How a Non-Morning Person Tackles a VERY Early Morning

February 25, 2019 11:00 AM

I’m not a morning person. I never have been. At times, I’ve found that having dogs can collide with my natural inclination to sleep-in past, say, dawn. That was not the case this morning. This morning I got woke up before dawn. Several hours before dawn, actually, and it wasn’t even the dogs’ fault this time.

This morning at 4:42 AM, I woke up to Herbie, one of our cats, hoarking up a mondo hairball at the end of our bed. He not only woke up me, but he also woke up the dogs, who really didn’t appreciate getting up that early, either. I don’t think Herbie cared about the dirty looks that any of us gave him, though. He just proceeded to defile the end of the bed, jumped down and started to groom himself so that he has enough ammunition for the next hairball, which is due in about four days, according to his schedule.

Herbieheart

Herbie, the hairball hoarker. This picture is courtesy of our awesome pet sitter, Addy from Prad’s Posh Pet Care. I especially like the hearts that look like devil horns because that pretty much sums up Herbie’s personality. Sweet but naughty.

There aren’t too many moments in human or pet parenthood that quite compare to having to get up and clean up a stinky, grody hairball at 4:42 in the morning with two grumpy dogs who refuse to move off the covers that need to be removed from the bed. The only moment that comes to mind is being barfed on by a small child who assures you he isn’t going to get sick when he crawls into bed with you in the middle of the night. That was worse. But this was close.

After I stripped off the quilt, the blankets and the top sheet and found a different quilt to use for the rest of the night, I was pretty much up for day. Did I mention I am not a morning person? I went to bed around 1 am last night. It does not thrill me to be up before the sun for any reason, but it’s especially unpleasent when I haven’t been asleep for even four hours. At least today, I was productive with my extra time that should have been dedicated to sleeping.

So far, I’ve done four loads of laundry (mattress pad, sheets, blanket and quilt), cooked eight pounds of dog food and two pounds of German potato salad to use up the bacon Dennis defrosted this weekend but we never got around to frying. I’ve straightened the house, cleaned the kitchen, did the dishes, scrubbed the shower and took a shower, did my hair and put on make-up. I even put mascara on my eyebrows! (I didn’t know that was a thing before this morning when I was watching Youtube videos on my iPad while debating if I should get up or not.) It actually works pretty well. Who knew!

I suppose there are benefits to getting up that early. I’ve got a full days worth of chores done before 11 am which frees me up for the rest of the day to write. Or play video games. And maybe nap. Probably definitely nap. That is the only silver lining to getting woke up that early on this very cold (it’s 3 degrees outside according to my phone) Monday morning. I got stuff done.

Of course, half the stuff I did (laundry) wouldn’t have needed to be done if Herbie had jumped down off the bed and barfed on the floor like a gentleman. Maybe next time. I’ll know in another four days or so.

11:19 AM

Sunday Morning Moment

February 24th, 2019 10:40 AM

I think it’s hard to be happy when you know others are suffering. Which makes it extremely hard to be happy in our world today. Politics aside, there are so many people hurting in our country and abroad.

Parents purchase backpacks lined with Kevlar for their children in an attempt to offer some sort of protection, even if just psychological, against the numerous school shootings we live with now.

Wars and violence turn millions of families into refugees, forced to give up everything for a chance to live and to ensure their children have a future.

Natural disasters strike without warning and people lose their homes and their lives. There’s illness and suffering and death. Some I know personally, some I do not, but I feel for them all, regardless.

It feels like one almost has to be unfeeling to be happy in this world. To put up a wall of Teflon to block out all the pain that we know surrounds us every day. There’s a high price to that strategy, though, because Teflon isn’t discriminating. It blocks out everything, pain AND joy, leaving just a flat surface that nothing or no one can penetrate.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure there is one. For me, it’s enjoying the good in the moments, even when those moments are woven with sorrow and worry and loss which are a part of life.

This Sunday morning, a cold, windy, no-sun gray Wisconsin day, I sat down to write in my warm house, with my husband and my pets around me, and I felt incredibly happy and at peace. The world is a hard place now, harder than it’s been during my lifetime, I think, but this moment in my life is good in spite of it.

I am lucky. I am aware. I am grateful.

cat tree

Three cats enjoying the cat tree earlier this week we actually saw the sun for a few hours.

11:04 AM

Happiness in the Form of Bananas?

February 19th, 2019 9:28 AM

It’s been a rough winter for those of us living in the Midwest. In the past month we’ve seen several snow storms that dropped over 10″ of snow each, two back to back ice storms and a polar vortex system unlike any we’ve seen before. For several days our high daily temperatures were -25 degree with wind chills in the -50’s. Not fun.

To make matters worse, Dennis was traveling for work during the weeks when most of the crappy weather hit. Not that I’m not capable of handling crappy weather on my own. I am. But, somehow, crappy weather doesn’t seem quite so crappy when there’s someone else stuck in the house with you to commiserate with. There’s a reason that old adage, “Misery loves company” has survived. It’s true.

Aside from the crappy weather, it’s personally been a bit of a challenging winter. A relative that my mother was estranged from for the last decade, but whom I’ve been debating reaching out to for the past few years, passed away unexpectedly after Christmas. I guess I shouldn’t have waited to reach out.  Now the reason I hesitated, because I was embarrassed that I didn’t keep in contact with her after my mother severed their relationship, seems silly. I should have just told her the truth, that I lost track of her because I was busy working and being a single mother. Not a good excuse for sure, but better than her thinking I was following my mom’s lead and severing the relationship, too.

Another ending that happened this winter, is also a beginning, so it checks both the loss and anxious check-boxes in my psyche. I’m finishing up with the coaching and revising on my novel. Which is a good thing, of course, and what I set out to do last summer. However, that means it’s time for me to start a new novel and with that comes the unknown. Which I hate. You’d think being an author would give you the ultimate control to manipulate your characters into doing whatever you want them to do. You’re their master, their god, and the decision-maker of their destinies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that authors create characters and breathe life into them, but after that, the characters take it from there. You can put them in different situations and conflicts and they’ll handle them the way they want, not the way you want. And if you try force it, to say, try to stick to your outline that you foolishly created when you thought you actually controlled the creative process, they’ll dig their heels in and refuse to obey. My book stalled for a year and half because I was forcing a male and female character to be romantically involved. Eventually, I couldn’t move forward in any part of the plot because their relationship wasn’t working. Once I cut over a hundred pages, and changed the nature of their relationship, I came to find out that the male character in the relationship was gay. Well, no wonder it wasn’t working! Once I sorted that out, the characters played nicely together for the rest of the book and plot continued on. I never looked at the outline again.

Now I have to go through that all over again with a new book and new characters. It’s kind of like getting divorced and starting over in a new relationship, trying to build a life and a new family. It’s hard. And awkward and I miss my old, familiar characters.

And how does all this relate to bananas, you ask? After all, the title of this blog entry is Happiness in the Form of Bananas? Today, in midst of my winter doldrums filled with loss and angst and heavy dose of cabin-fever, I received an unexpected bunch of bananas. Not just one or two bananas, but a large bunch of bananas. Much larger than I would ever buy seeing as how bananas are one of Dennis’ top three things he will never ever eat, right up there with sauerkraut and horseradish. When I buy bananas, I buy one or two at a time for myself.

Today I received an order from Peapod, the grocery delivery service. I don’t use them often, but the ground lamb I buy for Charlie’s dog food is four dollars cheaper a pound through Peapod than it is at the grocery store. Considering I buy it in ten pound increments, it’s a significant savings. Since I’m paying for delivery anyway from Peapod, when I order the lamb, I order a few more things for us, too.

Included in today’s meat-laden order (I got 20 pounds of lamb today because it was on sale) there was this lovely bunch of organic bananas.

bananas

I called Peapod and told them I received some one else’s bananas, but instead of sending the driver back for them, which I expected, they told me to keep them. Well, that’s kind of cool, I thought. But what am I going to do with all these bananas?

And then the creativity began to flow. Strawberry banana smoothies? Or how about banana bread? With walnuts and fresh butter? Yum. No, I know! Banana cupcakes with chocolate frosting! That’s it. Yummy and easily frozen in single portions since Dennis won’t eat them. The perfect treat.

Did I mention that Dennis and I have been dieting this winter? Nothing cheers a person up on gray, cold winter day like eating a piece of damned steamed fish. These bananas were a gift. A sign to shrug off the caloric restraints for a moment and go play in the kitchen. Psychotic rationalization of someone who’s tired of being perpetually hungry for a month? Quite possibly. Do I care? Not even a little bit.

