Five things that aren’t in the media right now

Red licorice package

Temptation, thy name is Wiley Wallaby

Five things about Life with Lif that the major networks haven’t picked up on yet (that’s a joke, OK?)

1. Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do

And in my case, it means I succumbed to temptation and bought a package of Wiley Wallaby Soft & Chewy Classic Red Natural Strawberry Flavored Licorice. And then I tore it open. And, well, you know what comes after.

I tell myself that what the label claims is true and therefore this red licorice is a form of health food:  Fat Free! Vegan! Less sugar! No high fructose corn syrup! No dairy! Chewy goodness!

I know what the fine print says though. Even though I tell myself to not read that stuff on the back of the package, eventually guilt takes over and I do. Each one of those evil bits of sweetness is 30 calories and I can’t just eat one. Or two. I’m lucky to stop at ten. But who’s counting?

The first ingredient is sugar. It’s hard to imagine what “less sugar” means in this context. Particularly when the next ingredient is corn syrup. But hey, it’s not high fructose corn syrup so it’s all good. We’ve got a bit of wheat flour in there (sorry, not gluten free), and then the next ingredient is water and after that… cane syrup. But come on, it’s candy. I’m a big girl. I know that means sugar. 

But this is healthy sugar, right? I’m just going to ignore the part about “contains a trivial amount of fat”. I mean, really — fat free and less sugar are only words, after all.

I love red licorice (and how could it be called licorice when there’s no licorice in it?) and sometimes I just gotta have these nasty little bits of healthy fat-free sugar. But I will not buy another package ever again. Or at least not soon.

Badger

Mr or Ms Badger saying “go away”

2. Who knew so many people love badger photos

As of the moment I write this, nearly 500 people have Liked my photo of a young badger I posted on Facebook (the one you see here) and another fifty or more have done so on one of my Facebook photo albums. Why that photo? Is there something special about badgers? Or just that one cutie?

I took the picture when I was hiking with the dogs the other day. Bubz likes to do about five miles for every one mile we walk (that is, I walk — he sprints, gallops, trots, and bounds). I let him run but I keep a close eye on him so he doesn’t go off too far, doesn’t chase cattle, doesn’t argue with things he shouldn’t argue with. Badgers being one of them.

Bubz was about a tenth of a mile away when I saw him chasing something smaller than him, something brown and long-bodied and fast. Or maybe Bubz wasn’t trying all that hard to catch it. Whatever, it went to ground. I knew if I could see it at that distance it was no prairie dog, but given that there were prairie dog holes all around I pretty much figured it had to be something that liked to eat them. I doubted coyote just because the legs weren’t long enough, and so I figured it would be badger, especially since I’ve seen other badger before in that area.

I didn’t want Bubz to start digging to get at whatever it was, so I went over to call him away. Much to my shock, when I peeked into the hole, the badger was peeking back at me. I stood quite still, began talking to it — sorry to bother you but long as you’re there would you mind if I took your photo I promise we’ll move on and stop bothering you if I can just get a photo — as I slowly raised my cell phone and took a couple of shots.

The critter cooperated and I decided to move on as promised. No point in aggravating a badger, plus I didn’t want yet another visit to a veterinarian if Bubz — and Rosie, who’d finally caught up with us — got into it with this one.

3. Rosie is amazing

Speaking of Rosie, she truly is amazing. As I’ve blogged before, I got her August of last year. She was in terrible shape. Aside from overweight, she had no endurance, she was hampered by brachycephalic syndrome, skin allergies, and mental sluggishness. The vet estimated she was six years old but she acted twice that age. I had her spayed, had surgery done on her elongated soft palate, put her on a diet, and got her going on Golden Paste.

But as good as all those things were for her — and believe me, they made an incredible difference — nothing has been as good as Bubbaz entering Rosie’s life.

I adopted him this past June from Round Valley Animal Rescue.  At first Rosie was indifferent to him. She could take him or leave him, long as he didn’t look at her food (she lives for food). But Bubz is an incredible gentleman. One or two curled lips and he never again so much as glanced at her food dish.

But he looks at Rosie (Mom! He’s looking at me! Make him stop!). He comes up to her and sniffs whatever body part is closest, then bounds away. He’ll follow her around like a puppy (Bubz is 8 years old). When we go for walks Bubz runs back to check in with me and soon as I acknowledge him he always runs up to Rosie and bestows a couple licks on her face.

At first Rosie would turn away. But Bubz has wormed his way into her heart as he has into mine. Now when we go on walks Rosie is wildly enthusiastic. She puts some effort into keeping up, and because of that she’s getting in shape.

She loves him.

This morning Rosie was bouncing around like a puppy. I’ve never seen that in her before. I think Bubz is an angel in disguise. I know that Rose doesn’t turn her face away from his kissy-licks anymore… though she does squeeze her eyes shut.

tomato blossoms

Oh tomato, wherefore art thou?

4. The tomato saga

Every year I try to grow tomatoes. It’s become a Major Challenge that I can’t resist even though it’s hardly worth it. It’s just that homegrown tomatoes are so awesome. Store-bought don’t hold a candle to a ripe tomato fresh from the vine. Not that I would know. Every year I try to grow tomatoes and every year I pretty much fail.

It really gets to me, too, since when we used to live in CA I had volunteer tomatoes growing all over the place. I had enough tomatoes to eat, to can, to just let go to compost. Tomatoes were like zucchini — anybody could grow them and so nobody wanted or needed to take a neighbor’s surplus.

Now I live in New Mexico and tomato growing has become a Big Deal. I’m not alone in this, mind you. There’s a lot of whining about growing tomatoes around here, and those who succeed are far and few enough between that there aren’t a lot of free tomatoes being handed out.

The growing season’s short and even after the last frosts of spring night temperatures are low. When, towards the end of May, it’s warm enough, it’s generally also super windy and dry. Tomatoes will grow but even with ample watering the air is so arid that the plants don’t really thrive and the days are so scorching hot that fruit won’t set. Plus every critter that can reach them wants to eat the lush green growth for the moisture it provides.

Finally the rains come. And the hail. The plants have to be protected or they’ll be beaten to death. But you can’t leave them covered or they’ll roast.

And then, when the heaviest part of the rainy season is finally past (note: this is for a normal year, not like this drought year of hardly any rain at all), when the daytime temperature is more conducive to fruit setting, and when the air’s not so dry — then nights start getting cold again and if plants aren’t covered every night the first killing frost, generally in mid-September, will kill them just as dead as anything else.

I figure if you add up my time spent on my plants — even at minimum migrant worker wage — each individual tomato I harvest is going to cost anywhere from $50 on up. Per tomato. Some years I might manage to harvest one (1) fruit. I’ve been as lucky as getting around twenty a few years back, but that’s because I brought in the vines and hung them from the beams till the green fruit ripened enough to eat. 

You don’t want to know the heartbreak of discovering a frost-killed almost-ripe tomato on the vine the one morning after the night you thought for sure it wouldn’t matter if you covered the plants or not… 

And still she persists.

Evolution Device final cover

5. What’s that I hear?

This year Evolution Device, my novel of music and magic, was published in the middle of COVID when nobody was going to bookstores or author events. Of course it was. But okay, still better than not being published at all. However, COVID means being more on-the-ball with digital promotion of all kinds, not only marketing at every opportunity, but exploring other ways to get my book in front of people.  New formats. New presentations.

