Here and gone

I’ve been stalling on writing this post. After I made optimistic plans for Darby’s future, it turned out that she had no future. The x-ray she was scheduled for that same week I wrote the last post showed some suspicious looking spots on her lungs, but also an enlarged heart. The vet also confirmed my suspicion that she already had another mammary tumor. On the phone, we talked about having an ultrasound done, both to get a better idea what was going on with her heart and a better look at those spots on her lungs.

That Saturday afternoon Darby collapsed while trying to hop up on the couch after I brought her and Ramses in from their yard. It was hot out, and although I didn’t have them outside very long (I was out there with them, and when I was ready to come in I decided they were, too.), I hoped Darby was just suffering from a little overheating. Except she never really recovered.

I got her to the vet Monday morning, and after another chest x-ray, the vet called to say her lungs were filling with fluid — they’d been clear on Thursday. She told me that there was no way to do anything about Darby’s cancer because of the congestive heart failure, and that her heart was already too damaged to fix. She said Darby might have as long as six months, but she would not be the same dog. She also said how shocked everyone at the clinic was by how much Darby had changed in the few days since they’d last seen her.

Darby came home in “hospice care,” with medication to get the fluid out of her lungs. One of the vet techs had to carry her to the car. One of my neighbors had to come across the road and help carry her into the house.

She died in her sleep the next night.

Educating Darby

In her previous home, Darby led the good life. She had other dogs her size to play with and got to go running on the beach every day. She also, apparently, didn’t have to do much of anything she didn’t like. Take grooming, for starters. “Oh, no. That pulls my hair. Hurts. Don’t do don’t do don’t do!” Head jerking this way and that to keep me from getting anywhere near her face with a TOWEL! Comb? Scissors? Forget it.

Darby at her shaggiest

Darby at her shaggiest

Same with her feet. Trim toenails? NNOOOoooooooooooooooo! Thankfully, I’m persistent. To the point of stubborn. If she wants to pull her foot away, I’ll just grab it again. It came down to me just holding her foot until she relaxed, then bringing the clippers closer, and waiting her out again until the new panic attack subsided. Over and over and over.

A few times I had to just practically sit on her to pin her long enough to get one foot “done,” as in toenails trimmed, mats clipped out from between toes, etc. When I was successful, she would sometimes go through a sea change and let me comb that foot a few days later without all the histrionics. Oh, she can be a drama queen.

I was told I needed to “get tough with her,” but I figured that would just make matters worse. I decided good old quiet, calm, dogged, pig-headed persistence was the answer.

Did I mention that Darby is a sensitive flower? She cowers at a harsh tone of voice, drops to her belly in a boneless, seventy-five-pound heap of unhappy if she gets confused about what I’m trying to get her to do. Not optimal when trying to teach “Stand,” so I could comb her belly.

I never let her decide when it was time to quit, but when I did stop “torturing” her (usually because my back was killing me from leaning over), I gave her lots of praise and special treats, then put her in her crate with a few more special treats and gave her time to calm down.

She’s been here over a year, now, and things have changed. She still doesn’t love having me comb her face and trim her nails, but she tolerates those things better all the time. The shorter hair-cut helped keep her hair from matting as quickly. Fewer mats mean less hair-pulling and pain. She’s about due for another trip to the groomer, by the way.

Now it’s time for “big dog” training. Learning to heel and stay, sit without me having to push her butt to the floor, answering reliably to her name, walking on leash like a respectable individual. Yeah, this is going to take a while.

It won’t be the kind of good life she had before, but it will be a good life with me.

Dragging Mount Rushmore

Headlines are funny things, aren’t they? Sometimes trying to come up with a title for a blog post is a challenge, although for me it’s easy most of the time. The consequences of some of the titles I’ve thought up are another matter. But more on that later.

Since I’ve been dealing with a writer’s block the size of Mount Rushmore, I wanted to use Mount Rushmore in the title. Something like “Mount Rushmore Around Every Corner,” or “Mount Rushmore in My Rearview Mirror.” The second implies I’m over the writer’s block, which may be a little premature. “Being Stalked by Mount Rushmore” is just dumb. Besides being a little creepy.

