putting a pet down (or, how life will never be the same)

Jack loved Christmas. Jack

Every year just after Thanksgiving, I make multiple trips out to the garage to bring in items to decorate the house. I start with a four-foot artificial tree for the family room, set up my village of homes, shops, and a church, and then get to wrapping the stair rails in garland. That’s the part of Christmas Jack loved most, the garland.

I don’t know why, none of us could figure it out, but he loved to lick and try to eat the artificial garland that wrapped around the lowest posts of the stair rail. He was a character like that, and that’s what we loved about him.

Yesterday, I had to make the awful, but necessary, decision to put Jack down. He was diagnosed with oral cancer (most likely squamous cell carcinoma) in May after I brought him in because of a swollen face, a terrible odor, and excessive drooling. His doctor wasn’t in, but he saw another and she had to deliver the news. She gave him a steroid shot and sent us home with a pill to be diluted with water and used as a wash for the open sore, a liquid medicine for the infection, and another bottle of buprenorphine for pain.

At first, he did well on the meds. The antibiotic took away the infection, the wash worked for a while, and we continued refilling the pain medicine to keep him comfortable. There were times when he looked almost normal–which if you’ve ever gone through the end of life with pets (and even humans) you’ll have noticed a second wind of sorts, when you falsely are led to believe all is well again. The facial swelling reduced and he moved from sitting atop a wing-back chair near the open window to sitting next to me on the couch every evening as I read or watched TV. He’d eat his dry food and his wet, and I’d treat him with his favorites, Temptations.

But then things took a turn for the worse–the inevitable, I’m afraid. He stopped eating his crunchy dry food, which he loved and which the doctors were surprised he even continued to eat because of his condition, and would hop off the couch and meow for his wet food a couple times a day. While eating, he’d turn his head from side to side to try to find a comfortable place in his mouth to masticate the already mashed food. It got to the point the last couple days that he couldn’t even manage his wet food, though. Sometimes, after meowing for a meal, he would walk over to his food bowl and just look at it, even if I stuck in a few Temptations, and then walk away.

But he was hungry, so a couple times, including right before I made the call, he tried eating and whether the food became lodged in the wound or he stuck himself with a tooth, I’m not sure, but he’d literally scream in discomfort and run around at full speed as if to run from the pain or dislodge the food. Yesterday, as I witnessed this, which alarmed our golden retriever and Jack’s best friend, and saw his mouth full of blood, I knew just what to do.

Jack could no longer eat without being in excruciating pain. If he could no longer get nourishment, he would starve to death, and he was beginning to show signs of this. I called his doctor’s office, but with his doc being out of town, I ended up calling the emergency vet. I then let my youngest son know. He started on his way home, and I texted my husband, who also decided to leave work. I sent a text to both daughters and then my older son, who was probably closest to Jack, especially when he was younger, calling Jack his dog. My older daughter was nearby and came over too.

We took him in and Jack went peacefully at age sixteen.

Life will never be the same around here, especially at Christmastime. When I hang the garland this year, I’ll also hang a picture of Jack on it. Jack loved Christmas, and we loved Jack.

i am failing at enjoying life (or, don’t quit your day job)

My freelance smoggy rainbowwork is slow, and since leaving my part-time day job five months ago, I have little to do that’s enjoyable. I wish I could have a do-over and take my job back, because after all the complaining I’d done about one supervisor and how things had gone to pot, things changed after I left. A new supervisor is at the helm, and all is good at the old place. If only I’d stayed.

So here I am with a serpentine schedule, some days going left, others going right. Some people would give their eye teeth to have a flexible schedule. They’d take up a hobby or continue with one they have and love. They’d travel, laptop in hand, and work whenever it was convenient to them, maybe looking out over a vast ocean or a forest filled with ferns and canopies of green. Maybe they’d squeeze in volunteer work, helping their fellow man and woman by serving food or rocking babies. They’d possibly simply take time to breathe, thanking their lucky stars for the time they have left on this earth.

But I’m not there yet. I’m sad, and after learning last week of a chronic illness I have, I’m depressed as well. The work I now have is not the work I love. I haven’t had the editing work that sustains my being in over a year. I feel I made a mistake in quitting the part-time job too and wish I had somewhere to go during the day to make my time feel valuable. I tried to get my old job back after another coworker left, but it’s obvious that the new manager does not want to make it work, even when he had an effortless opportunity to do so.

