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

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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.  

 

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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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Who Ya Gonna Call?

Oh no.  Here we go again: The recurring phone nightmare.Dark Phone - Image by Lif Strand

I used to have what I guess are anxiety dreams in which I absolutely had to make a phone call.  It was always spurred by impending doom of some unspecific kind.  Always it was me desperately dialing for help or to provide warning.  

Back in the beginning the dreams involved rotary phones, sometimes coin-operated.  I might not have enough coins, or the coins refused to go into the slot because they were the wrong kind, or slipped through my fumbling fingers. 

More often, though, the dreams were about the act of dialing: Inserting my shaking fingertip into the proper space, moving my hand carefully clockwise to the stop, releasing and waiting till the dial rotated back to neutral — only to dial the last digit wrong.  I’d have to start all over again, now with even more pressure to succeed — and I’d fail again. 

And again.

Then came touch-tone phones.  It didn’t matter.  I would be simply unable to push the right button.  I’d concentrate, I’d focus, and yet my finger would press the wrong button. 

I’d have to start all over from the beginning. It was always a long distance call, so there were many numbers, many chances to screw up.  And screw up I would. Until I stopped having the dreams.

Digital dialing!

One thing I’ve loved about the digital era has been Undo.  If only all of life came with Undo.  Computers and now cell phones offer gazillions of apps  and almost all of them have Undo functions. 

And merciful gods, my cell’s phone app has Undo!  There’s a little X and if I touch the wrong number I just touch that X and it Undoes the error.  So simple even an idiot dreamer can get the number right.

And yes, I can.  In fact, I know so deeply in my psyche that I can dial the number correctly that I don’t have dialing-wrong dreams anymore.  You’d think that would mean that my phone nightmares would go away. 

But no. 

Last night I dreamed I couldn’t find my cell phone.  I was so agitated that I woke up, and having done so I realized it wasn’t the first time I’d had a lost cell phone dream.  In them I know it’s around somewhere — but where?  I know it will turn up — but when?  In the dreams I don’t have the phone right now and I can’t make the call.  

What call?  My memory of the phone dreams are always vague.  I’m generally in a house with many rooms connected by M.C. Escher-like stairs (or like the stairs in the Goblin King’s castle in the movie Labyrinth — except with furniture).  Blind ends, wrong turns, backtracking, and always the pressing need to be somewhere, along with a nebulous nagging horror raising the hackles at the back of my neck. 

Last night I didn’t even want to make a phone call – I just needed to find that damn phone before…  I’m not sure what.  

What am I supposed to do?

I like to record my dreams in my journal but I’m not that interested in analyzing them.  The dreams never have been about phone calls anyway, they’re just reverberations of the quite familiar anxieties and pressures of daily life.  Dreams or daily life — I have no control over most of what goes on around me.  Nobody does.

The take-away, I’m pretty sure, is that it would be a good idea for me to just deal with what I can and stop worrying about the rest.

Or maybe it’s something entirely different.  Maybe it’s that if I ever managed to make that call, whoever answered might be way scarier than the monster breathing down my neck.

 

#amwriting, #journal, #dreams, #DavidBowie, #Labyrinth

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A book from start to finish

Last April I worked on a rough draft of what I hoped would be a novel that became a novelette that then changed its mind and became a novella… or at least that’s where it is now. Dragon/Mage is just over 51,000 words and unfinished, so maybe it’ll grow up to be a real novel someday.

The main character is the dragon L’ra, named for my friend Laura.  I’ve been writing stories for her for Christmas for the past few years and this novelette/novella was written to be this year’s present.

As Christmas 2019 approached, though, I was feeling like it wasn’t the gift I had in mind.  I had gaps in the manuscript that I hadn’t written yet and no time left to write them.  So I figured hey, I’ve always wanted to make a book, so why don’t I just bind the pages of this manuscript. It’ll be a unique present that I’ll be proud to give

No matter that I’ve never bound a book before.

