A sense of relief

Just wrote my third research paper in eight days.  An audible sigh burst from my school-burdened lips.  What a sense of relief I got from feeling like I am moving in the right direction as I continue to slowly and methodically accomplish my goals.

Waking up on my day off from work, brushing my teeth and typing thirteen pages on my laptop – what has my life come to?  I pose that question jokingly because I know exactly what my life has come to.  I am an independent, successful, driven woman who is fixed on getting her degree.  I don’t care if I am resuming school at the ripe old age of thirty-four.  Better late than never and boy does that feel good.

Hugo and I already made celebratory plans that include drinks at the Peninsula Hotel lounge in Beverly Hills, followed by a culinary adventure at Spago (Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, also in BH).  I will get straight A’s and finish at the top of my class just for the fine dining alone!

Inspiring resilience

20180907_181439 (1)I am sitting here rubbing Nala head as she cranes her neck up onto the seat of the couch and stares into my eyes with pure love.  I am once again overwhelmed with how wildly strong this dog is.  Her ninth birthday is a week from tomorrow, on 10/2, and she has been battling bone cancer like a boss for about two months now.  We really didn’t think she would make it this long but we are beyond happy that she has.  Every other day we have a moment of fear that she is entering a rapid decline, as she starts limping more severely and appears somber.  But then, somehow, she continues to recover from these spells and trudges on.  The fight is real and it burns in that beautiful dog’s heart.

I realize that I haven’t posted for some time.  This is 100% due to the fact that I am in the midst of finishing my college classes for this concentrated term and am bogged down with research papers.  Additionally, I am taking home some work projects so all of my free time has been spent on my laptop trying to dig myself out from under this self-inflicted rock.  I signed up for it and I’m glad I did, it’s just a lot.

Not only is Nala fighting for her life but our friend Andrew is too.  After a two week binge drinking session after he departed the LA area for his move to NorCal, Andrew somehow found the strength to fight his way out of his rancid motel room and into a sober living house.  He began work at his new assignment and is trying to resume normal life now.  Hugo and I are so happy he made it out alive once more.  I know they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger but honestly, he has been pretty close to dying so he must be ridiculously strong by now.  Our relationship with Andrew is the closest Hugo and I have ever been to an alcoholic and it is astounding to see what the human body can tolerate and how crushed the human spirit can become.  He lives to see another day and continue fighting so, as his mother says, we will just keeping hoping for a good tomorrow.

Pound cake for Tootie

I picked up the remains of Kaiser today and brought him home.  His ashes, tucked safely away in a little wooden box, sat quietly on my front seat – one last car ride together as I sobbed uncontrollably.  When Hugo came home from an early morning fishing trip, we hugged and sobbed once more together.  Prior to his arrival, I set the bag from the vet, containing Kaiser and his clay paw print, down on the rug in our living room right where he used to lay.  This spot was loved by Kaiser, where he routinely lied down and flipped over onto his back, by gripping the side of the couch with his strong paw and leveraging his body weight to flop over into his most favorite, comfortable position.  Anyways, call me a little crazy, but it felt right to set him down there for a few minutes.  Nala came over and smelled the bag intently – she knew it was her old pal.  He had come home.

For some reason, I wanted to do a little baking this afternoon, almost as a final gift for Kaiser to celebrate how much we loved him.  I am not sure if that makes sense and quite frankly, I don’t really care.  We had leftover buttermilk that didn’t have a use to us, after Hugo bought it for cast-iron pan cornbread last week (absolutely delicious).  A quick Google search produced this gem of a recipe – Buttermilk Pound Cake.  I sliced some strawberries and dusted our slices with powdered sugar.  Hugo and I ate two fat pieces each and didn’t have one guilty feeling between us.  We cheers’ed with our fork and spoon, as a nod to our beloved Tootie (Kaiser’s silly nickname), and I gave Nala a tiny morsel so she could partake in the happy moment.  We decided that the pound cake satisfied our dinner void and called it a night.

Fight for farmers and vote with your dollars

I can’t believe that as a 34-year-old, independent working woman, I am about to say…I am bogged down with schoolwork!  As I scroll through endless syllabus pages that outline research papers and a multitude of assignments, I can’t help but think, “What have I gotten myself into?”  In the end, it is a very good thing and I am quite pleased that I am back to school, back to school, as Adam Sandler would say.