So I’ll trudge on, hoping something comes of the jobs I’ve applied to and interviewed for in recent weeks. There is hope over the rainbow. At this point, though, I’m just waiting for the rain to end.

will we be living with our kids forever? the possibilities of multigenerational living

The morning paper has a story of a San Diego, California, couple who sold their three-story home in a very nice part of town to move into their rental apartment building along with their grown kids and their children. As a mom of four in that same very-high-rent, high-cost-of-living area of the country, where two-bedroom apartments currently rent for over $2,000 a month on average and where buying an average-priced home means needing a $120,000 down payment (!) and an annual income of nearly $105,000, I am intrigued by this idea.

multigenerational picture

Unlike the couple featured in the story, however, I don’t have a handy apartment building to set everyone up in. I do, however, have a house and a small yard, and I’m starting to consider the possibilities. A tiny house, for one, stationed in a corner of the backyard could become home to a single adult or a couple. Even a large camper might do.

We also have one bedroom on the first floor whose wall was removed by a former owner that could be put back into use as a bedroom. It’s directly next to a full bath. A little engineering of walls could make this a cozy section of the house for one or two people.

Add to that a two-car garage that possibly, with a little insulation and installation of plumbing fixtures and more electric, could become a comfy 500-square-foot dwelling with its own entrance. People do stuff like this to open up airbnbs all the time. Why not make your home a complex for the family, especially if the possibility of your kids every buying diminishes by the year? It sickens me to think that cumulatively, my three kids who are out on their own fork over nearly $3,000 in rent every month. That’s money they could be pocketing and possibly saving up for a home of their own one day. Of course, if this idea of mine ever came to fruition, I’d charge the kids for rent, but it wouldn’t amount to an annual outlay of $36,000, that’s for damn sure.

The matriarch and patriarch of the Haven family featured in the article are in their seventies and eighties, so while they currently enjoy their separate apartment in the building, they know that one day, if needed, they won’t have far to look for help from family. That, to me, is a big bonus too. Sure, I want my kids to have their independence and the feeling of accomplishment of living on their own, but I’m a little selfish too in wanting them close by.

 

 

i’m becoming a glutton for gluten-free

gluten free

 

Since discovering I tested positive for an autoimmune disease in December, I have gone the way of the gluten-free diet.

The rheumatologist I visited thinks this is a fad diet, but research is on my side in that gluten can trigger autoimmune reactions whereby healthy cells are confused for non-healthy cells and their nuclei are attacked by our own immune systems. It’s been proven in the case of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that manifests in the small intestines. It has also been proven in certain forms of dermatitis, such as dermatitis herpetiformis (DH),  that, according to Providence Hospital in Oregon and Washington, “is a form of celiac disease that triggers the immune system to attack the skin, rather than the small intestine. . . . If people with DH continue to eat gluten, they also may run an increased risk of developing intestinal cancer.”

If this is true with celiac and its forms, why wouldn’t it be true with lupus, which can cause a rash, balding, and even organ failure; scleroderma and connective tissue diseases, which affect the skin, including  the linings of organs, as well as joints; and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) that attacks the lining of the intestines, for example?

To me it makes sense. It makes sense to my neurologist too, who is an innovator in vertigo and has landed on many best-doctors lists.

What to Eat?

So here I am, now buying gluten-free pasta, breads, soy sauce, pancake mix, and even Girl Scout cookies. I’m staying away from sugar as much as possible too, so sweets are just occasional treats. If I have a chip, it’s made of corn, like tortilla chips, or I reach for my favorite snack, popcorn, instead. My cholesterol was a bit up, too, recently, so off the table goes the greasy stuff, like potato chips and fries, as well as red meat and other culprits. Any diet takes discipline, but you don’t have to hit me over the head to get me to change if it means living a less-painful, longer, happier life.

What have I noticed since the new diet started? My waistline has gone down, my migraines have decreased a lot (I’ve had one in four weeks!), and my grocery bill has gone up some. Plus, I’m finding foods in areas of the grocery store I’ve never ventured in before.

Food is fuel, period. We forget that at times. It needs to give us energy and keep our bodies functioning properly. Yes, I love food as much as the next guy. I’m a decent cook and I make a lot of different dishes, from cashew chicken to spaghetti and meatballs to yellow curry and basmati rice. Some I’ve had to eliminate, but most I simply have had to modify, like using gluten-free pasta (Barilla makes a great one that’s readily available in major grocery chains; and there’s another brand, Ancient Harvest, that uses corn and quinoa, which doesn’t hold up as well or look like wheat spaghetti when cooked, but has a delicious sweet and nutty flavor).

