Sunday, December 14, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Claytor’s 2014

If I had a dollar for all the Christmas Letters I’ve composed for you people over the years, I’d have…like…Thirteen dollars.  That is a much less dramatic statement than I thought it would be.  Just humor me though, please?  Seriously.  Don’t make it weird.

The Boy has had a one track mind all year.  All. Freaking. Year.  He and a friend started up a classic rock band “The Difference” and since their debut at the Lincoln Junior High Talent Show have been crushing all year, playing gigs at parties, summer festivals, and taverns around town!  He found some time to join the King’s Players production of Bye Bye Birdie, and finally earned his Taekwondo Black Belt (testing started with a 5k run, followed by 6 hours of mental and physical torture.)  He’s really looking forward to starting High School in the fall, but otherwise can be found in his basement rehearsal space tuning his guitars, tightening his drum heads, setting up mic stands.  One track mind.  I just can’t even.

Caitlin started off the early part of the year having the time of her life with the Marching Illini St. Patrick’s Day Parade tour in Ireland (see earlier post.)  She finished her first year at the University of Illinois majoring in Music Education, and dropped right into the flow at Dad’s office for summer work (gotta build that bank account back up!)  In her spare time she served as a junior producer for The King’s Players production in Bye Bye Birdie.  She must have done OK as a freshman, because the university let her back in for another year (woo hoo!)  All we hear about are her shenanigans with the Marching Illini so we just have to “assume” she’s going to her classes?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?   

Although we lost Sherpa this summer (see earlier post.) , Otter is adjusting to being the sole dog of the house.  Not hard to do, from all the spoiling he’s been getting from Kelly!  He gets his pick of the couches, eats organic raw foods, and gets tucked into bed every night.  I’m not even joking about that last part.  He has regular play dates with Riley next door, and is otherwise living the good life (says the additional pounds he showed at the vet’s weigh in!)  Good Dog!

Kelly once again flexed her inner travel agent muscles and created an AWESOME trip to Ireland for us to see Caitlin for St. Patrick’s day and tour some of the country.  Of course that wasn’t enough “green and wet” for her, so a trip to Seattle and Pacific Northwest was added in September to satisfy her travel desires (see earlier post).  Work on her writing project has occupied most of her free time, and a new promotion has her busier at the hospital.  Otherwise, she continues hoping for more and more travel, particularly pining for Scotland.  So 2015 will likely see her returning for a visit to do some research and whisky tasting (ya wee bastards…!)

Chris celebrated a 10 year anniversary at work, which included a super quick trip to The Netherlands (barely had a chance to adjust to the time change) and had a great time seeing Caitlin perform in the St. Patrick’s day parades in Dublin and driving through Ireland with Kelly (yes on the left side, nay there were no accidents.  Roundabouts are awesome!)  He’s been rehired (yes, again for like the sixth time) as an instructor and route setter at the newest Vertical Endeavors climbing gym, and also joined Chicago’s Baron’s Noyse Recorder Consort.  No, he will not be wearing tights at the Ren-Fair.  That only happened that one time in college when he was…ahem…”experimenting.”      

See, if I complained about the pace of our lives, they’re all “first world problems” anyway.  And even if there was a pill for it, the side effects are nausea, loss of appetite, and thoughts of bumpercar sabotage.  Consult your doctor if you have itchy armpits.

As we gaze lovingly and practice our beauty pageant wave: Merry Christmas and Happy 2015!

Chris, Kelly, Caitlin, The Boy, Otter, and Sherpa one last time! 

Dad's Day at Illinois, Antartica

Remarking on what pure luck it was that we would be able to go see an Illini football game for Dad's Day when it was such a lovely 20 degree fall day, we head south one fine, "Crisp" November day to meet up with Caitlin.

Wearing 87 layers, (actually, I wore 18 articles of clothing in total) we head up to the "band family" section of the stands which adds a few hundred feet in elevation and therefore subtracts a few degrees from the balmy 20 or so it was.

Chris rehearsed his dad's day dance in the morning, one of the highlights of the day. He shakes his a$$ on the 50 yard line with reckless abandon.

(He's front row, immediately right of the guy in the bright orange sweatshirt, working it like he owns it.)

Ninja Claytor

Colin aka "The Boy" aka "The Ninja" Claytor has been busy. Real busy...kicking a$$ and taking no names...