So, on this 26 degree morning which is actually sunny and warm, (yes, I now consider 26 degrees a warm day), instead of working on the new book or finishing my revision on the old book, I’m researching banana cupcake recipes which I will bake this afternoon and consume happily later today. Probably before dinner. And then again after dinner.

Thank you, Peapod.

February 19, 2019. 10:22 PM

 

Christmas with an INFJ and Five Four-legged Hoodlums

December 21, 2018 4:03 PM

I’m not a fan of Christmas. I don’t think of myself as a Scrooge character, per se. It’s not like I begrudge other’s from enjoying the holiday season — whichever holiday it is they choose to celebrate. Christmas and all the hoopla that surrounds it just seems to touch on everything I hate. Here’s a few of the major challenges I face every year.

Socializing. My Myers Briggs personality type is INFJ. The I stands for introverted. (Read more about INFJ in I Always Knew I was an Odd Duck )That means I don’t like large gatherings of people of any kind. I define a large gathering as a guest list with over four in attendance. Unless there are playing cards involved. Then I’m good with six, maybe seven in attendance at the most. Since most Christmas get-togethers involve more than four people and do not involve playing cards, I generally avoid them whenever possible.

Awkward gift-giving. When you give a gift and they don’t – or worse, they give a gift and you don’t. I realized this year that I inadvertently put myself and my neighbor in this position.

My neighbor has dogs. I have dogs. We’ve become a bit friendly in the past couple of years because of our conversations about the dogs — as in are your large, unleashed German Shepards going to eat my small Pomeranian mix? And I’m really sorry my old, cranky Bichon Mix bit your unleashed miniature poodle who wandered into my yard while my dog was leashed.

Seriously. My neighbor is a very nice guy. Who doesn’t leash his dogs. But I like dogs and his dogs are friendly, friendlier than mine are, so it’s all good. Last fall, around early November, I had accumulated a bunch of new toys that my dogs didn’t like for whatever reason. I put them all in a bag and gave them to the neighbor thinking his dogs might like them. Christmas Eve last year, the neighbor showed up with doggie gift boxes for my dogs and, horror of horrors, I had nothing for him. Not so much as a Christmas card (because I don’t send Christmas cards). I was so embarrassed. I’ve been embarrassed for the past year because of my faux pas. I was determined that it wouldn’t happen again this year.

I shopped in early December and bought doggie toys for the neighbor’s dogs. (No, I didn’t buy him three leashes, although I was tempted). I wrapped some of the toys and put bows on the gift boxes. I’ve been ready for him to stop over with his Christmas gift for two weeks. This afternoon, I saw he was outside so I sent Dennis out with the bag of gifts for his dogs. I even put in a Christmas card. (I got several sent to me when I donated to an animal fund).

When Dennis gave the gifts to the neighbor, the neighbor looked at the bag in horror and said, “Oh no, not again this year!”

Oh my God. The neighbor misinterpreted my dumping off gently used dog toys last year as an early Christmas gift! He was reciprocating my used toys with his Christmas gift last year. It’s like the reverse Gift of the Magi. Neither one of us wants to exchange Christmas gifts but we’re doing it anyway.

God, I really hate Christmas. INFJ’s don’t have nearly enough tact or social skills to deal with these kinds of situations. (Doug, if you happen to read this blog, please don’t reciprocate with a gift this year. We’ll call it even and ignore Christmas next year!)

Christmas Cards. I like getting mail as much as the next guy, but then there’s the problem of what to do with the cards I receive. Do I put them on the mantle and let the cats knock them down and the dogs chew the paper? Do I scotch tape them to a door frame and let the cat chew the scotch tape, knock down the cards and have the dogs chew them? It seems like a shame not to display them. And it seems like shame to read them and throw them away. So I end up tucking them away in my bill box for a month until I need the space for all the Christmas bills that are pouring in and I throw them away in February and feel guilty for not enjoying them more. Only an INFJ can feel guilty about a Christmas card.

I did send Christmas cards once upon a time when I still bowed to the social expectations of the holiday. I didn’t enjoy it. I never knew what to say. I always ended up sending them out on the 23rd so most people didn’t get their card before the holiday anyway. Slowly, I parsed down my list to only the really old relatives who would be offended if they didn’t get one. Now those relatives are all dead, so I don’t send out any cards out any more. I know that probably sounds tactless and harsh, but it’s the truth. If you don’t get a Christmas card from me, don’t be offended. Be flattered. You’re not old in my eyes.

Holiday Decorating. This one is probably the greatest bane of my holiday hate-list. I do not like decorating anything. Houses. Christmas Trees. Cookies. Don’t like decorating any of them. Christmas is nothing if not all about the decorating.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a nicely decorated house for Christmas. I just don’t want to do it. And I don’t have a talent for it so when I did do it, it didn’t look very good. Plus, there’s the five four-legged hoodlums that rule the house which would destroy a Christmas tree and, more importantly, make themselves sick from eating stuff they’re not supposed to. One cat eats ribbon, tinsel and bows. Two cats eat plastic. All of them eat yarn. One dog steals whatever is dangling within his reach and eats it. Any Christmas decoration I have has to be something that’s not tempting to eat, chew or climb. That leaves this.

xmas

This is a small ceramic Christmas tree I bought for my mom at a craft fair thirty-two years ago. We unplug it and put it in a cabinet every night so the four-legged hoodlum cats can’t knock it off the table.  There’s also a small fabric Christmas tree on the kitchen table which you can sort of see in the corner of the picture. It’s crooked and bit sad seeing as how I’m not the greatest seamstress. It’s also bare, since a hoodlum cat pulled off all the bows last year, and I had to remove the bells because another hoodlum cat was trying to eat them, but at least it’s something.

Holiday Baking. I like to cook. I do not like to bake. It’s fussy and it requires lots of measuring which means lots of things to wash. However, I do have fond memories of Christmas cookies and do feel that having a few of the standby’s are a necessity for Christmas. So I suck it up and bake Pecan Fingers and Peanut Butter Blossom cookies every year. On a good year I’ll do a roll out sugar cookie and decorate it with colored sugar which is much quicker than going the royal icing route.

One thing I do like about holiday baking is I get to look through the baking section of my recipe books which is something I don’t do very often since I don’t bake very often. It’s like looking through a scrapbook. I have many, many handwritten recipes from my mom, my grandma, my aunt and even a great aunt.

aunt gladys2

My mom baked a batch of cookies for Christmas as a gift for me eleven years ago. My Aunt Gladys made them for me when I was little and I love them. Mom included the original handwritten recipe for the cookies and these pictures. My mom’s handwriting is on the top gift tag. The picture is of my Aunt Gladys (in the middle) my mom when she was fourteen (on the right) and her cousin, Myrtle, (on the left) in downtown Milwaukee. The year is 1943. I love the hairstyles and street car in the background.  The picture on the right is of my Aunt Gladys in her later years in 1975.

 

aunt gladys

This is the original recipe written in my Aunt Gladys’ handwriting. I don’t think I’ve ever made the recipe myself because they’re super putzy.

stangels

My grandma’s original recipe for Stangels, a German cookie with walnuts and meringue on top. Love these and I may get ambitious yet this year and make them. 

almond cookie

Also my grandma’s recipe card for Almond Cookies. They’re hard to make, almost like making a pastry crust with ground almonds. They were my dad’s favorite and I made them a few times for him after my grandma died. Since they’re hard to make and require rolling out the dough to cut them out and decorating, I haven’t made them in years.

 

This year I ran across a cookbook my kindergarten teacher made for my class in 1971. All our mother’s sent in their favorite holiday recipe and the teacher compiled it in a book. I remember we got to draw a picture of ourselves at the bottom of the recipe. My picture is really big. Apparently, I had no problem with self-image at the age of 5.

kinder cook

Dig that funky seventies wallpaper cover! I remember picking that pattern out. I picked it because I liked the pink and orange combination. I still do like pink and orange together.

kinder 2

me

There I am! An artist, I am not, even back then. It’s funny, but I don’t think my mom ever made this recipe. If she did, I don’t remember it. And who puts raisins in Snickerdoodles? C’mon, Mom! 

paul

This one made me sad. Paul was my first best friend and he taught me how to ride a two-wheeler bike. Paul passed away, far too young, around twenty years ago.

