good boy

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We said goodbye to Jackson yesterday, and the nest feels very empty right now. It’s been 10 years since we adopted him as an adult, but it seems like yesterday.

At the time, we’d just moved into a new house and were dog-less for the first time since 1986. That lasted about three weeks. I started looking at rescues in the paper, then moved online and spotted an ad for Red, a black lab coming from a kill shelter in Rawlins, Wyoming. His name came from the color of his collar; they had so many black labs that that’s how they identified them.

We arranged to meet him at a park near our home, just to consider adopting him. The consideration lasted about 90 seconds. He stuck his big head out of the window of the van and looked at us. I sat down on the pavement, and he was curled up in my lap less than a minute later. As we were leaving with him, the rescue volunteer made us promise not to name him Satan, Demon or anything similar. I laughed it off.

Who can say no to those eyes?

For the first two weeks, he wouldn’t leave my side and just loved us. That’s about the time we realized that we couldn’t leave his side. At all. If I had to leave the house, I dropped him off at Scott’s office. Hello, separation anxiety! He wouldn’t go in a kennel willingly and tried to chew his way out if we forced it. We tried leaving him in the garage, but he chewed off the wires on my garage door so it wouldn’t open with the remote. Scott had to refinish the door leading into the house as well.

Fortunately, it was soon warm enough to leave him outside. An invisible fence kept him in, and he spent his days chasing ground squirrels, making rounds of his two acres and lying on the bench on the front porch watching for us.

We know that someone had owned him, had him neutered and taught him to sit. The shelter guessed that it was someone working on the oil rigs in the area that either lost a job or couldn’t find lodging that allowed dogs, apparently that happened a lot. He was on the street for months and in the shelter six more months. He weighed 49 pounds when we brought him home. He gained 30 pounds in the next year.

Protecting us from Bambi in Oregon

In addition to the separation anxiety, Jackson had no boundaries. Various family members found him in odd places…standing on the dining room table howling, standing on the bathroom counter looking at himself in the mirror, both of our nightstands looking out windows. He stole food from the kitchen counters, once a pound of raw bacon, another time a bunch of frozen fish fillets that he hid all over the house. That’s a smell you don’t forget. And he had a thing for chicken like I’ve never experienced. We had to put childproof locks on the trash cabinet because he figured out how to open it. Soon after, he figured out how to open our interior doors.

That boy could jump, too. One day, I was cooking beer cheese soup in a tall pot on the back burner. I heard something and came running. He was sitting in front of the stove looking very innocent, with cheese soup on the end of his nose. As recently as Thanksgiving 2014, he could still jump a six-foot-tall wooden fence. That’s the same day he run up a kids’ climbing wall and came down the slide.


About the time he started settling in, we sold the house and took him on a 10-month RV road trip around the country. Listen carefully. Do not, under any circumstances, do this with an 80-pound dog with separation anxiety.

While Scott and I roamed the country, hitting 27 states and covering 23,000 miles, Jackson was miserable. We couldn’t leave him alone in the camper for more than a couple of hours, which severely limited the sightseeing we could do without him. When we’d return, he’d have destroyed his bed, strewing thousands of pieces of foam and so much drool around that we had to mop. We were very fortunate to have a wonderful vet at home who kindly sent us doggie antidepressants. They helped, but he was only happy if he was sitting at our feet or riding in the truck. That he excelled at. Ten-hour-day driving? No problem. He was with us and he was content.

We were able to leave Jackson at doggy daycare facilities from time to time, which allowed us to do some longer sightseeing jaunts. Sometimes it even went well. In Bar Harbor, not so much. We planned a carriage ride through Acadia National Park for my birthday and had a wonderful day.  When we asked the woman who’d taken care of him how’d he done, her response was classic Jackson. “Well, he crapped twice, knocked his water bucket over three times, unlocked the gate on his run, then ran around the building and looked at me through the window.” Anyhoo, we had a lot of fun that day.

Fortunately for us all, he settled in immediately once we were back in a house with a yard.

My view first thing in the morning

His destructiveness when left alone was hard to bear. I don’t know how many doors and pieces of trim Scott had to refinish, but it was a lot. Same with screen doors. Sometimes it was because he didn’t seem them, but mostly he was trying to claw his way out of the camper. We just kept rolls of screen on hand.

Jackson chewed the seat belts out of the truck when we left him in it for 20 minutes to taste some wine in Virginia. It was 60 degrees out and the back and side windows were open wide enough that he could almost have escaped. What harm could he do? Well, namely, chew the front and back seatbelts out of the passenger side. Do you know how much it costs to replace a seatbelt attached to an airbag? We do.

