Chip- A Life Amazingly Well-Lived

Buds wrote an incredibly eloquent and moving tribute to our sweet dog. Here’s what he wrote:

The boy

We raised Chip as a service dog. A well-bred yellow lab, “Treasury’s Blue Chip” was his given name and his pedigree outstripped ours. We had a one year commitment to love this dog, but not too well. To take him into stores, and on planes. To show him crowds and solitude, so that he would be well-rounded, helpful, and calm.

His charge was to help someone we did not know. To be a comfort, a friend, and a guide. We kept our promise, but Chip wasn’t able to keep his. When we left him for his formal training, he never could settle in. His mind would never turn to service. The orange vest he sometimes wore made his tail droop and his gait slink.

A good half of all service dogs don’t take to training. When we picked him up, he gamboled and lolled, happy to play again.

Chip saw the births of our three kids and many moves. His was the puppy’s way–happy and carefree. One time we took him with us as we played tennis and he chased balls until his paws were raw and he limped for three days afterwards. In Iowa, he saw a motion in our field of fresh cut hay and bounced out to meet a skunk who tattooed a memory on his nose. In Virginia, our neighbor’s small dog could excite him so that he would run with his hind legs nearly outracing his front–his puppy scoot.

Maybe his fortune would have been better if we had stayed in Iowa; a dog’s paradise. Maybe our kids would have wandered with him in fields until sunset. But he never complained; after all, smaller houses meant more chances to find and sometimes sneak food.

But now our house is still and our good boy is gone. Cat food sits on the kitchen floor unmolested and alone. And our lonely hearts hurt and hope that he has found a happy place to play.

And he included this picture:

The newest member of the family in October, '98.

Though I will readily bow to Buddie’s great writing prowess, I have a strong need to eulogize Chip as well.

Our first sight of Chip, who was originally named Ira, was in the headlights of a car on a cold, dark, October night. We’d been impatiently waiting for the phone call saying Elmo and Laura had gone to The Treasury to pick up the two donated puppies. Buck, Chip’s brother, went to a farm in Pennsylvania to be raised. We took Chippie to visit him once, and what a treat that was for both of them. Buck was yellower and leaner than Chip, and they remembered each other immediately.

But that visit was in the future. On this cold night, we brought home this beautiful, white lab puppy, and introduced him to our 2 cats, our old Cocker Spaniel, and welcomed him into our hearts.

Those early months, he went nearly everywhere with us. He did, indeed, fly on planes with us several times. He fit neatly under the seat, stowed as others did their purses and briefcases. Memorably, he even pooped in the middle of a terminal at Midway Airport in Chicago because we couldn’t find an exit quickly enough.

One of our favorite memories was the Dog Contest we had at our condo in Delaware. Everyone had a dog in the game, except Liz and Tony, so they were the automatic judges.

John, Mary, and Becky’s dog, MaLi, was naturally well-trained, and the most mature dog of the group.

Zach and Andrea had actually put time, thought, and effort into training Ally. She did some great tricks, including jumping over Zach while he was down on all-fours, I believe.

Buds and I half-assed it, as usual. Our blind Cocker Spaniel, Brandie, could smell moist cat food through the can, so we set out some cans of food so people could watch her attempt to tear into them.

Though Chip had been in training to be a service dog, we had done little extra training with him once he returned to be our family dog. So, we used his natural dislike for lettuce.

We put a huge bowl on the floor under his mouth. Announced that Chip was going to help with dinner prep, then we would hold out a large lettuce leaf which he would tear a chunk out of, then spit it out, dropping it into the bowl. Buds and I had to hold each other up we were laughing so hard.

I’m not sure our dinner guests were nearly as amused.

Other Chip favorite memories were his obsession with chasing any balls, but certainly tennis balls were near the top of the list. The children lost several playground and Winnie-The-Pooh balls over the years because Chip would chase them down and attempt to carry them back. Pop…

In what turned out to be his last few months, Chip developed a new habit. It was half-endearing, half-annoying.

His ability to jump up onto anything had become so compromised that he would spend nearly a minute barking in encouragement to himself to work up the gumption and oomph to jump on the couch, or up onto the deck out back. It was as if he was saying to himself, “You can do it. Come on, you got this. You can do it.”

