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.

Flowers in my yard this week (the sequel)

Some time back, I posted some photos of wildflowers growing in various parts of my yard. Today, I took photos of the ones that sprouted up since the rain we got last Thursday.

Rain Flowers and Drought Grass 1

Rain Flowers and Drought Grass 1

Rain Flowers and Drought Grass 2

Rain Flowers and Drought Grass 2

There are two varieties of Rain Flowers, but the Drought Grass is all the same. And, yes, those are technical terms. I made looked them up. I think the white flowers are actually called rain lilies, but it may be the yellow ones — or they could be related. Oh, wait. I have a book. So, okay, the white ones are rain lilies, or evening stars, and the yellow ones are copper lilies. The Drought Grass is generally crunchy, only not so much since the rain. How that’s relevant is not important.

Next photo shows more of the effects of the drought. The tree looks made for Halloween decorations, except when you think about all the other trees in the area that are in more or less the same condition, just waiting for that next big wind to fall across power lines, or a road, or a car, or your head. This poor individual doesn’t appear to have much left to lose. Or much chance to recover. Still, I have to keep hoping for more rain.

Drought Yard with Drought Tree

Drought Yard with Drought Tree


Prehistoric Badass

Looks like BillyBob got a little too close to the mammoth.

Looks like Ugg got a little too close to the mammoth.

I was visiting my favorite place in the world not too long ago, and toured through the new Hall of Paleontology, (which is awesome!) and took a snap of this poor guy getting batted around like a soccer ball by a couple of mammoths. Ah, life — and catastrophic boo boos — in the Stone Age.

Really big teeth

Really big teeth

As usual, I wasn’t reading all the labels, so I don’t remember for sure, but think this is some kind of giant crocodilian, cruising around, waiting for Ugg to fall in the water. I think the effect of the shadows looks cool.

A Pterydactyl, about the size of a robin.

A Pterydactyl, about the size of a robin.

I always thought the little fliers were cool — about the size of a “pocket dragon.”

Hey, how'd you get in here?

Hey, how’d you get in here?


How I spent my summer Part 2

I went to summer school. Yes, I know I said I was done with taking classes, notes, tests, etc., etc., but I took a class in the spring semester to finish up the mediation certificate course, and found I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to take some more. Just a glutton for punishment, I guess.

Or it might be that the course instructor has a large impact on whether or not the class is engaging. That probably varies from student to student, too. Someone I think is brilliant may bore someone else to tears.

The instructor for the civil litigation class was a smart, high energy, sassy woman lawyer who knew her stuff. And she thought some of my offbeat comments on the legalese in the textbook (we had to turn in a “what I learned vs. what I had trouble with” page every week) were hilarious. And then I made 100 on the first test. And on the third test. Of course I would end up liking the class.

Getting that A went straight to my head. I figured I should go back to grad school and get my doctorate. It would be a snap. As long as I stayed away from math and chemistry (there’s goes the doctorate in any kind of biology). Hmmm. I thought hey, maybe political science, and I could be a lobbyist or something. So I looked for some classes to lead in that direction.

I signed up for two classes in the summer: online Cultural Anthropology for the first term, and Social Psychology for the second. The anthropology class was interesting, but I found I missed the face to face interaction with the instructor. At the beginning of the second term, I found out the psychology class had been cancelled, so I opted for a Texas Government class in the same time period. That instructor was another high energy soul who didn’t take himself too seriously, and I got a lot out of the class. Including a couple of perfect test scores.

I also had a chat with him about my idea for a PhD in political science. Turns out all they do, at least at the local university, is run statistical analyses on stuff. Ugh. Isn’t that math? Yes, it is. But Prof suggested that since I seem to be more interested in the stories, that maybe history would be a better fit. Which it might be. Except that at the same local university, you don’t just have to have a bachelor’s degree (in anything) to get into their grad program, you have to have 24 undergrad hours of History, and then get the M.A. degree, and then you could go for the doctorate. Huh! It would be easier to just get books from the library and teach myself.

I’ll let y’all know when to start calling me Doctor Crazybasenji.

Why do we collect things?

While I work on Part 2 of how I spent my summer, I thought I’d recycle a one or two of my older posts.


I’m no psychologist.  But I wonder, what if collecting things is a holdover from much earlier, less settled times in human history, when it might have made sense to gather and hang on to portable, edible items?  Hmm.

This is completely unscientific, of course, but if you do a web search, you’ll find that websites with the word “collection” or “collections” in them generally have something to do with debts.   Type in “collectibles,” on the other hand, and that’s a whole new world.  But it still boils down to having a collection of something.

Some collections are whimsical, of value only to their owners.  Others vary in value; some are beyond price.

I suppose it all depends on your point of view.  I have a few collections of my own.  And there is a class of collections that is of special concern to me — natural science and natural…

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How I spent my summer, part 1

Remember when you were a kid in school and the teacher had you write an essay on the first day back after summer vacation all about what you did? Do I hear groans of recognition? Yes. Well. It’s that time of year again. School will be starting again for lots of kids, and plenty of adults as well — me included. It will also soon be time for my high school class reunion, and I’ll refrain from mentioning how many years. But I started thinking about some of my high school classes and teachers, and thought I’d blend some of my artsy stuff into my reminiscing stuff and share a bit. This first painting is the result.

Recreation of a high school art project

Recreation of a high school art project.

One of the projects the teacher had us do was a “non-objective” painting. Mine looked something like the one above.  I figured I’d get a bad grade because the painting looked like giant yellow eggs sitting in “trees.” Instead, the teacher liked it so much she hung it on the wall at the front of the class for the rest of the semester. I was kind of embarrassed. Weird, huh?

I was a bit hot under the collar when I did this

I was a bit hot under the collar when I did this.

I remember learning in my driver’s ed class to avoid driving while in an “emotional state.” Considering all the road rage out there, I guess they don’t teach that anymore. Whatever. No one ever said not to paint while in an emotional state. Once when I was mad, I tried to paint a volcano erupting. It was garbage. This time, I decided to just try and evoke the lava, rather than the whole volcano and surrounding countryside. I used only four colors: yellow ochre, azo yellow, cadmium red, and burnt umber. It was very therapeutic. And, hey, I’d hang it on my wall.

Gotta love fireworks!

Gotta love fireworks!

This was a lot of fun. But then, fireworks always are. These, however, are safe even in extreme drought conditions. They also don’t scare the dogs.

Imaginary nebula as seen from an imaginary telescope.

Imaginary nebula as seen from an imaginary telescope.

When I got finished with this one, I had to laugh. I call it the “My Little Flying Pony Nebula.” I’ve always loved images of stuff in deep space, taken by the Hubble and other telescopes. Always wanted to try and capture those colors. I see many more paintings like this in my future.

Just three colors went into this one.

Just three colors went into this one.

My “alien landscape” was a surprise, as well. I used three colors: vermilion, cerulean blue, and parchment. I stared with cerulean at the top, then blended in the parchment toward the middle. It was the first time I got that to work the way I wanted. Then I worked up from the bottom with the vermilion. Don’t ask me why I wanted garish red land/ocean — I really don’t know. I just like the color. I may have been thinking of a sunset when I started out, but then I just started playing with the brush, jabbing it against the surface, and I started liking how it made tree-like/rock-like shapes. I needed something a little darker in the foreground, so I added some cerulean to the vermilion. I was not expecting the indigo blue. But I really liked it.

And, yes, I threw all the paintings on the floor of my kitchen/breakfast room in front of the patio door to photograph them. It was the only place I could get almost good enough light. Obviously, there is room for improvement in all my artsy methods.🙂