I don’t listen to audio books much so it had never occurred to me to do one. Until the day I walked into the feed store and the owner asked me where he could buy an audio copy. Hmmm.

I went home and looked into it and, to make a long story short, I decided hell yeah.  I checked and made sure I had the audio rights (my publisher said I did) and after further research I signed on with Audible from Amazon. Yeah, yeah, I know the objections to Amazon but have pity on me. I’ve self-published print books using Amazon’s service so I at least know they provide newbies with decent instructions on how to do it.

I started by recording myself reading from the book and quickly decided that hiring a pro was in order. Trust me — it was the right thing to do. It’s not as easy as it might seem to read the words naturally, with emotion, and without all the usual ums, ahs, coughs, starts and stops, etc. I’ll stick with writing, thank you very much.

So I picked a section of the text and provided it as a sample script, and then put out audition call. An audiobook call isn’t that much different from any casting call — a director is looking to select a certain type of person for a particular role in whatever’s being produced. The call will be for people that meet a list of criteria – sex, age, looks, speaking accent, and ability to read the script and become the person the director envisions.

So my audition call was for a female, adult, American English neutral accent (except that there would be a tinge of English accent to the voice if possible). My script included dialogue, not just narration, because some of the characters have London accents, one has Scottish, one with a tinge of Native American, plus some are male, some female.

Also, the book takes place in the 1970s. You wouldn’t think that would matter but it does. People — especially younger people — speak differently nowadays than they did fifty years ago. For one thing, back then people didn’t end sentences with rising inflection (a.k.a uptalk) as so many do today.  

The very first audition I listened to, the voice of the person carried no emotion at all and every sentence ended in a rising inflection. I suggested she submit another reading but she didn’t.

Another I got was a man. Who didn’t even read the script, just talked about how wonderful he was.

Then there was the one with household sounds in the background. Another with badly handled accents. One high-pitched little girl voice. One voice where the narrator sounded bored and slurred her words. And so on.

Until I got to A Person Who Will Remain Nameless Until The Time Is Right. She’s a pro, born in England and raised in the US. She’s got wonderful timbre (tone quality), enunciates her words — and the emotion! She knew what the words were saying! She giggled at some point — and the giggle was implied but not stated! I fell in love right then. But it was when I heard her with the other characters’ voices that I was sold. She’s… no, I’m not going to keep raving about her. You’ll hear for herself when we publish the Audible of Evolution Device.

I’m grinning as I write this — I can’t wait!

Critters update

I was going to write about Bubbaz, but realized I would have to include Rosie. And then I would need to talk about the cats, and hey, while I was at it what about the horses?  And the elk and the ravens, and… yeah, like that. I’ve got critters, lots of them, and they’ve all got a story.

So here’s a bit of everything critter-related since the last time I posted, the day after Bubbaz arrived.

Photo of Bubbaz the dog

Bubbaz

Bubbaz

I’m starting with him because I mentioned him first – no favoritism here!  

Just a refresher: on June 26, 2020 I picked up Bubbaz from Round Valley Animal Rescue in Springerville AZ.  I was told he was part Great Dane.  Given his love for running – and by that I mean the dog never walks when he can trot, and never trots when he can barrel along at full speed – I’m more inclined than ever to think that there’s Greyhound in him, too.  Bubz does not act like any eight year old dog of that size I’ve ever met.  He does acrobatics when he walks next to me and thinks I’m going too slow, leaps over every obstacle he can find and with room to spare, and when we set out on a walk he runs circles around me.

Bubz has huge feet.  Just sayin’.

He is a happy dog.  His philosophy is whatever, it’s good.  Thunder and lightning?  No problem.  Last one to get breakfast.  That’s fine.  Look in my ear?  Well, if you must.

Except for one thing:  He doesn’t like being left behind.  His whines can be heard a quarter mile away. 

Bubz is sensitive.  When I get excited (usually that means yelling at my computer) he reacts. If I need to correct him, clearing my throat will get the message across.  If he’s running out too far from me, I swear I can just think my concern and he comes zooming back. 

When I first got him he had full access to the interior of my house and to a dog yard with a 6’ fence.  We walked on leash.  In a month’s time he has graduated to no leash, and I am super happy with him.  The dog not only knows what it means when I call him, he actually comes!

Unlike with Rosie, who has to be cajoled, bribed, and sometimes escorted to get her to come — even when it’s for dinner.

Rosie

The introduction of a new dog to Rosie’s established territory was painless.  What might take weeks and months with other dogs took hours and days with him and Rosie.  Bubz is just a super dog, and Rosie is happy to have a companion again.  When she was rescued from the backyard she had been abandoned in (nearly a year ago) she had a toy poodle friend who got adopted immediately.  It was good to have nearly a year to ourselves with no other dogs around.  It gave Rosie, who is submissive to the extreme, the chance to relax and expand her wings to whatever extent possible. But when Bubz came into our lives it was like I had gotten him as a gift just for her.

In a way, I did.

One great thing about having such an energetic new companion is that Bubz encourages Rosie to put a little more effort into keeping up on our walks.  She still takes her own sweet time, mind you.  Bubbaz and I will have reached the one mile point and be turning back towards home when Rosie’s only covered a half mile.  And then, when she sees us coming, she just sits down and waits. 

Bubbaz & Rosie sleeping

Bubbaz & Rosie

I can’t blame her, though.  It’s not just that she’s got such short little legs (I just measured them – her front legs are 9 ½” long from elbow to foot) so that she’s got to work harder to keep up with long-legged Bubbaz.  It’s simply hard for her to breathe.  In spite of the surgery last February, she still suffers from brachycephalic syndrome.  She’s not as bad as she was, but I still have to be careful to not let her get overheated or stressed. 

She also seems to be developing arthritis.  We don’t know how old she is, but even young dogs can suffer from it.  Rosie walks with a side-ways lurch, as if her feet hurt.  She can’t jump into a car.  Going up and down stairs seems to be a challenge.  Lately she’s been peeing and pooping inside the house near the back door.  It took me a while to get the message:  She doesn’t like going down and then back up the stairs to the dog pen but if I leave the back door ajar she goes outside just fine – there’s only one low step for her to negotiate to get to the back yard.  I guess I need to install another dog door for Rosie’s sake.  And also because if I leave the back door open anything can come in.

Birdies

photo of a Say's Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe

Today a bird took the open door as an invitation.  It’s a Say’s Phoebe, a favorite of mine because of the vocalizations. I know the “clear, slurred whistle” that’s repeated over and over drives some people crazy but I like it.  Plus phoebes are flycatchers and anything that eats flies is a good thing in my book.  I was able to catch the little bird easily with my nekked hands (usually I toss a towel over a bird I’m trying to catch).  Phoebe was very patient while I grabbed the cell phone, got the photo app activated, and took a few shots for posterity.

Meanwhile, my valley’s extended raven family members (sorry, I refuse to call them a murder of ravens) are done with their courtship flights and most have gone off elsewhere, leaving a core pair that “owns” the valley and its contents.  These ravens spend a lot of time around the horse pens.  Sometimes just for the fun of driving the dogs to distraction they’ll hang out on the porch railing or a fence near the house. 

