Lille En the cat has helped me learn to enjoy the present of the present moment.
I’ve been perfecting my soil mix for more than a decade.
I am married to a board game aficionado. My spouse loves games the way I love plants, coffee, and quilts. It’s a big love.
For years he has collected games, and we played occasionally. Sometimes we had long stretches where player two (that’s me) was too __________ to play (fill in the blank, it’s probably accurate).
At the start of the year, we started talking about our goals, and one of his goals was to play more games. He joined a game Meetup, and that was good. But I separately realized that I needed his support for some of my goals, and that meant I had to up my game and be a more active supporter of his game-playing goals.
First step: game room
The first I moved my sewing room upstairs so that he could have a cat-safe game room. (Our cat is a player, she can’t help it.) So, this sounds straightforward, but it was a lot of work for a fabric collector. Unfortunately, this was before I got the FitBit that counts flights of stairs. But I know it was at least 40 trips up the stairs. Also, moving my giant heavy sewing table was no small feat. About halfway up the stairs, I was sure I would not make it. But I pushed through.
Second step: figure out how to play more
The main challenge in playing games was finding an hour to it down and play a game from start to finish. So I proposed an asynchronous approach to board games. He would set up a game that would allow us to take turns independently, and I would commit to playing regularly.
So this was wildly successful. We have played so many rounds of Splendor, Patchwork and Builders that I have lost count. We play every day. Let that sink in. We play games every day. This daily play is game player nirvana.
What I did not expect…
I love playing games. I like trying different strategies, and I find that I think up new house rules to add challenging dimensions. I’m sad when a game ends. And now we both long to hear those three little words.
“It’s your turn.”
In spite of our best efforts, sometimes, the dogs need to go out in the middle of the night. This task usually falls to my spouse because somehow, I sleep through the “gotta go” wake up calls.
The other night I learned after the fact that some dog (not naming names but he’s a small brindle dog) didn’t take care of all his business on the first outing, and there were TWO outings.
I did wake up after they came in the second time. I know, I know — I’m so helpful. Buddy, the previously referenced brindle, jumped on the bed and came up to the head of the bed to give me a little dog kiss.
Be still my heart.
This was such a Brin move. Brin was my heart dog, and I miss her so much. Brin would always come to my side of the bed after midnight outings to give me a little kiss before returning to her place at the foot of the bed. It was one of her most endearing habits, checking in on me like that.
And then Buddy did the same. It was a message from beyond: a reminder of the enduring power of love — a kiss from an angel.
Last week, I got up one morning with the birds to work in the yard. We live in the woods but there are several landscaped portions of our yard with gardens and raised beds.
One particularly vexing spot is a section we call weed hill. One corner of our yard in the back slopes down. There are large trees growing there but I guess they weren’t always there because we inherited a lot of weed barrier.
Nothing is more surprising than finding weed barrier in a rural wooded landscape. And there’s a lot of it.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I &%$#@! hate weed barrier. In theory, it’s a good idea, but in practice it doesn’t work as advertised. I actually think that it probably needs to be maintained and people skip that step. Instead, there’s a pretty good chance that you will wind up with a weed carpet like we did. So slowly, we’ve been cutting and pulling up large chunks–yards and yards of it. The good news is that underneath is almost completely weed free, a blank slate. The bad news is there’s a lot of it–did I mention that? And unfortunately, a previous owner decided that carpet remnants might be a good substitute for actual weed barrier.
Um–no. That’s a really bad idea. That cannot be good for the environment. Also, I am here to tell you that I have weeds growing on top of that carpet.
So we keep cutting and pulling one 6-10 foot section at a time. Weed barrier zero is the goal.
The true secret to keeping weeds at bay is probably plant density. PLant enough that the desirable plants give the weeds a run for their money with plants that out-compete them. Mulch helps, too. Last summer, we picked up about 50 bags of free mulch from someone on Freecycle. We are still using it. Freecycle and Craigslist are great places to get free or cheap landscaping materials and plants.
Also, mindset shift: weeds are a way of life when you have a garden. When we try to be weed free with weed barrier or chemicals or what I call “zero-scaping” (i.e., rocks), there are unintended consequences. Instead I accept weeds as part of the natural world. Pulling weeds can be as meditative as sitting on a meditation cushion. And it connects you to your garden in a visceral way. And unless the weed is an invasive plant that endangers the local flora and fauna or creates a fire hazard, a few weeds here and there are really okay.
I’m ashamed to think about the many times that when asked, “How are you?” I answered with some variation of “Busy, but good.” I know now that busy isn’t a feeling. And it’s not a virtue or an excuse. I wore it as a badge of honor for so long, and I took it as a sign that what I was doing was important–that I was important. I willingly and also, at times, unwittingly participated in zero-sum games of oneupmanship in the name of busy.
I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but I stopped being busy in the last two years. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not bored or lazy. My days are filled with lots of interesting activities and tasks that I am on the hook for, but busy has been banished. Instead, I have been learning to say precisely how I feel. I am learning to name my emotions.
