Posts Tagged ‘Dogs’

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Carolina

March 1, 2012

Carolina.  Where have I been, what have I been doing for the past two months.  It was a time that went by in no time.  I don’t know what I was doing, where I went or whom I saw.  At the time, I thought I was getting my life back.  I said at a meeting that I was happy.  Happy, but I kept looking over my shoulder for what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t just be glad in the day, I worried.  It has been a long time since I was really happy.  This felt real, it felt like I was moving on, getting over it, getting on with it.

 

Carolina started to refuse food two weeks ago.  We all know what that meant.  I didn’t need a diagnosis and I won’t write a eulogy.  Bob and our vet said it was time to let her go.  I wasn’t ready.  I was done grieving.  I grieved for two years.  I was moving on.  But in the end, it wasn’t about me, it was about Carolina.  Sweet Carolina.  She loved everyone and everyone loved her.

I started writing about two years ago and stopped about two months ago.  It occurred to me that maybe I can only write when I am grieving.  Or better, writing is something I do only when I spend most of my time wrapped in a blanket on the couch.  I am the happiest when I am making something or doing something.  Writing doesn’t feel like that.  Writing fills the time in between.

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Layers

January 5, 2012

My friends have decided it was time to get my field back into condition to do some dog agility.  The tornado did a lot of damage to it.  But it is not the damage from the tornado that is keeping me from the field, it is what happened the day before the tornado, the day my mother died.

Agility Field in December 2011

 

Today my agility field is covered in layers of debris. It is in the woods and in the summer the trees that shade it, cover it in the fall with leaves.  Under the leaves are weeds.  Weeds that grew from roots that were there long before it was an agility field.  Below the weeds is a layer of soil brought there by the rain that washes down from the woods.  The bottom layer, which may be gone, is wood chips.  Wood chips that were brought in to create a natural footing for the dogs to run on.

 

My higher power, Nature, who protects my field with a cover of organic materials, also wrapped me in protective blanket of family and friends.  Much of the time I wouldhave spent on my field, I spent with my father and my sister and brothers. Each with our own fields of debris, we grieve for our mother who lies peacefully in the earth, in a field of lawn and trees.

The layers of tears and excuses, reasons why I cannot return to my agility field are my grief.  I can’t go there.  It is too thick, too heavy, to overwhelming to clear away.  It will take a leaf blower, weed eater, chipper mulcher, rakes and shovels to get the bottom.  The bottom that nature has worked three seasons to renew is the foundation for me to build a new field, a new life, a new beginning.

Agility Field January 2012

My friends are coming on Monday.  I will provide the tools.  They provide the strength; the power to peel off the layers that Nature has protected me with.  With each layer, they will be helping me get my life back.  Together we will shred the debris, the pain of the past year and spread it on the field as Nature has done.  My husband will bring new wood chips to make the footing for me to run on as Nature has intended.

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Acceptance

December 26, 2011

The very first time my husband and I entertained together, we had only been dating a few months.  It was New Years Eve.  We went to the grocery store together to buy food and soft drinks, the package store for alcohol, then to his apartment to get ready.  As soon as the groceries were put away, Bob said he had to run an errand and would be right back.  I didn’t ask any questions and kept cleaning as he walked out the door.

A few hours later he returned, more excited than I had ever seen him.  He found a vintage guitar and wanted to buy it.  As he paced around, I encouraged him to go back and get it before someone else bought it.  When he came back a few hours later, the apartment was clean, the prep work was done on the food, and all that was left to do was cook.

Seventeen years, fifteen guitars and countless parties later, Bob still disappears on the day we have company.  Each time he says he will be there to help, and each time he comes rushing in just an hour or two before company is expected to arrive.  He does the cooking and he entertains as he does it.  This Christmas Eve while I was home preparing a Feast of Seven Fishes for twelve people, he was at the galvanizing plant watching zinc melt.

I could hear myself yelling above the sound of the vacuum cleaner, “seventeen years and he is never here to help me get ready for a party, why should this party be any different…”  I was so mad.  Then I stopped.  The next voice I heard was my oldest brother saying the eulogy at my mother’s funeral.  He was telling the story of how my father would always come home late on Christmas Eve because he would stop on the way home to visit his friends.  My brother said, “Ma would get so mad…this happened every year.”

