Saturday, December 29, 2012

Venturing Into The Kitchen

My version of Katie's "Gooey Cinnamon Walnut Coffee Cake"
"Karyn is a culinary diva," is a comment you will never hear, unless, of course, there is another Karyn being discussed.  Ain't gonna happen. 

"Karyn sure can balance a check book" or "Karyn certainly loves her dog" - any number of other opinions can be bantered about.   But even at my memorial service - where people might feel the need to say something nice  - you know, rather than risking a visit from "Karyn, The Angry Ghost" - no one would stretch the truth so far as to venture a positive view of my cooking.

I feel I come about this honestly.  My mother kept us fed, but cooking wasn't her deal either.  There was the "toss a can of baked beans in a casserole dish, open a can of spam, cut it into 5 or 6 slices, arrange spam on top of the beans, pop in the oven, heat and serve" meal.  Or the ever popular and a bit more complicated "combine cream of chicken soup, a package of frozen broccoli, a can of tuna, pop in a bowl, sprinkle top with crushed potato chips and heat" dish. Yum!

I'm such an uninspired cook that I lived for several years without an oven.  The second-hand one that I bought lasted for about an hour and then died, so I lived without for the next 3 years.  And, now I'm at my mother's house and, well - lets say her stove/oven is less than state of the art.  In fact, it is so tired that when the oven door opens, it screeches.  Dogs across town howl it is so horrible.  But, I don't feel the need to replace it.  It isn't like opening it is a daily occurrence.

But yesterday I hit an all-time low.  I got inspired by my nephew's girlfriend's blog to make a coffee cake she'd featured.  I do love a good coffee cake and this one - a two layer "Gooey Cinnamon Walnut Coffee Cake", with cream cheese frosting between the layers and cinnamon glaze on top, looked like heaven.  

So, I went to work.  I combined ingredients.  I even pulled out and used the electric mixer. (The one that has the mixing paddles that have, over the years, managed to imbed themselves into the holes of the machine and refuse to be removed - - it is probably better that none of us knows WHY they will not come out!)

It looked like this was going to be a successful experiment when I decided to check the oven before turning it on to see what I might be storing in there that might melt.  The door wouldn't open. Not an inch. I think it was rebelling - assuming I was once again going to put into its chamber a concoction it would be ashamed to have played a part in constructing.

With my foot planted firmly against the base of the thing, I gave the door a good yank - sending the salt and pepper shakers that sit atop it flying across the room.  A few more pops and it was obvious that I couldn't even break the door down.  I  pondered tools.  Now, the only thing worse around here than my mother's cooking utensils and appliances would be my dad's tools.  I found a hammer and a screw driver that had been used to stir paint at one time.  The handle is loaded with icky green but flaking paint, some handle guardy thing spins in circles and usually rests near the flat end of the tool - unable to escape but certainly in the way during most projects.  

Armed with two next to worthless instruments, I returned to the oven and gave it a lecture about behaving as Arayo decided that now was a good time to head for safety.  I managed to pull the door out about 1/4 of an inch and inserted the screwdriver into the crack, pushing against anything that might be in the way.  

Nothing.  The door wouldn't budge.

I tried again, working at it gently, then bashing the driver into the crack while I yanked as hard as I could. By golly - I wasn't going to be beat in my  drive to bake this cake by a cantankerous oven……

Then, finally, the oven cried Uncle and with a loud scream and howling from the neighborhood dogs, the door opened!  I'd won!

The cake turned out great, if I do say so myself.  Though, mine isn't a beauty to behold, it is sturdy!  I took a hunk of it to a friend who dropped it on the sidewalk and it bounced - didn't break up or crumble a bit!  She can serve it to her husband for breakfast and, unless a piece of gravel falls out - he won't be the wiser.  I'm not sure what that says about my experiment into baking, but I got that out of my system for the year!  Next year - who knows what I'll attempt.

For those of you interested in following Katie's  baking blog - check it out!  We adore Katie and her creations are an inspiration!  What Katie's Baking

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Whining About the Energizer Elf

Arayo and the King Kong of Reindeers at Sara's house

The Energizer Bunny (er, ah, Elf) made it to town last week.  Really, this is a woman I should avoid, if for no other reason than if I spent too much time around her I'd feel……  hum, Inadequate?  Lazy?  Actually, there are many levels on which I shouldn't like her - but I really do.  And, since it is Christmas and I think Christmas is made for me to grouch - I'm going to share with you this woman's issues…..

