General Family Life


If you recall a couple years ago, I did a post (here) about Hunter, the dog we were training to be a Diabetes Alert Dog for JR.  I never told you the result of that.

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Hunter was truly a fun dog!  He ran around the farm all day, helping JR with chores, and generally finding entertainment in anything a good, farm-breed working dog would.  He also LOVED having a job to do.  He bonded very closely to JR, which was great, and by the time he was just around 7 months old, he began showing signs of alerting and scent recognition.  He was well on his way to being an alert dog.

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Sadly, though, as with many service-dogs-in-training, there is so much more to creating an all-around service dog than just achieving a specific task.  In Hunter’s case, he was so full of energy, he was usually like a spring just waiting to explode at any second.  On the farm, this wasn’t a problem.  In public, however, it could’ve turned into a problem.  No one in the general public had a clue, as by all accounts, he seemed to be a very well-trained pup, on his way to being a service dog.  He would calmly walk alongside JR, or lay up under a table in a restaurant, or whatever we asked of him.  The waiting however, was just more than he could comfortably bear.  As a habit, I always have a foot or leg touching a pup I am training in public, so I always know what they are up to.  In Hunter’s case, I could feel him just trembling with pent-up energy, and ready to leap out at the first temptation to play.  It broke my heart.

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Some issues can be outgrown.  It is possible that Hunter would have outgrown this one.  However, there comes a time when selfless and practical decisions must be made.  First, and most importantly, I want to know that a dog is truly happy and enjoying his life–while at work or play.  In Hunter’s case, he was a naturally happy dog, but I think having to remain calm in public was not something he enjoyed at all.  Secondly, even though he could possibly have outgrown the energy, from a practical standpoint, I couldn’t risk it taking several years to have him able to qualify as a service dog.  I learned in my past training that a good alert dog should be ready and able to pass a full exam such as the Canine Good Citizen Award by the time they are about 18 months old–preferably earlier.  Hunter wasn’t even close.  So, instead, we found Hunter a farm home with other mini-Aussies, where he was able to herd livestock and play and generally exert energy to his heart’s content.  Last I heard, he was adapting beautifully, and the photos they sent showed a very happy dog indeed!

Giving up Hunter was a little harder for JR, as he was very attached.  In fact, he slept with Hunter’s dog tag and a photo for several months after he left, and there were a few nights where he cried himself to sleep.  That being said, he seemed to fully understand that it was truly the best decision for Hunter.  JR knew he wanted an alert dog, not a pet, and we couldn’t have both at that point in time.  Furthermore, we all agreed that Hunter’s presence was certainly not in vain.  He had helped JR overcome some major fears he had developed with his new diagnosis.  Since learning he was diabetic, he was always scared to leave S or I, fearing he would have a low blood sugar and not know what to do.  For many weeks, he even slept on our couch, rather than going upstairs to his bedroom.  Hunter gave him the confidence he so desperately needed to go back to living life as normal.  For that, we will always be thankful to Hunter!

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After much prayer and searching, God blessed us with an adorable 13 week old Australian Shepherd puppy for JR.  If you recall, we were preparing to train a pup to be a Diabetes Alert Service Dog for JR, to help him with low blood sugars.  Although JR isn’t fully insulin dependent at this point, he is having a lot of issues with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).  We have no idea why, other than perhaps some genetics at play, since I have the same issues when I’m active, even if my insulin pump is turned off for hours.  In any case, we were searching for a medium-sized dog with a very specific temperament for JR, and one that would be a good candidate for service dog training.

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Meet “Hunter.”  We have now had Hunter for 3 weeks, and he is AMAZING!!  I have trained a lot of dogs over the years, and quite a few service dogs.  This puppy is incredible.  I have never had a pup catch on to new concepts so quickly.  He is VERY tightly bonded to JR already, which is good, is learning his scent through games we play, can already hunt him down from hiding places through scent, and he is learning commands very quickly.  We have been introducing him to public places and crowds over the last few weeks, but only in areas where dogs were allowed.  He is very patient for such a young pup, though, and has slept through our 2 and 3 hour long activities several times.  If his service dog equipment is delivered on time this week though, we are planning to make his big debut in indoor public places this coming Sunday.   We have notified our pastor and the restaurant we frequent, and they are both OK and ready.