Mount Rushmore

Mountain with heads

On the other hand, the image of dragging around a mountain with heads carved in it is not the least bit creepy. No. Not at all. It clearly conveys the idea that I’ve had a little difficulty lately when it comes to blogging.

By contrast, I’ve had no difficulty what so ever at thinking about blogging, or getting ideas for blogging, or even reading other people’s blogs. I just haven’t been able to make myself sit down and get the ideas from my head onto the screen. What I need is a direct conduit from the blogging center in my brain to my computer. Think it = Write it. If only.

I’ve been visiting my blog during this prolonged drought. Some days I think I’m my only visitor. I come around to clean out the spam comment folder from time to time. I sure get a lot of those comments. I even sometimes get an email that asks me to “please moderate” a comment that made it past the spam filter and is waiting for me to approve it. The sad fact is that these have all been spam comments, too.

Apparently the doctrine that says to be successful as a blogger one must comment on n blogs every day has produced some canned comment generators. The problem is that they generate the most nonsensical, grammar-free drivel I’ve ever seen. Clearly no human eyes ever come in contact with this stuff until it shows up in a comment queue. Even the somewhat sensible comments show up attached to posts that the commenter could not possibly have read. Seriously. No relationship between content and comment.

It’s also interesting to see what posts are getting the most comment traffic in a given week. For a long time, my post about one of the local natural science / history collections attracted the most attention. Trying to figure out why, I carefully re-read the piece. It’s about long-dead field mice, for crying out loud.


I included the word “sexy.” Twice. Not to attract search engine attention. I don’t think about search engine optimizing (SEO) my blog as I work on it. Any time it has worked has been an accident.

Like the time I titled a post “Springbok” because I was trying to see how many posts I could write with titles that started with the word “spring” while I was dithering around over spring break a few years ago. Apparently there is an athletic team of some sort with that name. I was actually talking about the African antelope, having worked with those at the Fort Worth Zoo. I had a lot more readers that week than at any time prior or since. Who knew?

And who knows what kind of traffic today’s title will attract? Folks looking for travel advice? I have to apologize in advance to them. Yes, I have been to Mount Rushmore. It is an awe-inspiring sight and I highly recommend a visit, but I was there in 1973. My knowledge of the area is sadly out of date.

Speaking of Mount Rushmore, I can’t say that it won’t continue to get in my way — metaphorically, anyway — but I have things I need to share. Chaos may ensue, but I will try to organize. After all, if someone could figure out how to carve faces into a mountain, I should be able to figure out how to keep writing.

Another Shoot-Out, part two

I didn’t spend as much time at the show on Saturday. I was still tired from standing or sitting on hard bleachers for so long Friday. But there were classes for the “Large Animals.” A lot of the pictures I took seemed to be of the south end of a critter facing North. Typical.

One mule was kind enough to turn her head for me.

One mule was kind enough to turn her head for me.

And there was this one donkey. I guess he was camera shy. He was standing perfectly still, facing me, ears up like he was begging to have his picture taken. Until I raised my camera.

At least I got a good shot of his stripey legs.

At least I got a good shot of his stripey legs.

Second attempt

Second attempt.

I finally got one of those big, lovely ears.

I finally got a pic of those big, lovely ears.

I thought that big grey donkey was the handsomest one there.

And just look at him in harness. Stylish.

And just look at him in harness. Stylish.

This mule looked like she was dancing.

This mule looked like she was dancing.

In the practice ring.

In the practice ring.

I didn’t stay long enough to see the “under saddle” classes, but got to watch some riders practicing. Taking pictures at that ring had challenges, too.

This is what I saw standing flat footed.

This is what I saw standing flat footed.

I had to stand on my toes, or crunch down a bit, neither of which was comfortable. Oh, well, one must suffer for one’s obsessions.

I love the color of this mule. Shiny!

I love the color of this mule. Shiny!

This mule, Casanova, is just my size.

This mule, Casanova, is just my size.