Take note: There are lots of good-tasting foods one can eat that don’t involve wheat products or wheat-like products at all, although you wouldn’t know this if you subsisted on the regular fast-food diet. Wheat is cheap, and that’s why McDonald’s and Burger King can sell a hamburger for about a buck. But there are alternatives. Rice flour is very close to wheat flour in consistency. I use it now to coat fried chicken, which I make with olive and avocado oils with maybe a bit of corn oil to make it stretch.

I am fortunate to have a couple grocers nearby that stock plenty of options when I am craving a slice of bread. Just this morning for breakfast I had Udi’s cinnamon raisin bread that tasted very close to the real thing, if, that is, wheat is considered “real” and everything else is not, which we’ve been led to believe all these years.

Yes, a lot of these products cost more, Cream of Rice, for example, instead of Cream of Wheat, but if your health isn’t worth it, what is?

do i have an autoimmune disease? my first visit with a rheumatologist

After a blood test for autoimmune antibodies (ANA) ordered by my gynecologist turned up positive, I went about hunting down a rheumatologist. I settled on one nearby and saw her this past week.

question mark

She started by telling me that 15 percent of positive ANA tests are false. And she questioned a bit suspiciously why I even had the test. From what I’ve read, many people present to their doctors with aches and pains and doctors won’t typically call for an ANA test. Maybe because it can be alarming to get the result? I told her my doctor has known me for thirty years and thought it unusual for me to complain of pain. I didn’t mention that this OB/GYN has witnessed me give birth with absolutely no pain meds.

She did an exam, noting my stiffness and slightly swollen knees. She ordered up eighteen blood and urine tests to narrow down this thing. She ran through my family history. I had a grandmother whose ankles and knees were crippled for as long as I’d known her, a mother who developed a thyroid condition late in life as well as breast cancer and who had high blood pressure, and a father who died of a heart attack and had angina and high blood pressure. My bp has always been good, as has my heart rate and oxygen levels. My cholesterol, however, has been slightly higher than it should be.

Not sure how I feel about this doctor. I started a gluten-free diet a month ago and mentioned it to her, but she shrugged it off, calling it a fad. I don’t agree. From what I’ve read, autoimmune diseases are linked to irritation. If gluten causes irritation, why not cut out gluten? I told her my neurologist, someone she had just commented was a good doctor, suggested a gluten-free diet. So, there!

I started going to a gym just yesterday, and I actually like it. There’s a gentle yoga class at a nearby branch I’m going to observe today, if that’s possible, to see if it’s something I want to or can do. I’ll also hop on a treadmill and a cycling machine for about an hour’s worth of a workout. I’m determined to hit this thing head on and not wait it out, hoping for the best, putting my faith in conventional-doctors’ hands, praying that it’s nothing, doing little if anything concrete to put it in check.

I’m eager to find out what the next set of blood tests reveal. I’m hoping for all negatives, but I’m too realistic to put much trust in that hope.

letting go of a job (or, sometimes you have to see what’s out there to appreciate what you have)

quitting jobI quit my part-time job, the one I took nineteen months ago in a public library. It was a good thing while it lasted, but the negatives nipped at me over time, creating a hole too big to repair. So now I’m back editing full-time from home.  And I couldn’t be happier.

A library is a great place to work if you’re a heavy reader. It’s also great if you’re introverted, as 90 percent of the other workers there are as well. It fit me to a T. I enjoyed helping patrons and shelving, which the majority of the job involved, but bending, kneeling, getting up from kneeling, reaching, and stretching became progressively more difficult for me. And the heavy-lifting part of the job, which comprised about 10 percent of the work, was not good on my body at all. It entailed setting up two-piece tables, moving even heavier tables, taking metal and molded-plastic chairs off racks taller than I am, and then putting them back when the event was over.

The carpal tunnel syndrome I’d had for twenty years went from occasional numbness and tingling to full-on pain that wakes me up at night and lasts for forty minutes straight (think shooting electrical charges from your wrists to your fingers). I began seeing my neurologist for injections to numb the pain. I put up with the discomfort and the doctor visits so I could stay on the job. I didn’t want to have to quit because of this.

Then I lost a couple coworkers who were my age to promotions, and the new hires were less than adequate, one being a teenager, one being a recent college grad with almost zero work experience, and both of whom, from the beginning, thought nothing of taking days and days off without finding someone to cover for them. Anytime we would mention to our supervisor, who hired the new young women, something the new hires did that went against training or common sense and needed to be corrected,  we were given excuses for the behavior and, worse, we were told it was OK.