I have no doubt at this point that Hunter has the foundation of a great service dog.  His training is coming nicely.  We are beginning to introduce him to low blood sugars, but it will likely be 6-8 months before we know if he will actually alert of his own accord.  In the mean time, we will keep training and working with him, to make him the best service dog he can be!

Most people are familiar with diabetes, Type 1, Type 2, and gestational.  I think we have stumbled on a new type, though, and no one seems to understand it.  OK, not literally, but it does make for interesting conversation.  “I have a Type 1 diabetic child….sort of.”

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JR, dressed up in period costume while volunteering at the local historical state park.

As you may know, 9-year-old JR was diagnosed with Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes back in March.  You can read more about that here.  He was discharged from the hospital on a standard-for-his-weight-regimen off 11 units of long-acting Lantus and 1 unit of short acting Novolog for every 15 grams of carbohydrate he ate.  Within about 2 days, he was battling chronic low blood sugars.  I called the doc, and was told to cut his Lantus by 1/3.  I could see he was still running low, though, so I also increased his Novolog ratio to 1 unit for every 20 carbs.  Still struggling with chronic and severe lows, including blood sugars in the 30’s and 40’s (normal levels are between 80-120), I decided to change him again.  I cut his Lantus by 2/3 of the original dose, and increased his Novolog ratio to 1 unit per 40 carbs.  This change helped a little, but he still had lows.  The poor child was sick of food, as he had to eat constantly to keep his blood sugar up.  I had to test him 1-2 times during the night, and often had to feed him a snack to hold him until morning.  He spent several evenings in tears, and often slept on the couch (close to our bedroom) or even with us because he was so afraid of getting too low during the night.  As soon as he awoke in the morning, he would check his meter to make sure I had tested him during the night (which meant I could never oversleep and skip a test I had promised!).  It was a stressful time.  Thankfully, a couple days later we had a follow-up appointment.  We discussed the issue.  The doctor was hesitant to make additional changes.  Her concern was that, if we reduced his insulin too much, he would assume he was cured and be devastated later.  I assured her that was not the case, he understood completely because he had grown up with me having the disease, and we were far more concerned about his chronic and dangerous lows.  She hesitated, and explained that it was very rare to have a child diagnosed in such early stages.  I agree that we were, indeed, blessed to be followed by the TRIGR study, so we knew to be watching for the symptoms at the time.  In any case, she gave me a plan of action, and we left.

Over the next week, we completely weaned JR off his Lantus–the long acting insulin that is designed to stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day.  We also continued to reduce his Novolog–the short-acting insulin designed to stabilize sugar spikes at meal and snack times.  We monitored his patterns, and finally, one day, he took no insulin at all.  And he did really well.  He didn’t have a single low!  In fact, his sugar levels were perfect all day long!  That was back in April.  Since then, he has taken no Lantus at all, and he only takes 1 unit of Novolog for every 40 carbs, which, with our diet, only happens about 1-2 times per week.  That’s right, my Type 1 diabetic son only requires about 1 unit of insulin when we eat the Sunday buffet at our local restaurant, or have the occasional, high-carb pancakes and syrup for dinner.  That’s it.  He still tests his blood sugar level, but only does so about 2-3 times a day–and mainly for his own security.  Interestingly, the biggest struggle he continues to have is low blood sugars.  Despite the fact he takes no insulin most days, almost any type of play or other exertion will cause his sugar levels to drop as if he was on insulin.  As a result, he still has to carry his little kit with him, which contains his bg monitor, glucose, and snacks to treat his lows.  Lows now range between 50 and 70 though, rather than the previous 30’s and 40’s.  On rare occasion, a meal might cause his sugar to get into the 200’s, but we rarely treat it, as his body does pretty well bringing it down without assistance.  In fact, we’ve found additional treatment with insulin causes a severe low later, which is more dangerous than a rare high level.