At the end, even the barks of self-encouragement were gone.

Chip’s tail was never, ever still. He was the waggiest dog ever seen. He was ready to love all people and all creatures. Nutmeg wasn’t always willing to be loving toward him, but he and Chance would often settle in together on the couch, or in the very old days, on a bed. That was when the harsh reality of the end finally became clearer to me; when Chip’s tail stopped wagging.

He was kind and friendly and so willing to love and be loved. He did have a slight tendency to take food from the children since their fingers were juuuusssstttt at drool-level, but despite this, we couldn’t have asked for a better dog to help us raise our family.

Thank you, Chip, for choosing us over a life of service. We are so grateful.

Hair Today…

I have redeemed myself in the hair-cutting department. The Buster suffered through a more thorough hair cut this afternoon.

He detests the itchy-ness of the hair bits, and it is tough to sit still for a full haircut when you have the hair of a sheepdog, but we got through it.

He continues to look sweet as a bug and cute as a button.

The bangs go with the flow now.

A little bit of a Dorothy Hamill cut.


I don’t remember what video it was, but I shared a video with the children, and as we were watching it, Monkey turned to me, her eyes were filled with tears. It wasn’t a particularly sad video. It was moving and beautiful, and she keenly felt the wonder and joy and power of it.

One of the many things I have always appreciated about The Monkey is that I often see myself in her feelings and perceptions of things. I’ll work very hard to not box her in in any ways, but it has often been helpful when she is feeling overwhelmed by emotion because I instinctively connect with what she is feeling.

When I traveled in Spain for the first time, I saw The Holy Trinity by Ribera, and dissolved into gut-wrenching sobs in the small side gallery that houses the painting at The Prado.

Being open to the force of emotion that sometimes comes with a book or painting or movie…what a gift to ourselves.

Wacky Wednesday Wone (1): Laundry Soap

Wacky Wednesdays (name created by The Buster) are our days for science experiments and crafty creations and explosions. We do that on other days, too, but this is the name for this day.

Today we made laundry soap. It involved grating bars of soap and lots of mixing and scooping.

This was another great example of the strewing idea.

I told the children I was going to work on the project, and then I just got started. One by one, they came over and jumped in as their interest led. It was fun, and relaxing, and interesting…at least for me.

I always find the children fascinating, but I’m intrigued by Zachy’s ability to turn ANYTHING into a story. His life is one long-running story. I don’t remember what he and Yessa were pretending the grated soap shavings were, but it was part of some grand universal plan.

Like the story of the stonecutters:

Once upon a time, there was a traveler who came upon three individuals working with stone. Curious as to what the workers were doing with the stones, the traveler approached the first worker and asked, “What are you doing with these stones?” Grumpily and without hesitation the worker quickly responded, “I am a stonecutter and I am cutting stones.”

Not satisfied with this answer, the traveler approached the second worker and asked, “What are you doing with these stones?” The second worker paused for a moment, sighed, but smiled a little and then explained, “I am a stonecutter, and I am trying to make enough money to support my family.”

Having two different answers to the same question, the traveler made his way to the third worker and asked, “What are you doing with these stones?” The third worker stopped what he was doing, bringing his chisel to his side. He looked at the traveler with a beaming smile on his face and declared, “I am a stonecutter, and I am building a cathedral.”

Story found at:

Zachy’s always building a cathedral.

The brain is such a funny place…

at least, my brain is.

On many Wednesdays, we have a Lunch & Learn at work. I order up the lunch for everyone in the Reston office, and someone in one of the offices presents on some topic of interest. The ones I’ve been able to be part of have been great.

We had one today, and the presenter requested Chinese food, so I had people send me their orders so I could call them all in at one time.

One of my co-workers sent me this order:

Hi Jennie,

I would like a lunch portion order of: Vegetable Fried Rice: Spicy with No meat, No fish and No EGG.

Thank You!

When I read her email the first time, I thought, “Hmmm, EGG, that must be like MSG, but I’ve never heard of it.”

It wasn’t until the next day, as I was getting ready to call the restaurant that I realized…oh…right…

But, of course, I am the person who got to her senior year of high school firmly convinced that the Hawaiian Islands were off Florida. (I have an extremely logical reason for this. Just ask me.)