First, some background.  Sara is one of several of us in town who's parents passed away, leaving behind a home.  Now, to inherit a home in Southeast Kansas means you've really inherited - just roots.  No matter how nice the home, you're not going to get much for it, so there really is no push to sell it and move on.  Besides, Oswego isn't a horrible place.  It has some real upsides to it.  Safe, sleepy, (read that boring) and full of some pretty darned nice folks…..

Sara is normally out in Santa Barbara, but she comes here for Christmas every year - flying in a week or so before the 25th to begin putting everyone in town to shame (especially me - bah humbug).  As soon as she hits town, she gets out her boxes of lights, her tree, her beautiful decorations.  Her house becomes ablaze with all the festive holiday stuff - and it is stunning when she's done with it.

Sara's house is exactly two blocks from mine and the glow in the north gets brighter every night she's around.  (I, on the other hand, have a handmade Santa in the closet.  Sara's bustling activity makes me consider pulling him out, running that rod up his rear and popping him on the mantle, but I did that last year so perhaps I'll wait another year or two before going to all that trouble again. Besides, I think I just took him down in August - I got tired of listening to him complain about the heat.)

In the midst of Sara's decorating, she holds her annual Christmas party - making invitations, running them all over town, inviting everyone that she knows - and she knows about everyone.  The doctor, the pharmacist, the postwoman, the minister, the carpenter, her neighbors.....

Last year she decided to redecorate her granddaughter's bedroom - painting  walls bubblegum pink, converting some rag into stunning curtain rod wraps, pulling in a Christmas tree perfect for a teen, and stringing lights, hanging things on the wall - It was pretty amazing and she pulled it off in the blink of an eye.  I know - I was there for much of it and I'm still in shock. (See "Life is Too Short of White Walls" )

This year, on top of the normal decorating, party planning, shopping and such, she set up a studio in her garage and pumped out half a dozen or more 3' square masterpieces.  No apologies for making the rest of us in town look bad - nothing!  She makes Martha Stewart look like trailer trash - imagine how she makes the rest of us feel.

And, if this all isn't enough, in the midst of all this work - when Arayo was catching poison frogs last week, Sara crawled out of bed and came over at 11 pm to check on us and help me walk  around the yard, waiting for Arayo to upchuck.  Sara's a darn good elf, in spite of these other traits.

I've asked Sara why she doesn't just leave all the decorations up?  Why go through the effort of putting stuff back in boxes, packing it away, only to come back a year later to do it all over again….  She hasn't given me a good reason  - yet.

But, we love having her come back to town, and we're glad her family feels a connection to Kansas - even if they didn't grow up here.  Sara adds a bit of energy and bling to this tired little community.  Though, after thinking about her - I believe I'll go take a nap.

Check out Sara's work at Sara Lytle's Website

Thursday, December 20, 2012

EVIL Toads of Kansas!

I am taking a break from the promised three-part (well, for now) Landlord Hell series to bring you this story as a public service.  A warning - this post is, perhaps, a bit graphic.........

EVIL TOADS!  Yes, you heard me.  Those cute fat lumpy little toads that hang out in your garden.  BAD news, these guys…..

Now, most of the summer one stalked us.  I just thought it was really stupid - maybe brain damaged from lack of water and too many 100+ degree days in a row.  Every time I walked out the back door the fat little guy was waiting.  Perhaps for an invite inside and a fresh drink of water….  I didn't know.  

I'd chase him a bit and get him to take a couple hops.  Then he'd stop.  I'd grab a broom and gently coax him towards the garden.  Cute.  Fat, lumpy cute.  Arayo thought so too.  She thought this was better than a squirrel.  I had to be on alert or she'd dash after it and I wasn't so sure that Lumpy could out-hop her.

But, with the changing of the seasons, Lumpy hasn't been around so I assumed he'd gone the way of mosquitos - who knows what happens to them in the winter?  Maybe he'd hopped to Mexico.

Last night I took Arayo out for a potty break. As we were coming out of the house she dashed after something.  I grabbed a post that is by the back door and halted her progress - then decided to walk her around the house in a different direction from whatever had her interest.  