It turns out that naming emotions puts us on the path to regulating them. And it lets us connect more fully with the people around us instead of erecting the police line do-not-cross-tape of “I’m just so busy.”
So, contact me, will you? I can’t wait to catch up.
On Friday, a winter storm moved in and on Saturday it knocked the power out–and it stayed out for the better part of three days. By Sunday, our unheated house was competing with single digits outside and the inside temperature dropped into the 40s. Our hands were unbelievably cold and we started to lose it a little bit. It felt like everything was slowing down. Our short coated dog and cat were shivering. We gave in and packed up for a hotel. We returned on Monday and the power stayed on for the morning and went out again for about an hour. It stayed on for a few hours and then out again. In the meantime, it snowed and snowed and snowed. We were stuck. The power finally came on again this morning (Tuesday) and has thankfully stayed on.
There’s more winter weather in the forecast; we aren’t out of the woods yet. Which is kind of a joke because we live in the woods. We will never be out of the woods. 🙂
I feel like we have been in survival mode. We are trying to learn from this and prepare for future outages now. I think most people don’t think that disasters will happen to them. Not because they are exempt from calamity, but because we are focused on what’s on our plate today. I was not thinking “long-term power outage and no heat” when I saw the weather forecast last week.
Lesson number one: it takes us too long to pack and leave. Partly it’s because of having pets, partly it’s because we were trying to save the contents of our refrigerator, but mostly, we just were not as prepared as we could have been. As it turns out, we got out of our neighborhood shortly before the highway was closed.
Lesson number two: a non-electric heat source like a wood burning stove, or a generator or battery backup to connect a heater would have provided a game-changing heat source. A generator or battery backup would have powered the refrigerator, too.
Lesson number three and one we learned: know how to light your gas stove without the electric igniter. This turned out to be easy but it didn’t occur to us until we were on outage number three. It’s a game changer to have coffee, tea and hot food.
Lesson number four: Having a lot of refrigerated backup food doesn’t help you if the power goes out and it just becomes another problem to solve as mentioned in Lesson #1. More canned foods/dry goods would have been better. Snack foods help you cope. You burn a lot of calories when you are cold and shoveling snow.
Lesson number five: Make sure you own more than one shovel if snow is in the forecast. I have a mini shovel for the car that I bought several years ago after having to dig out my truck bed while out of town. That’s it. Additional shovels are a priority purchase this weekend.
Lesson number six: Have backup water. This morning, we ran out of water. We have a well with an electric pump and we used up everything in the lines, I guess. This morning around 8 am, nothing came out of the tap. We did have jugs of drinking water set aside but not water for flushing toilets. So we got to work melting snow in case we needed it. Luckily we did not, the power came on about an hour later. But I was really wishing that I had filled all of my plant watering jugs (old 1.5 gallon vinegar jugs) ahead of the storm just in case.
Lesson number seven: Clean up ahead of a storm. Run the dishwasher and do laundry. Vacuum. Shower. It’s really hard to clean without light and power.
Lesson number eight: Don’t wait too long to cut your hair or any other self-care activity. I have been putting off the haircut and spent the last several days wishing I hadn’t. Taking a hot shower or using styling tools might be out of the question and you may feel lousier than you have to.
We didn’t get everything wrong and there were some bright spots:
Our laundry was done.
We had a half tank of gas. A full tank would have been better, but still.
We knew the closest hotel that allows pets (and they were great).
We have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive.
We have a manual can opener.
We had hand sanitizer (and we usually don’t).
We have a propane stove and backup propane.
We have a battery backup for our home network that lasts for a few hours. (We plan to buy additional batteries to extend that.)
Our important papers are organized in a grab-and-go envelope; our current papers are in a portable file box.
We have solar and battery-operated LED lights and two heavy-duty headlamps that helped us navigate a pitch black house and yard.
We have extra batteries, candles and matches/lighters.
Do you have a plan?
Think about what you would do if you are without power. Or stranded. Think about food, water, warmth, and even entertainment. How will you power your devices if you lose electricity? Can you leave quickly if you need to? Do you have a plan for pets and livestock? Ready.gov can help you put a plan together.
Having checklists and packing lists for you, your pets and other family members is a huge help. Under stress or duress, you may find you are not as sharp as you are in your finest moments.
Check on your neighbors
Everyone on our street was in a slightly different boat. Be friendly. Offer to help. Share information. Ask if they are okay.
I wrote 66 blog posts at the beginning last year and then stopped mid-May. Maybe you are wondering why. I didn’t mean to check out for so long but I looked at the date of my last post and knew why immediately.
This is Brin. Plott hound/Lab mix. My long-legged supermodel. My brindle of joy. She was 100% momma’s girl. This dog loved me with a single-minded devotion I have never seen before and may never see again.
Brin was a rescue dog, about six months old when we adopted her. She had THE ugliest puppy photo on PetFinder, seriously, it was bad. Brin had the dog version of the awkward adolescent photo. But I was looking for a dog that was good with cats and she was the dog that I could find. We met her foster mother in the Costco parking lot for a meet and greet. Yes, I joked that I got my dog at Costco. She was such a quiet dog. But cute, pretty brindle coat, sweet face. So we took her home and we learned a hell of a lot about being dog parents.