Another Texas Shoot-out

A lovely donkey goddess

A lovely donkey goddess

Just to be clear from the start. The Texas Shoot-out is not about guns. I’ve been here before. The Texas Shoot-out is the annual show event put on by the Southwestern Donkey and Mule Society, and since they hold it so close to where I live I try to go and watch a few classes, chat up some equines in the barn area, and if I’m feeling very brave I even talk to a few people.

Miniature donkey checking me out

Miniature donkey checking me out

Minis are curious about stuff

Minis are curious about stuff

"Can I make this into a window?"

“Can I make this into a window?”

A lot of the pictures I take are fuzzy, or what I like to call “soft focus.” Some of it is me not knowing all the things my camera does without any help from me. It’s not a very big camera, and not easy for someone with a heartbeat to hold it perfectly still. There’s also the fact that all my subjects are moving, or breathing at least.

There was plenty of light to get good pictures without a flash, and I had the camera set to “sports” which I think should speed up the shutter, but that may have been countered by the lower light in the shady covered arena. I’m just saying. When critters were holding still, the shots came out fine. I just need more practice shooting the moving subjects.

Mini donkeys can take you places!

Mini donkeys can take you places!

Most of the classes on Friday were for donkeys large and small — mostly small. Miniature donkeys are quite popular, and a lot of people who have them like to get them all gussied up and show them off.

"All dressed up and nowhere to go" does not apply

“All dressed up and nowhere to go” does not apply

There are driving classes where driving ability is judged in a simple pattern of turns, stops, starts and backing up. Then there are obstacle courses where the driver has to be able to guide the donkey through a series of maneuvers designed to demonstrate how well the driver and donkey communicate and how well the donkey has been trained.

For instance, you have to be able to get your donkey to back your cart into the area marked by timbers next to the mail box so you can get your mail (which you have to take out of the box, show the judge and return to the box).

A road trip out to the mail box

A road trip out to the mail box

There are other obstacle courses for you to lead your donkey through. The great thing about the minis, and probably why they’ve become so popular, is that very young and small people can show them. There are a lot of youth classes, divided into age ranges, all the way down to “peewee” for kids five years old or younger. How cool is that?

Can you find the little boy?

Can you find the little boy?

I’ll have more stories and pictures from Saturday’s classes in my next post.





All’s Well — Or So I Thought

Darby’s surgery went well. The tumor was entirely contained in the superficial layers, so the vet only had to remove a big patch of skin. Sewing up the incision involved pulling edges of skin together that had previously been much farther apart and leaving some baggy extra folds at either end.  No beauty contests in Darby’s future. Oh, well.

First day back from surgery, she lulled me into a false sense of security. “Oh, yeah. She’s fine. Acting like nothing in the world has happened to her.” Silly me. That was before all the anesthesia wore off.

Her surgery was on a Thursday. I had to take her back for stitches repair on Friday. Then I got a “cone collar” for her. She managed to pull it apart Saturday afternoon, so my brother and I put it back on and fastened it with zip-ties. Then took her back to the vet to have more stitches replaced.

Post-surgery Darby sporting the latest fashion in "Cone of Shame"

Post-surgery Darby sporting the latest fashion in “Cone of Shame”

Everything seemed fine for a few days until I noticed that the skin around the incision looked kind of red. Oh, great. Infection. On closer inspection, I discovered a gap in the middle of the incision where the skin had been pulled the tightest. Darby had apparently gotten her hind foot up to scratch the itch and pulled loose some of the staples the vet had used to replace the other lost stitches.

Back to the vet. This time they had to anesthetise her again and re-suture most of the incision. They sent her home with antibiotics and pain pills. Yay! pain pills. They had a bit of a sedative effect on her, so she didn’t seem as crazy to scratch. I’m sure having the infection knocked down helped, too.

In the meantime, she learned how to use the cone as a weapon. She’d catch it on a door frame and jerk her head sideways to free it — right into my leg. She got me with the edge of it several times daily. I had bruise lines across both legs from her trying to walk up to bump me with her nose (or wipe her wet face on me after a drink of water).

Yesterday, finally, she got all her stitches out after a couple of extra weeks in the “cone of shame.” What a relief.