Day one – two days before Christmas

I plunged into the project the way I always do:  no prep, a lot of optimism, and a willingness to wing it as necessary.  

I spent all that morning figuring out how to print the pages in folio form so the manuscript could be stitched and glued like a regular hardcover book.  I wasted a bunch of paper, and I ended having to painfully print folios individually (pages 1-16 using 8 sheets of paper, pages 17 – 32 using 8 sheets of paper, etc).  Then I stitched the folios on my sewing machine and I figured out how to make a press to hold the folios together so I could glue it.  (Note to self: remember to replace the sewing machine needle — stitching paper has dulled it and it’ll mess up fabric)

Stitched folios for bookbindingThe so-called press was a wood clamp and two vise-grip pliers that applied pressure on window shims (approximately 1″ wide x 12″ long thin strips of wood). (Note to self: research DIY book presses and make that my next project. Or pretty soon. At least before I make my next book, whenever that might be.)

By that evening I was gluing while talking with my mother on the phone.  I don’t have a headset so most of what I was doing on the book was one handed. Sometimes I crooked my head to hold the phone between my chin and shoulder so I could use two hands… well, let’s just say that it’s not the best glue job I’ve ever seen.  I have cleaned the mess off the table and various objects nearby that failed to duck when glue came out of the bottle in huge globs.

I hoped the glue I used would work.   Elmer’s Craft Bond is recommended for book repair since it’s acid-free and flexes when dry.  Seemed to me that would be good glue for making a book. I could have sworn I had some white Elmer’s glue but I couldn’t find it.  I figured Elmer’s Wood Glue would have to do.  Maybe not so flexible when dry — but heck, this isn’t meant to be a book to last the ages, right? It’s not even an ARC.  At any rate, it was wood glue or no glue.

And it fought me the whole way. (Note to self: Buy some Elmer’s Craft Bond. Also more Elmer’s Wood Glue).

Glued foliosGlued foliosThe glue dried in no time at all. When I removed it from the “book press” I started giggling.  It actually looked something like a real book! 

I decided to end the day’s work on that high note.  Sure, the next day was Christmas eve, but that still gave me lots of time to put the cloth binding on and make the covers.  

 

 

Day two – Christmas Eve

After putting the cloth binding on the back of the book — a fairly simple process (emphasis on ‘fairly’) — I moved on to the cover.

Did I mention I did no prep work before starting this project? First thing I had to do was disassemble a matted photo to steal the backing cardboard for the covers of my book. I could have used something thinner or thicker, but the matte cardboard was perfect. (Note to self: get more cardboard and repair the photo).

Cardboard for the coversI very carefully cut the covers. I swear those were perfect right-angled corners when I measured, but somehow… never mind. Then I carefully measured and cut the fabric. I swear…

Then I used more globs of wood glue to glue the fabric to the covers. Um. Apparently the glue is to be used sparingly, but the cap had broken off the glue bottle and it would only come out in globs suitable for furniture building but not so good for book binding. I spread the glue as thinly as I could but it soaked the cardboard and warped it.

Time out to press the cardboard while the glue dried. And to calm down before the next step: gluing the folio to the back cover.

I will admit, there was a certain amount of cursing going on while all this was happening. The glue would not allow for repositioning, for one thing. I know for a fact that my inside paper covers were squared but then of course the cover itself wasn’t, so…

So I just let it go. If I was going to give this book to Laura for Christmas I couldn’t take till New Year’s to make it perfect. I got everything all glued together and then I stepped back and looked at the results.All glued together

It was a book. An ugly book, to be sure, but I had done it. The cover was wrinkled, the inside covers were wrinkled, as were the first and last few pages, due to the moisture in the glue. The instructions said that I could iron out the wrinkles but I wasn’t sure wood glue would take kindly to ironing. So I decided to just press the book overnight and see what it looked like in the morning (the title page photo shows still-damp pages that night).Title page showing wrinkles from moisture from glue

 

 

Day three – Christmas

What it looked like in the morning was… almost done. The wrinkles weren’t too bad. But there wasn’t any way to tell the front from the back cover. I needed to put the title on it. I had this idea of using iron-on transfer of the lettering but I still wasn’t sure about the heat factor and that glue.