As it turns out, no one seems to be able to explain what is going on with him.  Clearly, he is in what is known as the “Honeymoon Period,” where the pancreas is still producing some insulin, but is slowly killing its remaining islet (insulin) cells, and he will be fully insulin dependent in the not-too-distant future.  The doctor’s guess is, considering the early stage we caught him, and the fact his pancreas got a bit of a break with the help from insulin in those early weeks, he may have 12-18 months before he reaches that stage.  In the mean time, she has told us to enjoy the time we have.  What she, nor anyone else can tell us, is why he continues to battle low blood sugars.  It seems to be an anomaly, and even the TRIGR staff we have spoken with, who are experts in the field of Type 1 and pediatric diabetes, have never seen this before.  As best we can all surmise, his body just doesn’t really know how to “calibrate” his blood sugar levels anymore, and for whatever reason, errors on the side of overproducing insulin (causing low levels) rather than underproducing (which would cause highs).

As busy as we have been this spring, this development has been a true blessing, as it bought us a few months where I didn’t have to focus so much on his health.  Plus I was allowed to sleep, which is something I desperately need to get through the day.  It has also done a tremendous amount I’m sure in giving him time to adjust to the idea, without losing all his eating freedoms at once–not that he eats that unhealthy to begin with.  Probably even more of a blessing is the fact that those around him, folks who might be prone to panic at the idea of him eating the wrong thing or having a severe sugar level, have been able to relax knowing he is pretty independent and can be treated as “normal.”  They are able to watch him test, ask him questions (which he is very good at answering correctly), and generally this seems to put their mind at ease.  He is still looking forward to getting his alert dog, and we are hoping to later this summer or early fall.  I’m hoping the more stable blood sugars will actually help train the dog faster because it is easier to get the dog accustomed to his “normal” smells, so it is more aware of his low or high smells.  This is a huge bonus when training a new pup to these scents!

It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next year or so, but we certainly count our blessings.  JR does not take it for granted, and often comments about it.  He knows what his future holds, but this honeymoon time seems to have eased his fears somewhat, as he feels more in control, I guess. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy having a non-insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetic child.

….well, actually, 7-year-old M can see clearly now.

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Several weeks ago, M began complaining about her vision and not being able to see well.  We pointed out things throughout the day, and were puzzled that, sometimes she could see them fine, and other days she seemed to have trouble.  I took her to an optometrist, assuming maybe she was near-sighted like me.  As it turned out, she can see just fine.  In fact, she has perfect vision.  We discovered, however, that she is somewhat cross-eyed.  It isn’t noticeable except to her.  Essentially, when her eyes get tired, they begin to drift inward, causing her lose focus.  Thus, she was prescribed what basically amounts to reading glasses.  The rule is that she has wear them anytime she is looking at something that is close enough for her to reach out and touch (like when doing school or reading books).  If it’s further than that, she doesn’t need her glasses.  The glasses simply reduce the strain on her eye, preventing them from drifting and losing focus.  So far so good, and she loves her new look!

Most of you know that I am a Type 1 Diabetic, and have been for almost 30 years.  As a plug for my book, I authored a book several years ago, called “Diabetes:  Overcome Your Fears” which can be purchased on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers, or directly through me (if you’d like an autographed copy).

In this book, I discuss all that I have learned about diabetes over the years, my experiences with different equipment and alert dogs, having children, finding doctors, and so much more.  With 2 biological children, I knew the statistics of them getting the disease, and could only hope and pray that our lifestyle would delay or prevent the onset.  Our firstborn, JR, has been part of a trial study called TRIGR since he was born.  At birth, he showed the genetic markers.  While this was no guarantee he would develop the disease, it did mean he had a drastically increased chance.  By the time he was 4, he was showing all the necessary antibodies for the condition, but was still free of diabetes.  We can only hope our lifestyle contributed to the this fact.  Last fall, however, his annual blood results showed a rise in his A1C results.  Again, it was no guarantee, as nothing is certain in the development at this point, as the actual trigger for the condition is as yet unknown. However, these latest results meant we had to watch more closely for symptoms.