Cause Ninja's don't take names.

White Belt
Deputy Belt

He's now has his first degree black belt in taekwondo, going from wee boy (wait, he's a Scottish Ninja?) to a tough young lad (Yup, totally a Scottish Ninja).

Blowing the Popsicle Stand

There comes a time, in any midwestern transplants life, that a sudden and unquenchable need to see topography occurs. Now, before all you suburban farmers start throwing pitchforks at my house, let me provide you with an inarguable argument as to why one must, occasionally, blow this Popsicle stand:

1. Goddammit this place is flat.
2. There's more to vegetation than corn and prairie grass.
3. Water flows down hill, but you don't know that cause you got no hills.
4.  Conifers, people. They smell nice.
5. Sometimes you just gotta get your crunch on.

We packed up, and went west. Way west, to Seattle & the Olympic Peninsula for labor day weekend.

My criteria for vacation was: not here. Chris's criteria for vacation was: cabin and beer.


We stayed in Seattle a few days before heading to land of the big trees, wandering around Hurricane Ridge, Hoh Rainforest, Rialto Beach, Cape Flattery, & a little day trip to Victoria, BC, to get our Canada on.

Will let the slide show do the rest of the talking...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sherpa ~ Part I

It's been a month, to the day, since Sherpa has gone. The house is empty without her...feels strange for certain to not have her around.

We've put together a little slide show, and following that is Chris's story.

Sherpa ~ Part II

For Sherpa –

My apologies if this is a bit self serving.  I feel the need to write something down to remember my friend and companion.
Most everyone who knows me has also known my Border Collie mix, Sherpa.  She was adopted from a local shelter as a puppy in 2002.  This was a few years after the release of Disney’s “Babe” which featured working Border Collies, and puppy mills were busy churning out the popular black and whites to the unsuspecting.  She was a good puppy, and I love herding dogs.  But as she matured I got a taste of the nervous energy, willfulness, intelligence, and protectiveness that can come with the breed.  

It became clear that, from Sherpa’s perspective, there can be only one shepherd.   Everything and everyone else is just part of her flock.  She stood her post, erect and alert when the kids played in the back yard.  Playing “fetch” was beneath her dignity.  At leash-free dog parks, she was constantly herding groups of dogs together; barking urgently at them when they strayed off.  She would occasionally respond to commands from other people, if their voices were firm, but for the most part…she was MY dog.  And I was her shepherd.

In 2004, our family went through a drastic change.  Her flock became divided, and she and I were often alone.  At night I would wake up and see her sitting upright and alert at my side, looking out the window.  In the car she rode shotgun everywhere we went (the kids still in the back.)  She wore a path along the back fence line, warning whatever evil lurked in the 17 acres of public land behind our property, “You…are not OK with me.”  When the kids were home alone from school, she made her presence known at the front window, barking and gnashing at anyone who paused on the sidewalk.

As much as a she was such a bad ass…a switch would flip inside her the moment I allowed someone into the house.  Once I welcomed a visitor, she turned on the charm.  Sherpa was never exactly “affectionate” with me, but to our guests she demanded loving attention.  Anyone who sat on the living room sofa immediately had her at their side for them to scratch the scruff of her chest.
I grew accustomed to her quirks, but in 2006 when Kelly moved in, we both realized that Sherpa needed a partner.  Sherpa would regularly prance at my feet, tap-dancing her front paws as if begging me to “just…do…SOMETHING.”  Otter was adopted shortly after.  Although Sherpa maintained her Alpha status, she definitely mellowed and became easier to manage.

Sherpa remained fiercely loyal and protective to a fault.  She barely responded to Kelly’s (or anyone’s) commands, often waiting for my word to comply.  She could tell that the utility man I once let in to read the gas meter was not exactly a “guest,” and he earned a nip on his thigh.  No drama, just a message to “do your business, and get out.”  Kelly was happy to have Sherpa around when some pretty big dudes delivered a new dishwasher.  They left visibly shaken, having witnessed Sherpa’s ferocity as she threw herself against the screen door to try and get at them…Kelly knew Sherpa would always have her back.  On a camping trip, Otter found a cozy spot between the kids’ sleeping bags.  Sherpa however, spent the entire night at her usual post.  At the door of the tent, erect and alert.  Watching, listening, and waiting. 