Just a heads up to anyone out there that cares (and honestly people, everyone should care about this insanely important issue), the Farm Bill is back on Congress’ agenda this week.  Read about it, sign a petition and have a voice in changing our country’s pitiful environmental policies.

Also, a local community organizer in Ventura County, which is adjacent to our home, wrote this blog post about the heavy use of chlorpyrifos in Ventura County that I enjoyed reading earlier today.  Educate yourself on the toxins that are being applied to the conventionally grown foods that you eat.  I have personally driven past the farms they describe in this article – on any given day you can observe farm workers in hazmat-style suits applying chemicals to strawberries and other crops.  It really makes you sick.

My dad sent me a cool link this morning to a company called The Cornucopia Institute so I thought I would share it here.  This link provides all US-based organic dairy farms with a rating, based on their farming practices and care for their animals.  It is interesting to see that all organic brands are not equal, with vast and shocking differences existing between the highest and lowest ranking names.  What I learned from this ranked list is that the majority of large grocery store chains, who have in-house organic brands, are among the lowest ranking.  These bottom-dweller brands are doing the bare minimum to be in compliance for organic certification and I don’t think I will be supporting them anymore.  Hugo and I chatted about the rankings and were happy to see that the brands we normally buy (Stonyfield, Annie’s Homegrown, Organic Valley, etc.) are at least 4 cow brands!

As a final note, I urge anyone that is reading this to think long and hard about what you put into your body and what kind of planet you want to live on.  I personally don’t want to ingest chemical-coated strawberries and genetically modified sweet corn, swim in algae-bloom ponds next to golf courses with bountiful herbicide run-off, or drink milk from cows who have been fed low quality grain, locked in a dark barn, absent sunlight and love, all while being injected with hormones to increase milk production.  Consider the choices you make at the supermarket as an election – every time you buy an item, you are placing a vote for the company, the farming practices and the animals that fall victim to it all.  I choose to vote with my dollars to support those who care about our health and the earth at large and I sure hope you do too.

 

No one said that life was going to be easy

Wow, where to begin.

I have been off the radar and radio silent for a handful of days now.  Needed some time to find my bearings after a stressful August.  August, 2018, will go down in my record book as the shittiest month of my life thus far.  After our awful ordeal with sweet Kaiser, we found out that our female Rottweiler, Nala, has bone cancer (osteosarcoma) in her front right shoulder.  What first presented itself as a minor limp and corresponding lump over the joint, turned into a cancer diagnosis after a series of x-rays at the vet.

For those who are not familiar with osteosarcoma, it is no joke.  An aggressive form of bone cancer, osteosarcoma is prevalent in large breed dogs, with Rottweilers said to have an occurrence rate of approximately one in 8.  That is a very high number, shocking to read quite frankly.  Our poor girl is the 1 in that equation.  After being presented with three equally bad options from the vet, which included doing nothing, amputating her limb, and/or doing chemotherapy and radiation, we chose to let her spend the remainder of her short life (based on her illness) feeling as good as possible and just being a dog.  We put considerable thought into the other options though – at one point Hugo and I had the three-hour amputation surgery scheduled but we later cancelled it.  We did our own independent research and discovered that dogs with this type of bone cancer normally do not live very long after being diagnosed, due to the aggressive nature of the disease.  Even when amputations are performed and additional, very expensive and physically draining therapies are administered, there still isn’t a very good likelihood of the dog surviving past a year, at best.  Sometimes, dogs only live a couple of months after amputation surgery.  And I am sure the recovering from losing a limb is not easy for those poor pups.

With all of that said, the biggest concern that the vet, and therefore we, have is this impending issue – due to the presence of bone cancer in her shoulder joint, the joint breaking is inevitable and just a matter of time.  That is why amputation, to remove the afflicted limb, is normally a viable option.  Hugo and I are terrified of her shoulder breaking because not only does that mean she has to immediately be put down but also because we don’t want her to experience that extreme level of pain.  After not wanting to leave the house at all, in fear that she would be all alone when her shoulder finally succumbs, I found myself staying home with her as much as possible.  I would hug and kiss her every time I walked past her, most times breaking into tears as I grasped onto her head.  I would hold it, remembering how her entire body used to be the size of what her head is today.  A little pile of puppy.  Nala of course was unaware of why I was so emotional, it was just another day to her.  And that’s when Hugo had an amazing idea – let’s buy a baby cam to set up to monitor her when we are away from home!  Within minutes, we had Amazon’ed a $30 Wansview camera that features two-way audio.  Technology is incredible and the feeling of security as we monitor her from afar is worth well above the purchase price of this valuable resource.