In early February, JR began having some trouble sleeping.  It was somewhat random though, so I chalked it up to the winter cold preventing him from being as active, thus as tired, as normal.  He became increasingly emotional and sensitive, but again, we were all driving each other a little nutty locked inside as we were due to the single digit temps outside.  He began complaining of excessive thirst, but I was also drinking a lot due to the dry winter air we were experiencing, so again, I ignored the symptoms.  Finally, 2 weeks ago, I came home from a long day on the road.  It was long after JR’s bedtime, and he was crying because he couldn’t sleep again.  He said he didn’t feel good.  I knew they had waffles and syrup for dinner (a very high carbohydrate meal), so on a whim, I decided to test his blood sugar with my meter.  Rather than the usual number reading, the meter gave me the message “Blood Glucose not readable.  Over 600.”  I felt the sinking feeling in my chest, knowing what this likely meant.  I hoped, however, that he had residual syrup or sugar residue on his hands from dinner, so I sent him to the bathroom to wash his hands.  He returned and I tested him again.  I got the same reading. For once in my life, I used an almost-swear word.  “CRAP!”  I knew our lives and his life had just taken a major turn.  I didn’t like it, he knew what his future held (at least as much as a 9 year old can), and we had to get that sugar down before he became very ill.

I woke S, told him what had happened, and immediately drove JR to the hospital, 30 minutes away.  We walked into the ER, I explained the BG results to the intake nurse, and she immediately sent him to triage.  He quickly became the center of attention for a ridiculous number of doctors, nurses, and medical interns.  For the next 24 hours, he was admitted, put on insulin, given education and classes, met with one medical professional after another, and finally, we were discharged to go home.

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So begins a new phase of life for our family.  I am not just a diabetic, but I am also the parent of a diabetic.  We are able to laugh at it sometimes–like in church, when I felt weak, turned to test, sat up and discovered JR doing the same.  I was low, he wasn’t, so I “won.”  Other times, I get sick of hearing “Mom, I’m low!  What should I eat this time?”  I’d rather go back to a month ago, when he was free of disease, and had a future free of shots and finger pokes.  That is no longer the case.  Thankfully, he is a mature, responsible kiddo, and often finds the blessings in life.  He looks forward to having an alert dog like I used to.  He already does all his own testing and injections.  He is considering whether he wants a pump or to stay on shots.  He is learning what to eat and how much, and how exercise affects his bg levels.  I have no doubt his future is as bright as it ever was, only with the addition of this all-too-familiar thorn in his side to keep him humble and remind him of his mortality.  Even now, he acts like a fairly typical child, except at bedtime, when his newfound insecurities show up.  He is terrified to fall asleep many nights.  He is so scared of a having a severe low.  Although he has never seen me experience any such thing, he is a smart kid, and knows what a bad low can do.  It scares him that his insulin might take him too low one night, and he might not wake up.  He is doing better, but only with the reassurance that I will test him at night.

As a diabetic mom of a newly diagnosed child, I have wanted to cry for him many times, but the tears just won’t come.  I know the frustrations life holds for him, the humiliations he will likely experience in time, the fears of finding a wife who will love him, or the decisions of whether he should have children and risk passing on the genetics.  I hope he will never blame me for what he goes through, and that he will allow God to walk with him through those tough times.  I hope I can teach him thankfulness in all things by my example, and that he will accept his disease as part of the result of mankind’s sinful nature and not something he himself did.  I can only hope.