Business done, we returned to the bedroom.  Arayo turned to face me, lowered her head, S-L-O-W-L-Y opened her mouth and out falls this gray ……..   blobby thing!  OMG!  OMG OMG OMG!  I'm chanting as I race from the room for a dust pan.  This THING has a familiarity about it.  Could it be…..?

THE TOAD!  Lumpy is back and Arayo has been carrying it around for 5 minutes or so.  I scoop it up and rush outside.  It doesn't look harmed but it is solid as a rock - not moving a muscle.  Dead?  Shock? I toss it into the garden and return to Arayo who is now standing by her favorite drinking fountain - the bathtub - but I realize she is foaming at the mouth!

A drink of water and I'm back to the computer.  I know that killer toads are to be found in places like Central America, but why is she literally foaming?

It seems that Kansas is home to a toad that is cute but wicked.  The info online screams:

Warning Toads have enlarged glands (called the paratoid glands) on the side of the neck, one behind each eye. These glands secrete a viscous white poison that gets smeared in the mouth of any would-be predator, inflaming the mouth and throat and causing nausea, irregular heart beat, and, in extreme cases, death. Toads pose a danger to pets, which may pounce on and bite them.

I call the vet who happens to be in the office at 10 pm.  "Well, there isn't much we can do for her but her size is a plus.  Give her some hydrogen peroxide, get her to vomit and call if she develops any problems."

I'm off to the bathroom to grab the peroxide, then to the kitchen.  I need to concoct something to get this down her…  I find stale Lorna Doones, a box of old saltines, a package of chopped hot dogs.  Everything gets mushed together and soaked with half bottle of hydrogen peroxide.  I get "the look" - like "are you serious?"  Arayo eats it anyway. Some days I'm REALLY glad she'll eat almost anything.

We head outside to see if she isn't ready to barf, but not a chance, so I repeat the process and we walk some more.

An hour and a half later, we are back inside.  She isn't feeling great - her green squeaky razorback is being carried around while she cries a bit.  I've covered the bedroom floors with blankets and plastic and she finally settles down - but I hear her stomach rumbling…….

She rests until about 12:30……  Then, out of a corner of my eye, I see this enormous yellow foamy mass slowly ooze from her mouth -  mushed up Lorna Doones, Saltines and weenie hunks.  A teaspoon was on a blanket - the rest on my newly shampooed carpet!  It was special.  But, finally we could both sleep.  

She seems fine this morning but I've learned my lesson.  Beware the fat cute lumpy stupid frog.  He's not as innocent as he appears.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I was digging around on my computer tonight and up popped this, which I wrote for my dad's funeral - wow - 10 years ago!  My Dad took frugality to an art-form  and we know he was thrilled that one of our final acts on his behalf was to pay for his funeral with his Discover Card (which paid 2% back!)  I thought I'd share it -


Bob was a WWII C-47 pilot.  How he loved to fly!
If there is a heaven, then they have a new resident this week. How happy Bob must be, with wings of his own - - not those borrowed and made of steal.  

Though he's been there only a few days, he'll have located a good map, and will be methodically flying from cloud to cloud - holding up angel traffic as he practices his take offs and landings and checks out the scenery - - maybe stopping to pick up a little trash along the way.  

In heaven there must be a big buffet, and Bob will be there every day, slowly going through the choices and making numerous trips back to sample more. Of course, he can eat all the pecan pie he wants and never gain an ounce!  

I'm sure that in heaven there isn't just one halo, but many, and Bob will already be starting his collection. Halos with many colors, halos with funny brims and halos with logos from clouds he's visited.  

Although he'll wear standard issue angel robes with pride, he'll have found a few cast-offs that may be centuries old - but brand new to him - - - best if they are in plaid and can be rolled way up so he can absorb as much of God's warming sun as possible. (In heaven, you can spend hours in the sun without the need for sunscreen.)  

My favorite photo of my dad -
probably watching a plane go by.
In these few short days, he's already finding the best deals on radios and has installed at least a dozen on his cloud (all of them on and playing to the local station) and he'll probably have picked up several others that don't work - just in case he can fix one some day or needs parts.  

Bob will have located the source of “Official Heaven Time” and have several clocks and watches, all set correctly to the nano-second - - though he'll probably have a couple set to Oswego Kansas Time as well.  