With everything considered, we opted to keep Nala out of pain with medication and rest, as well as anything her heart desires in the food category.  This has recently included chips and a little guacamole, scraps of barbecued chicken from our Labor Day picnic, and cheese nibbles from our goat cheese afternoon snack plate.  Although she is limping around and we are restricting her running, she has a big smile on her face and the energy to chase passing birds every day.

So for now, we are just enjoying every day with our girl, our last dog left.  I fear for the day that she isn’t here as our house will be empty and sad and just not right.  It has been tough experiencing such sadness and heartache with both of our puppies within such a short time frame.  It hit me so hard that I have been physically sick throughout this entire process.  To describe a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach would be a severe understatement.  I only hope that in time my body will calm down.

Not really sure how to transition from Nala to our friend Andrew but here goes nothing.  Andrew relapsed also immediately after celebrating one year of sobriety.  He is a sad idiot, he is a bad friend, and he is an asshole son.  He is a raging alcoholic who fell back into his dark hole.  This time, the dark hole manifested itself in the form of a dimly lit motel room in central California, as Andrew partially completed his road trip to Eureka, his intended destination.  He works for a large communications company and was lucky enough to be transferred up north, an opportunity to have a fresh start in a new part of the country.

The main things missing in Andrew’s life are a companion, whether that be a girlfriend, best friend or wife, and a family.  Andrew is alone, depressed and prone to relapse when faced with stressful, lonely situations.  I told Hugo, just before Andrew left for this trip, that I had a feeling this would happen.  And boy, was I right.  Wish I wasn’t.

He didn’t make it more than 36 hours before he started drinking.  And he didn’t just have a casual cocktail or frosty mug of beer.  This man goes from zero to 60 by drinking straight, cheap vodka right from the plastic bottle it comes in.  He doesn’t eat, hydrate with an occasional glass of water, or sleep normally.  He drinks until he throws up, passes out, and then wakes up at 2am only to chug some more vodka.  It is gross and sad.

The real victims in the equation are his poor parents.  They are such lovely, good-hearted people who love their son tremendously.  And the worst past is that there isn’t anything they can do.  They have done it all before and it doesn’t work because Andrew has to do it for himself.  No one can make an addict change, they have to truly desire to make the change within themselves.  Despite bringing him to therapy, the hospital, rehab, or any combination thereof, it will not be successful if Andrew doesn’t want it for himself.  As of now, we are on day 10 of this ordeal.  He has been holed up in his motel room slowly killing himself.  Only time will tell if he can pry himself out of his own nightmare of if his body will give in to the abuse he inflicts upon himself.

Life is cruel and has sharp edges that cut and sting.  The past few weeks have been negative at face value but I have been trying to find the learning lessons, peace and beauty that surrounds me.  I am thankful for the love that exists in my life, mainly Hugo and my parents.  Hugo has exhibited such incredible support and real love towards Nala and I during these tough times.  I am beyond thankful for him in my life.

So tonight, I will think happy, positive and loving thoughts for those in my life that are struggling.  Nala’s struggle is sad but unavoidable at this point.  Andrew’s is sad but can be changed with actions in the right directions.  I just hope he can find his way before it is too late.  And now I will go give Nala a goodnight kiss on the top of her nose.

Circadian rhythm, James Cook, coyotes…in no particular order

Hugo got up to pee as bright light flooded into the bedroom and I was awake. 2:18 am. Who am I kidding, I am awake. Sunday funday turned into reminiscing about Kaiser over several glasses of wine and hence, I am up before 3am on Monday. I say hence because alcohol has always effected my sleep/wake cycle, otherwise known as my circadian rhythm. Since I was laying in bed thinking about that long, uniquely spelled word, I decided to get up, take Nala out to pee, and do a little research.