Dog beds didn’t last long in our house.

Fortunately for him, he had lots of redeeming qualities. First, he was very, very cute. Those big brown eyes got him a lot of forgiveness.

Second, he was funny. He ran the best hot laps I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, he’d get so low to the ground you couldn’t see under him and run around you in the crazy circles. Other times, he’d jump the long way over a sectional couch during a Super Bowl party. He had a lifelong war with Magpies and squirrels but was terrified of snakes. We once heard him barking like he was being attacked by a bear, but it turned out to be a six-inch-long garter snake. Thank goodness he was there to protect us.

Finally, he just wanted to be with us. He loved us unconditionally, even when we dragged him around the country in an RV. He was happiest when all of his kids—Anna, Andy and Dalton—were home and he could keep an eye on everyone at once.

We’ll miss him forever. What a good boy.


remembering Mom on her birthday

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I’ve been struggling to write this tribute to Mom for almost a year. She passed away last February, and though I’ve worked on it several times I’ve just now been able to finish it. Since today would have been her 85th birthday, I’d like to share some of what made her so special.

NancMomy Kathryn Kennedy Smith was born in Purcell, Oklahoma, to John and Mary Kennedy on January 2, 1934, or 1-2-3-4, as she loved to share with a twinkle in her eye. On the night that she left us, I stayed up late thinking about her and saying a lot of prayers. When I went up to bed, the clock was at 12:34. I believe it was her letting me know she’s still with me, and I feel that way every time I catch that time on my phone or clock.

Mom was so proud to be a Purcell Dragon and in high school was active in the choir, as a cheerleader and homecoming queen, as well as busy working the soda fountain at the family’s Kennedy Drug Store.

It was in high school that she met the love of her life, Norman Autry Smith, also known as Dad. They continued to date when she went on to study art at the University of Oklahoma.

The two wed in March 1954 and began a lifetime of travel together. Dad’s service in the Air Force and his career led Mom and Dadthem around the country, with homes in Oklahoma, Connecticut, Colorado, Missouri, Texas, Illinois and California. They also loved to travel, which she continued to do after Dad died in 1997.

Mom’s organizational skills led to success in several positions throughout her life, including as office manager for Oklahoma Attorney General Larry Derryberry (put a pin in that name), working for the Park Hill School District—which, not coincidentally allowed her to keep an eye on me—organizing group travel in Alamo, California, and managing my brother Norman’s endodontic office. As a member of the GFWC Patrician Club for almost 30 years, she served in several leadership roles and enjoyed serving others with this group of dear friends.

Sidebar on Larry Derryberry, as children of politically involved parents—Dad was an Oklahoma State Legislator for 10 years—we campaigned. A lot. Styrofoam hats, banners, buttons, flyers, cute smiles and all, we worked the streets of Purcell. When campaigning for Larry, we were proudly known as the Derryberry Dingalings. True story.

Mom loved cheering on the OU football and basketball teams—I’m certain that Boomer Sooner was the first song I learned—and the Kansas City Royals, especially when George Bret was playing. She had a passion for antiques, art and music, and was an excellent pianist with a beautiful voice. Above all else, she loved her family.

I am so blessed to be her daughter. From before I was born, she was on my side. She knew I was coming early and told Dad and her doctor that, but they didn’t believe her and went to the OU/Texas game anyway. I was born, OU lost and both men came back looking quite sheepish.Grammy

She spent most of her life taking care of others…her sweet grandmother Kennedy, my godmother Opal Belle, her own Mom and, of course, all of us.

When the grandkids started to arrive, she stepped into a phone booth and came out wearing a Super Grammy cape. Wow. I have never seen anyone so excited about her grandbabies and great-grandsons, who all adored the love and attention she showered on them.

As soon as Julie and Norman started having kids, Mom and Dad moved back to KC from San Francisco and bought a station wagon, and that was that. She was all over those babies! When we shared our good news about Anna being on the way, I swear she levitated across the living room, over a room full of kids, to hug me and cry.

Grammy and PapaShe didn’t just offer to babysit, she insisted. For the first 9 years as parents, other than daycare, we only hired a sitter one time. She was mad about that night for years, even though she was out of town when it happened!

Mom always put everyone else first. As adults, we learned early on that we couldn’t say that we liked or wanted something, or she’d just show up with it or have it shipped to us. She couldn’t bear the thought of any of us wanting for anything. As an example, after Scott and I toured Tillamook Cheese Factory in 2012, I decided that I really needed their cookbook once I got home. Well, the cookbook was $20 and shipping was $20. That ticked me off enough that I didn’t order it and mentioned it to her. It showed up in our mailbox a few days later.