Some people feed ravens and the birds get quite tame.  I don’t feed the wild animals around me.  If they became dependent and then something happened to me, they’d go hungry.  Plus, well, wild animals should be wild.  That’s what I think and I’m sticking to it.

The only thing is I wish they were just a wee bit less wild.  I don’t want them to stop being wild, I just want to get a few good photos.  Okay, a lot of good photos.  I swear, every time I touch a camera or cell phone they wait just till I’m ready to press the shutter and then take off.  Clever little devils.

Cats

Coming around full circle, Lili took only a few days to decide that Bubbaz wasn’t going away.  She whacked him a couple times on his nose just so he knew who was boss, and since then she’s pretty much ignored him just as she ignores Rosie.  They’re merely lesser beings she’s forced to share space with.

Tux, on the other hand, has not been so accepting.  First he growled and attacked poor Bubbaz.  After he’d sufficiently demonstrated that he was really the boss, Tux relented some.  He’d go with us to the barn, talking the whole way (he’s quite the talker, Tux is) and on walks.  It was getting downright friendly around here. 

And then Tux disappeared. 

He is prone to that – he is a tomcat, after all.  He was gone so long this time that I started thinking maybe he wasn’t coming back.  Finally, after nearly a week AWOL, I heard him talking as he approached the house.  It was weird, though — I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t come in right away.  He had to be hungry.  And then when he finally did come in, he made a bee-line for the kibble bowl, scarfed down his food, and split.

Tomcats.  I figured he had a girlfriend he was courting somewhere and was in a hurry to get back.  I was right… and oh boy, was I wrong.

A couple nights later I heard a teensy mewling from outside somewhere.  And I heard Tux talking back.  Obviously, to a kitten. 

Yes, Tux had brought home his very own kitten. 

It bears mentioning that the nearest inhabited house to mine is several miles away.  I haven’t heard anyone talking about missing a kitten from a litter so I’m more inclined to think this kitten is feral.  Either way, I have to think Tux had been courting its mother who, given the size of this bit of fluff and the timing of Tux’s disappearance, had come into her post-partum heat.  Since this wasn’t the first time Tux had gone walkabout this year, I also have to wonder if maybe he’s the father of the kitten.

I also have to wonder if Tux is so clever that he figured out if he had a kitten of his own here it could grow up to be a female cat he could breed without missing any meals.  Or maybe, if he’s the father, he just wanted his own flesh and blood to hang with.

While it’s a mystery to me how he convinced a wee little kitten to follow him home, I have to say I’m kind of happy Tux did so.  Lili and he have become indifferent mousers.  She’s too old and toothless, and he couldn’t be bothered.  But a young cat might well find mouse steak tartare to be an excellent repast.

To that end, I’ve been feeding the kitten in a have-a-heart trap, rigged to stay open and placed near the hole she scrambles into when I try sneaking up on her to see what she looks like.  When she gets old enough to get spayed, she’ll be used to the trap and thus easier to catch.  I don’t feel any need to tame her.  She’ll tame if she wants to, and if not – well, she won’t be the first feral cat I’ve had in my life.  On the other hand, I don’t think this kitten means to live outside the rest of her life.

Every night Tux attempts to to talk her into the house.  If he can get her in, he retreats to my bed and lets her explore.  Last night she made it into the kitchen.  Lily was up on top of the cabinet watching.  Bubbaz watched me to see what he was supposed to do rather than join Rosie in going after the small intruder.  I called Rosie off before she was halfway across the room (pretty nimble for a dog that finds it hard to go up stairs). 

The kitten skeedaddled out the dog door and I thought for sure that would be the last I’d see of her for days, but no.  Tux followed her out, had a chat with her, and within minutes she was back inside, back in the kitchen where she had left off.  I tried for a photo but that was just too much.  She ran out and stayed out, no matter how much Tux tried to get her back.

She will be back, though.  She already stuck her head in the dog door earlier today.  It’s not hard to know when she’s around because she’s got to talk about it. 

Just like her daddy does.

Horses

Sometimes I despair because each one of my five horses has got a problem.  I keep forgetting that four of them are senior citizens and these issues crop up with old age.  I’ve got an Arabian horse retirement and rehab facility here, and I can’t expect twenty and thirty year old horses to act like yearlings.

SE Kelsey Grae.  At thirty three, Kelsey is the oldest.  She’s in good health except she’s become a hard keeper.  Even so, she moves as fluidly as ever, always reminding me why we had been such careful breeders back in the day, looking for athletic ability rather than just another pretty Arabian face.  I haven’t been on her back for nearly ten years but I bet she wouldn’t fuss at all if I hopped on her back – except for that spine that sticks up.   

SE Bint Tazala and SE Sofia.  The next oldest – nearly thirty — are Tess and Sofie, neither ever started under saddle due to physical issues early on.  Tess injured her left fore fetlock joint when she was one or two.  It healed badly and she can’t flex the joint.  Tess’ bloodlines are superb and we could have bred her, but we never did.  She is still the most beautiful mare, even in her late twenties, and she’s got a personality to match.

Sofie developed severe lordosis (sway back) between two and three years old.  We didn’t see it develop as we were in the process of moving to New Mexico then and all our horses were boarded out.  Imagine our astonishment when we saw her next and she looked like an old plug!  The vet told us that it wasn’t painful for her and that she could be ridden – or even bred.  We had too many horses to ride as it was, and had no desire to pass on the possibly recessive genes involved.  Sofie became a pet. 

SE Kokopelli Kid.  Koko, now twenty three years old, was going to be my endurance horse and breeding stallion.  He’s the son of my soulmate stallion, Ben Nasrif, who I miss every day.  Sadly for Koko his breeding career got cut short with the collapse of the economy in 2008, and I had some health issues that resulted in my never doing more than sitting on his back.  No training, mind you.  Aside from athleticism, we bred for intelligence and personality.  The day I first sat on Koko’s back it was because I was sitting on the fence rail and he came up and stood next to me, essentially telling me to hop on.  And I did.  Sadly, Koko had an accident last fall – we never did figure out what he did to himself – and was severely lamed.  He’s improved since then but he’ll never be sound again.

Photo of Sonny as a foal

Sonny at six months

SE Redhill Sonetta.  Last but not least is Sonny.  She was the end result of an unplanned and unnoticed pregnancy, born long after Koko was retired from stud.  He had been lonely and we had an old mare who’d shown no signs of coming into heat for years.  You can imagine the rest of that story, but I’ll just go ahead and tell it.  We let Suletta live with Koko.  Never saw any sign of breeding activity.  Koko was happy to be with her, Su was content to boss him around, as mares will do.  A year passed.  And then another.

One frigid January morning, New Year’s weekend I believe it was, I went out to feed.  Su and Koko were turned out at night, but that morning only he came in for breakfast.  I hunted for Su, but it wasn’t till I had given up, fed the other horses, and come in to warm up before going out again, that she showed up.  When I went back outside there was the reason… a foal. 

Talk about shocked! 