By the way, I will throw out a request.  We have promised to help him train an alert dog.  Alert dogs are amazing and wonderful aids for diabetics, and especially for children.  They tend to give children more confidence to go places without their parents, and to simply fall asleep at night, because the dogs are trained to detect lows and highs an act accordingly.  Will, my retired alert dog, has just gotten too old to return to service.  The poor dog can hardly get off his bed sometimes, so there is no way he could keep up with an active little boy.  Therefore, around late spring/early summer, we will be looking for a puppy to train.  Our ideal dog would be a medium-breed, labrador, golden retriever, poodle, or cross-breed.  I am not too picky about the breed itself, but I am very picky about the puppies (and parents’ if available) characteristics and will have to expose the puppy to several “tests” to see how it reacts.  The breeds listed have simply had the greatest success rates as alert dogs for children.  Other breeds have included Australian Shepherds, Welsh Corgis, Beagles, and many cross-breeds.  In fact, my first was a rescue that I re-trained.  We could take a puppy up to about 4 months of age, due to other considerations we have.  I am really preferring something that will mature to less than 50 lbs, as the dog must sleep with JR, and because JR is rather small for his age.  A smaller size would just be a better match for him.  I say all this to ask, if you know of anyone who breeds for pups that might be good for a task of this nature, we will be looking.  I would greatly appreciate any info you can offer that might help us find a good candidate to work with.  If the puppy could possibly be donated, that would be an incredible blessing for our family.

In the mean time, perhaps the rest of you could offer up a little prayer on our behalf, as we go through these early “honeymoon” phases, try to get his insulin and blood sugars leveled out, learn to immerse this into our already-busy lifestyle, and soon begin the search for that perfect dog that will become JR’s personal, 4-legged guardian.  We’d greatly appreciate it.

….Barely, thanks to my chronic state of hypothermia!

So I left CO for warmer temperatures and 4 distinctly beautiful seasons of central IL.  HA!!  Wouldn’t ya know, our first winter here would involve the coldest, worst winter in 100 years (depending on who you ask).  Average temperatures for the month of February are typically in the 30’s, the ground begins thawing, and by late March, the trees are blooming and grass begins to grow as it ushers in springtime.  Not this year.  Here we are in the last week of February.  We had a low of 3* last night, with highs running in the 20’s all week.  The ground is frozen solid, and we are at a standstill.

S has been working through our list of projects, many of which need to be done by spring.  We need to collect and repair all our temporary electric fencing.  But we can’t because it’s frozen to the ground.  We need to set up some new grazing paddocks.  We can’t because the ground is too frozen to take the posts.  We need milk, but the cold has caused all the goats to dry up, and causing our beef-turned-milk cow to fluctuate wildly in her production.  In desperation, S decided to collect and burn lumber piles.  The night before, it snowed and got it all too wet to burn.  So he set up his lumber mill to cut up logs.  When he went to collect the logs, they were frozen to the ground and wouldn’t budge!  AAAGH!!!

OK, I WILL NOT complain.  I WILL NOT complain.  I WILL NOT complain.  Really, I’m not complaining.  I’m just stating facts.  I like to look at the positive side of things instead.

Like our new batch of pullets laying their first egg this morning.  Of course, it was frozen solid and cracked open by the time we found it.  Or the new pigs we’ve added for the 2014 season.  A month earlier than we were supposed to due to the breeder’s winter issues, and now they are stuck in our barn brooder until the ground thaws enough for us to set their fence up.  Then there’s the sunny day yesterday that allowed me the opportunity to finally get the goats out of their barn paddock and lead them out to the front pasture for some exercise.  Except that poor Latte has aged about 10 years in this cold, and it seemed as though her joints just wouldn’t function as she limped along the 1/4 mile.  I hope it was good for her to get out.  Oh, I know, the adult layers are in full swing, popping eggs out all over.  Unfortunately, they are still in the barn because we haven’t been able to build the second coop yet.  Furthermore, they have gotten bored laying in their assigned areas, and have taken to exploring the entire barn, stalls, and loft.  Which means egg collecting is more akin to an easter egg hunt 5 times a day so we can hope to find them before they freeze.

Bugs.  That’s the thought that keeps me going.  The idea that maybe, just maybe, this deep, long cold will kill off lots and lots of bugs and larvae buried in the upper layers of the ground, which will mean a wonderful crop year for those of us who use no chemicals.  Only time will tell there.