There’s only one fly in the ointment. The pathology lab finished the analysis of the tumor and reported that it is one of the more aggressive cancers. It tends to metastasize into the lungs. Which means chest X-rays once or twice a year.

At least she doesn’t have to get mammograms.

The “C” Word

Darby is having surgery on Thursday. I found a lump a few weeks ago and took her to the vet to have it checked out. She did not enjoy the needle biopsy process, although she’s generally golden at the vet’s office because everyone pets her and dotes on her.

So the vet looked at the cells through a microscope and said they had the characteristics of a malignancy. I told her I was relatively sure that lump had not been there six weeks earlier or was small enough that I could miss it. But I’d been examining her regularly, knowing that having her spayed at age six plus years put her at higher risk for mammary tumors. I thought I was prepared for that eventuality. I was not prepared for the immediacy.ImageToday, I took her to a groomer and fellow kennel club member to have her clipped down a bit. I wanted her to look more like a Spinone puppy with short, lower maintenance hair. She’ll be miserable enough wearing the “Cone of Shame” after her surgery. I don’t want to add to her discomfort by trying to keep her luxurious “feathers” all tidy. I’m wondering why I didn’t do this sooner. I do intend to keep her close to this look from now on.

I’m also going to make some changes to her diet to get more natural protein into it while she recovers. She likes cottage cheese and raw chicken wings, so far. Oh, and trying to find cottage cheese that is not low-fat… not easy.

The prognosis for this type of cancer is all over the place. It may or may not recur. It may or may not spread. It may or may not lead to more serious problems. Etc. The treatment of choice is surgery, so Darby’s is scheduled for Thursday. I’m sure I’ll spend a lot of time with Ramses, and doing things to distract myself. And I’ll have my phone with me all day.

More fun with failing body parts

They say growing old ain’t for wimps. I’m here to tell you that middle age is no picnic, either. I keep seeing headlines declare,”Fifty is the New Thirty,” “Sixty is the New Forty.” Maybe. Thanks to better diets, better drugs, and plastic surgery (in some cases). Personally, I do not feel twenty years younger than my actual age. But, hey, twenty years ago I was an emotional basket case — or, at least, much more so than now. That’s all beside the point, though. Here’s the real story.

Earlier this year (like, last winter), I decided to take up crocheting. I used to know how, so I figured it would be a simple matter to refresh my memory. That part actually worked out as I figured, but I started running into an annoying problem. Part of my left hand would start going numb. Well, crap, what’s that all about? I got several lay diagnoses of carpal tunnel syndrome. My doctor even agreed that that was probably my problem. I started wearing a brace on my left wrist. And I put away my yarn and crochet hooks.

Fast forward to summer. I use a push mower to mow some parts of the yard, like the dogs’ enclosure, and around some of the trees. The engine on the mower doesn’t run as smoothly as it did when it was new (!), and I began to notice the vibration was causing my right hand to go numb. So I got a brace for that wrist and wore it at night, because with both wrists immobilized, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do at work, or around the house — except look pitiful.

Then I developed “trigger finger.” At first it was just annoying, then it got painful, and interfered with writing, typing, and life in general. Treatment consisted of “resting the joint by splinting the finger.” Oh, joy. I decided to design my own splint — one I could take off when I needed to wash my hands. I used part of an old glove finger, with duck tape around it for some rigidity, followed by stretch wrap.

So I decided to add a little humor to the situation.

So I decided to add a little humor to the situation.

And I wore that, or others like it, off and on (mostly on) for most of September and October. I learned how to type around it, how to grip a pen with two fingers, and was heartily tired of it in short order.

Meanwhile, my left hand, not wanting to be left out (haha, a pun!), developed a mass the size of a ball bearing at the base of my thumb. I figured it was a ganglion cyst. I’ve had trouble with those in the past.