As I typed circadian rhythm into Google, my most recent inquiries hung just below the search bar, like footprints or old flames that just can’t let go. One of which happened to be James Cook, the noble explorer from the 18th century. During our voyage out of town and into the great abyss of Los Angeles yesterday, Hugo and I stumbled upon an extraordinary little collectibles shop. We decided to poke our heads in with Nala in tow. I was in a swell position to spend a little dough as I was freshly liquored (actually wined) up from just departing a tasting as the nearby winery. Anyways, we walked in, met the owner and perused the goods. The back display room was particularly interesting, filled with old medical equipment, including a dentist’s chair from 1910. In the next room over, I fell in love with a cartograph (big fancy word, look it up) of the Hawaiian Islands.  Otherwise known as the Sandwich Islands, after the Earl of Sandwich, this illustrated map includes the islands themselves as well as James Cook’s ship and a Hawaiian Chief setting sail to greet him.  It fascinated Hugo and I so we made the $40 purchase for the map and threw in a mummified piranha for our remodeled guest room (actually Hugo’s computer lair).

When we got home, we did a little more reading on James Cook and I was hooked.  Credited with providing the first accurate map of the Pacific, James Cook not only discovered and charted New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef but he also battled scurvy by feeding himself and his crew a diet of watercress, sauerkraut and orange extract.  Fascinating, incredible and humbling to say the least.  To think of what life must have been like just a couple hundred years ago.

Your 24-hour circadian rhythm sleep/wake cycle is no joke.  Mine happens to be on, or up, or a little skewed this morning as I am awake so early.  As I said earlier, the wine always does it.  After not having had any alcohol for many, many months, Hugo and I have indulged in a couple of adult beverages the past few days, really just to relax and take our minds off of our recent loss.  We opened an expensive bottle of blended red wine from Sunstone (excellent organic vineyard and winery) we had been saving and toasted to Tootie two days ago as well.

This weekend with Hugo has helped tremendously in my healing process.  I feel much more relaxed and clear-headed, after many days of endless crying and a melancholy, somber household.  We miss Kaiser tremendously.  We miss Kaiser more than I thought was possible.  Seeing and feeling how much I miss him makes me realize just how much I truly loved him.

With the sounds of yipping coyotes feasting on a fresh rabbit kill just outside my window, Nala and I are now off to bed, for the second time tonight.

 

Doing a little cooking in between tears

In between fighting the nauseous feeling in my belly and the ball in my throat, I made this yummy Herbed Gnocchi and Mushrooms recipe from The Kitchn last night (no, that is not a typo).  I know that intro didn’t sound very appetizing but believe me, that meal tastes better than I have felt over the past few days.

Hugo and I are venturing out to the beach tomorrow morning, for some sun and relaxation with Nala despite the sad events of the past week.  I am really looking forward to it.  Especially after the somber afternoon I just had.  I had a lengthy conversation with our gardener Jose, who is a staple in our small neck of the woods.  Jose has cared for the livestock, and the ranches they live on, in our corner of the canyon for many years, meaning he knows everyone’s story.  We are currently putting in some fresh new grass in our backyard citrus garden so he stopped by the house around 4pm today to drop off the organic topsoil and grass seed.  We stood in the shade of the house, within feet of my husband’s sleeping bass boat, and discussed the sadness in the air.  I told him about Kaiser.  He nodded and paused, acknowledging exactly what I was saying and feeling with his limited English.  He didn’t have to say much but yet I knew that he completely understood.

We had discussed Kaiser’s health last week, as Kaiser greeted Jose through the fence.  Jose has always been scared of our Rottweilers, based solely on his overwhelming fear of dogs in general, however, last week was different.  I don’t know if it was because Kaiser’s energy was deteriorating but there was a calm sense of understanding for the first time between the two.  Kaiser wasn’t flipping out at him through the fence and Jose wasn’t retreating in fear.  The three of us just stood and talked, enjoying the company and sunshine.

During the rest of my afternoon chat with Jose, we also talked about my ailing neighbor Mark as well as two additional cancer diagnoses in the surrounding hillsides and subsequent deaths.  It was sad, depressing and maddening.  Illnesses are far too common and devastating to everyone they touch.  I concluded the exchange by reminding my friend to count his blessings.  I am not sure if he understood what I said exactly but he felt my energy.

As I am sitting here solo on a Saturday night, as my husband works a sixteen hour shift, a Clear The Shelters show was on TV.  I just watched a few light-hearted videos of rescue animals, some of which were from The Dodo and all of which distracted me from the melancholy in the air.  Check out their videos, hopefully they will warm your heart as they did mine.