try. A "puffin" is not only the cute artic bird, put is is a pancake-muffin hybrid.  Kinda like s Schnnodle!
But, being the "how fast can I make this" type of personality, instead of the "use your own hand ground, organic, from the wheat farm next door flour and 2 eggs lovingly collected from your own hand raised chickens" I decided my brain wasn't going to take it and just used my standard inexpensive just add water pancake mix. Besides, I'd rather go watch cartoons with the Boys than be in the kitchen hand grinding the stupid flour. AS a treat I found fresh raspberries on sale at my grocery tore, and I was needing a bot of chocolate because, well, because I could to add to the puffins.

Ingredients Needed:

  • 3 cups "Just add water" pancake mix
  • 2 - 2.5 cups water
  • Non-stick Spray
  • 12 cup muffin pan or a 24 cup mini muffin pan
  • "Stuff" to stuff in your mixture (chocolate chips, bacon, sausage, blueberries, cranberries, bananas, nuts, etc.)


  • Pre-heat your oven to 350F.
  • Generously grease a 24 cup mini muffin pan with non-stick spray.


  • In a mixing bowl mix the water and pancake mix together until no clumps remain.
  • Fill each cup just a bit over half way. If you fill to the top remember the dough will rise...up and over, hence my photos!
  • Top/stuff with your favorite topping.
  • Bake for 20-25 minuets or until a toothpick, inserted, comes out clean.
  • Let them cool for 5-10 minuets and remove from the pan. You may need to use a toothpick around the edges to separate the pancake muffins from the pan. Serve immediately with warmed butter, jams, or even just with maple syrup, whatever your tummy is calling for!