Which brings me to my last Christmas complaint. Melancholy. This time of year is a hard one for many people and many people have much more difficult circumstances to over come than I do. They deal with true tragedy — like I’m sure Paul’s family does this time of year. I don’t deal with tragedy. I deal with the passage of time and the losses that inevitably occur because of it. Especially if one is lucky enough, like I have been, to experience the passage of time for the past fifty-two years.

Most of the time I do not struggle with sadness and depression, but the holidays do tend to hit me a bit harder than they used to since my son is grown and moved away and my parents have passed away. Dennis and I were talking about this the other day, and I reminded him that we have to remember we are in the good years of life. We’ve lost some people in our lives, but we are together and healthy and someday, when we’re old and possibly alone because one of us has died, we’ll look back on these Christmases we grumbled about as the “good times.”

Did I mention that INFJ personality types are supposed to the perfect personality to be a counselor? I think I’m missing that aspect of the personality type. All my patients would be suicidal after a couple of sessions with me.

In spite of the parts of Christmas I don’t like, I do very much like seeing my son for the holidays and all the fun and non-social activities that go along with it. I look forward to it all year and I cherish the memories during the following one. That’s the part of Christmas to hang on to.

Tonight is the Winter Solstice. I am a fan of the solstices, winter and summer. It’s a time when I look back on the 6 months from the last one and take measure of where I’m at. Yay or Nay? Yay means things are as good or better than they were six months ago. Nay means they’re worse.

This year’s Winter Solstice? A residing Yay. 2018 is one of the good years.

5:10 PM

 

The Pet Version of Sophie’s Choice

October 29, 2018 2:51 PM

It’s been a long, long month. Very long. As in l-o-n-g. Since the end of September, Dennis and I have not been able to leave the house at the same time. I wrote a blog at the end of September, Man Plans and God Laughs, where I shared the physical problems one of my cats, Frankie was having.

After four days of waiting for test results back from the vet, I found out that Frankie’s problem is physical, but it’s not caused by an infection or urinary crystals. It’s caused by stress. The vet said this is common and it’s very hard to diagnose what stresses a cat. But it wasn’t hard for me know. I’ve known that the incessant barking when we are not home by Sammy, my dog, was stressing Frankie out. I even blogged about it when I was forced to miss a Sheepshead card party earlier in the month because of it.  I Didn’t Sign Up for This!

So, what to do? Although there are anti-anxiety drugs that are supposed to help Frankie with stress, I really didn’t want to go that route. Frankie has an amazing personality and I didn’t want to mess with that. We needed to find another option, and until we did, we vowed that one of us would stay at home with the dogs at all times so there would be no long bouts of barking. When I say “all times” I mean ALL TIMES. Sammy barks even if we are both outside at the same time and he’s inside, so any outside work that Dennis needed to do meant I had to stay inside, on the first floor, to keep the dogs company. Even my being on the second floor, where my sewing room is, causes Sammy to bark if he’s left alone downstairs. He’s a little clingy.

For the past month, showers needed to be coordinated where either one of us stayed downstairs, or I took the dogs upstairs and locked them in the bathroom with me so there were no accidents when I wasn’t looking. (For some reason, Charlie feels his housebreaking training does not apply to the second floor.)

Dennis had a few business trips during this month, because, of course, those always come up at the worst possible time. I could not leave the house during those trips, unless I took the dogs with me. Which I didn’t, because they’re not that well-behaved in the car, and I only have one dog restraint. I ended up missing two events with my writing group that I really wanted to attended. I did find a Pizza Hut that will actually deliver to our house.

It’s not like Dennis and I go out a lot anyway, but when we couldn’t go out, we found that we really wanted to.  We did take the dogs to a couple of drive-thru’s for dinner this last month when we just had to get out of the house together for a little while.

We pondered our options during the first weekend Dennis was back from him trip. There weren’t many and none were good.

  1. Drug the cat and hope that helps. NOPE. That’s the last resort.
  2. Up Sammy’s Prozac. I did do this and I have done this before and it worked somewhat, but not completely. I knew I still wouldn’t be able to relax when were out because I’d be worrying that Sammy could be barking and stressing Frankie.
  3. Find Sammy a new home. This was a horrible option that wouldn’t really solve the problem. Charlie barks constantly when he is alone in the house without Sammy. So finding Sammy a new home also means finding Charlie a new home and this is basically a death sentence for Charlie. (No one is going to take a 14-year-old dog that requires a special diet that has to be prepared every day, not to mention the crazy expensive cost of his diet and his monthly medication.)

Basically, Dennis and I faced the Sophie’s Choice of loving pets. Which pet do we choose to save, the cat or the dogs?

On a Sunday morning over breakfast, after a very stressful, sad Saturday as we tried to figure out what to do, we remembered what one of our friends suggested earlier in the month. Build a separate room in the garage for the dogs.

Could we do this? The requirements were specific and not easy. It had to be comfortable, like a room in our house, not like a kennel. Charlie and Sammy are small dogs. They’re not going to survive well in an uncomfortable garage. That means the room needs to be heated and air-conditioned  and it needed a raised floor, so the dogs don’t have to sit on a cold, cement floor.

It needed to be furnished. At least a love seat near a window and probably a rug and some pillows, too.

And, this is a critical requirement, it needs to be sound-proof. Very sound-proof because based on my past experience of locking the dogs in our finished rec room in the basement, they both bark constantly when confined. Sammy would bark anyway even if he wasn’t confined, but locking both Sammy and Charlie in a room is going to mean both dogs bark constantly.

Dennis spent that Sunday researching and estimating. At the end, he was somewhat confident that he could build a room that would muffle the barking enough to work. We thought that the cats may still hear muffled barking from the first floor, but it would be likely they wouldn’t hear it on the second floor. Cats are smart. I figured that if Frankie had a place to go to get away from barking, he would use it.

The downside of the idea is it was very labor intensive. Dennis is very handy with projects and he turned our basement into a really cool rec room. But this was a different animal. It’s a full new room that not only needs a frame, it needs sound-proofing, insulation, and drywall, lighting, electrical and A/C. We decided to also put in a heating element under the raised floor so there’d be no chance of the cold seeping up through the floors come January.  This is going to be one hell of a nice kennel.

Did I mention the other downside is that it’s going to be expensive? I have a little money from my mom’s estate and I decided that putting it toward this room is a perfect use for it. She’d want me to do whatever I could to make sure all my animals can live in harmony in my house.

Thank goodness we decided not to get the pool! Dennis had the space cleared in the garage already where we could put the dog room. By Monday, he was placing his first order with Home Depot before he flew out-of-town again that week.

Construction ensued for the next three weekends. This meant that I could not leave the house, or even the downstairs for that matter, while he worked on the room.

This dog room has nicer amenities than my house! We bought a solid core wooden 6 panel door because it blocks sound better than hollow core doors do. I have white hollow core doors in my house. We bought wood laminate flooring instead of vinyl because the heated floors work better with laminate. I have a small amount of laminate in my house that I hate the color and style of. It’s not heated. I have vinyl in my kitchen, fourteen year old white carpeting in my family room and a year-long contract with Stanley Steemer for carpet cleaning every three months to try to keep it clean with five animals. The dog room got a nice new blind for the window. My blinds are ten years old. The dog room  even has a programmable thermostat, separate from our house, that we can control via wifi. If we’re away, and I see it’s getting too hot or too cold in the room, we can alter it from wherever we are. A lot of research and planning and work and time and money went into prepping this room.

Finally, this last Friday, Dennis finished the room to the point where the dogs could use it. There’s still some cosmetic stuff, like taping the drywall seams and painting, but it was functional to use.

We were so excited! We would actually get the leave the house together and go out. Where to go first? A nice leisurely dinner out at one of our favorite restaurants? A movie? The casino? All fine ideas, but I thought we should introduce the dogs to the room gradually, so we settled for a quick dinner at our local Culvers so we could be back home in under an hour. We were so excited to be out that we took pictures at Culvers when we were there.

dennis

While Dennis doesn’t exactly look excited, he does look happy. And exhausted from building the room in three weekends.

me

I’m not good with selfies, but I think you can tell I’m pretty damn happy to be out the house after a month!

Here is a picture from the video camera we have mounted in the dog’s room. You can see the floor, the love seat, the carpet and several dog beds. There is a window next the love seat that the dogs like to look out of. And look at that floor! I love the floor. It’s nice and toasty warm, and it warms the entire room with a cozy-feeling heat. It reminds of me of how warm air feels around a fireplace. It’s really nice!

room

This is what freedom looks like in our house. You can see a bit of Sammy in the bottom left corner and Charlie is on the sofa.