Brin found her bark on day two and was never a quiet dog after that. House training took much longer than it needed to because we stupidly thought she would go to the back door when she wanted to go outside. That’s not how she did it. When we finally realized what her “tell” was, it was like understanding a foreign language for the first time. She had been trying to tell us what she needed all along. *We* had to be trained!
It turned out that Brin was an extremely fearful dog at first. She was afraid of people, dogs, basketballs, skateboards, bikes, tile floors, the garage and many other weird things. We crate trained her, and she slept in her crate, but she still managed to pull things in her crate and destroy them. She chewed through several collars and leashes. She chewed the corner of our nicest wool rug. After an ill-considered decision to leave her in an X-pen when we went out, she ate our couch. We learned that she had serious separation anxiety and she had it all her life. We just learned to deal with it. After the couch incident, we decided she needed more exercise so we took her for walks. Or tried to. It was more like taking her for a drag. She started out scared of the world. It took several tries to get past our driveway and then several tries to get down the block and many weeks before we could get past the scary barky dogs at the end of the street.
Finally, we went to a dog training class. Brin wouldn’t jump in the car so I had to lift her. At class she was so afraid, the trainer put up a screen with a sheet so she couldn’t see the other people and their dogs. After one exhausting class with just her and I (doggy daddy was out of town), we came home and collapsed in a heap on the couch falling fast asleep wrapped up together. That night she slept with me in bed and that, as they say, was that. No more sleeping in the crate. She slept touching me every night for the rest of her days. We had to get bed frames with footboards, also known as a Brin backstop, or she would hog the bed.
Brin grew about 6 inches straight up in that first year. She became a willowy long-legged dog built for speed.
Oh, she really did not know a thing about cats. Much later we realized that she was a hunting dog mix with a high prey drive. She wanted to chase the cats. So that was another thing that we had to work on. She eventually learned that the cats were in charge.
Finally, we took her to daycare and that was a game changer for Brin. And we adopted Hopi, the black English lab with her own incredible story. Brin learned to enjoy the company of other dogs. Eventually, she became confident and social. She still needed reassurance from the staff but she thrived and blossomed. She no longer flattened herself to the ground at the sight of basketballs and barking dogs. She was the “good dog” at daycare, the one that the staff could put with new dogs. She really was darn near perfect. When we got our youngest dog, Buddy, Brin taught our clueless former stray how to play, how to act around other dogs–basically how to be a dog.
In mid-May last year Brin got sick. It was nothing major, more of a nagging thing. She was 12 years old and had always been a healthy solid dog. At her checkup the year before, the vet commented that she had the health of a much younger dog.
She had slowed down ever so slightly but she could still tear around the yard at top speed chasing her pipsqueak brother. But we went to the vet and a fecal test revealed giardia. Giardia is common in wet environments like the one we live in. We got meds and went home. She seemed better but not completely. And then she got fussy about eating, the dog who had inhaled her food for 12 years. An appetite stimulant helped and then it didn’t. At this point, a month of going back and forth to the vet had gone by. The vet finally suggested an ultrasound. She had the ultrasound on a Monday and the results came Tuesday. All of her organs looked wrong, cancer probably. On Wednesday she slipped away.
My heart felt like it had been transported outside of my body and trampled on the ground beside me. Brin was a dog that never let me out of her sight for more than a minute. I had the habit of getting up early and going into the living room to read and write on the couch. Brin was always about 30 seconds behind me, climbing up on the couch beside me, regarding me thoughtfully and then going back to sleep with her trademark dramatic sigh.
After she was gone, I went out into the living room and realized I was all alone for the first time in over a decade. I actually can’t do it anymore, read in the living room, it’s too hard. The emptiness is more than I can bear. A similar thing happened with my office, her bed by my desk lay empty. It was hard to work there for a long time. So the writing suffered. I suffered.
I felt guilty for a long time, thinking that there was something I could have, should have done to save her. But finally, I remembered that life isn’t like that. Sometimes those that we love get sick and die. No one lives forever. Dogs and cats are wonderful companions in life but their time here is short.
After Brin passed away, I spent more deliberate time with our other fur kids. I take more pictures. I stop and enjoy their cuteness. I let the cat take over my lap every morning even when I am trying to drink my coffee. Brin’s parting gift to me was a reminder that our time here is precious. We need to make the most of it every single day.
It’s been almost eight months. We can talk about Brin without crying. Mostly. We found slow feeder bowls for the dogs and talk about how it would have been so great for Brin. I bought brindle dog art from artists on ETSY. I think about how she smelled like Chex Mix. Her concerned look when she thought I was upset. How she beamed love at me. How she would remind me to stop working when I stayed up too late.
So here’s the post I just couldn’t write for a long, long time. The post about Brin. I cried several times but mostly it felt good to think about her and write about her. She was momma’s best girl and I loved her with all my heart.
Seed starting for the 2019 garden has begun!
Make habit your best friend and accomplish more.