When Bob finally got home, he was so excited.  He said “the kettle didn’t crack and the temperature was at 850 degrees, right where it needs to be.  Everything is going according to plan, the zinc should all melted and we will be ready to galvanize product on Tuesday.  What do you need me to do?  I was thinking I would dust the guitars.”  I tried not to be mad and replied, “Do what you want, I will have everything ready, all you have to do is cook and entertain.”

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Humility

November 21, 2011

I need to build a bat house.  When we moved here in 2007, there was one bat living on the front porch behind the shutter.  She didn’t bother anybody, and nobody bothered her.  Recently, though, there seemed to be more bat poop on the porch than usual.  I kept checking at different times of the night to see if she was okay.  Then, one night, I saw them, yes, them: six bats!  There are now six bats living on my front porch!

My friend, Alison, who loves animals of all kinds, told me if I put a bat house close to where they are now and made the spot they’re in now uncomfortable, they may relocate to the new house.  Bat houses are fairly easy to build; there are basic plans on a number of different websites.  The houses are all pretty much the same — typically made of a couple pieces of plywood and some nails.  Fabricating one, I determined, would not take long;so I made a list and got myself ready to go buy the materials.

There are two home improvement stores I could go to get what I need — one blue and one orange.  The blue one is brightly lit; the shelves are well stocked with goods that are neatly organized; and the people who work there are very helpful.  The orange store is dark.  The aisles are lined with displays in front of shelves that are often messy and disorganized.  The employees always seem too busy to help.

“You’re joking; you brought a crate.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“The look on your face . . . I can tell when you’re lying.”

“I am a terrible liar.”

“Well, go get your crate.”

“I didn’t bring one.”

So went the conversation, recently, at a disc dog contest.  I brought my dog, Boston, but not a crate to keep him in.  I wanted to drive the two-seater sports car, and a crate just didn’t fit.  I wanted both, drive the Z3 and bring a dog.  So, I had to leave the crate at home.

Boston did really well on the drive down.  He wore his harness and special leash that was buckled into the seat.  He likes riding this way with the top down.  He rested his head on my bag on the floor in front of the passenger seat, and slept most of the three and a half hours it took to get to the event.

When we got there, I let Boston out of the car, hooked his leash to my belt loop and grabbed the two bag chairs from the trunk — one for me and one for him.  Then, I set us up in the administration tent, where I do the scorekeeping for the club.

“Your dog is not chair trained.”

“He’ll stay in the chair or under the table.  He’ll be fine.  Don’t worry.”

Going into the blue home improvement store, for me, is like walking on stage in a theater.  As the bright lights shined in my eyes, I thought I heard an announcement on the intercom declaring, “Heeeere’s Debbie!”  I adjusted my eyes and saw the voice was coming from an associate who’d just greeted me, and asked if I needed help finding the items on my list.

“Building a bat house?  I can help you with that.”

“I’m okay.  Where’s the precut plywood?”

“Let me show you.”

“No, I can manage.  Is it over there?”

“Yes, just let us know if you need help.”

I said, “Thanks,” as I hurried to get away.

Everywhere I went, I was afraid to touch anything.  There was always someone behind me who wanted to know what I was making and giving me suggestions on how to improve it.  My list became crumbled and soft, as I held it tightly in my hand.  Despite all the help they offered, I could not find what I was looking for, and now had no idea how to build a bat house.  I was humiliated, so I left with only my list.

Boston was calm that whole day.  A couple of times someone would trip on him, because they did not see him lying down on the ground near the admin table.  I am not sure why everyone was so surprised.  Just because I don’t compete with him doesn’t mean that I don’t train him.  I take him with me a lot of places, and most of the time he walks along nicely with me or lays down and waits until I’m done.  If he can ride in a car with the top down, he can sit in a chair under a tent.

I took Boston with me when I later went to the orange home improvement store.  We walked in the contractors’ entrance door and were greeted by an employee in an orange apron which made him look much bigger than he actually was, who said, “Is that an Irish Setter?  He’s beautiful.”

“Thanks.”

“I’m building a bat house and need some . . .”