This attitude can only breed discontent in longtime employees, and after one of my friends left for a full-time work-at-home job, I questioned why I stayed, especially given the fact that our supervisor didn’t see anything wrong with certain workers (that is, the ones she hired) taking excessive time off, needing extra instruction on how to do the most simple tasks,  or not completing required tasks. When we were left to work shifts by ourselves because one of the new hires “needed” a day off, we were told to just do it. But recently when one of the new hires was left to work a shift by herself, the supervisor immediately sent out an email asking if anyone could assist. How is that not the most obvious double-standard ever?

It was also obvious that this supervisor, who is pretty new herself, would stick up for the people she hired over the ones who had been there a while. She, in fact, told one of my friends that she isn’t going to respect seniority as a reason for anything anymore. How much more do we need to be beaten over the head to realize we don’t matter to her?

I was proud of the position for a long time even if it was entry level. The library is in a well-to-do, beautiful area where people expect efficiency and order. They ask for help in finding books or movies and expect the aides to know where to direct them. Someone seventeen years old is not going to have the same depth of knowledge of literature and movies as a fifty-six-year-old, nor could she even legally see half the movies on the shelves!

So when I put the feelings of being devalued together with my health issues coupled with the increase in our health-care expenses to correct them, the poor pay, the long commute, the wear and tear on my older car and my older body, it just didn’t add up to a great result. The nail in the coffin was the day my supervisor called me in to ask if I’d said something to the seventeen-year-old that hurt her feelings.  I did not say it, but that is how the mind of a teenager works. People that age are just not equipped to deal with a gamut of expressions, emotions . . . well, life in general. So that very day, I made my move and told my supervisor that I was leaving. I was devastated to be accused of something I didn’t do, and it was right there and then that I knew I no longer belonged in that job. Things would not get better with this woman at the helm.

I made some amazing friends there, but it’s a public library. I can go back and see those people during open hours. I just won’t also have to put up with the negatives that developed over time. It’s so true that sometimes you have to experience what’s out there to realize how good you have it.

 

my silver linings playbook for the new year

new-years-ball

Here we are again at the start of a year that will, from the looks of things, be full of changes and challenges. I see some good things on the horizon, like paying off a big loan this year, and I see some things that could be horrific (I already touched on that back in NovemberBut one thing I would like to accomplish this year is being more grateful and in being grateful, I cannot focus on the negative. I must find those silver linings even if I have to look through hundreds of dark clouds to do so.

How this year will be different:

  • I will write at least one blog post each week, and I will end one posting with three things I am thankful for that happened that week, even if it’s that the cats only threw up three times or that I was in line at the DMV for forty minutes less than usual.
  • I will explore my city more and enjoy the great things it has to offer. In other words, I’ll appreciate what is available to me. I live in a part of the country that people fly and drive to from all over to visit, but I sit at my desk and work in my house day in and day out, some weeks barely getting out more than a couple times and within a five-mile radius of home. I choose to go someplace fun each week. Even if I have to take my laptop with me to work there, I will get out and see this city.
  • I will not belabor bad things I have no control over. The dilemma of anxious control freaks such as myself is we worry about everything, much of which we can’t control. Unless ruminating over the horrible consequences of something that may or may not happen is actually going to help put a plan into action, I choose to not waste my time and the finite space within my brain worrying about it.
  • I will not feel as though everyone’s life is so much better than mine and be envious of the good things that happen to them. I have a terrible habit of doing that: I’ll hear something positive that a friend of mine has accomplished, like she got a new job or a new kitchen or a new car, and I’ll compare my crappy sporadic paychecks with hers or my fifteen-year-old vehicle to that shiny new one sitting in her driveway and feel bad about myself. Well, no more of that. I have been trying hard to get more and better work and I could afford a new car and a kitchen if I wanted one, but it’s not all that necessary right now. So no more comparisons. I will feel happy for her, and that’s all.
  • I will realize that others’ lives are not all they appear to be and be thankful for what I have and when things go well. A friend of mine who I never think has to struggle as much as I do told me a story of something frightening that happened to one of her children when he tried to do the right thing a few weeks ago. On the outside, her life looks better than mine, but I went home that night and thanked the heavens that I don’t have a child struggling with such an issue right now. My kids may not have the greatest jobs or be in fulfilling relationships, but at the same time, they’re not in difficult, dangerous situations either.

And that brings me back to my premise of feeling grateful for the things that are good in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for and this week, for me, it was:

  1. Having my healthy, well-rounded, smart kids around me over the holidays and getting to reconnect with friends and family members I don’t get to see all the time.
  2. Getting to enjoy a nice lunch with a view and a walk with my husband on New Year’s Day.
  3. Being alive and well.

Goodnight.