The first experiment with the room went awesome! The dogs only barked when we left and they heard the garage door close. They were quiet the entire time. Apparently, sound proofing works both ways. They’re not hearing the random sounds of the house, like the sump pump or the furnace or the cats galloping around upstairs, so they aren’t barking. When they did bark, the sound was barely noticeable in the house on the first floor. As a matter of fact, Frankie was sleeping in a clothes basket in the laundry room which is by the door to the garage when we left and he never moved while we were gone. If he heard any barking it didn’t bother him enough to move. The room is a success!

We further tested the room out this weekend by having a Chinese dinner in Brookfield where we were gone close to two hours (no barking) and another dinner out last night at one of our favorite supper clubs (still no barking, even after dark, which was unheard of in the house.) I’m not sure if the room is the full cause of the new non-barking world we’re living in now. It could also be partly caused by the higher dose of Prozac Sammy is getting.  Whatever the reason, we are very grateful!

There were two unexpected bonuses to this entire ordeal and one unexpected repercussion. The first bonus is that I didn’t expect the room to end up that nice or that comfortable to be in. I’ve been wanting a quiet place to write so I am moving a small desk into the dog’s room and I’m going to use it as my writing space. Hurray!

The second bonus is after spending a solid month with Frankie and watching him closely to make sure he isn’t having problems (he’s has had none at all) Frankie has finally become a lap-kitty. I’ve been waiting for this moment for six years! Okay, I did lure him up with a knitting project I’ve been working on, but once he’s there, he stays even when he’s done playing with the yarn.

lapcat

Frankie, my very un-stressed, healthy, happy buddy, sitting on my lap. Lucy, our Tortoise Shell cat is to the right and Herbie, Frankie’s brother, is in the upper right corner. Our cats all love to hang with people.

The one repercussion that’s not so great from this project, is that I now want laminate floors that are heated in my family room. And I want new laminate flooring in my entry way and Dennis’ office. And I want to replace the vinyl in my kitchen with laminate, too.

I see more construction in Dennis’ future.

10/29/18  3:47 PM

 

Thanks, Mr. Simons

October 14, 2018 5:51 PM

This weekend, I finished reading a book I started in 1983. It wasn’t even a long book, either. Just a mere 204 pages; but it took me thirty-five years to read it.

Yesterday afternoon, after eating Chinese food from a new restaurant, I inadvertently ate something with either Oyster sauce or Fish sauce. I’m allergic to both, as in it makes my chest tight and makes it hard to breathe as if I’m having asthma, but it’s not asthma. It’s the allergy. So far, knock on wood, when this happens I’ve been able to counter-act the reaction with Benedryl. Sometimes it takes one pill, sometimes it takes two. Yesterday afternoon was a two-Benedryl reaction.

One Benedryl makes me sleepy but I can still navigate the day. Two pills puts me out for hours. Which it did yesterday afternoon, for close to three hours. This is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Last night, around 11:30 pm, I was nowhere near tired to sleep, but I was tired of tv and video games and I didn’t feel like reading the book I’ve been reading, Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. It’s a light, fluffy, fantasy story that’s fine to pass the time for awhile. I just wasn’t in the mood to read it, though.

I was in the mood to read an actual book-book, something with actual paper pages as opposed to my kindle which I use most the time. As I perused my bookcase, I happened upon a book, the book, that I started in 1983. A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

I remember very clearly starting the book in Guided Independent Reading class with Mr. Simons. I loved that class so much that I took it twice (we weren’t allowed to take it three times, or else I would have). All that was required in the class was to pick classic novels from a list, read them in class and have a conversation with Mr. Simon about them when the books were done. That was it. No papers, no essays, no tests. Just a dedicated 50 minutes of reading books of my choice for an entire semester. Did I mention how much I loved that class?

I have to admit, I was a pretty lousy student in high school (okay, and as an undergraduate in college, too). I got by with mediocre grades, putting in as little effort as I could give and still get a C or better. I don’t remember all that much about a lot of the classes I took, but I still remember many of the books I read for Mr. Simon. Lord of Flies, The Good Earth, Green Mansions (I had to keep from crying on the school bus as I finished that one) A Farewell to Arms, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and my all time favorite book, then and now, A Catcher in the Rye. 

Fresh off my reading a Catcher in the Rye, Mr. Simons suggested that I might enjoy another coming-of-age story called A Separate Peace. I enthusiastically agreed and I couldn’t wait to start the book. After several class periods, I couldn’t wait to put the book down. It was slow, it was wordy and I hated it. Absolutely hated it.

We weren’t supposed to exchange books we didn’t like in the class, but every so often, Mr. Simon would agree if we really hated a book. I only swapped out two books in the two times I took the class. A Separate Peace was the first. Catch-22 was the second.

Throughout the years, I’ve returned to the classics I loved, and read a few new ones. One boss I worked for had a beautiful collection of leather-bound Classics with pages edged in gold. The paper was of the highest quality and the books came with their own ribbon bookmarks. The smell when I cracked open one of those books is indescribable. It is the best new-book scent that I’ve ever smelled. She loaned me a few of these books and they were an absolute joy to read. I reacquainted myself with Lieutenant Henry and Catherine from A Farewell to Arms while reading one of those marvelous books. (I didn’t borrow many of them from her because I was always afraid I’d spill on them.)

At one point in the past thirty-five years, I came across a paperback copy of A Separate Peace at a bookstore and bought it and never read it. I, honestly, have no idea how long ago or how many moves it has followed me through. I never read it, but I never got rid of it either.

Last night, as I perused the bookshelf, I happened upon it again. I decided it was high time I gave the novel another look. Worst case, if it was still boring, it would put me to sleep.

I started it last night around midnight and I read half the book before I finally forced myself to go to sleep. I got very little done today until I finished it. I loved it. I understand now why Mr. Simon thought I would enjoy it. Fantastic plot, great symbols, unbelievable writing and definitely in the same neighborhood as A Catcher in the Rye. 

I can see, however, what I was put off of as a 17 year-old reading it. In spite of being short, it’s not a quick read. It doesn’t deserve to be either. The sentence structure is complex, almost poetic in it’s own way. I actually read a fair amount of the book out loud to myself, just to get the full experience of the words and images. I wasn’t patient enough, or motivated enough, to work to get through a book back then in 1983. It wasn’t work to get through it this time, but it did make me feel woefully inadequate with my own writing.

I’m glad I held on the book for however many years I’ve had it, and I’m so glad I finally read it. It’s going to be one of my new favorites. I just wish I could tell Mr. Simons how much I enjoyed his recommendation and have a conversation with him on the writing and the meanings behind the book.

6:25 PM

Man Plans and God Laughs

October 3rd, 2018

10:18 am

My house has become a high-tech monitoring facility this week, complete with cameras and a four-way live feed that I can monitor where ever I am.  It’s handy, but unnerving at the same time, having the sole responsibility to ensure all is well.

This is not the normal modus operandi of the house. Sure, we do have security cameras set-up, but we only use them when we leave the house to make sure Sammy isn’t barking constantly while we’re gone. Most of the time they’re unplugged when we’re home because being constantly recorded gives me the creeps.

This week is different. All camera’s are plugged in and carefully placed at the most critical points of the house. I have the four-way live feed up on my iPad most of the time and I have email alerts that notify me when any animal has entered quadrants 1 and 3, just in case I miss the an event on the live feed.

Inkedquad view_LI

It’s not been a fun week. It’s not been the week I was expecting at all, as a matter of fact. I remember my mom used to say, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” That pretty much sums up my week.

Dennis was out of town for several days this week for work. While I wasn’t looking forward to him being gone, I was looking forward to getting a lot of work done on the revision of my book, running some errands I’ve been putting off, and cooking myself a few meals from my mom’s recipes that I love but he doesn’t. (German meatballs with sauerkraut, and homemade apple sauce and potato pancakes made with lots of onion. Yum!) I went so far as to pull out the recipes this weekend, and gather all the ingredients I would need to execute the meals, so I could hit the ground running Monday afternoon when he flew out.

It wasn’t a half hour after Dennis left on Monday, that I noticed Frankie, the not-the-favorite-animal that I have a really big soft spot for, was visiting the litter box often. Like every few minutes often. This is never a good sign.