Although money isn't needed in Heaven, Bob will have figured out a way to start obtaining things for a "bargain" - old habits just don't die. "Are there ‘New Guys in Heaven’ discounts offered here?"  "If I pay for this with a ‘Heavenly Body Credit Card’ will I accumulate points or currency I can collect at the end of a year?" (It never hurts to ask, you know.)  

It goes without saying that Bob will have already found several causes very very near to his heaven home where he can get involved and volunteer his time and his skills. As other loved ones join him in heaven, they'll find it difficult to lure him away from these activities for more than a short time because of his devotion and because he's become one of the strongest rocks in the organization.  

Although Bob will have many strong beliefs, the angel population will rarely hear him express them.  Instead, over time he'll have developed a quiet and consistent presence and his beliefs will become obvious in the life he leads there.  

If there is a heaven, then they've gained a real prize this past week. Earth, Oswego and certainly his family will miss him. 81 years wasn't enough for him to be with us, but we know our sadness is for ourselves and not him.  

We know that Bob now has brand new wings of his own and he's having a much deserved wonderful time. 

Have a nice flight, Bob. We’ll miss you.  

Your daughter - Karyn  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Small Town Excitement......yawn.....

Arayo waits, and waits, and waits, for the train

Small towns…..  You get your kicks where you can find them.

Excitement doesn't come our way often.  Presidential hopefuls don't visit, terrorists don't target us.  Talk centers around - oh - how much water is currently in the river and how the corn crop is doing (low and horrible in case you were wondering).

A group of us get together every Thursday for "Pie Day".  It's a mishmash of people - the Methodist minister and his wife usually make it.  The city clerk and the newspaper editor show up - along with an assortment of others.  Laurie, who owns the bakery, makes a pie of the week and posts it on a sign out in front of her shop, but if you don't like this week's pick, there's an assortment of yummy cookies to choose from.  But it isn't about the pie.  It's the talk.  I call it "Pies and Lies", but truthfully, not many lies get told - though discussions have gotten pretty loud at times and you can hear us laughing half way up the street.

We avoid the topic of politics.  Kansans are not a fightin' group, but we've got some pretty rabid Democrats sipping coffee here in a strong Republican state, so to keep the coffee from being splashed around - we politely avoid that snake pit.   But I think everything else is up for discussion. 

I recall years ago some people moved here from "the city".  Now, a fire in a small town is a big deal - but these folks hadn't been here long enough to understand.  We were at a gathering when the siren wailed and everyone got up, hopped in their cars and drove to the center of town where the fire station is.  See, they'd post the location of the fire on a chalk board just inside the door of the fire house so the volunteer firemen would know where to go if they got there after the fire engine had left.  

For the rest of us, it let us know whether to go home and finish dinner, or go watch someone's house burn down.  The message "grass fire at Joe Smith's pasture" wasn't going to get much attention, but "Hammon's Funeral Home" - well, people were going to run down to watch that one!  That would be a real social event.

The "city folks" didn't quite get it.

Union Pacific Steam Train rushes by Oswego
Today the word went out that a train was coming.  The Union Pacific was sending around an old steam train that was due to come through town at about 12:45.  So I called the newspaper.  My friends there had sorted out which tracks the train would be running on, and I talked to my friend, Pat, who thought her husband might enjoy this kind of outing - so at about 12:30 we all showed up - didn't want to miss this, you know.    

Seems steam trains don't run on time, so we sat out by the tracks nearly a couple hours, swapping stories, talking about the methods kids used to hide their beer from the cops.  And, we learned that Ern, Pat's husband, knows his steam trains.  He used to live on a box car.  His dad worked for the railroad and the family lived in a car that would get moved from town to town as his dad's job moved him.   Parkinsons has stolen much of Ern's voice - dang it.  I personally could have talked with him for hours about living in that box car.

We discussed what the train might be carrying.  Maybe people paid thousands of dollars for a chance to ride the train and the money was going to charity?  I assumed it might be carrying nuclear waste - polluting everyone waiting along the tracks to watch it go by.  My mind just works like that some days.  

We were still in good spirits when we heard the high-pitched "Petticoat Junction" train whistle.  We took our positions, and the train - all 8 or 10 cars of it - whizzed by.  30 seconds and it was over - and that was our excitement for the week - heck, maybe for the month.  