So I cheated and used a metallic ink Sharpie. That certainly gave it the home-made look to match the rest.

I gotta tell you, when I wasn’t cursing, I was giggling as I made this book. I knew the end project was kind of ugly, I knew the manuscript was not complete — but I didn’t care.  The making was the joy for me. I can create a complete and polished looking book someday if I want to — but there will never be another first book that I ever made.

The Dragon/Mage bound book is no longer in my possession but it’ll always have a special place in my heart: a book that’s all mine, from the first word written in April to the last word written on the cover.

 

I can’t wait to do another!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#amwriting #bookbinding

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The Honeymoon’s Over

Rosie waiting for Lif (c) 2019 Lif Strand photoIt had to happen, of course.  The honeymoon always ends.  Life moves on and the fresh new relationship gradually transforms into an old familiar one.  Allowances for past traumas, habits, and reactions give way to impatience with behaviors based on the past.  It’s here and now — let’s get on with it, it feels like.  At least for me. 

I have to remind myself that Rosie’s past five years are a lot longer than mine.  Dog years vs. human aside, almost all of Rosie’s five years or so have been spent in other circumstances than she now finds herself in.  I have to keep reminding myself that while she is learning about me and our relationship she is also unlearning most everything she based her behaviors on.  It’s hard enough for a human to do that.  Why should it be any easier for a dog, who doesn’t even get much choice in the matter?

I have to give her credit.  She’s doing a good job of adjusting… but still.  The honeymoon is over. 

It was merely a few weeks ago when I was thrilled to hear Rosie bark for the first time.  Days later I went out of town.  My brother-in-law Jeff was here all day long working on my house.  He said that Rosie barked non-stop, to the point where she became hoarse.  He tried bribing with doggie biscuits; he tried speaking firmly to her.  He tried locking her in the house and turning up his boom box.  Eventually he just yelled at her to knock it off, which apparently she did.

Until the next time.  Such as when he would show up the next day to feed her and the cats and horses, and resume working on my house.

A little bit of judicious barking is good.  A lot of indiscriminate barking is crazy-making (for humans if not for dogs).  I don’t know if Rosie would still be barking at Jeff – who is a very nice person and who loves dogs – but he’s gone home.  It’s just Rosie and me again and she doesn’t bark anymore.

A few weeks ago I was thrilled when Rosie showed signs of being able to move away from the security of walking at my heels when we’d go out to hike.  It seemed to me to be a sign of growing confidence in her relationship with me as well as this house and this land being home.

In the evening after feeding horses Rosie and I go for a quick walk, even if we’ve walked earlier in the day.  Partly it’s a chance for me to enjoy the outside a little longer before settling down inside for the night.  I can take sunset photos, maybe catch a glimpse of a shooting star or the ISS gliding across the Milky Way.  Another reason for the walk is to make sure there are no cows hiding behind bushes, waiting till I go away so they can invade my horse’s pens and steal their food and water.  Partly it’s to transform Rosie from a flabby middle-aged butterball of a dog into a fit and healthy dog.  Some of why we walk is to give Rose a last opportunity to go potty, meaning one less bit of poop for me to have to scoop up from her dog pen.

In the beginning she had to be coaxed to go with me, but Rosie not only enjoys this short walk now — about a third of a mile loop — but she expects it.  If I turn back to the house immediately after shutting the barn door, she refuses leave the horse pens where she’s been sitting in anticipation.  If I turn instead to walk around the pens and head out on the trail we’ve worn through the rabbit brush, Rosie will scoot under the fence with a big grin on her face and wait for me.

She used to walk so closely behind me that sometimes she’d step on my heels.  After a few weeks she began to dare to walk slightly ahead of me, often stopping with uncertainty, forcing me to step over her else I’ll fall over her. 