The next time he went in, I spied on him and saw that he was trying to urinate but he could not. I witnessed this happening  four times in various kitty boxes throughout the house in the span of ten minutes.

I freaked out. This is something I always watch for with my boy cats because I know the build up of crystals can cause blockages and that is very serious. I immediately called my vet, my wonderful vet, Pewaukee Veterinary Service. It was 4:30 pm now and I was afraid they wouldn’t take me. At first the receptionist said there were indeed booked until 7:30 when they closed, however, she transferred me over to a medical coordinator. I was expecting her to tell me to make a trip to Emergency Pet Care, which is the animal equivalent of waiting in a human ER while the most serious cases go first. I’ve only been there two horrible times before and I was dreading a third visit, on my own, because Dennis was due to fly out that night.

Thankfully, once I told the Medical Coordinator what was going on, she told me to bring Frankie over immediately and they would see him. This is the reason I love this place. The health of the animal is more important than their schedule. This is also the reason I sometimes have a longer wait there, too, for routine appointments. I never complain when that happens because I know why they’re behind schedule and I’m so grateful that I’m not the reason why. But this time I was the reason why, and it really, really scared me.

I should note that Monday night was not a peaceful night to begin with in my area. The weather forecast was predicting rain, possible thunderstorms and a good chance of flooding. Not the kind of night where I ever intended to leave the house. But man makes plans and God laughs, so there I was, driving my beloved sick cat to the vet in the middle of rush hour traffic while a deluge of rain was coming down.

I tried to stay calm so I could focus on my driving, which was difficult because there was a lot of traffic and it was dark and hard to see the lanes because of the glare of the water on the roads. Staying calm was hard and I know my hands were shaking the entire drive. I was trying not to think about blockages, tumors, cancer and surgery. Maybe it was just a bladder infection, I told myself. Please let it be a bladder infection. You know you’re having a truly shitty day, when the up-side of a situation is a bladder infection.

Pewaukee vet was very compassionate and they got us a room ready right away. They also gave us one of the two most experienced vets, one of the brothers who started the business thirty years ago. I’ve been with Pewaukee Vet since they opened their practice, and I’ve seen this vet many, many times. I have great confidence in him so I was relieved I got to see him.

They immediately took Frankie in the back room where they have their diagnostic equipment for his exam and I sat, by myself, in the exam room, craning my ears to hear snippets of what they were doing to Frankie. It was a long wait. I kept repeating over and over in my head like a mantra, “please let it be a bladder infection, please don’t let him need surgery.” I’m not sure if this is praying, exactly, but it’s the closest I come to it.

After close to a half hour wait, Dr. Jeff came in to talk to me. He said they determined there wasn’t a blockage which was great, however, they didn’t know what was wrong and his bladder was so empty they weren’t able to take a urine sample. They asked if they could keep Frankie there until they closed at 7:30 to observe him and try to get a sample. Of course, I agreed.

I left the vet’s office feeling hollow and empty. Showing up to a vet with an animal and leaving the vet without one is a horrible feeling, and it brings back horrible memories of other visits with other beloved animals who didn’t return home with me. I was still extremely upset, even though they told me they would only keep him for a couple of hours. If they found something serious, I knew that those couple hours would be extended to overnight or worse.

I took a few minutes to compose myself in the parking lot before I drove home. Driving in the heavy traffic and pouring rain while crying sounded like a bad idea. Even though it was close to 5:30, and the dog’s dinner was already a half hour late and they were probably barking up a storm at home, I waited until I felt I could drive.

Once I got home, waiting for the minutes to tick away until I could drive back and get Frankie was excruciatingly slow.  Going through the ritual of feeding the dogs helped and gave me something to do, but that only took fifteen minutes. By 6:15, they were fed and let outside, and I still had an hour before I needed to leave to get Frankie. What to do? Eat dinner? I hadn’t eaten since 11 that morning, but I wasn’t hungry at all. Work on revisions on my book? Nope. I couldn’t concentrate. I settled for watching tv, keeping the mantra running through my head, please, let it be a bladder infection, please let it be a bladder infection…

At 7:10, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I left for the vet five minutes early. I knew I would be early, but I just couldn’t sit at home anymore and besides, maybe they would be done with Frankie early, and I could take him home. Any minute I can save Frankie from being locked up in a cage in a vet’s office is worth my taking the chance of waiting longer in the vet’s office if he wasn’t ready.

Well, he wasn’t ready. But I wasn’t early either, because the drive to the vet was horrendous. It was really pouring rain now and intersections were beginning to puddle. It was even harder to see the lanes this time, because there wasn’t much traffic out and I didn’t have a car in front of me to follow.

I waited in the same room as before for fifteen minutes, while I strained to hear what might be going on in back with Frankie. Finally, I heard Dr. Jeff say they should try to get a sample again. My heart sunk. Frankie had been there all that time and they weren’t able to get a sample. Something must really be wrong.

Ten minutes later, Dr. Jeff brought Frankie back in the room in his carrier. He told me he hadn’t peed at all in his cage, which they would expect if he was having severe problems. So that was good. And they were finally able to get enough sample to test. He asked if I’d mind waiting while they ran some tests.

Would I mind waiting? Of course not! I was just so grateful they were willing to continue to work on the case after their working hours. My wait in the examining room was much better this time because Frankie was with me, and boy, was he happy to see me. I got many, many head rubs and kisses, which, of course, I enjoyed, but also gave me hope that he wasn’t too sick because sick animals aren’t generally as energetic and animated as Frankie was. His entire belly was soaked with rubbing alcohol and Frankie even let me dry him off with some Kleenex. He was as happy to see me as I was to see him.

When Dr. Jeff finally came back he said there was nothing obvious that he found that was wrong. There were no crystals, although there still could be some because they can be too small to see. But certainly nothing that would cause a blockage. I asked about the bladder infection and Dr. Jeff told me it was very, very rare to see them in cats, so he wouldn’t get me antibiotics to treat that. He said he was going to grow some cultures over the next few days to see if there was anything bacterial happening, but he wouldn’t know the results on that until Wednesday.

So where does this leave us, I asked. Dr. Jeff sent me home with an anti-inflammatory I had already given Frankie for another problem earlier that day, and pain medication I could give if things got bad. That was it. No diagnosis. No reason. Everything looked okay, which is good, but having no reason for it happening means it can happen again. I guess this wasn’t as bad a Frankie having to have surgery, but it’s a close second, because now I had to closely monitor him and see if it happens again.

I left the office with Frankie in tow, and I sent up a silent thanks to whoever or whatever might be up there intervening in this situation, for letting me bring Frankie back home with me that night. I was grateful they didn’t find anything serious, but I was overwhelmed at what that would mean for my next few days at home, alone without Dennis.

The first thing I did was to move two cameras into the spots where the cat boxes are. One downstairs, one upstairs. I turned on email notifications that tell me whenever there is activity in those rooms. Unfortunately, the turning on of a light near the cameras constitutes activity and an email gets sent. I’ve been spending a lot of time sorting through emails to see what is valid to check and what is not.

Whenever the cat box is used, by any of the 3 cats, I scoop, so I always know I’m starting with a fresh box when Frankie uses it. If the box is empty when he goes in, and there’s something when he comes out, I know everything is fine. If it’s empty when he goes in and empty when he comes out, then I know there’s a problem.

I’ve also been monitoring where Frankie is at all times, and I’ve been watching his behavior. Is he playing as much as normal? Is he sleeping as much as normal? Does he always lick himself that much? It’s exhausting and probably unnecessary, but I’m compelled to do it anyway. If Dennis were here, we would share the responsibility and he would tell me when I’m being paranoid. I’ve been telling myself I’m being paranoid, but I don’t believe myself the way I believe it when Dennis says it.

I’ve been trying to coax Frankie to drink more water. I found he’ll drink a bit of tuna water on occasion. Yesterday, he went the entire day without drinking, which had me concerned until I was watching the live feed in the kitchen from bed late last night and I saw him get two long drinks two separate times. So, apparently, Frankie is like a camel. He soaks up liquid once a day and that’s it. Although, this morning, I tempted him to drink water from a running faucet in my bathroom. He seemed to really like that, so I’m going to try to make that part of our regular morning routine.

Reviewing the recorded footage from overnight has become the first thing I do in the morning. I compare cat box visits that were recorded with cat box deposits. It’s like balancing a ledger. One visit +one deposit = no problem. Two visits + 1 deposit = cause for concern. So far, I’m thankful to report, my ledger has balanced.