Small towns - we don't have stop lights, traffic is low, and we get great pleasure in the smallest of things.  Drop on by some day.  Chances are, if you aren't here on Pie Day, you'll think nothing ever happens, but your blood pressure will drop a notch or two.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An Interview with Arayo on Those Pesky Water Trials

Arayo rescues a stick from the ocean

Arayo poses amid crashing waves off Nova Scotia
Months of blogging silence is broken today to report on Miz Arayo's return to the water dog trials arena.  For years she has been working on achieving a title which would inform the world that she is, indeed, a true Newfoundland Water Dog.  But, alas, the title has remained elusive.

In an interview, Arayo observed "those silly titles - they are meaningless.  I know I'm a real water dog.  I've rescued children who ventured too far into Puget Sound,  even pulled a heavy boat to shore who's motor had clonked out.  I don't need a piece of paper to prove I exemplify all the outstanding qualities of the Newfoundland breed."

Asked why she continues to enter water trials, Arayo responded, "Its my human.  She's flawed.  She somehow has it in her head that we should drink the Koolaid and work towards that pointless title, and I humor her because it gets her out of the house and to the beach where I'm happiest.  But in the end, I'm in control of this outcome and my fate."

Arayo returned to her temporary home base in Southeast Kansas today after a weekend of working out with other Newfoundands and their humans in Kansas City.  "I refuse to get too keyed up about this," Arayo remarked.  "It's all a game, but I play it better than anyone."   

In a demonstration of Arayo's typical lackadaisical style, she was sent out to rescue a boat at practice today, but  upon leaving the shore she spotted one of the water bugs that had been annoying everyone during the weekend.  Interrupting her progress towards the boat, Arayo contemplated the bug, then proceeded to swallow it.  Once that bit of housekeeping was completed, she returned to task at hand and pulled the boat to the safety of shore.

To placate her slightly defective human again, Arayo is participating in two water trials in Kansas City September 1 and 2.  Whether she brings home a title this time or not, she is still truly loved and appreciated.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Another Sad Day

Charlotte Carpenter Seifert

The constant ringing of the phone was out of place.  I was working outside again, ripping out the ivy that my mother, an otherwise intelligent woman, had planted all around her home.  I heard it again.  Knowing that if I ran inside to answer the phone, the person on the other end would be hanging up or trying to sell me Readers Digest. I ignored it.

But it persisted.  Three calls, four, in a few minutes.  

Something seemed wrong, so I took a break to check my answering machine.  "Karyn, please call me," the troubled voice said.  "Charlotte's gone!"

Charlotte, my Dad's last remaining sibling, was fine - what could possibly have happened?  At 87 she was slowing down, but don't we all at that age?

Born in 1924, she and her twin sister were four years younger than my father.   She graduated from Kansas State University and eventually met and married Earl Seifert - settling down in Parsons, 20 miles from her home town of Oswego.  Devoted to her husband and children, she was a stay-at-home mom who raised three bright children.  When they were through High School and away from home, she decided to go back to college to update her teaching credentials - thinking she'd enjoy nurturing students in the classroom.  But, Charlotte was tiny, quiet, polite, perhaps even a bit shy, and the new breed of students probably ran right over her.  A few years of substitute teaching was plenty for her.

I always thought of Charlotte as the typical 50's Mom and in my mind, I see her in her kitchen in a dress and heals. (Though this mental image may be June Cleaver instead....)  We always delighted in going to her house - in part because she was such a fabulous cook!  (When your mom thinks pouring a can of baked beans in a dish, slicing a can of spam into it and baking it for 20 minutes is serious cooking - an invitation to Charlotte's was an extreme treat!)  Charlotte was known for her pies - in particular her pecan!

Charlotte was a doer, a helper, a goer.  Even in her 80's she would make the 2 1/2 hour drive alone to Kansas City to visit her son, and if you suggested an outing - she was ready!  Rumor has it she even got stopped for speeding just a few years ago!

The past few years, Charlotte has been living in a duplex near an assisted living center and she ate lunch there.  Not one to miss a meal, she didn't show up today.   A few calls between friends,  someone went to check on her and found her dead.  Apparently she was just getting her day started, but the Universe had other plans. Charlotte went on her terms - in her own home to the end, still active with her friends, organizations and church.

Charlotte, we will miss your sweet smile, your little chuckle and your gentle way.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Lesson and An Amazing Woman

I attended an awards banquet tonight.  The county Mental Health Agency began honoring people in the community in what they call their "Care and Compassion Awards".  The title says it all.  They honor those who exemplify compassion by helping others.