With this trait came serious responsibility.  Walks to the park often meant holding her aside and away from children, eager to pet the dogs.  “Sorry kids, this one’s not so friendly.”  Otter always took Sherpa’s share of the attention.

The first chink in her armor was epilepsy.  She seized one night in 2008 and a trip to the Vet confirmed her condition.  Luckily it was very mild, no need for medication.  Organic foods reduced the frequency of the seizures, but they still happened occasionally.  I always held her, talked her through it, and saw the vulnerability in her eyes.  “Sorry Dad…I’m not your warrior today.”   Skunks were another issue.  When the dogs were let out at night, Sherpa always charged fearlessly into the darkness.  Sometimes she was met by a skunk and got sprayed right in the face.  By the second incident we deployed our prepared “skunk kit” and got her cleaned up outside, administering a late night dog bath in near freezing temperatures. 

Sherpa’s got pretty looks, but this is a tough dog.  She had no problem going toe to toe with Guinness, a pit bull mix in the neighborhood.  We agreed with the owners that, for both dogs’ sake, they shouldn’t be around each other.  It took at least a day for us to even notice when she broke her toe.  We think she got it caught up in a rug by the window, barking at a stranger on the sidewalk.  The vet put a splint on her leg and a cone around her neck.  Both of which were gone by the end of the day.  “F-you, I can walk this off.”

A strange cough appeared in Sept 2013.  I let it go for about 2 weeks before taking her in to the Vet.  I figured that even though she was just there a month prior for shots, maybe she picked up a little Bordatella / Kennel Cough.  At the weigh in, it’s noted that she’d lost 7 pounds that month.
The Vet examined her and said, “I have some concerns…”

Sherpa’s taken to the lab, and is gone for almost an hour.  Then we’re asked to join the Vet in a room I’d never been in before during our many visits.  It’s down a long hallway, away from the regular exam rooms.  It has nice comfortable chairs, a leather sofa.  And lots of tissues.  This is not the “good news” room. 

There’s a mass on Sherpa’s larynx, and all her lymph nodes are terribly swollen.  We’re given the diagnosis of somewhere between a stage-4 lymphoma, and full blown, end-stage, in the bone marrow cancer.  Either way, it’s too far gone to consider putting her through treatments, and we’re advised to make the most of the 4-6 weeks we may have with her.  She was just at the vet a month ago with no symptoms, and the cough was the only indication that something was wrong.  This is a tough dog.

The cough went away almost immediately, and we see no other symptoms.  I don’t question the diagnosis, but you’d hardly know how gravely ill she is.  Sherpa still lords over Otter and rules her domain.  If we hadn’t taken her to that day, who knows how long she would have kept us in the dark.  I start taking her on more frequent walks through the neighborhood, just the two of us.  I should have done it more often.  I’m sure I’ll be saying that to myself a lot.

Sherpa’s put on steroids to give her system a boost, help with the pain she’s been hiding from us, and perhaps hold the cancer at bay for a while.  The side effects are challenging; she’s ravenous and drinks several gallons of water a day.  We adjust the dosage to control her incontinence and find a happy medium; enough to help but not so much that she wets herself.  Even still, Sherpa now spends her nights gated in the kitchen, where I can at least clean up easier.  She and I are up a few times a night for relief walks.  She’s lonely and separated from her flock.  She protested a little at first, but soon accepts the new arrangement.  I’d say again that she’s a tough dog, but the separation has to be hard for her.   

It’s been more than six weeks, and Sherpa shows no sign of slowing down.  She occasionally has a “bad day” where she pants and exhibits some signs of discomfort.  But without the Vet’s grave diagnosis, I’d think “well…she is an older dog.”  Even our neighbors are skeptical about her condition, as they watch Sherpa run around with their young Yellow Lab, Riley.  I’m told that some dogs just suck it up and go as long as they can, and let you know only at the very end, when they’re done and can take no more.

After another four weeks, a mild limp shows up.  Mainly in the evenings and doesn’t seem too bad but certainly noticeable.  It can’t be too bad, since the mere sight of a squirrel or strange dog or the mailman has her tearing across the yard with no hint of the hitch in her gait.  The next day, no limping.  Go figure, she’s just shaking it off again I guess.