Yesterday morning, I had to give Frankie an anti-inflammatory pill. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this, since Dennis and I struggle to give him a pill with both of us. Worst case scenario, I would have to drive him back to the vet and have a vet tech help me. But I really didn’t want to stress out Frankie by taking him back there, so I gave it a try on my own. He was sleeping in his cat gym, and I woke him up, popped the pill in his mouth, and shot syringe of water down his throat before he could object. It actually worked really well. I’m going to have to remember that one.

Dr. Jeff called yesterday, on his day off, to check on how Frankie was doing. I told him about our cameras, and that I knew he’d used the litter box a few times appropriately, and he didn’t have a recurrence of any problems so far. Dr. Jeff told me if he continues to not have an issue through the day, that I can skip the anti-inflammatory for Wednesday and see how he does. He still didn’t find anything growing in the culture, but he’s still waiting.

One change I have noticed throughout this, is that Frankie is becoming a bit more anxious. I firmly believe that animals pick up on the actions and the energy their people put out. I think my constant checking and staring at him for the past few days is freaking him out. So today, I’m trying to back off a bit. I still check on him, but I pretend I’m getting something from the room he’s in and just give him a quick glance or pat on the head like I normally would. It seems to be working. He’s much more relaxed today.

It’s been a long week and I’ll be glad when Dennis is home tonight. Having the potential of something happening to Frankie again when we don’t know why, weighs on me constantly. I’m afraid to leave the house, in case it flares up when I’m gone. There will be no one here to notice it, or to take him back to the vet. The errands I was going to run will have to wait another week. Okay, I did make a quick run to the drive thru at Culver’s last night for dinner. I still was too stressed to be hungry but I figured I should eat something, and I wanted to bring the dogs back a treat since they’ve had a crappy week, too. There’s been no walks or sitting outside with them, because I’m afraid to leave Frankie alone for too long.

I know I’m being paranoid, but that’s where I’m at for now. I’m sure as more days pass uneventfully, the paranoia will fade. I’m sure once Dennis is here to tell me I’m over reacting, I’ll feel better, too. It is what it is, for now. And I sure wish we had a diagnosis, so I knew what caused it to happen so I know how to prevent it in the future.

This morning, Frankie was normal. He greeted me, begged for some of the dog food and played with the other cats. I know all signs are good, and he’s probably good, too. However, this is also his first day without the anti-inflammatory med, so I’m going to keep my handy 4-way camera surveillance close at hand for another day.

frankie

Frankie enjoying our summer weather this morning.

frankie tail

Frankie hiding under the blanket to nail the next unsuspecting animal that jumps up there.

frankie foot

A Frankie foot peeking out, searching for someone to play with.

frankie loung 2

Chilling with me as I write this blog. Looks pretty happy to me.

As far as making my mom’s recipes go this week, I don’t see that happening, either. I’ll be lucky if I can motivate myself to put in a frozen pizza tonight. I did get a lot of revision work done yesterday on my book, though. The cats normally sleep in the afternoon, and I was able to keep close watch on them with my surveillance cameras while I worked. At least one of my plans worked out this week.

Man makes plans and God laughs.

11:54 AM (I gave myself extra time because I had to get up and check on Frankie four times while I was writing this.)

My Shower Buddy?

September 25, 2018

This morning I shared the shower with a man that wasn’t my husband. And it wasn’t by my choice, either.

Frankie, the not-the-favorite pet (I Didn’t Sign Up for This!) is a jumper.  When he was a kitten he had enormous feet. We were sure he would grow up to be a twenty-pound cat. But, he didn’t. He grew up to be a ten-pound cat with really big feet. A light body weight + big feet = Very High Jumping Abilities.

This cat can jump, straight up, over six-feet. I know this because I’ve had to remove pictures from the wall that he was jumping up from the floor to swat at. (Most cats like to shove things off of flat surfaces; soda cans, vases, knickknacks, etc. Frankie also likes to swat things off walls which is why I have bare spots on my walls pictures should be.) Any wall space that is within his reach when he’s on a flat surface is fair game. There is nothing over our mantle. The cute bird picture that hung in my kitchen fell prey to a swift swat from a Frankie foot off the top of the refrigerator. He even swats at the TV’s that are hung, although, thankfully, he hasn’t been able to knock one of those off the wall. Yet.

About a year ago, Frankie discovered that he could jump from the seat in our shower to the top of the railinig that holds the shower door. Since I’m not very good at describing showers, here is a picture. The top railing is two inches in width.

shower

See the top of the shower? Frankie was jumping up there.

Once he was on top of the railing, he would walk across it like he was on a balance beam, turn around and jump straight down to the floor. All on 2 inches! It scared the heck out of me every time. I was sure he was going to fall into the shower and hurt himself, or hurt himself on the way down straight to the floor. I don’t know how high shower doors are but I think it has to be at least six feet, if not more.

In order to mitigate the risk, we implemented a two-pronged approach to squelch the jumping. (A bit of my IT background just snuck out there, sorry!)

The first preventative measure was processed based. We simply would close the door to the bathroom at all times. Easier said than done. I kept forgetting and Frankie kept jumping, so I posted signs, on both sides of the bathroom door to remind me.

door

A handwritten sign stuck on a door with strapping tape is a lovely addition to any Master Bedroom decor, don’t you think?

There is a duplicate sign on the bathroom side of the door, as well.

The second preventative measure we implemented was to purchase a cabinet that would allow Frankie a path down from the railing other than jumping straight down.  Unfortunately, that also gave Frankie an easier path UP to the railing.

pathway

Frankie can go from the railing to the cabinet to the toilet top to the toilet seat to the floor. This is great fun for a cat.

Once we got the cabinet installed (we had to bolt it to the wall to make sure it was steady when Frankie jumped on it), I upped my vigilance on making sure the bathroom door was closed. Dennis even installed a sensor on the bathroom door to tell us on our smart phones if it’s opened or closed. (I think he got sick of running upstairs to check for me because I could never remember if I closed it or not.)

This has worked well for the past year. As long as I follow the process. There have been a couple of instances when Frankie came into the bathroom while I was putting my make up on and he got up to the railing again. The path down (and up!) works very well.

This morning, I was taking a shower and out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. It literally made me jump as I’m not used to things moving in the shower other than me. I looked up and there sat Frankie peering down on me from the top of the railing, with shower spray hitting him. He didn’t seem at all concerned about getting wet. He was too intent on watching me. It wasn’t that loving, your-my-human look, either. It was the judgmental, I-can’t-believe-you-ate-Chick-Fil-A-this-morning look.

I freaked out. I had soap everywhere, including in my eyes, and I’m too short to simply reach up and get Frankie down off the railing. I have to coax him down the path from the outside of the shower. What to do? Call for Dennis to get him down? Too risky. Dennis was downstairs and my yelling could startle Frankie and cause him to fall. Get out all soapy and coax him down? Yeah, possible, but not my first choice. I settled on finishing my shower in record time, keeping eye contact with Frankie the whole time and using my Mom-voice to tell him not to move.

Once I got out, I was able to carefully coax him down (I figured the railing must be slippery because it was wet) with his favorite bath toy, a bath scrunchie. I held one hand up to try to catch him if he fell while he manuvered his way across the railing and down to the cabinet. Whew. All’s well that end’s well, but that wasn’t how I expected my day to start. I guess that’s my penance for eating to Chick-fil-A for breakfast.

I think I’m going to have to post a sign on the shower, too, reminding me to close the bathroom door!

frankie

After his exciting morning on the shower, Frankie curled up on his pillow and went to sleep. He was still damp, but he didn’t seem to mind.

 

10:24 AM

 

 

 

 

I Didn’t Sign Up for This!

September 23, 2018 8:20 AM

Last night, I did something that I haven’t done in probably fifteen years; I babysat. The dogs. I guess, technically, it’s not babysitting when they’re your own furry kids, but it still felt like it. There was some place I would rather have been, but I couldn’t go, because Sammy can’t be left alone for over an hour without barking. Dennis got to go and I got stuck at home minding the kids. This wasn’t what I had in mind when I got a dog.

FC10B0FA-2FAD-42AC-9EE6-CABBB26BD52B

Sammy, the problem child.

Although, I have to admit, a lot things came along with parenting my non-furry child, as well, that I didn’t expect. I guess that’s just part of being a parent regardless of the species you’re parenting.  Being there for whatever comes along, good or bad.

the pack

The rewarding part of parenthood. Sammy, snuggled on my lap outside by the fire.