None of that anymore.  Now Rosie scrambles ahead of me, her stumpy legs propelling her down the trail faster than I’d have ever guessed she would or could run.  She’ll break off her sprints to run in tight little circles, her skinny little tail whipping from side to side.  Then she’ll stop, panting, waiting for me to catch up so she can tear off again.

So cute!  This is what having a dog should be like, isn’t it? 

Hah.  

After having been here three months, I can hardly consider Rosie to be trained.  We’ve barely begun.  There’s lots and lots of room for screwing up.

Having figured out that it’s okay to not stick on my heels when we walk, Rosie is now feeling the call of the freedom, and that means exploration and adventure.  It is no surprise that she has discovered the joy of chasing rabbits.  Mostly cottontails, since jackrabbits don’t hunker down and pretend to be invisible till Rosie trips over one. 

At first  Rosie dared chase only a few yards before she’d turn around and dutifully come back to me.  Not because I was calling her but because she didn’t feel she was allowed to be doing what she was doing.  She would watch me very carefully to see if she was in trouble.  She was not.  I would never yell at a dog for coming back to me even if I had been calling, but of course the only way she would know that would be through trust and trust takes time to build.

But the other day I was chasing the neighbor’s cattle off my property and Rosie really pushed the boundaries.  The bovines were down valley, meaning that I had to chase them up the side of the mesa to get them back to the allotment where they belong.  Very good exercise for me, chasing cows – much better than fixing my fence.

At any rate, I was puffing myself halfway up the mesa (did I mention that the mesa sides are super steep?) when a small brown streak blurred past me.  Aha!  I thought.  Rosie is going to round up the stragglers.  Sometimes I amaze myself with my imagination.

Not only had Rosie flushed a rabbit, she’d flushed one that was dumb enough (or maybe smart enough) to run towards other rabbits.  Next thing I know a bunny-sized streak flashed down the mesa side, another across the mesa side, and two in the other directions.  Rosie was nowhere to be seen.

After I had watched the last cow hump her way over the rim rock and onto the mesa, I started back, calling Rosie as I went.  She’s the exact color of dried grass and her red collar is as good as invisible in the vastness a small dog could disappear into.  Cupping my hands behind my ears made it possible to hear her panting, but I couldn’t see her anywhere.  She was moving fast but not in my direction.

I called some more.  I whistled – not sure why, since I’ve never whistled for her before.  I kept moving towards the barn, stopping to listen, calling, being ignored.

And finally I realized how stupid this was.  I had wanted Rosie to feel confident enough to do things on her own and now that she was doing something on her own I was trying to control her.  Of course I didn’t want her to get lost, maybe to be eaten by coyotes, or shot by some trigger-happy yokel.  But I knew she hadn’t gone far.  I knew it wasn’t about her getting lost; it was about her running away.

Would Rosie suddenly realize she really was free?

I have wanted Rosie to trust me, but didn’t I also need to trust Rosie?

I went back to my barn chores, trying to not constantly look up to see if Rosie was coming.  When I was done, I resisted the urge to hike back up the mesa side, to call some more.  I had to believe that the relationship we had established was true, and for it to be true there has to be trust in both directions.

I had to trust that if Rosie was now confident enough to step away from me, she was also confident enough in me to come back.

And she was.

Having lost her rabbit, she had come back home.  Home, where I found her sound asleep on her bed by the wood stove.  She cracked open her eyes, thumped her tail once, and went back to sleep.  Perfectly at home.

The honeymoon’s over and thank goodness for that.  Let the real relationship begin.   

 

 

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Training Rosie

Rosie in the weeds (c) 2019 Lif StrandRosie barked today.  Seriously barked, not just a passing woof.  A neighbor who had been moving some dirt with his tractor right outside the house was walking around on foot, assessing what he’d done and what he needed to do next.  He came close to the back door and for some reason Rosie didn’t like that at all. 

Well that certainly was a surprise. 