Two more weeks and I take the opportunity to get her nails trimmed and take her to the vet for a pre-Christmas checkup.  At the weigh in, it’s noted that she’s regained her fighting weight and then some.  A brief exam makes the Vet cautiously optimistic.  With the help of the Prednisone steroids, Sherpa’s immune system has bitch-slapped the cancer into a sort of dormancy.  Remission is not really a possibility, but it appears she’s forced a stalemate in her battle.  Although we’re reminded that the disease will eventually win out, even the Vet is happy with her status.  My warrior celebrates with McDonald’s Cheeseburgers on the way home.          

It’s been 8 weeks since her last checkup, a bitter Chicago winter has us all tucked indoors.  We’ve settled into a routine of pills 3 times a day, gallons of water, and tons of food.  Sherpa seems to have accepted the kitchen as her overnight domain.  She and I meet a few times a night for quick visits to the backyard, now covered in several feet of snow.  I’m reminded that she is due for shots in March, which we didn’t think she’d ever see.  She’ll also need to be boarded for a week at the Vet’s kennel while Kelly and I spend St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland; pretty impressive for a dog that wasn’t supposed to make it to Thanksgiving.

It’s now May.  The Ireland trip has come and gone, the snow is all melted, and warm days are becoming more common.  Our daughter is home from college, and Sherpa’s health is holding steady.  We’ve added another medication that helps her bladder control, and she’s back to sleeping up in the bedroom with us.  There are very few late overnight relief walks needed.  We’ve spoken to other owners whose dogs have taken a 4-6 week prognosis, and soldiered on for a year or more.  Sherpa looks to be joining their ranks, still showing no signs that the disease is inconveniencing her patrol duties.   

School is about to end for the summer, there are more kids out playing, more dogs out walking, and she lets them all know that this is HER house, HER yard, HER flock.  If I told you she’s dying…you’d ask to have my head checked.  This morning I found that she had broken into our daughter’s stash of lollipops – wrappers and sticks were strewn all over the floor.  At this point, there’s just no telling how far Sherpa will carry on.           

Excessive panting in a dog can be an indicator of several problems.  Dehydration, overuse of steroids, or extreme pain.  Sherpa woke us up several nights in June, panting at one side of the bed or another; whoever will listen to her.  The Vet adds some pain meds to help her out.  She is soldiering on but also shows signs that she is in a losing battle.  One day, Kelly notices that she has caught and killed an adult chipmunk in the backyard; an impressive feat for any dog, let alone one fighting for her life.
It’s July – Sherpa’s least favorite month.  Fireworks and thunderstorms; she hates them both.  We’re noticing however that this year, she doesn’t seem to be stressing over the noises.  She’s not charging into the blackness of the backyard at night.  She’s not warning passersby of her presence.  She’s finding more remote corners of the house to curl up and rest.  She’s hurting.  She’s losing.

July 5th, she isn’t able to stand without getting a boost.  Arthritis for sure, but something more seems to be sapping her spirits.  A quick visit to the Vet’s office and she stuns one of the new doctors on staff by her mere presence.  His only reaction after going over her charts is “Holy Shit….”  He explains that her immune system has spent the last 10 months unleashing hell on the disease.  Awesome, but clearly taking its toll.  He prescribes more pain meds to help with this new lack of mobility.

It doesn’t last long.  A few days later, Sherpa doesn’t greet me at the door, and refuses food and water for the first time in her life.  She’s unable to move without assistance, and her eyes plead with me not to lift her.  We take her in, and after a thorough exam, agree with our regular vet that her time has come.  Kelly, the kids, Otter, and I, surround her to say good bye; and Otter and I alone stay with her to the very end of her journey.  Sherpa departed calmly, without fuss or drama, having protected her flock and leaving them in good hands.  Her ashes lay at her post in the back yard where she so fiercely watched over the family that loved her, and she ruled all. 

I’ll miss you, Puppy.  See you on the other side.
Love, Shepherd.       

Claytor Men Get Their Groove on...Ok, well one of them does...

Our vocabulary for the day friends is:


adjective \ˈdis-p(ə-)rət, di-ˈsper-ət, -ˈspa-rət\: different from each other 
1:  containing or made up of fundamentally different and often incongruous elements
2:  markedly distinct in quality or character

Get your fan club ready folks - Colin's pretty damn cool...