I am especially happy that I didn’t grumble at my kennel for the mix-up when Dennis and I traveled to Philadelphia the week before last, because they saved me this week. You can read about it here Bucking the Universe – Part 3. There is someplace important that Dennis and I need to be on Thursday. Instead of just picking up and going, which is what most 50-something empty-nesters do, I had to arrange for childcare. My kennel was the only option given the amount of time we needed to be gone.

I called them and explained the situation. Even though it was a last-minute arrangement, they agreed to take the dogs for the day. That was a relief, however it also means that our day needs to revolve around the time frame of the pick-up and drop-off times at the kennel. Because of our situation, the kennel was very nice and agreed to let me drop the dogs off at 7 am (normally, the drop off is 8, but there’s a three hour drive involved in our destination, so we needed to leave as early as possible.) An overnight wasn’t possible on Wednesday or Thursday at the kennel; I checked. So, we’ll do what every parent does. We’ll do what we have to do and make the best of it.

However, this means that we will drive six hours-ish and we’ll have about 3 1/2 hours at our destination. Not ideal, but it’s the best option I could come up with, other than me staying home again, which isn’t an option I’m willing to consider this time. I’m crossing my fingers that we don’t hit heavy traffic on the way home and miss our pick up time. I honestly don’t know what the kennel would do if that happened since they don’t have space for them to stay the night. I figure that the travel gods owe me one after the Philadelphia trip, so, hopefully, it’ll be okay.

We do need to come up with a long-term solution to this problem, however. Last time this happened, we put Sammy on 10 mg of Prozac for six weeks. It did solve the problem, we were able to leave for a day, have a pet sitter check in with him a couple of times, and he was fine. No barking. However, it took away his personality, too. There was no Sammy-spark. He didn’t play with toys and he slept most of the time. It was like he went from age 2 to age 15 overnight. That’s not a good long-term solution.

This time, we’re still trying Prozac, but the vet cut the dosage to 5 mg. We have noticed a marginal improvement in the barking when we’re gone, but only for about an hour to an hour and a half, max. He starts to get nervous at 1 hour and he starts pacing the house. When he does that, I know that barking isn’t far behind.

Other options we’ve considered:

1.  Enroll the dogs in doggy daycare. Probably won’t work since neither one gets along with other dogs. Charlie barks and  growls at other dogs, Sammy just barks. They would both get a ‘N’ for Needs Improvement in the Works and Plays well with Others category on their kindergarten report card.

2.  Hire a babysitter to stay with them. This one might have merit, although it sounds really dumb to have to hire a babysitter to stay with a dog. I have to think it would be a pretty sweet babysitting gig for a 14-year-old. The problem with this one goes back to the doggy day care problem. In addition to not getting along with other dogs, Sammy doesn’t like new people. And by new people I mean he barks his head off at anyone that comes into the house that isn’t Dennis or me or our pet sitter. It doesn’t matter how many times he’s seen them, he still barks non-stop. The barking duration will be shorter, say fifteen minutes, if he’s somewhat familiar with a person. Fifteen ear-splitting, brain piercing, teeth-grinding minutes. The pitch Sammy hits when he barks is just a tad higher than a smoke alarm’s shriek and he’s easily as loud. This is the best case scenario. If the person is a stranger, he’ll bark non-stop until they leave. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a sweet gig for a baby sitter.

To avoid the constant barking at the babysitter, I’d have to get Sammy to get comfortable with them before we left him alone. I’d have to have the babysitter over several times a week, in half hour stints until Sammy got to know them. Which would take a couple of months. That sounds like a lot to expect from a 14-year-old baby sitter. Not to mention we’d have to teenager-proof our house. Lock up the liquor and lock down all the smutty cable channels. (I was flipping through stations looking for something to watch last night and I was amazed at the amount of porn available for only $9.99 at the click of a button. Even the descriptions of the programs were R-rated!)

3. Build them their own space apart from the house, so when Sammy barks, the cats aren’t affected. Poor Charlie would still have to deal with it, though. This idea is actually new; a friend suggested it Dennis last night. It is doable since we have a lot of room in our now-clean, 3-car garage. That empty space was meant for the pool, which probably isn’t happening now, and even if it does, it’ll go in rec room not the basement.

Dennis could build a wall and parse off a smaller room in the garage where we could insulate and put carpeting down. We can heat and air condition it through a free-standing heater that’s safe to run all the time (we have them in the bedroom because it always seems to be too hot or too cold on the second floor). We could bring up the old love seat from the rec room and put it by the window. They could look out the window and sleep on it (assuming Sammy ever calms down enough to sleep). I’m not sure this would work in the dead of winter because I think the floors would still be too cold, but it’s definitely an idea that has merit. I am concerned about Charlie being stuck with the barking, but he is anyway in the house, so I don’t know that it matters that much. I would leave Charlie in the house, and put Sammy in the his doggy-den, but Charlie barks non-stop without Sammy.

4. Put the dogs in the rec room so there’s more distance between the barking and the cats. We’ve tried this and both dogs bark non-stop in the rec room. Charlie is louder than Sammy, so the barking is still pretty loud even on the second floor.

5. Do nothing, let Sammy bark; it’s not like it’s a life or death situation. This is the one option I cannot do. Frankie, one of our cats (and Dennis would say my favorite animal although, like any mother, I say I love all my animals equally) gets very stressed with the barking. Even if we didn’t have cameras in the house to monitor what the dogs do when they’re alone, I would know if Sammy barked a lot just by how Frankie acts when we get home. He’s reluctant to come down stairs and when he does, he slinks around and is clearly nervous. This passes in a few hours if Sammy has been barking a short time. The one time we let Sammy bark for 5 hours when we were gone, it took Frankie days to recover and I was afraid he never would. I was so happy when he got back to normal. (Okay, maybe there is a teeny bit of favoritism, but don’t tell the others.)

20180521_105552_1527014068207_resized

Frankie, my buddy.

6. Hope he grows out of it. The is the last-ditch resort, but it is possible. Sammy is still young, and like raising kids, some challenges just have to run their course.

7. Train him not to bark when we are home, so I could give the command to be quiet through the camera’s when we’re gone (they have two-way microphones). Sounds great in theory, but like many child-rearing philosophies, it’s not so easy to put into practice. I’ve tried saying “no” firmly, but I don’t even think he hears me over his own barking and having me scream “No” at the top of my lungs combined with Sammy’s barking, isn’t something the cats or Dennis want to experience.

I’ve tried threatening to put him outside if he doesn’t stop. This wouldn’t help when we’re not home, but it would help when people come over. I even followed through on my threat, because, you know you have to follow through if you want the kid to know you mean business. All that putting him outside did was to get the neighbor’s 3 dogs to join into the barking. While this whole “doggie grapevine” thing is cute in Disney movies, it’s as annoying as hell in reality.

I admit it, I’ve even tried bribery. There are gadgets which allow you to talk to your pets and dispense treats remotely. I gave him a chew toy filled with cheese to distract him. It didn’t. I tried throwing down his doggie treats. He ignored them. I fed him some deli meat which he stopped barking long enough to choke down, about 2 seconds, before he started barking again.

There’re shock collars, which I won’t do. No corporeal punishment in our house. There’s a citronella collar that our vet recommended that spritzes citronella every time he barks. The theory is dogs don’t like the smell of the citronella so they don’t bark. I would consider this option except for one thing. I have two dogs and both dogs bark. Sometimes Charlie barks first, when Sammy is quiet. This means Sammy will be spritzed with Citronella regardless of whether he barks or Charlie barks. Sounds like a pretty fun game for Charlie, but I don’t think I can do that to Sammy.

I was researching this problem online last night and several sites suggested that we trade-off dog watching services with friends who have dogs. We keep their dogs for a weekend and they keep ours a different weekend. I can just imagine asking a friend to take my yappy, unfriendly dogs; one who needs a special diet and eye drops once a day and the other who needs Metamucil and a pill everyday. Oh, and by the way, did I mention that they both both piddle around a new house to mark their territory? Charlie will claim the leg of the couch then Sammy will claim the leg of the couch and the footstool, then Charlie claims the leg of the couch, the footstool and the end table and so on. Remember that memory game where each person adds an item to a list and the first person who forgets an item loses? My dogs would rock at that game.