So. Monday of this week, I went to the VA Health Center in Temple, where I had an appointment for a consult with the orthopedic surgery department (Thank heaven for VA health care, by the way.) to discuss what to do about my thumb. I was all for surgically removing the offending mass, and possibly fixing my “angry birds finger” at some other opportunity. Imagine my surprise when the specialist said, “Oh, no, that’s not a cyst. It’s another trigger finger. Trigger thumb to be precise. And we can take care of both those for you right now.”

I had never had a steroid injection of any kind before, so I had no idea what manner of torture I was in for. Not once, but twice. Holy crap! that hurt!

The specialist and two observers were impressed with how still I kept my hands while my face contorted in agony. I think something in my reptile brain must have told me how much worse the pain would be if I moved, and somehow kept my arms relaxed.

My hands are still a bit sore, and stiff, but so much better than they were. And I found out that the ongoing numbness and tingling in the outside edge of my left hand is not related to carpal tunnel. Oh, no, the other large nerve that runs into the hand is being pinched in my elbow. 

So, I can go back to crocheting, if I don’t bend my elbow. That should be interesting. I’m telling you, getting old is an adventure!

Painting lesson

I thought it might be fun to show, step by step, my process of making a painting using acrylic paints. Much as I like watercolors, the cost of matting and framing, not to mention using the right kind of glass, is just too high priced for my current budget.  A lot of my watercolors, consequently, are tucked away in portfolios for however long it takes for me to get prosperous enough to take proper care of them. On the other hand, like oil paintings, acrylic paintings can go in a frame with no mat or glass, or you can simply hang them on the wall, especially if the paining is done on canvas or linen attached to a stretcher frame with the staples out of sight on the back side. Like the one below. (Okay, that wall is not pink. Digital cameras are weird. Just sayin’.)

The painting that really got me started with acrylics.

The painting that really got me started with acrylics.

I went to a painting “class” to benefit one of my other favorite places in the world, the local university’s Biodiversity and Research Teaching Collections. Our instructor had all the ready-to-use canvases, paints, brushes, and sea turtle cut-outs if we wanted to use them. Everything else was up to us.

Since I was new to acrylics, but knew that it’s a very forgiving medium (if you don’t like something, just wait for it to dry and paint over it), I just started playing with shades of blue, green, and white — blending them on my paper-plate pallette, blending them on the canvas — trying to create a watery background. I ended up liking the results, the process, the fact that the class was held in a wine bar…

After I got back to my own “studio,” I decided not to worry about subject matter for my paintings, but just play with colors and practice brush strokes, etc. I already posted some of the paintings I did during this phase, and here I want to show the step by step process of making a painting. Although I forgot to take a picture of the very first step — the base coat, followed by adding sky and ground, I can say that I used cerulean blue and white for the sky with loopy brushstrokes and a flat brush, to make some swirly “wind” effects.

Blue sky and fall foilage

Blue sky and fall foliage, a bit blah at this stage

The “ground” color started out as yellow ochre mixed with parchment (unbleached titanium is about the same off-white color), to which I added all these trees showing off their fall colors.

These are the four colors I used.

These are the four colors I used.

Check out that paintbrush. It’s called “chisel” because the edge is chopped into that comb shape. You’ll see the neat effects it creates. The colors are cadmium yellow, ultramarine blue, sap green, and burnt sienna. I also used cad red when I was painting the background trees. These colors are for the next phase.

So add an evergreen in the foreground.

So add an evergreen in the foreground.

See what that paintbrush does?

How to make "pine" green

How to make “pine” green

And then you need dark gray for darker shadows and tree trunks

And then you need dark gray for darker shadows and tree trunks

The contrasts add some interest.

The contrasts add some interest, but it’s still missing something

Highlights on the fir tree, non-earthbound life forms finish it off.

Highlights on the fir trees, and non-earthbound life forms finish it off.

And then I just play around with the leftover paint, plus some red

And then I just play around with the leftover paint, plus some red


Another rain later….

So, we had another rain last week. Almost four inches. Made one goofy dog quite happy. My brother, not so much…

Oh, dear. Someone's been eating mud again.

Oh, dear. Someone’s been eating mud again…

...and the droughtgrass turned green...

…and the droughtgrass turned green…

...and somebody had to mow it.

…and somebody had to mow it.