She doesn’t have a big bark — in fact, what with the tractor’s engine idling I didn’t at first realize she was barking at all.  Loud or not, Rosie  seemed quite determined about letting the neighbor know that he was crossing a line she had decided on.

A guard dog.  Who’d have thunk it?

Rosie is still too quick to display submissive behavior to me but at least now she gets over it right away when I reassure her.  Disciplining a cowering dog is tough, so I try to be big on love and restrained when correcting.  I’m willing to give her many chances to figure out what I want so she can be a happy puppy all the time, and even, some day, feel free to be mischievous. 

So yeah, I’m tolerant — but some unwanted behaviors are harder for me to tolerate than others.  Like going potty inside instead of outside.

I thought we were done with potty training.  Rosie seemed to get the idea.  She was doing very well with holding her pee overnight until suddenly, a few days ago, she wasn’t.  Maybe not so coincidentally it was when I had to start closing the kitchen door at bedtime.  It’s getting too cold at night for me to leave it open for her — especially when she can go out the doggie door whenever she wants.

I wondered if it had to do with going down the stairs off the porch.  We don’t really know how old Rosie is – the vet said maybe 5-ish but she could be older.  What if going down the five steps was painful? 

That idea went out the window right away.   A few days ago I had to go into town for a load of hay.  I had shut the kitchen door so Rosie would be safely inside, hoping but not knowing if she would use the doggie door to go out to her dog yard if she had to pee during the few hours I was gone.  I was unwilling to lock her outside because she’s only been here two months and doesn’t seem all that secure yet. 

I’m such a worry wart.  When I came home, Rosie was proudly waiting for me at my property gate.  I had forgotten to close the gate to her dog yard.  Clearly Rosie had no trouble with the doggie door, the stairs down, or taking advantage of an open gate.

I was not happy for her to be greeting me like that, but boy, was I happy to see her at the property gate instead of my having to hunt for a lost dog. 

But back to the peeing problem.

I didn’t know why Rosie was going in the house but to be fair she did try to get me out of bed in the mornings to let her out.  She was only able to her pee until she determined I wasn’t going to get up in time — I guessed she just gave up.  I felt so bad for being such a slug, though I did notice Rosie didn’t seem to feel all that sorry for having done it.  She just watched patiently as I grumbled and moaned my way through sopping up about five gallons worth of pee on the floor before I was properly awake.  Who knew a little dog could hold so much in her bladder? 

So why, you ask, didn’t I just get up and let her out when she asked me to?  Excuse me – but she was doing all this before sunrise, and I’m not a morning person

Needless to say, dark out or no, for the next several mornings when she got up and started walking around the house she didn’t need to jump up on the edge of the mattress to emphasize her point.  At the first click of her toenails I would fly out of bed, throw on my bathrobe and a jacket, and run to the back door to escort her to a pee spot. 

This morning, though, when I hopped out of bed and took her outside she just walked around sniffing at stuff.  Then I noticed a fresh pee spot right near where she always does it. 

Hmmm. 

Rosie had clearly used the doggie door to go out to pee before she woke me up.

Before she woke me up.   Okaaaay.  Here’s what I think:  This has nothing to do with peeing.

I think Rosie is training me.  I think she is a morning dog and she is bound and determined to make me a morning person.  And I think she’s really good at it.  For sure she gets me out of bed faster than an alarm clock does. 

Maybe this afternoon’s barking was an indication not so much of Rosie feeling secure as her having decided I’m trainable enough to be worth protecting.  

Maybe Rosie is really happy she doesn’t have to pee in the house anymore to get me to pay attention.  Guess I’ll find out tomorrow morning when I get up at an ungodly hour before dawn.

 

 

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Breakthrough!

Cats rule. This is something all cats understand. Dogs may not get it at first, but wise dogs don’t argue the point — not even when they know it ain’t so. Especially not when the cat is Tux and the dog is Rosie. She might outweigh Tux by 30 pounds or so but that doesn’t make her bigger than Tux.