Sonny grew up to be a promising endurance contender (her full and half-siblings were killer on the trail) until one day she came into breakfast lame.  Not yet ten years old and she was suffering from laminitis.  Out here it’s a major deal to get a vet to make a ranch call or to haul a horse the hundred miles or more to the nearest vet clinic where she could be x-rayed.  Much treatment and many dollars later, she still suffers periodic laminitis bouts and when that happens I freak out, grit my teeth, and we start the whole recovery process yet again.  In-between the bouts she travels up and down the mesa sides with the old lady horses and it’s tempting… but riding her wouldn’t be fair, not with those feet. So while Sonny is gorgeous hunk and an otherwise healthy middle-aged mare, she’s permanently retired.

None of my horses will ever have any other homes than the one they have now.  That’s true for all my critters.  Rescue dogs, stray cats, bumbling birds, and crippled ancient horses — doesn’t matter.  I’ve got my own issues and I don’t want to be sent off to live somewhere else, so I won’t do that to them.  We’ll all grow old together.  Family.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Oh wait — I forgot to describe what it was like one dark night when a herd of elk cows and calves wandered by the house, calling to each other in their weird high-pitched whistles for nearly an hour. Or the recording I made of spade-toed toads (say that three times fast) singing their love songs.. Or…

Maybe next time.

#amwriting

Bubba or Bubbaz or maybe Bubz is home

BubbazSome years ago I promised myself I would not adopt any more animals. So naturally now that my two rescues from last year are settled in (one happily living with my sister in NY, the other with me), yesterday I brought home a dog from Round Valley Animal Rescue in Springerville AZ.  They tell me he’s part Great Dane. He’s tall, and with that brindle coat and those big paws he for sure could have some Dane blood in him.  

I’ve had my rescue, Rosie, for 10 months now. I don’t love leaving her at home when I go out but I don’t like dragging her around while I do errands, especially during the heat of summer. She’s not a real enthusiastic traveler, and needs to be lifted into the car, an awkward experience for the both of us. Even though Rosie’s had surgery to correct brachycephalic syndrome, she’s still not 100%.  That means she struggles to breathe if she’s been exercising or is overheated.  Which is pretty much all the time this time of year.  And that means leaving her at home. By herself (cats don’t count).

That’s why, in spite of my best intentions, the moment I saw a photo of a large, goofy looking dog on the RVAR Facebook page I immediately contacted them.

What was I thinking? 

Are you kidding?  Of course I wasn’t thinking. I was feeling.

Bubba had come to RVAR a month or so ago. I was told he was microchipped and had an old rabies certificate. He was supposed to be 8 years old. If he was full Great Dane he wouldn’t be around much longer since that breed’s life expectancy is 8-10 years.  However, Great Dane crosses tend to benefit from the age expectancy of the non-Dane breed. It’s hard to tell what Bubba’s parentage might be, but I don’t think he’s in any danger of dying soon.  

The adoption process was super easy, barely giving me time for second thoughts. Not that it mattered.  As soon as I met him I knew I had no choice. I told him then I’d give him a home and I knew he understood it as a promise.

I brought Rosie in for a meet-and-greet a few days after I met Bubba.  It was anticlimactic.  Rosie barely acknowledged him and Bubba was distracted. Still, Rosie didn’t hate him, so I took it as a sign it was the right thing to do.  I signed the paperwork and arranged to pick Bubba up another day when I wouldn’t have Rosie with me. I felt it was too soon to have the two dogs in as confined a space as the back of a car.  

I noticed that one of the gentlemen who was doing the adoption paperwork called the dog Bubbaz. At least that’s what it sounded like to me. I looked on the form and he’d put down “Bubba’s” as his name. I loved it. Bubba didn’t appeal to me but something about that Z at the end changed it from the name of a doofus dog to, well, something else.  A name I liked better and that didn’t involve a new name.  Seems to me that while old dogs can learn new tricks it’s simple courtesy to call them by the name they know.

So yesterday was the day to bring Bubbaz home. I wondered as I drove in whether he would be afraid or maybe reluctant. Or if he’d even remember me. 

I needn’t have worried.

The moment the gentleman and Bubbaz walked around the corner of the building to where I waited, that tail started wagging. He looked at me and he smiled. I don’t mean the gentleman, I mean the dog — because that’s all I had eyes for.  Bubbaz headed for the truck, hopped in when asked, and settled down to wait for his ride home.

Next challenge: Rosie & the cats on their home turf

A meet-and-greet at RVAR is one thing, but when Bubbaz stepped into my house Rosie decided she was going to set things straight right away.  Her lips curled into a snarl (my timid Rosie!) and she growled. I cleared my throat. She glanced at me and oops. Suddenly it was all sniffing and tentative wags.

The cats — Tux and Lili — were not nearly as welcoming. The growling from them did not stop just because I told them to knock it off. They’re cats, after all. But Bubbaz didn’t pay any attention to them. He paced around my small house a few times, then, when he seemed done with that I showed him the dog door. He went through it and onto the porch, then bounced down the stairs to explore the dog yard.

All was well and good till I went to the truck to bring my groceries in. Next thing I knew, there was a dog waiting to get into the back seat. Uh oh! My arms were full! But he didn’t try to run off — in fact, he more or less hovered around me as I made a couple trips into the house with my stuff, and was not at all reluctant to come with me back inside.

I went back out and waited to see if he’d escape again. He did. He had found the tiniest gap in the fence and nosed through it, something Rosie had never tried. So the first order of the afternoon was to fix the fence, not a big deal. Bubbaz wasn’t trying to escape as much as he was attempting to stick with me.  The fence is clearly a non-issue as long as I was inside it, too.

When it came time for dinner, I fed them in separate rooms and kept an eye on them. Rosie is intensely interested in her food, and compared to her gobbling Bubbaz is a slow eater. Rosie didn’t bother him while he was eating, though. And he didn’t bother me when I added some kibble to his bowl, just to see how he felt about me messing with his food.

Nothing bothers Bubbaz. Some of it is being a mature dog, and some of it is his mellow personality, but he’s also had some very good training. He doesn’t pull on the leash. He waits at the open door for me to go out first. He comes when he’s called. He doesn’t go into the garbage. He sits promptly, but seems to feel stay is optional. He’s nice to Rosie and to the cats.

Lili is not so nice to him, but she’ll come around. Tux… well, he’s gone walkabout. I don’t think there’s a connection between a new dog being here and Tux’s taking off, since last night he went with Rosie and Bubba and me for a short walk after I fed the horses. Going walkabout is just a thing Tux does. 

So if the dog’s trained, then what’s left to do?

I don’t know the extent of his training, and I can’t presume that Bubbaz is already settled in here just because he’s relaxed, seems to like everybody, and doesn’t run away at the first opportunity. We will take it as slowly as is needed.

Bubbaz in the barnYesterday afternoon I tied Bubbaz in the barn as I unloaded hay and later when I fed the horses. This morning when I fed I put Bubbaz on a drag chain in the barn. His leash (red, for visibility) is attached to a length of light-weight chain that leaves a nice trail in the dirt when he drags it around. If I have to I can easily track him.  This is only used when I can keep an eye on him when we’re outside — when we’re walking he’s going with me on leash. So far with the drag chain he has explored only a bit — going out maybe a hundred feet from me.  He seems to prefer being underfoot.

There’s a lot of hovering around Lif right now.