We made the cut!!

I think I overdid it:

Little Lord Fauntleroy

But, it really was time:

Sheepdog or boy? Who can tell...

Sam The Sheepdog...or Zachary, as we call him.

In my own future defense when the kids are teasing me about the home-grown haircuts, The Buster hates the feel of the hair tickling his cheeks when I comb it down for trimming, so he had his shirt under his bangs, being held up by both his hands. Hence, I had to hold the hair out away from his face to be sure I didn’t cut his hands.

Yeah, that’s it. It was not trimmer error.

And at least I knew enough not to look at him after I cut it and say, “Uh oh,” as Buds did the time he cuts my bangs nearly to the hair line.

Home-grown cuts go way back in our family…


When a friend you’ve known for awhile looks at you and says, “I never thought I’d hear those words come out of your mouth,” you know you are on to something good.

I mentioned to Eileen and Andy at the box this morning that I was thinking of getting a tattoo. Yessa gave me a Halloween witch tattoo yesterday, and I’ve enjoyed seeing it on my arm.

I asked Eileen if she wanted to get one: NO!

I asked Andy if he wanted to get one: F-NO!

That’s when Eileen said she never thought she’d hear me say I wanted one.

I didn’t think I’d ever want to get one either, but I’m trying out the idea for awhile.

Andy suggested I draw one on with permanent marker and wear it for two years and see if I still like the idea. I thought that was a fabulous concept so, Buds drew a lovely dragonfly for me when I got out of the shower this morning. I’m not going to wear it for two years, but, I appreciate the idea of “try before you buy,” for something permanent and body-altering.

I also like thinking of it as a reward for myself.

I’m thinking that I set some weight and fitness goals, and once I reach those: tattoo…here I come.

Gina and I have plans to hike Mount Washington next summer. That’s a fantastic fitness goal.

My “Diane” time increased by three minutes and dropped by 10 pounds when I did it yesterday compared to the last time in June or July. Neither of those are a good thing. Setting a goal for “Diane” or “Fran” would be great fitness target.

I’m not generally keen on weight loss goals, but I need to be as small and mighty as possible if I’m ever going to get a muscle up…which I plan to do in the next 3 years. (Before I turn 45!)

Just a little, pretty, personal tattoo. One that only Buds and I would see, plus the 25 people at CrossFit I would have to show, plus Gina and April and Jenny and Mia. Oh, and my mom. So, it couldn’t be anywhere too private, because being me, I’ll be so dang skippy proud of it, I’ll show it all the time.

Just another stage in life.

Yessa decided that my tattoo drawing by Dad was such a good idea, Zoe has now drawn tattoos all over her, and they both are sporting butterfly antennae on their faces. Hmmm, we are headed into the office for a meeting. I wonder what Buds is going to say.


When I was an RA in college, I was very impressed by the close relationship the Blanton/Nason staff had. When I asked my friend Carla how they got to have such a tight bond, I found out the truth.

They were an extremely close staff, and that had been fostered by having a hall director who would take off to be with her out of town boyfriend without letting her boss, or her staff know. Hence, if the RA staff needed something, they only had each other to rely on. This stress and responsibility, though unwanted, did bring the staff closer together.

In a much lower stakes way, I see this same connection in our children. They may fuss and fume and fight with each other, but if pressure is applied from the outside, and I’m not available to run resistance, they pull together like a well-trained team of Amish horses. (We’re a little unworldly that way.)

They still talk about their indignation and anger at the staff at the Sport & Health Fitness Center we used to belong to. In fact, every time we drive past, they talk about their hatred of the place.

Here’s the story:

Several years ago, I would go work out while the three children stayed in childcare. This was moderately successful, as long as Yessa knew that she could stay close to the “Z’s.”

After my workout one day, I returned to the childcare room to find them fuming with indignation. The staff person told me Yessa had been in “timeout,” for hitting another little boy, but that everything was fine.

Well, everything was not fine. Yessa had been put in timeout because she retaliated with a punch when another little boy hit her first. Both the children were put in time out. As you may suspect, we don’t use timeout in our family, so this was a bit of a shock to her system in the first place. In addition, she wasn’t used to being spoken to harshly, and though it may not have been harsh in the staffer’s mindset, it cut Yessa to the core. She began to cry, and Monkey immediately went to comfort and hug her.