“Does he hunt?”

“Bats?”

“No, your dog.  Does he hunt?”

“Sometimes I take him hunting.  We don’t kill anything, though.  We go to a wildlife management park and he runs in a field of tall grass and points and flushes birds.”

“That’s cool.”

“I want some of the precut plywood.”

“Oh, down that aisle on the right.”

“Thanks.” I love this store.

Before I went for the plywood, I stopped in the paint department.  I am planning on painting the bat house the same colors as my house and front porch shutter.  According to Bat Conservation International, bats are pretty particular about what color their house is.  They live behind the shutter, so they must like the color.  I figured I would make their house the same.

While Boston and I waited for our turn at the paint counter, a woman rode up on one of those battery-powered carts.  She stopped and said, “Oh, you have a dog.  I almost didn’t see him.”

“I’m sorry.  Is he in your way?”

She spoke in a heavy southern accent.  “No, no, honey, he is fine right where he is.  He is beautiful!  Look at him, just lying there being so good.  Is he one of those show dogs?”

She was a very distinguished looking black woman.  Her hair was gray.  Her forehead had creases in it that hid a lifetime of wisdom.  Smiling put the deep wrinkles around her mouth and eyes.  Although I’d never met her before, I knew her.

I said, “No, I don’t show him.  He’s my companion.  I take him with me whenever I can.”

She laughed as she said, “I wish I could take my dog with me, hehe, she laughed. ” He would be jumping out of the chair, getting into everything!  Oh, no, I can’t take him anywhere.”

“A year ago, I didn’t take him, either.  It takes some maturity and practice.  I am a dog trainer, so- . . .”

“You train dogs!  I see so many stray dogs in the street, Lord!”  She looked down at Boston.  “Maybe if some of those dogs had training on them, they could find homes.  What’s your name?”

“My name is Debbie.”

“Well, Miss Debbie, I think you are a wonderful person.  Stay who you are.  I will keep you in my prayers.” She looked away and drove off.

I got my paint and went to the aisle where the plywood is kept.  Stay who you are . . .  Who am I? I thought, standing there in front of the stacks of plywood.

I am a humble dog trainer.  My dog does not catch flying discs or retrieve game birds, but he does sit in a chair and behave himself in public places.  I shop in the orange home improvement store.  I do not seek the spot light or announce my presence.  And I pay respect to wise women.  Women who have the wisdom of ages and smiles on their faces.

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Inspiration

October 10, 2011

For the first time in our life, my younger sister weighs less than me.  Big bones are what she was always told, and she believed it.  Her weight was normal.  She wasn’t fat; I was skinny.  I remember one time when I was in junior high school.  Our parents made us trade seats at the dinner table so I sat next to my father and she sat next to my mother.  My father was to make sure that I ate.  Not that my mother wasn’t attentive, I just did what my father told me to.  This was the alternative to putting me in the hospital.  I was too skinny and they worried I had something wrong with me.

No one has called me skinny for a long time.  When I joined the Navy after college, I had to drink a gallon of water on the way to the induction center so I would weigh the required minimum of 105 pounds.  At boot camp I gained almost 20 pounds and after four years in the service I weighed 145, the heaviest I weighed in my life.  The pounds came off, but I had to work at it.  For the first time in my life, I had to watch what I ate and exercise.  My weight has fluctuated between 135 and 150 ever since.

My sister Maryann on the other hand has always weighed more.  Not much more, but more, always more than me.  Earlier this year, there was an oil spill at her house and she had to move out for a few months.  Her and her husband stayed with friends and family until they finally settled into a hotel.  By the time the environmental protection agency allowed them to live in their house again, she lost 8 pounds.  It was a good start, so she tried to lose more.  As of today she lost 45 pounds.  She now weighs 15 pounds less than me.

Becky called me last week.  Becky and her husband have dedicated their life to reducing the excessive population of dogs and cats.  They run a non-profit group called Dade Animal Resource Team.  The primary mission of DART is spay and neuter.    They raise money and transport over a thousand dogs and cats every year to low-cost spay / neuter clinics.  They also facilitate temporary care and adoptions of stray, abandoned and unwanted pets.  I have helped them out occasionally by providing free training for foster and adoptive families.  I haven’t done much, not as much as I could do.