Taking photos is a challenge. Bubbaz wants to be next to me, not over there modeling.  Rosie doesn’t like Bubbaz being that close to me. The good news is that when I go for a walk now, Rosie makes an effort to keep up. Maybe she’ll get some decent exercise and lose a pound or two. Or maybe once she’s accepted the new situation she’ll go back to plodding along. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered Bubbaz is just as happy to answer to Bubz.  But then again, he seems happy for whatever happens. And Rosie? Well, maybe someday she’ll enjoy having a companion again. I did catch some play behavior she initiated this afternoon when she thought I wasn’t looking, so friendship (packship?) might happen sooner than not.

Bubz and Rosie

 

Rosie and me – settling in

Here it is nine months since Rosie came into my life and I am pleased to tell you I have nothing special to report about her.  As the weather gets warmer I do have to be more careful about letting her come with me on walks, given her compromised respiratory system.  She’s way better now than before her surgery, but she’ll never be an athlete.  I can’t take her far and I can’t expect fast.  Heat + effort + a partially blocked trachea  = potential for over-stress.  For Rosie it could be fatal.  When I take her with me I plan on short, slow walks, with plenty of stops to wait for her to catch up on her own time.

I am still taking it slow and careful when it comes to how I behave around her, too.  No harsh words.  No thoughtless actions.  She’s still automatically submissive, but I’d like to think maybe not as much as she was.  I don’t expect this aspect of our relationship to change much over time.

Rosie is settling in nicely.  She appears to feel this really is her home and that means she’s bolder.  She’s become more demanding about getting attention, which I take as a positive.  She barks more, which I also see as positive — though I must say I don’t always have a clue what she’s barking at.  But she doesn’t take anything too far.  She only once chewed a shoe.  She doesn’t go in the garbage, though she seems to feel the compost pile needs thorough and regular examination.  No cat chasing.  No horse chasing.  Bunnies… well, that’s another story.

She also has taken it upon herself to remind me when it’s time to do things.  Time to get up.  Time to feed horses.  Time to feed Rosie.  Hurry up and feed those blasted cats so Rosie can get fed, would you Lif?  Time to lay her night-time bed on the floor.  Time for a treat.  Time for a pet.  Who knew Rosie would be such a task-master!

All in all, I’ve got a good little dog here.   She’ll likely never be “normal” but so what.  Neither am I. 

I have other news to report.  Check out my next post!

< PREVIOUS POST: Happy News in Trying Times |   

Life in time of COVID – Sourdough starter

Or, what I was looking for wasn’t what I thought I was looking for

© 2020 Lif Strand

Years and years ago I started trying to bake the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. In spite of the fact that I still lived in California and could buy freshly-baked San Francisco sourdough bread any time I wanted to, I just had to do it myself.

If you’ve read anything else about me, you know about my having to do things for myself. Too often, the hard way.

Back then I was more into cooking than I am now. It was still a relatively new thing to me. I was in my own kitchen, nobody hovering over me expecting me to cook or bake the way they thought I should. All that mattered was I had to like the end result and that whoever I was feeding should like it, too.

That was just food.  The sourdough bread thing was different.

It wasn’t for anybody else. I had an inner vision of smell and taste that I wanted to create, of the perfect tang and chewy crust. It was my personal challenge. It dragged on in fits and starts for years. As with many quests, though, what I was looking for wasn’t what I thought I was looking for.

My quest wasn’t really about bread. That was just the prize. My grail was a perfect starter — for without it there would be no sourdough bread.

Over time I began to believe that starter is a sad story of dreary obligation to one-celled organisms. I had a love/hate relationship with every one of my starters. I didn’t like the bread they made. First I thought I was getting bummer yeast. Then I thought I didn’t have enough yeast lurking in my kitchen. There was even the possibility I was simply a terrible baker.

I began to fear that if I kept going the way I was I’d be chained to a kitchen for the rest of my life. Starter is a living thing, a kind of pet that demands regular attention. Unfortunately, any starter that entered my house was doomed to die of neglect. Too often my only reaction was good riddance.

But yet it would start again. The urge. I swear, I never learn.

Over the years I have nursed too many sourdough starters along that got me no closer to my goal. Many arrived into my kitchen in little packets of yeast powder that cost way, way more than commercial yeast. Sellers claim their dried starter descends from yeast used by gold rush miners in Alaska in the 1800s. Or from yeast that traveled with pioneers over the Oregon Trail. I figured okay, a little expensive, but they’re guaranteed to be the real deal, right?

As I killed off starter after starter, niggling doubts would enter my mind. First of all, how would anyone know the provenance of 100 year old starter? I mean, I know there’s a DNA test that can point to where a given yeast came from, but I doubt anybody but the most scientific of folks is into the time and expense of doing so. And then what’s all this measuring by grams business? Maybe those grizzled old miners in the Alaskan gold rush carried gram scales around with them. I’m betting that 99.99% of explorers, pioneers, and the like didn’t. Unless it was for making gunpowder. Maybe not even then.

Anyway, I could not see those overworked pioneer women messing around with finicky starter. They had hungry families to feed. There were bugs, dust, flood, blizzards, snakes, marauders, limited fresh water, and weevils in the flour to deal with. Who had time to fuss with something as basic as bread?

Fast forward to nowadays – I mean to now when COVID has people convinced they’ve got to bake bread. For all that’s awful that’s going on, there are some good things, too. For one thing, there are biologist Sudeep Agarwala and gastroegyptologist (his term) Seamus Blackley out there on Twitter, encouraging us all in our bread-making efforts.  But wait!  There’s more!  They’re describing how to make wild-captured yeast! How to make bread out of so many things other than wheat flour! And they don’t mind stupid questions!

Right around the time I started following them I came across a great webpage on sourdough starter troubleshooting, the subtitle for which said everything that mattered: What does it take to kill your starter?

Now I’ve decided this whole sourdough starter thing is built on misunderstanding and, let’s face it, taking advantage of people’s ideas that old is bad and new is always better. But it ain’t necessarily so.

Forgotten jar of starter

Forgotten starter

It turns out that yeast that’ll make great sourdough is everywhere — sorry San Francisco. Also, yeast is tougher stuff than you’d think. Don’t believe me? Check out that jar of starter I discovered when I was cleaning out my fridge last November or so. That starter was last fed sometime in 2018. When I came across it I went ewwww and put it outside to empty into the compost pile. Then I forgot about it.

I mean, still in the jar, still on the porch.

I took the photo today, half a year later. That stuff in the bottom looks pretty good, actually. Could it still be viable? What would bread I made from it taste like? I haven’t figured out how to get the good part out of the bottom. I don’t want to contaminate it with the nasty black goo on the top. I haven’t even opened the lid yet – but when I do I’ll let you know what happens.

Meanwhile, in spite of the two jars of commercial yeast on my shelf I once again had a burning desire to make my own homemade bread starter yeast. The first try was uglier than the jar from the depths of my fridge. I blame it on juniper berries. No offense to juniper trees, but… gin. The alcohol that gave me a hangover so bad when I was a teen that I can’t stand the smell of gin to this day. And what is gin distilled from, my friends?

Juniper berries.