As soon as I read about the award I knew I had a nomination.  I met Holly Martino a year ago, but have just really become acquainted with her during the past two months when she offered to help my aunt.  Charlotte lost her car, and her independence, during the Christmas holidays and Holly offered to drive her to appointments and to pick up groceries.  But she does so much more.  She has become Charlotte's dear friend, her advocate in keeping her in her own home.  She takes her on outings and gives her a quick call every morning to make sure Charlotte is up in time for lunch.

It takes someone really special to help an elderly person to this extent.  Trust me - I've tried it and there are lots of times that patience wears thin and you want to drive in front of a speeding train.  But, Holly has patience not many of us share.

I'm not sure if Holly has always been this tolerant.  She must have developed a lot of patience when confined to her bed for a year after a B12 deficiency led to debilitating nerve damage.   Laying in that bed, she had lots of time to think, and during one conversation with God, she promised to do whatever she could for other people if she could get out of that bed and lead a normal life again.  

Today, Holly is a bit shaky and walks with a cane, but that doesn't stop this feisty woman.  She's adopted several elderly people during the past few years.  Before her disability, Holly was a teacher and embraced the students that were challenges for other teachers.  Students with conditions such as Asperger's Syndrome.  She fought to make sure they weren't left behind by the educational system, and still fights to insure they have a place in our schools.

Tonight, the names were read, and glowing stories shared of people who started agencies or programs which help hundreds of people in the community.  But the final award went to the woman who has made her mark, not in great numbers, but by helping one individual at a time - Holly Martino.

Holly is a beacon for those of us who think, "I can't do that."  "Life has dealt me a low blow."  Or "I'm only one person, how can I make a difference?"  Anyone can make a very big difference.  All we have to do is have the right attitude and look for a place we can help.

Congratulations Holly!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Please, ENOUGH!

Arayo poses with Oswego Buffalo and February Daffodils

She seems to be healing nicely, this sweet Arayo of mine.  A month and a half after surgery, 70 staples are removed from her belly and the docs at Missouri University have taken her off the pills she has depended on for years to keep her from leaking.  Now we see if the occluder attached to the base of her bladder free us from the drugs which have always worried me for their long term effects.

We make the 5 hour journey to Columbia and Arayo spends the day in the hospital as they test various amounts of fluids in the urethral occluder to try to find just the right amount of pressure to give her control of her urine without creating a blockage.  At my cousin's that evening, Arayo shakes her head and urine splatters everywhere.  We obviously have some bugs to work out.

Daily we visit the hospital.  They put in a bit more saline and we watch to see if the dam will hold.  When I'm comfortable we've hit the perfect balance, I plan to drive back to southern Kansas, only to awake to find Arayo will not get up.  She can't get up.  Her head seems frozen to the floor and it hurts to move.  When she finally gets to her feet, she walks as though she has aged 50 years in the night.  Her step is slow and I get the sense she doesn't want to let her feet touch the ground.

Have we overfilled the occluder and her entire belly is inflamed or something?  We head back to the university for another appointment.  

Arayo is a people slut  We walk in the door and a handsome man sits between us and the reception desk.  She suddenly doesn't feel so bad.  She rushes to him, wiggles her tail and lays her big head in his lap. (Yes, this is the same dog who couldn't bend down to drink water 30 minutes ago.)   She rushes to the reception desk where she jumps up on the counter and stands on her rear feet, supporting herself with one front paw.  

Arayo had refused to pick a treat off the floor if one is dropped because it hurt too much to bend that far down.  I demonstrate this to the vet by dropping a cookie at her feet.  She immediately grabs it and looks at me for more.  (Damn dog!)  The vet palpates her belly and it is pronounced fine.

Five days ago I had mentioned to the vet that Arayo flinched when I grabbed the rear leg that the occluder port is attached to and asked them to check it.  Perhaps the port has caused an infection or something.  The news was not good.  She has apparently torn the ligament in her knee and they suggest another major surgery and 8 weeks total confinement to put the knee back together.

But the front leg is the concern today.  The vet pushes and pulls and pokes and prods.  Arayo may have a bit of arthritis in the joints but nothing major.  She hits the top of the shoulder and Arayo flinches.  Given Arayo's age and breed, the vet wants to rule out bone cancer - which, if not spread, would require amputation of the leg.