“How are you doing?  I haven’t heard from you in a while”. Becky said.

“I am fine, getting better”.

Becky’s father died just one week after my mother.  He also had diabetes.

“How about you?”  I said

“Okay, there is more work to do to sort through dad’s things and get the house ready to sell.”

“I am so sorry.  I am in Massachusetts visiting with my dad right now.  I plan to be back home in a few days.”

“How is he doing, okay?”

“He is adjusting.  He doesn’t like living alone”

“It will take some time.”

“I know.”

“Debbie, are you still doing dog training?  Ruff and I would love to come and do some agility.”

“Funny you should ask, Bob and I were looking at the field and discussed getting it cleaned up.”

“Cleaned up?”

“The rain from the tornado washed most of the wood chips off the field and replaced them with a layer of dirt.  We now have weeds growing.  Bob and I want to solve the drainage problem before we buy new wood chips.  We have a plan, we just need to get going on it.”

My sister looks great.  I told her she inspired me to lose some weight.  I am at the high-end of my acceptable range.  Maryann was surprised and said I was the second person that week that called her that.  Her weight loss coach was the first.  She didn’t say it, but I wondered if that was the first time anyone ever called her that, an inspiration.  She has trudged her way through life, just getting by and trying to be happy.  She went to school, worked, and raised two kids on her own.  It was hard, it is hard, but she does it, she has done it for a long time.  After a life time of doing for her family, Maryann is finally doing something for herself.

“If you need some help, I don’t mind doing some of the heavy work.”

“Thanks Becky, I may just take you up on that.  But I want to put some drainage in the road, before I start on the field.  I think that is where the dirt is coming from.”

“Okay, just let me know, Ruff and I are anxious to come over and see you.”

“I can’t wait for you to see Wisconsin.”

“Who is Wisconsin? Did you get a new puppy?”

“I did.  Wisconsin was born at the end of January; I got her the beginning of April.  I thought you knew.”

Oh no.  Did I not tell Becky I got a puppy, that I bought a puppy?  I thought I had but Mom died three weeks after I got her and I have talked to so many people, and I don’t know what I said to whom, and…and.  Oh no.  I didn’t tell her.  When I told her I wanted a puppy, she asked me to adopt one, “there is such a need”, she said.  I bet I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want to tell her.

Since I last spoke to Becky I agreed to foster a dog.  A young Irish Setter named Zoey.  Her owners couldn’t keep her, so she is staying with Bob and I until a permanent home is found.  We can’t keep her.  Five dogs are too many.  It is too expensive and I can’t manage that many dogs at once.  Besides, Zoey needs a home with a family; she is a great family dog.

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Searching

September 27, 2011

I talk a lot, but I don’t say much.  I am actually pretty shy.  Keeping secrets is a shortcoming.  Not secrets about you, secrets about myself.  Many people, even those closest to me, do not know very much about me.  They are often surprised to find out even seemingly ordinary things about me.  But there are people, those I know and those I have never met personally, who tell me my secrets.  These short stories are about some of those people.

“Honey, what are you going to do about your marriage?”

“My marriage?”

“I could see you’re not happy.  You’re too young to be unhappy.”

Was it that obvious?  He was quiet.  He didn’t talk very much during our visit up east, to me or anyone else.

“I am not making any decisions right now.”

“Maybe you should get some counseling.”

She only stands shoulder high, but her presence is undeniable.  When she smiles her teeth mash together as she crinkles her nose.  It was impossible to avoid eye contact when she talks.  She is my aunt.

Memphis had a tough start to life.  He was aggressive, and I could not control him.  I came very close to putting him to rest.  When he was only a few months old, he would go from sleeping peacefully in my lap to violently attaching the other dogs, Boston in particular.

To manage his behavior and to keep the other dogs safe, I strategically placed baby gates, crates and air horns throughout the house.  At the time, trying to manage the situation was all I could do, while I uncovered the cause of the behavior and to modify it.  I used special collars and leashes, changed his food, gave him supplements and adhered to strict rules and routines.  I would not let any of the other dogs stare at him; they learned to look away and not make eye contact.  Things improved, but there were still fights.