Trading off dog watching services probably isn’t in our future. I’m just hoping that one of these other solutions works so I’m not stuck home, babysitting the dog for the next fifteen years or so.

Much like becoming a parent for the first time, I had no idea what I was in for when I got a dog.

9:27 AM

The Rush of Creating Something New

September 15, 2018 3:37 PM

Earlier this month, I accomplished a goal that I’ve wanted for a very long time. I finished the rough draft of my book. When I typed the words, “The End”, I had written 297 pages, and 91,644 words.  I was very, very happy. For about three days.

After three days, I started missing my characters. I felt like I lost friends that I’d spent years with. Feeling this way makes absolutely no sense because even though the rough draft of my book is complete, the book is far from done. It’s a rough draft. Which means revision needs to happen, many times, probably, to get to the final draft. I am still spending plenty of time reading, editing, rewriting and tweaking my book. I’m with my characters almost every day because I am working on revisions almost every day.

But I’m not creating any more new content. I might add a little extra something to a scene, but the story line is done. I know how it ends. There’s nothing new left, and I miss the rush that comes from creating something new.

I talked with my writing coach about this yesterday, and she said it was common for writers to feel the way when they finish the rough draft. She also cautioned me about starting another book just for the rush of creating. She said that’s how books never truly get finished. They sit in rough draft form forever because the fun part is done.

I can see that, although, I really am itching to start on book 2 of the series. I wasn’t sure there would be a book 2 when I committed to completing the rough draft earlier this summer, but now I’m sure. There will absolutely be a book 2. Even if I write it just for myself. But I won’t start it now. My writing coach is an author who has published many books of her own. I trust her judgement so I’m delaying starting book 2 for now.

But I still have that itch to create. What to do? Make a new quilt? I could, but I have two unfinished quilts already that have been sitting while I dedicated the summer to writing. Write something else? A short story, perhaps? Maybe, but I have a writing submission due to my critique group on Sunday that I should work on first. How about cooking? I like to cook, but I haven’t done much out-of-the-ordinary cooking like recipe testing/creating since I dedicated the summer to writing.

Cooking it would be and I knew just what I wanted to try to make. Deep-fried Swiss and Rye on a stick that I get at State Fair. Earlier this summer, I wrote a post entitled To Fair or Not to Fair, That is the Question, where I discussed my love, no, not love, obsession with deep-fried Swiss and Rye. Us Wisconsin-ites are known for our deep fried, batter coated, heart-attack-inducing cheese treats, but the Swiss and Rye takes deep fried cheesy love to another level. The batter isn’t light and crisp like you normally find on a deep fried cheese curd. It’s thick and flavorful, kind of like the batter used on a corn dog, only rye-ier.

Often, as I said in my fair post, my husband and I go to the Wisconsin State Fair on multiple days and part of the reason is so I can get the Swiss and Rye more than once per season. For the same reason, we sometimes go to our local county fair, so I can get the Swiss and Rye. This year has been a busy one, and we did’t get multiple fair visits in. Nor did we go to multiple fairs. I got one, ONE, Swiss and Rye this year, which I shared with Dennis. (I rarely share my Swiss and Rye. I wait for it all year and when I finally get it, it’s mine, all mine and I’m not sharing.) I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m addicted to Swiss and Rye, but I’m walking a very fine line and I know it.

Today, I decided to try to recreate the Swiss and Rye at home. I do not have a recipe. I only have the memory of the taste and texture to go by. Since the batter is very corn dog-ish, I started with the corn dog recipe from Cook’s Country, my favorite cooking site.

I tweaked the recipe quite a bit, omitting some of the cornmeal and cayenne and adding more rye flour and some water to loosen the batter up. There wasn’t much counter space left by the time I gathered all the ingredients I needed.

prep

Unlike writing, you can see the tangible effort of creating something when you cook.

 

Swiss and Rye from the fair is huge. You are served a large block of crispy, batter coated cheese. It’s roughly the size of my hand as you can see below.

swiss and rye

The is a picture of Swiss and Rye from State Fair. It’s the pinnacle of fair-food, in my opinion. (picture from Shepard Express)

I decided that my version of Swiss and Rye would be smaller. They’d be nugget sized. So I diced my Swiss cheese into 1″ by 1 1/2″ blocks. I mixed and measured. I whisked and stirred. I carefully heated my oil to right temperature. Once it was there, I battered one nugget of cheese and dropped in the oil.

It immediately started to bubble and all the batter stayed on the cheese, which was a relief. I very rarely deep fry anything, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After just a few minutes, I pulled out a perfect miniature version of Swiss and Rye.

nugget2

It’s a little Swiss and Rye Nugget! Looks a little like a hushpuppy, doesn’t it?

I anxiously, and with much trepidation, took my little nugget of heaven over to the kitchen table to try it. Would it be close to the fair food perfection I know and love? Or did I just make a big mess in my kitchen for nothing? Only one way to find out. I cut it open.

nugget1

The gooey inside of my little Swiss Nugget

What was the verdict? Not bad. The cheese to batter ratio was a bit off. I now understood why the vendor uses big chunks of Swiss cheese in their Swiss and Rye. The batter is so thick, you need plenty of cheese to stand up to it.

The flavor was good. It had the hint of the Swiss and Rye flavor, but not the full on, in your face, rye pop that I love. In writing terms, the rough draft of the book was done, but it needed some revision.

I added more rye flour to amp up the rye flavor, and then a little more buttermilk and water, to thin it out. The ratio of cheese to batter was a problem since I’d already cut up all my Swiss cheese into chunks. I dug around in the kitchen drawers and came up with some nice wooden skewers. I have no idea why I have them, but I did.

I carefully stacked three chunks of cheese on the skewer. This worked for nine pieces of cheese. A lot of the cheese pieces broke and cracked when I tried to skewer them, so I needed another method to stick them back together to create a larger chunk of cheese. Enter the toothpicks. I was able to thread two chunks of cheese on one toothpick without the cheese disintegrating. It wouldn’t be as big as the skewered pieces, but they’d be better than frying them individually. I hoped.

I brought my oil back up to temp, battered all my cheesy morsels of various sizes, and plopped them into the oil. I’m not gonna lie, there were a few casualties. Some of the cheese broke away from the skewers which meant part of the cheesy nuggets weren’t battered as they bubbled away. They floated in my oil like naked, gooey orphans. I tried to salvage them, and let them cook, but they were messing up my oil too much. Eventually, they had to be plucked from the group and thrown away. That happens with writing, too. Sometimes characters that I really like won’t play well with the other characters, and I have to pluck them out from the story, and get rid of them, too. Being creative isn’t for the faint of heart.

After a few more minutes in the oil, the rest of the cheesy survivors were ready. I scooped them up and popped them on a paper towel.

pic2

There are three chunks of cheese nestled under that crispy, golden batter. This looks exactly like the State Fair Swiss and Rye only a little smaller.

pic1

Finally! The perfect cheese to batter ratio!

I called Dennis is to come and taste test with me. We each tried the skewered ones first. When I cut it open, I could’ve sworn I was at State Fair (minus the crowds, the heat and the juggling the hot cheese while I’m walking.) The cheese to batter ratio was perfect. And the taste? Spot on! I nailed it. It was as good, if not better, than State Fair Swiss and Rye. The breading was crispy but not greasy and with the perfect amount of Rye savory flavor to meld with the hot cheese.

The toothpick ones were good, too. So good that I forgot to take a picture of them. It wasn’t as fun to eat them, however, because they had to be cut open in order to extract the toothpick. It’s more fun to eat Swiss and Rye off the stick, like it’s meant to be done.

We slathered them in dipping sauces (mustard for me, marinara for Dennis) and ate all we could, which, honestly wasn’t that much. These suckers are filling! We have plenty for left overs, although, I have no idea if they’ll be good reheated. If not, that’s okay, we really shouldn’t eat two meals of Swiss and Rye anyway. Actually, this recipe isn’t something I will make very often. I’m thinking the next time will be in January or February, when it’s below zero outside and we need a taste of summer to perk us up.

It was fun to create something this morning. It didn’t stop me from missing my characters, but it was a good creative outlet, nonetheless.  There is one down side to being creative with cooking. Clean-up. When I’m done writing, it takes me about three seconds to close my laptop and put it away. Cleaning up this disaster of a kitchen took a lot longer than that. It was worth it, though, to bring a taste of State Fair home.

stove after

Glass cook tops are great in theory, but they’re a real pain in the butt to get oil off of.

4:34 PM