So all right. Possibly some prejudice on my part towards the juniper berries I made starter from. I take responsibility for the starter going moldy and gross before I could even try it in dough. I was going to go for it again and this time it was going to be different. This time, following directions gleaned from the tweets of the two above-named gentlemen, I used raisins. I like raisins.

happy bubbly sourdough starter

Bubbly starter

I had a happy, bubbly starter in no time at all.

The next challenge was adapting my no-knead bread recipe for starter instead of dry yeast. The recipe makes good but not sour bread. I’d been making loaf after loaf using that recipe for long enough that memories of hockey-puck bread had faded.

Not so with the sourdough starter. My dough ended up as a goopy nasty mess that I had to pour into my improvised Dutch oven. It left sticky globs of dough on me and everything else. The resulting bread was tasty but a little too close to hockey-puckness to suit me. The clean-up time cast a pall on bread-making. My enthusiastic starter was demanding that I make more and more bread. I could see where this was heading.

STOP!

I’m already tired of baking. It’s already warm here in the southwest and I don’t want to heat up my house baking bread twice a week. I don’t need to consume that many carbs anyway. Besides, I can get wonderful fresh-baked bread delivered once a week these days. Jennifer’s bread looks better, tastes better, and I don’t have to do anything but slap some butter on a slice and eat it.  Why bake?

Ah, but there’s that starter.

I made it myself. It’s good starter.

I don’t want another science experiment in a jar in the back of my fridge.

I don’t want to keep feeding it and then throwing out the excess to feed it again. Yes, people do that. Not me. Not when it’s a 60 mile round trip to buy more flour, assuming there is any in the store. Not when it’s such a frivolous waste to throw good food out.

So… back to Google.

To quote one website I looked at, starter is flour and water. It’s not some magical alchemical substance that can only be used for one kind of ritual. Yes, friends, sourdough starter can be used for plenty more tasty bits and bites than bread!

The mind reels.

I found a great recipe for sourdough starter crepes. I like crepes. The recipe uses a cup of starter. If I don’t feed my starter great honkin’ amounts of flour every few days I could have crepes once a week and not an overload of starter. Forget baking bread for a while.

Yay!

The recipe calls for milk. I don’t keep milk in the house because it goes bad before I get around to doing anything with it. I do have powdered milk, but that stuff is nasty. There’d have to be a zombie apocalypse going on before I would bother with it and even then I’d use it to chase off the zombies. So I used a wee bit of evaporated sweetened milk (why not?) plus some water. Everything else was as the recipe called for.

three crepes on a plate

Three malformed crepes on a plate

The result was more like wimpy pancakes than real crepes. Thinner batter would have been better. But so what. They were pretty. They were sour and yet sweet. I tried one with organic blackberry jam. Yum! I had another with honey. Yum again! The other two — well, three — I ate as-is, soon as they were cool enough to handle.

I’ve got one left but I’m too full to eat it [note: by the time I posted this it was long gone]. No problem! Crepes are great cold, too. I’m thinking a fruit and yogurt filling later on when I’ve got room for one more.

Let’s hear it for starter!

Let’s hear it for not-bread!

Crepe held up to the sun and blue sky

This is what it looks like if you hold a crepe up to the clear blue sky

Life in time of COVID – taking care of self

After the haircut - 2020 Lif Strand photoWhat you see in the photo is evidence of my most recent haircut. That would be the one I gave myself this morning. I’m not sharing a photo of the remaining hair on my head, not because it’s a terrible haircut (it is, of course, a terrible haircut) but because I don’t post photos of myself on the internet.

Besides, who wants to see a photo of terrible haircut?  

I do have a thing or three to say about it, though. I don’t have a future as a hair stylist, but I have paid attention when Sarah has cut my hair. I do know that putting a bowl over one’s head and cutting off all visible hair is not a good idea. Individual hairs must be snipped.

I have no patience for snipping individual hair, but I was willing to snip smallish clumps of it. Mostly.

I also have noticed that Sarah cuts all over my head, not just working one spot to perfection before moving on to the next. I was willing to do that.

I confess that it is a mystery to me how Sarah knows what length to cut, so I decided I’d just cut off all hair longer than the width of three of my fingers.  I could swear I did that, but it seems that either my hair has grown half an inch since this morning or I was actually cutting more like four finger-widths. Possibly I was concerned with cutting off my own fingers, since I wasn’t bothering with a mirror.

The hair is pretty short, no matter how many fingers you measure by.

At some point I did look in a mirror. I ignored the overall results and just identified the bits that were sticking out and clearly too long. This resulted in the hair being rather shorter than it usually is in the back.

When I forced myself to stop trying to make it all even, I took the time to admire the hair I’d so blithely cut off. What a nice job Sarah had done with coloring! I had received many compliments on the results just six weeks ago when she had last touched it up. Kind of a calico-cat effect. All of which was now in the catch-pan and pretty much not on my head anymore.

Three things:

  1. I have faith that Sarah can fix this whenever I can see her next, COVID permitting.
  2. I’m sending Sarah an advance on my next cut via PayPal right away.
  3. I have hats.

 

Life in time of COVID – Taking stock

Quick question: Do you know what’s growing in the back of your fridge?

Eight years or so ago I put together a little digital book called The Thrivalist: Beyond Survival in 2012 (currently available for free for KindleUnlimited) which provides a simple way to figure out how to stock up for uncertain times. It’s really a no-brainer method, but you’d be amazed how few people know what they actually consume.  Because of that,  shopping for long-term food needs can sometimes have strange outcomes.

Really, do people actually use that much toilet paper? I think by now we all know what the answer is.

If you haven’t gotten the shopping list of what you really need together yet, it’s not too late. It appears we’ll be on stay-at-home for at least another month, maybe longer. But of course you’ve already stocked up, right? I hope it’s with food and other products that you will actually use. What you remove from the grocery store shelves is something that the next person might need as well, and if you won’t ever eat those probiotic prunes (yes, there is such a thing) maybe someone else would. But no.  You bought it and now the package is languishing on one of your shelves because you really aren’t a prune fan after all, in spite of having enough toilet paper to last till next year and beyond. 

I suppose you are wondering what this has to do with fridges

It’s about the back shelves — a traditional location for the incubation of science experiment growths. All well and good if you are a scientist, but most of us are not. So I ask you to consider this: If you don’t know what you’ve got then how will you know to use it in a timely manner?

I love lists. Not that I pay much attention to them, but the making of lists seems to satisfy some need in me. Maybe it’s the need to feel like I’m accomplishing something even if I’m not. Today’s list is different. It’s not make-work.  It’s a useful list, not a substitute for action. It’s a list of everything you’ve got to eat in your house. Several lists, in fact.

What? Yes, I am serious. I’m here to tell you that if you don’t remember you shoved those potatoes on a dark back shelf, soon you will have potato plants. Not only that, but even though yogurt’s got lots of bacteria in it that’s good for you, the black fuzzy stuff that grows on top of it when you’ve forgotten about the container is not so good. Soft mushy oranges that give way like zombie flesh to your groping fingers are disgusting and inedible.

And it’s all a waste.

No – that was last month. This month or next, letting food go bad because you forgot you had it could mean going without for longer than you had in mind.

Make a list — do it now!

Make several lists of food items by shelf life.