When Memphis would get into a fight, my first concern was always safety.  I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.  My second concern was all of the dogs’ emotional states.  I worried that Memphis was insane and that it was affecting the other dogs.  They all learned to be cautious around him, but were they scared and unhappy too?

My mother liked to play bingo.  This was the only time she ever went to church.  Every Tuesday, she would ask one of us in the house to go with her.  The answer was always no, but she went anyway.   Bingo was for old people, it couldn’t be much fun. One week she couldn’t drive, I don’t remember why; but I agreed to take her.  I was nervous, not knowing what to expect.  When we arrived at the church, we stood in line, waiting for the doors to open.  It was important to get there early, so she could get her “usual seat.”  The desk in the hall had piles of bingo cards on it.  People bought a hundred of them.  My mother got her cards, and I began to sweat.  “I’m with her,” I said.  “I’m just going to watch.”

I followed my mother down the long hall into a huge room full of tables and chairs.  We sat down in her usual spot.  She spread out some of her cards.  They were made of newsprint, so she took some tape out of her bag and taped them to the table.  In her bag was also two plastic bottles of ink, a bright red wand with a magnet in it, lots of red translucent markers, and cash.  She took one of the bottles of ink and dabbed the free, center square of the nine cards in front of her, then placed the bottle down.  She was ready.

Memphis had not gotten into a fight in almost four months.  Then one night, Memphis and I were sleeping and I rolled over onto him and woke him.  He instantly stood up on the bed, looked me straight in the eyes and froze.  I was sure he was going to kill me, so I was quietly making a plan to defend myself.  Then, just as suddenly as he’d stood, he looked away, shook, jumped down off the bed, circled a few times, then got back on the bed, laid down and went back to sleep.  He shook it off and was now sleeping! I could not close my eyes.  This was the moment when I knew he was better, this was the moment I saw him look away.

“N32 . . . B14 . . . G50.” The man calling the numbers was on a stage with a round basket next to him, and a large sign with numbers and letters above him.  The sign would light up each time he spoke.  “B1!”  Everyone in the room swiped their bottles down the B column and dabbed the corresponding square on their bingo cards.  No one spoke.  Their gaze was on the cards and their ears alert for one word.

“Only a few people know this: my husband is a recovering alcoholic.  He has been sober for three years.  It was hard for him to stop drinking, but he did it.  We are still adjusting to our new life.”

“Three years is a long time, honey.”  She said as she leaned in closer.

I wanted to tell my aunt everything but I couldn’t.

“I know, but right now he is focused on his work and staying sober.  I can wait.”

“Are you getting help, have you gone to meetings?  They really do help.”

How does she know about meetings? Look away, look away!

“Ya I go to meetings, we both do.  We are working on it.”

“That’s good…”  I don’t remember what she said next.  I was trying to hide my pain and fight the tears.

Finally, I said,  “when my parents had their 50th anniversary party, my mother said, ‘Fifty years, and they weren’t all happy.’  Well, how do I know if these are the years that aren’t so happy?”

“You know if you have a good foundation.  You have to be good to each other; but remember, you are responsible for your own happiness.”

BINGO!

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Lost

May 19, 2011

My mother just died suddenly.  Ma and Dad were on a cruise when she had cardiac arrest.  They were in South America at the time.  After having a good day together, they went to their cabin to take a nap.  She woke up coughing and died moments later.  It took one week for my father to get home.  It took an additional week for my mother to arrive.  I made the trip to my family’s house in nineteen hours.  I had two of my dogs with me.  My parents each traveled alone.

While at my father’s house, I let the dogs out into the side yard to take care of their business and to play.  I was on the phone making arrangements for my mother’s services.  When I came back, they were gone.  I called them but they did not come.  I ran in the house to tell my father, and then ran out to the street to start looking for them.  I asked everyone I saw if they had seen them.  I explained, they did not live here; they did not know how to get home.  Some of the neighbors did see them.  One said they went up the street, the other said they saw them going down the same street.  The man who lives on the corner directly behind my father said they were playing in his yard, then ran off “in that direction,” as he pointed toward the golf course.