Staffer informs Monkey that she has to “keep your hands to yourself.” Monkey tries to explain she wants to just give Yessa a hug, but this is not allowed.

The other little miscreant gets up and just leaves the timeout area, while Yessa is left there until I arrive.

I have seldom seen the children so indignant and livid over another person’s–to them–senseless behavior. They also were so angry at having their version of the story ignored. The staffer had no interest in learning what happened. For her it was dealt with with punishment, now let’s move on.

My kids weren’t ready to move on.

And that was the last time they went to childcare at Sport & Health.

And I was fine with that. The lesson of sticking up for each other was a more important one.

We stick together...

A Three-Hour Tour…

Though the reason for this early trip to Iowa was not good–Mom’s broken arm and surgery–we have all enjoyed our time in Iowa very much.

The children and I wandered around downtown Colfax while Mom had her haircut.

In a classic example of small town hospitality, I wanted to show the children the church where Buds and I got married. We walked to the church, and the doors were locked. There was a man at the parsonage next door, climbing into his truck. He saw me trying the door of the church, and asked if I wanted to go in. After I explained, he unlocked the door, let us in, asked us to be sure the door locked when we were through, and then left us to explore.

I loved walking down these steps the first time as Jennie Gemignani.

We also went to the Farmer’s Market in Des Moines on a couple Saturdays. Buds and I used to go there when we lived here, but it has grown a huge amount. It was fun to walk around with the children, and see all the fabulous food, craft, and balloon animal options.

Cookie Snack

Sno Cone!

Are my lips red?

Sno Cones with a matching Grandma

Vampire Boy

The children and I have been swimming at the local Y, playing outdoors, visiting the horses and neighbors, going to the library, taking Grandma to PT, and just enjoying the relaxing time together. No Buds is really tough, but overall it’s been a lovely visit.

Mom's big, sunny living room

Our personal pool

The other pool option

I loved cleaning out the car when I'm at Mom's house.

Slip-in-slides never get old.

Such joy in fresh clothes from the line.

The Amazing Chemistry Show at Mom's Church

Time with Pips and Riley was wonderful!

Then, after our great time in Iowa, we headed to K.C. to hang out with The Chandlers and wait for Buds to fly in to be with us.

The playground where MoMo and Hero had soccer practice


Merry Sunshine with freckles

Playing in the setting sun.

Books help pass the time at the airport.


Life is good.

You can read about our trip home here.

Thanks for a great visit, Grandma and Chandlers!

One of my favorite groups in the world.

Good to see you, Girls.

The Sheepdog

Everywhere we have gone lately, The Buster has been called a girl.

Admittedly, his hair has gotten quite long, both back and front. His bangs are well below his eyes; he creates a little opening by pushing the curtains of his bangs over to each side whenever he wants to see.

Just this weekend, Uncle Zach said, “Zachy, your hair is outta control!” He said it in a funny, loving way, but I’m not saying he’s wrong.

Uncle George said he would have divorced me over Zachary’s hair by now because obviously I so dominate our marriage that Chris can’t adequately express his disapproval of Zachy’s hair. This, of course, makes us laugh. Uncle George will say most anything just to see what sort of a reaction he’ll get. Buds and I find him very funny.

Still, I grew up with an incredibly short haircut that had me always being called a boy. I detested it. So, I asked Buster if he minded that a lot of people had been referring to him as a girl.

(Side note, the most frequent thing we’d been hearing was, “Are all these girls yours?” in shocked disbelief, as if having three girls was unheard of.)

Buster looked at me with his typical sweet, funny face and said, “I’m not a girl. It doesn’t matter to me.”

And the great thing was, he didn’t care that people called him a girl. He didn’t see being called a girl as an insult in any way. It was just obvious to him that people were confused.

I do plan to trim up his bangs soon, though. He said he’s ready for them to be trimmed, and that’s what I was waiting for.

My brother asked why it wasn’t Chris’ decision if Zachary’s hair was cut, and I looked at him and said, “Because it’s Zachary’s hair.” He just shook his head in disbelief at my naïveté and I just smiled.