  1. Fresh fruits and veggies
  2. Refrigerated foods that will spoil if not eaten quickly (e.g. dairy)
  3. Refrigerated foods that can be stored a while longer (e.g condiments, beer)
  4. Dried and canned foods not refrigerated
  5. Critter food
  6. Non-food items

Date the items on your lists with “use by” dates if the packaging has it. For stuff that’s not labeled now would be a good time to do some online research to see how long the foods can be stored.

And then…. actually plan your meals around your lists. Cross off items you use up and add them to your shopping list. Doing this digitally will save you a lot of rewriting, but sticking paper lists on the fridge or a kitchen cabinet is a way better idea, at least for people like me who can’t remember what I walked into the room for, much less to look at the lists I’ve got on my phone.  The life you save may be your own: the items you forget about may start evolving into sentience while hidden in the dark.

So today I’ll update my food lists. Oh, who am I kidding? Update? I know you can see from that photo of the potato plant growing in the dark that I need to follow my own advice.

Maybe today I’ll plant some potatoes outside.  But first: lists.

 

It Came From The Fridge

Life in Time of COVID

In this time of COVID everybody’s got to do what they got to do, but we’ve all got to do it a bit differently than we have before.  Turns out social distancing is easy when you live where and how I do.  Being a hermit kind of person, I hardly ever see another human being anyway, so practicing more of that now is no biggie.

Getting the mail is one of those things that has to get done on a fairly regular basis.  The mailbox cluster where my mail is delivered is twenty-five miles from town and five miles from my property.  Lots of people in my county have to go much farther for their mail, so I’m pretty happy about how close mine is.  I like to sometimes hike out for the exercise, but not on a day like today.

It’s springtime in New Mexico.  That means the weather can present itself as any one of the seasons — at any time.  This morning it was a normal spring day, which is to say clouds were scudding across a blue sky and the wind was blowing like a !@#$%^!

My friend Laura, who lives about four miles from me, was going to pick up her mail and asked if I’d like her to get mine.  She’d leave it in a tire that’s not far from the county road, less than two miles from my gate.  We’ve left stuff for each other in that tire in the past.  It’s almost equidistant for each of us, though she’s got a lot more of a climb if she chooses to hike it instead of drive.

So, beautiful spring day?  Good day for a hike.  I sneaked out of the house, leaving Rosie behind because that’s a bit of a distance for her stubby legs, and started off for the tire.  The temperature gauge said it was in the mid 40s but I knew with that brisk wind it would feel colder, so I dressed appropriately.  I had a silk wild rag around my neck in case I needed it for a hat or a balaclava, wore knit gloves, plus there were four layers on my torso, the bottom one cotton and not silk because hey, it’s spring, and I’ve been overly warm lately with my usual layers.  The top layer was a Purdey shooting jacket, lightweight but a decent windbreaker.  As you’d expect from a good shooting jacket. 

I was quite comfy.

Out away from the weather shadow of the mesas it was a different story.  The wind was clearly coming straight from the Arctic Circle without pausing to warm up between there and here.  It was blowing hard enough that it boosted my speed as I walked up the grade towards the county road.  I was still okay.  My hands were a little cold but my jacket was doing its job and my back was further insulated by my small pack. 

About half a mile from the tire, I saw the first flakes of snow.  Snow?  No way was I turning around.  Besides, I could see patches of blue sky — how bad could it get?

Never ask that question.

By the time I got to the tire the temperature had dropped, the snow had picked up, and the blue up above was hiding behind dark clouds.  I grabbed the plastic bag that contained my mail and headed back towards the wind break of a thick juniper tree before taking the time to stuff the bag’s contents into my backpack.  I also rearranged my clothes.  I zipped up my fleece vest to the neck, turned up the collar of my jacket, and buttoned it up to the top.  I tried pulling the handkerchief over my nose but I couldn’t breathe — never have been able to breathe through cloth — so I just pulled it up over my mouth.  Then I shouldered my backpack and headed out into the wind.

The difference in temperature between the shelter of the juniper and out in the open was a good lesson in wind chill.  My layers and buttoning up kept me not exactly warm but at least not cold.  I thought it best to get a move on since that would help increase my body temperature.  Hypothermia is a real thing.  Been there done that.  

The hike back home was not nearly as easy as the hike out.  I was walking into the wind now and it was ripping the breath right out of my lungs.  I didn’t let myself dwell on how uncomfortable I was — something I learned back in the day when I was endurance racing.  I just put one foot in front of the other and kept my mind blank, since thinking about writing (which I had been doing on the hike to the tire) was not happening anymore.

By the time I got a few hundred yards from the cattle pens even the wind shadow of the mesa wasn’t helping.  It was snowing heavily now, hard little pellets that stung when they hit my face, numb as the skin was. 

I noticed that the cattle had all taken shelter in the lee of junipers and pinon pines, and were watching intently, their white faces giving away their hiding places in spite of the white stuff being shot from the sky.  I envied them their shelter. 

They were mooing.  How odd.  Was it the weather?  Certainly they wouldn’t care about me, a hiker they’d watched go by many times before.  

The cows started to heave themselves up.  They left the trees, headed for me.  I couldn’t understand what was going on, until finally I turned around to see a truck hauling a trailer, moving at a crawl behind me.  The wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t hear the engine.

It was my neighbor ranchers.  They had come to pick up a cow, one I’d not really paid attention to as I walked by earlier.  She was lying down not far from the pen, but not near enough to be sheltered by the fence or anything else, either.  The rancher said she’d been there for two days.  Something was wrong with her back legs or her hind end, and they were going to try to get her in their stock trailer or, failing that, leave her food and water till they could figure out something else.

I volunteered to help.  Of course I did.  “Something else” for a range cow isn’t always what the cow has in mind.

The next half hour or more was an exercise in patience.  Repositioning the trailer multiple times.  Attempting to get her to stand.  Attempting to pull her in.  It wasn’t my cow, so I couldn’t make any suggestions.  I did help direct the maneuvering of the trailer and occasionally helped roll her onto her side or upright again, but mostly I just held the gate open so the wind wouldn’t slam it closed on all of us. 

The neighbor ranchers had a plan, but the cow had not been consulted during its development.  She was not inclined to help, though she was not fighting.  She seemed more interested in being scritched on the forehead.  Unfortunately she’s a big cow, and a big cow that isn’t helping is a cow that one man and two women are not getting into a trailer, even with ropes, a make-shift ramp, and come-alongs. 

Finally I had to leave.  It was snowing like crazy, I wasn’t moving around enough to generate enough heat so I was freezing.  I had to leave.  I offered my phone at the house if they needed it.  As I left they said they’d probably just leave her with the food and water and come back with more people and  more help tomorrow.

Unfortunately, all the other cattle wanted that food and water just as much.  Poor cow wasn’t going to get much if she couldn’t get up.

The rest of the way home was tough going.  The wind was still blowing, the snow was still snowing, and did I mention the wind?  If I hadn’t been that close to a house with a wood stove cranking out heat, I’d have been in real trouble.  But I was that close and that made all the difference.  First thing I did after warming my stiff fingers was make myself a hot toddy with plenty of honey to warm me up from the inside as I warmed up from the outside.  