It took two weeks for my mother to come home.  The cruise line and the insurance company arranged everything.  My brother and sister-in-law were in constant contact with them, making decisions about the details of her processing and her trip home.  Her passport was with her, along with documentation from the ship describing her medical condition and treatment prior to her death.  Two death certificates were prepared, one in Spanish and one in English.  The English version was with her when she arrived in Boston, along with customs documents and a bag of black sand.  It was a Friday night when the plane landed.  A car from the funeral home was there to get her.  She was home.

When my dogs were gone for over an hour without being seen, I began to worry.  Where could they have gone?  They must have wandered beyond the neighborhood.  There is a golf course very close to my father’s house.  Several of his neighbors told me, when their dogs ran off, that is where they would go.  We contacted the clubhouse and asked them to call us if the dogs showed up there.  When the call came, my brother and I rushed to get there.  One dog, Boston, was playing in the pond and in the woods.  When we grabbed him and leashed him, he was not the least concerned that he did not know where he was or that I was worried about him.  He knew I would find him and bring him home, just as I did each time he’d run off in the past.

The groundskeeper who found Boston drove me around in a golf cart to look for Memphis.  Then my family converged on the golf course to look.  He was not there.

My parents bought their plot and marker several years ago.  The plot was in the same cemetery as their friends.  The area they chose was new.  It had just been cleared of trees.  On the day we went to the cemetery to make the arrangements, we learned that we had to pick out a plot.

“I thought we had a plot,” my father said.”  “No, you picked out the area.  Now you have to pick the exact plot”.  To help him understand this, I told him, “Dad, you picked out the neighborhood, now you have to pick the house”.  He chose a spot close to a water fountain and a stone bench.  When the trees mature, there will be lots of shade.

We continued to look for Memphis.  I showed everyone I saw a picture of him on my cell phone.  I gave them my business card and asked them to call if they saw him.  My nieces and nephews joined the search.  They rode their bikes around the neighborhood.  My sister drove her car up and down the streets.  We all whistled and called his name.  When darkness approached, we went back to my father’s house in despair.  We all knew Memphis would be spending the night outside.  Everyone went home and it was just my father and I.  He felt awful about Memphis being lost.  I felt awful that he felt awful.  He had lost his wife.  I’d lost a dog.  It is not the same.

I did not sleep that night.  In the morning, I was out looking for him as soon as the sun came out.  I went beyond the neighborhood to places I did not go the day before.  By now, everyone in the neighborhood knew what he looked like and how to contact me.  I was at least ten miles away from my father’s house when Bob called.  He told me someone had found Memphis.

The story is, when some local person let their dog in, Memphis came into the house, too.  When Memphis finally stopped circling their kitchen island, they got Bob’s name and phone number from the plate on his collar.  I rushed to the address Bob gave me, which was less than a mile away from my father’s house.

When I arrived, I was overwhelmed with emotion, and so glad to see him.  Memphis was indifferent.  He knew I would find him, just as I had done before.

The wake was at the funeral home where my parents have been too many times before.  The funeral was in the Catholic church where we were confirmed and where my sister and two of my brothers were married.  It was nice.  After the service, we drove my mother to her final resting spot near the fountain and stone bench.  She is close to where my father lives and very near their friends.

I stayed at my father’s house a few more weeks to help him adjust.  Bob brought Carolina and Wisconsin with him, when he came for my mother’s services.  When he left, he took Boston, Memphis and Wisconsin with him.  Carolina stayed with me.  We slept in the room down the hall from the room I grew up in.  My old room was now my mother’s craft room.  It is full of needlework, yarn and fabric.  This is also where she kept her computer and paperwork.  Each day, I sorted through these things and kept my father company.

When it was time, I packed up my belongings and some of my mother’s, and loaded them in the car.  I had a nineteen-hour drive.  I didn’t have a passport or a collar that could help me get to where I was going.  I was not in the neighborhood, close to my family.  I did not know how to get home.  There was nobody making travel arrangements for me.  There was no one looking for me.  I did not know the neighborhood or the house where I belonged.  All I knew for sure was I wanted to be with my father, with my family.  I wanted to be in my old room.  Or in my mother’s room.  I envy my mother.  She was never lost; she always knew where home was.  She is home now.  She is in a different house, but in the same neighborhood.