Tux is the biggest, baddest cat in the valley and he is the boss. He has driven this point home ever since he arrived here back in 2015 or thereabouts. For some reason, though, he has felt compelled to drum the message into Rosie particularly hard.  He’s hissed, spat, yowled, clawed, leaped on, and in general been horribly mean to my ferocious  pit bull I mean Amstaff.

Who has never even curled a lip at him.

In fact, Rosie reverts to her cower position or turns tail and runs from Tux when he goes at her.  At least that’s been the MO for almost all the nearly six weeks she’s been living with us.

Almost all.  Because things are beginning to change.

Last week Rosie and I went out on the allotment for an evening walk but didn’t go far because the cows were hanging out and blocking our way, focused on poor Rosie.  I guess it’s because of her size and because she looks less like a threat than she does a fat bullet with stubby legs (I write that with great fondness, mind you), since instead of ignoring me or moseying off the other way when they see me, when they see Rosie the cows tend to get aggressive.  They line up, shoulder to shoulder, heads lowered, and stare at her.  Then one will take a step.  Then another one will take a step.  I don’t wait for a third one to move, or for the whole line of cows to get the idea, I turn around and take Rosie with me.

This particular walk Tux had accompanied us on the outward bound part as far as the cattle pens.  He was still there, waiting for us when we came back.  Oh no!  What if he went after Rosie and chased her out towards the cows?  But he didn’t do that.  He ran at her but veered off when she hunched down and squinched her eyes.  Then he trotted back towards home, tail in the air, point proven.  We followed.

There was an incident at my gate — a standoff as to who was going to go through it first — but I decided I’d had enough so I abandoned them to work it out.  I had covered maybe a hundred feet towards the house when I heard the thunder of paws.  I just shook my head and kept going.  Next thing I knew, Rosie and Tux were neck and neck, flat-out racing towards home.  Rosie hauled herself to a stop but Tux kept going till he was sure we all knew he had won.

Since then there have been more empty threats and fewer attacks, and yesterday I caught Tux and Rosie sniffing noses.  I don’t know, but it looks like an armistice is in the works.  As long as Rosie lets Tux win, I think this will lead to true peace, and maybe even friendship.

Cat walking under evening sky (Lif Strand Photo)

The boss surveying his domain

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The heavy hand of the law

Pie Town Pie Festival 2019JUST KIDDING!  No need for bail!

Yesterday I participated in the Pie Town Pie Festival Fun Run. It was my third year. This event is the only run I do, as I’m no runner. My point in signing up and planning for it is not to get the tee shirt but to give myself a goal that not only keeps me physically active during the rest of the year, but makes me push harder than I otherwise might. I’m of an age when many people slow down. Believe me, it is an attractive idea to take it easier but I just can’t do that. I want to not only keep going, but I want to go faster and farther than the year before.

This year I kinda sorta actually ran. Okay, what I did was more like a shuffle. I can’t even call it jogging. And I confess I walked the worst hills. But hey, I couldn’t do that much last year, and the year before I walked the whole course.

So here’s a photo of me with my first place medal and my friend Laura with her medal, being arrested. No, not really. That’s Scott Landrum, Catron County Sheriff’s Deputy, who was working the Festival.  We had been chatting with a friend, Keith, who took a photo of the three of us to send to another friend, author Steven F Havill, to show Steve the big excitement he was missing.

We were chatting about the sudden t-storm (complete with flooding and hail) and how cool the Pie Festival is, and why Keith’s Brit friend can’t enter a meat pie next year and then explaining to Scott what Cornish pasties are and where you can get them in Scottsdale — that sort of thing.

Oh, and the medals? Laura and I were the only ones entered in the Women’s 55+ category. I came in third from last overall but FIRST in my category (big fist pump)! Sure, my medal may not be worth much in the real world but it’s worth something to me because I finished 3 minutes faster than last year.

My next year’s goal is to finish 3 minutes faster than this year. I better start training now!  Okay.  Maybe tomorrow.

P-K Run tee shirt

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