No need for a fan club for this one though...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cold, Wet, & Green

Last summer our University of Illinois bound daughter Caitlin found out that she had not only been selected to join the Marching Illini, but that a trip to Ireland to perform in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade was afoot.  Caitlin manages her own college fund/bank so making the decision to go was an easy one for her.  Making the plans to join her was an easy decision for us!

Caitlin arrived in Ireland a few days before St Patrick ’s Day to tour the sights with the 300 other members of the marching band.  We arrived at the tail end of the trip in time to catch her for dinner and, listen to some great music at "The Church", an old church renovated into a bar/restaurant in Dublin.

Video - "The Church" in Dublin, (Sunday) 

For St. Patrick’s Day, Kelly scored us a great hotel room with a 4th floor view of the parade route so we could watch the madness below in style as the Illini rocked the crowd.  After they passed by, we ran downstairs to the street and made it to the Guinness Brewery where the band performed again in the main atrium and totally killed it!

Video: Marching Illini play the atrium in the Guinness Factory (Monday)

We stayed long enough to enjoy a late lunch, a few pints, and as Caitlin headed home with the band, we made our way back to the hotel to pack for a week of touring.  We rented a car Tuesday morning (yep…driving on the left side of the road!) and got the heck out of Dublin.  After a “crash” course in roundabout navigation (and a few unintended detours) we found our way to Clifden on the western coast.  We checked into the Sea Mist B&B and stopped into Lowry’s Pub to enjoy a late night snack and live music from some local musicians. 

Video: Lowry's Pub, Clifden (Tuesday)

The next day we found our way to Ashford Castle for our only “scheduled” event at the Ireland School of Falconry. Our guide Owen takes us through the castle’s wooded grounds as we manage a pair of Harris Hawks for their daily hunting and exercise.  So cool to learn about them and the sport of falconry, and now of course…I WANT ONE.  We finished the day with a hike through the Connemara National Park in high winds and horizontal stinging sleet. 
 Video: Connemara National Park (Wednesday)

I suppose that’s considered “inclement weather” but so much fun being out in the elements and seeing the landscape of high Ireland.  We wound our way back to Clifden, becoming intentionally lost in beautiful rainbow filled valleys, and dodging the occasional flock of sheep crossing the roads.  We hung out at another pub for dinner, stouts, and whiskey before heading to bed. 

Thursday morning we shopped at an art gallery on our way out of Clifden and finally made it out after a purchase and an hour long conversation with the owner comparing the differences in social structures and political climate between Ireland and the US – no joke, it was really nice and we could have talked all day!  A lovely scenic drive southward along the coast with a stop in New Quay at The Russell Gallery  for lunch brought us to the Sea View B&B in Doolin.  After checking in we make our way to O’Connor’s pub.  Not bad, but being that Doolin is near the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands, it’s decidedly more touristy.  Friday morning we enjoy a huge breakfast to prepare for the 8km uphill hike from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher.  Local Famer and Inn owner Pat Sweeney has been steadily building a walking trail right on the coastline, across farmland along the cliff’s edge.  He walks it nearly every day and the guy’s a machine – so keeping up was challenging but it’s an experience not to be missed.

We arrive at the Cliff’s visitor center thoroughly soaked, and after lunch take a bus back to town for souvenir shopping.  Our innkeepers kindly let us hang our wet gear in their garage to dry and after warming up by the fire, we walk an Irish mile (two point somethingish miles) to McGann’s pub for dinner; farther from town and a lot more laid back.  After lamb stew, stouts, and whiskey we walk back to the inn in pitch black, seeing a full sky of stars, and turn in for bed.  Saturday morning we pack up our dry clothes and gear for the drive to Shannon.  Opting to drive through the Burren allows us to stop and view the stark and rocky landscape, and also experience my one and only close call with another car (another American driver who hadn’t caught on to the notion that some roads don’t allow 2 cars to pass at the same time…)  Hertz didn’t seem to notice (or care) about any scratches from that little swerve through the bracken, as we return the car and check into the Shannon Airport hotel for the night. 

Too short a visit, but using Caitlin’s band trip as an excuse to go, I think we certainly made the most of the time we had.  Already scoping out other parts of the island for the next time we find ourselves in Ireland.  Slainte! 

Video: Slideshow of Ireland 2014