Since I’ve been back in the house the snow has stopped and started several times.  The wind notched itself down a bit, but the forecast is for gusts up to 40 MPH overnight.  The temp has dropped to 32° (before sunset as I write this), and it’ll go down into the teens tonight.  But at this very moment the sun’s shining again and when I went out to see if the cow was still there, I noticed my hops plants survived the winter and are already a foot tall. 

That’s springtime in New Mexico for you.  

Aftermath:

I brought the cow some munchies after I fed my horses.  Her herd mates had abandoned her, so she got a big pile of hay all to herself.  Of course I asked permission first, and in doing so I found out that they’ll be back in the morning with a new plan for loading her, along with more muscle.  

Not my muscle, mind you.  

 

Happy News in Trying Times (Rosie Update)

The recent new medical term for me was not corona virus — at least not last month.  Instead it was brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.  No, not my airway – Rosie’s.

Brachycephalic means “shortened head”.  The syndrome goes by various acronyms.  I’ll settle for BAOS, which along with the others refers to a cluster of anatomic abnormalities seen in brachycephalic breeds that contribute to dysfunction of the upper airway.  

You’ve seen lots of dogs that are brachycephalic – pugs, bulldogs, boxers, Frenchies, and other breeds that have been developed to have shorter heads and noses than those of their ancestors.  They’re cute — but because of the changes in physiology brought about by those short heads and noses, they tend to have breathing difficulties. 

Signs and symptoms of BOAS in order of seriousness

  1. Breathing difficulty: Noisy/labored breathing.   Open-mouth breathing.  Extending head and neck to keep airway open.
  2. Stress and heat intolerance during exercise.
  3. Snoring/gagging/choking/regurgitation/vomiting/susceptibility to pneumonia.
  4. Collapse/death

The symptoms seem to show up when a dog’s around four.  Rosie came to me with the condition.  I thought at first she was panting so much because she’d gone from about 5000’ altitude to 7000’, but she never acclimated.  In fact, she got worse over the first several months, arriving here at level 1-2, and moving on to level 3 in short order.  I couldn’t sleep at night worrying that she was going to die.

In January I took Rosie to my vet to have her spayed.  We discussed her BOAS issue and the consequences of not treating it.  Rosie’s condition would be aggravated by heat come summer, and by being overweight.  She was overweight partly because she couldn’t exercise.  She couldn’t exercise because she couldn’t breathe.  She could never rest deeply, because she was always struggling for breath.  She was always starved for oxygen.  Her whole body was stressed with the effort of trying to suck in air. 

Not only all that, but over time the cartilage of her trachea could collapse and she would suffocate to death — if she didn’t die from pneumonia first.

What a horrible way to go.  My vet couldn’t do the surgery, so he recommended a veterinary hospital in Albuquerque.  I made the arrangements and in mid-February I handed the leash of my little dog over to a veterinary tech, worried as hell and not a little afraid for the outcome, too.

First, Rosie had to be sedated for the surgical veterinarian to examine her to determine the position of the soft palate, checking for masses and/or extra pharyngeal tissue, and evaluating the laryngeal, tonsil, pharynx, and upper airway structures.  The good news was that there was no evidence of cancer as a cause, nor was there any evidence of tissue erosion due to regurgitation/vomiting.  To no one’s surprise, Rosie was a prime candidate for surgery. 

The bad news was that Rosie’s trachea is way small for her size.  Her airway structure was such that even with the surgery Rosie would always have breathing issues.  Still, the laser surgery to trim the extra tissues would mean she’d have a chance at a longer and more comfortable life.  So I gave the word to go ahead.  

The procedure

To cut to the chase, everything went swimmingly.  Within short order Rosie was coming out of the anesthesia.  Not that she was going to be released to come home.

Rosie needed to be under close observation till the next day, just in case.  Any swelling would close her airway.  Any vomiting in reaction to drugs, to the surgery itself, or any number of reasons, could cause her to aspirate into her lungs.  Any excitement or activity that would cause her to breathe heavily could cause bleeding that she might aspirate into her lungs.

When I picked her up I was a nervous wreck.  Rosie was still mildly sedated but even so she was panting and hacking and generally doing everything the vet told me to discourage.  She would not calm down.  Worse, the sedative I was supposed to give her was a prescription I had to pick up before leaving town.  My friend Laura was with me.  We took turns walking Rosie around the Wal-Mart parking lot very slowly while waiting for the prescription, during which time a new issue developed – Rosie couldn’t stop peeing.  Nobody had mentioned anything about this.  She was dripping pee all over the place, and panting, and gagging, and making all kinds of horrible sounds. 

I was beyond myself and I’m sure my agitation wasn’t helping Rosie at all.  In my defense I thought my dog was going to die!  I cursed the pharmacy for taking so long, cursed Rosie, cursed the veterinary hospital, cursed the Department of Transportation for every bump in the road as we headed for home, and cursed anything else I could think of to curse, including myself for having agreed to rescue this problem dog.

When the sedative hit her system and Rosie went to sleep in the back seat, I almost wept in relief.

Post-surgery at home

House training seemed to be a thing of the past.  Rosie pooped in the house.  She peed — big lakes everywhere on my floors.  This was a dog that just a day or two before had no problem at all using the dog door to go outside.

I emailed my vet.  He said it was the steroid, prednisone, that was meant to keep the swelling down but that also made her pee a lot.  But why was she going potty inside?  The dog door was the same one that had been there two days ago, that she used just fine.

Worse, Tux the tomcat started peeing in the house, too.

I may never know the reasons for that sudden failure of house training, but I did not allow myself to yell at Rosie and trusted that over time it would improve.  In fact, while it seemed to take forever for Rosie’s training to kick in again it was only a matter of a week.  Tux, it turned out, had a UTI and is on meds for that.  Thank the gods.

Meanwhile, I had to keep Rosie sedated if I couldn’t keep her calm.  I had to soak her food, couldn’t let her chew on bones, couldn’t let her out of the house or her dog pen lest she start to breath heavily, couldn’t let her get overheated lest she start panting, couldn’t let her bark.

Let me tell you, when you’ve got to provide a calm, quiet environment for a patient it’s just amazing how much happens to cause excitement.  People will show up.  Coyotes will come too close to the house.  Tux, Lili, and Rosie will bicker like kids in the back of the car on a long trip.  The metal roof will pop when the sun hits it.  All cause for barking and excitement.

It’s been just four weeks today but it’s been four weeks of hell.

The light at the end of the tunnel

I am happy to report that Rosie is doing very well.  She’s lost weight.  She’s breathing much easier.  She and the cats are working on a renewal of their truce.  No more accidents in the house (well, Tux hasn’t gotten the complete message yet, but he’s improving).  I’ve been letting Rosie out of the dog pen when I’m home during the day.  She’s been finding old bones and bringing them into the house (I think that’s a hint).  This morning she chased a rabbit and came back all dancing and proud, and she wasn’t gagging.  Pretty soon we can start going on walks again. 

Yeah, Rosie still snores, wheezes, and occasionally gags.  I guess she’ll do that for the rest of her life.  But she’s definitely the new and improved version of a BAOS dog, and I think she’s more cheerful for it.

I certainly am.

PS  Thanks go to Jack Duncan, DVM and to the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, Albuquerque, for taking such good care of my Rosie.

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