OK, I give up.  I make it a point to praise God for the winter, as I firmly believe there is blessing in everything.  The human in me, however, must confess that I am SICK AND TIRED of winter.  My fingers and toes are always frozen, a walk to the mailbox results in wind burn on my cheeks, and the kids and I are driving each other nuts!  My joints are stiff, I feel 80 years old, and I’m ready to garden, get outside, build paddocks, groom animals, grow pasture, whatever.

Alas, life goes on.  We are staying busy, with a full kitchen remodel about to begin.  We are plugging along in school, and trying to survive winter.  It always comes back to winter, doesn’t it!  We are also staying busy trying to learn from this winter and planning necessary changes, so we can be better prepared should something like this happen again.  Enough of this rant.  I will close with a very happy thought….Today, I am mailing out our first half-payment for our team of Belgian horses that should be arriving at the end of March.  That thought gives me sweet dreams indeed!

We just traveled the long drive back to CO, but this time as a family, to celebrate S’s official retirement ceremony from the Air Force.  We stayed with friends and saw other friends, which was really neat as we’ve never really been able to travel back to a place after we’ve left.  In addition, S’s brother from South Korea flew in, S’s mother came, and my brother and parents all came for the big culmination of S’s incredible career in the AF.

S retired as a Lt. Col (0-5).  The retirement speech and certificate was presented by Full General Gene Renuart (ret), a wonderful example of a man who was and is a great leader, both in the AF and in life.  We also got to spend time with his wife, Jill, a good friend from S’s days when he volunteered with Habitat for Humanity.

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Presenting of the Colors

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The official certificate, relieving S of his military duty

The presentation of the flag and the medals and ranks S wore throughout his career.   This was actually a fun surprise that involved a lot of coordinated efforts.  S knew he was getting the flag, flown on several of "his" aircraft.  What he didn't know until it was presented was that the flag was originally flown over the nation's capital and presented to my father for his service in the Desert Shield/Desert Storm war.  My father wanted to give it to S, so he mailed it to our friend heading the whole thing up, who then got it flown on several of S's career aircraft.  Thus, this flag has quite a story to tell!

The presentation of the flag and the medals and ranks S wore throughout his career. This was actually a fun surprise that involved a lot of coordinated efforts. S knew he was getting the flag, flown on several of “his” aircraft. What he didn’t know until it was presented was that the flag was originally flown over the nation’s capital and presented to my father for his service in the Desert Shield/Desert Storm war. My father wanted to give it to S, so he mailed it to our friend heading the whole thing up, who then got it flown on several of S’s career aircraft. Thus, this flag has quite a story to tell!

A quick moment with old friends, the General and his wife.

A quick moment with old friends, the General and his wife.

My mom managed to capture a quick family photo during all the chaos of the afternoon....well, almost.  M was missing.

My mom managed to capture a quick family photo during all the chaos of the afternoon….well, almost. M was missing.

There's M!

There’s M!

Father and daughter....my dad and I.

Father and daughter….my dad and I.

Grandpa and grandsons, saluting the flag.

Grandpa and grandsons, saluting the flag.

A big hit of the event was the official retirement cake, to celebrate and symbolize S’s leaving of one career to begin another:

S's retirement cake.  Representing the Red Wattle hogs he had butchered a couple weeks prior, and his new career as a farmer.  The cake was wonderful, and when you cut into it, it was chocolate with raspberry filling.

S’s retirement cake. Representing the Red Wattle hogs he had butchered a couple weeks prior, and his new career as a farmer. The cake was wonderful, and when you cut into it, it was chocolate with raspberry filling.

BUSTED!!  (I later found out Nana had a little something to do with instigating this!)

BUSTED!! (I later found out Nana had a little something to do with instigating this!)

After the ceremony, we had a catered dinner with Roast, which is intended to roast the retiree.  There were very few embarrassing stories, though, as it was clear S was a well-loved man, friend, instructor, and professional airman.  The stories of his life, as presented by others made this fact clear.  It was a great week, spent with friends and family, celebrating S’s amazing career, and we came back home to the farm with many great memories and photos!

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