My high school graduationThrough thick and thin—and with me and Dad in the same house there was a lot of both—she was by my side. We got to spend some special time together exploring Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco as we moved around during my teens, although I’m pretty sure she almost traded me for a bolt of silk in China Town once. I must admit, it was pretty nice silk and I was a pain in the neck. Lucky for me, she couldn’t go through with it.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are the amazing pancakes she made every Sunday morning. That became one of our kids’ favorites as well. They were so thin, they were almost crepes. We also grew up singing while we were in the car. Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. And kids will eat ivy, too, wouldn’t you?

And we sang show tunes. Lots of show tunes. Mom loved musicals and passed on that love to me. Going to see “Oklahoma!” with the family at Starlight right after Scott and I got married was a real eye opener for him as we sang from the car all the way to our seats. He was trying very hard to be invisible. It was a special evening for us all.

As you’d expect, the holidays have been particularly hard this year. I decided I would channel her creativity and mad craft skills to create a hand-beaded, velvet Christmas stocking for our new son-in-law. Mom made these for everyone in the family, including all eight grandkids. That was particularly challenging in the early ‘90s since we gave her five grandbabies in three years, but she was up to the task.

I loved working on the stocking. My sister-in-law Anita dug through Mom’s things to find her stocking supplies, so the Christmas tree is one that Mom cut out years ago and the wishbone and most of the beads and sequins were hers as well. I felt so connected to her while I was working on it, and I know that she was helping me through it. No one was more surprised than I was when the Mt. Sopris actually turned out looking like Mt. Sopris!

In April, family members from Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Oregon—including her favorite (and only) brother Ed—gathered at my brother’s house in Kansas City for a celebration of her life. It was largest family reunion in decades, a true tribute to the many lives she touched. You can see photos from the celebration below.

I know that Mom was with us at Anna and Dalton’s wedding this fall. She was so excited to hear all of the details after they were engaged. I’m glad she was watching the joyous event from above.

I’ll miss Mom every day, as I do Dad, but I see her in myself, in my kids and in the beauty around me. I have some of their collectibles and pieces of art, as well as some of her clothes, shoes and jewelry. Treasures that keep us connected along with the memories that fill my heart. I hope that I can carry on her tradition of love and caring for the rest of my life. Happy birthday, Mom.

ruffing it with fido: how to take your dog camping

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Camping with Fido

Guest post by Aurora James

Spending time in the great outdoors with your canine companion can be quite a treat. However, if you’re planning on camping or spending the night, there are a few things you will want to do to prepare. With these tips, you’ll be ready to enjoy whatever nature throws at you.

Camping with Fido

Additional Resources

How do I keep my dog safe while camping?
What if my dog sustains an injury on our trip?
How do I check for ticks on my pet?
Heatstroke and my pup: what do I need to know?

How do I locate dog-friendly campsites?
What are the potential camping-related dangers for my dog?

What packing checklist should I follow?
What should I put in my dog’s first aid kit?
Is a collar or harness best for my dog during our camping trip?

Now you’re ready to ruff… er, rough it with your four-legged best buddy. Pick a day, pick a location, and enjoy. Don’t forget the treats!

Thanks for reading Tales From the Empty Nest!

travel tuesday: weekend in steamboat springs

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Sunrise at Stagecoach Reservoir State Park

Sunrise at Stagecoach State Park

Our first official outing with our new truck camper was at Stagecoach State Park, about half an hour outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We’ve camped there a couple of times over the years, but this campsite was the best yet. We completely lucked into it, too. It was the very last site available, and just so happened to be right on the lake. Score! Continue reading

New Year’s Greetings from the Nest

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On the Pauite Trail

Riding the Paiute Trail

Happy 2017! Facebook has been quite diligent in reminding me weekly that the Tales From the Empty Nest page is woefully inactive, so I thought I’d start the year off with a blog post in hopes that I’m a little more consistent over the next 12 months. No promises, but I’m hoping to spend more time writing this year. Continue reading

an ode to silly old papa

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Me and Dad at graduation

Me and Dad at my high school graduation.

Today would have been Dad’s 84th birthday. He’s been gone 18 years, and I still miss him every day.

It’s difficult to sum Dad up in a few hundred words. He was smart, kind, stubborn, ornery and funny. Very, very funny. He loved learning and was always studying something; the Civil War, philosophy, religion and politics were among his favorite topics. He also laughed until he cried watching the Three Stooges and Peter Sellers movies. Dad always had an opinion, and we always knew what it was. Anyone within hearing distance knew as well. Continue reading