2012 isn't stacking up to be our best year - my poor sweet Arayo.

Saturday I load the Subaru and prepare to make the long drive home.  As I head Arayo to the car, she stops for a final pee.   One can never be sure about her - she's a low squatter.  The dripping seems to have totally stopped - but have we created a damn and when she's trying to go, she really isn't?

She takes position for her final pee and I swoop in, run a hand under her tail and am rewarded by the feel of a hearty stream of warm urine falling on my hand.  Only a mother would stoop to such lows, but it does my heart good to know that at least THAT is functioning properly.

In the meantime we ask for prayers and good thoughts sent this way.  I've had Arayo 7 1/2 wonderful years but I'm not ready for this ride to end.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Dreaded Diet

You exercise, girl!

I started a diet this week.  I'm notorious for doing this.  360 days a year I plan to begin.  "I'm starting a diet tomorrow," I'll proclaim, only to realize there is a perfectly good cheesecake in the fridge that I can't possibly toss, a frozen pizza that will call my name if I don't consume it, a fairly new half-gallon of milk that I don't want to waste….  So, when tomorrow comes, I have lots of reasons for putting it off a day or two.  And, with the diet looming a few days ahead, I'll buy more cereal to use up the milk, and when the milk is gone I still have this cereal that isn't on the diet……..  You get the picture.

"Since I'm beginning a diet tomorrow and I'll not eat the foods I love again for at least a year, tonight I shall splurge and have a hamburger, eat at a buffet, drink a REAL Coke and not a crummy diet one,"  I reason.    My waistline increases when I'm gearing up for a diet.

Sometimes I have to shame myself into doing what is best for me, so this week I decided I needed to become accountable to more than the dog in this venture.  (Hey, she loves me no matter what.)  So I REALLY stuck myself out there and began the community's "One Ton Weight-Loss Challenge".  The local hospital agreed to sponsor it by giving us use of a meeting room and their scales once a week, and this past Wednesday 25 people showed up, weighed in, set goals and joined me on this venture.

Thursday, day one, went well - until about 4 pm when the hardware on the doors began to look appetizing. Its not that I was starving - I just LIKE TO EAT!  

I'm determined to do this, though, and part of the plan is to drink lots of water and get into an exercise program.  Now, it has long been speculated within my family that my plumbing is more a straight shot through my body, missing those parts that filter, absorb and eventually store fluids until a convenient time for depositing them elsewhere.   Drinking 3 liters of water a day  - -  - well, lets say I AM getting lots of exercise and I'm certainly glad the house plumbing system is functioning.

Then, Thursday evening, when the couch cushions began looking like giant marshmallows which could be pretty tasty with a dousing of chocolate sauce, I headed off for a Zumba class.  With 20 sets of shoulders shaking, wastes throbbing, and keesters gyrating in impossible combinations, I took solace in the back corner of the room.  I'm not big into praying, but I did send out a heavenly memo or two that the next move wouldn't turn the entire group towards the back wall where I was standing looking like Pocahontas dropped down into central Manhattan.  This boodie isn't working like that any more, I'm afraid - but the energy level was high and people were sweet so I will return.

Weigh-in will come again this week and I AM going to succeed this time.  (I'd find a really fitting way to finish this - but the water is doing its thing to me again, and I've REALLY gotta run.......)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Life Is Too Short For White Walls

Sarah Lytle's granddaughter's new PINK bedroom!

"Can you come help me paint," my friend asked?  "My granddaughter is coming and I thought I'd have time to paint her bedroom walls, but I think I need help to get it done before she gets here."

Oh, yippee!  I love to paint.  I really LOVE to paint someone else's house, especially when I don't have to pick the color myself!

"What color," I asked?  Not that it would make a difference as to whether I helped or not, but still, it somehow seemed important to visualize what I'd be doing.

"Pink!" she replied. "Wink Pink."

Now, this is a classy gal.  Not the "typical" wife of a mid-west farmer or insurance salesman.  Not that there is anything wrong with farmer's wives (or insurance salesmen's wives). I have a deep respect and admiration for them.  But, I kinda visualize different colors when I think of a Kansas farmer's wife's walls vs a Santa Barbara California artist's walls.  Pink can mean a lot of different things, after all.  I look at a color pallet online and dream pink.  "Secret Rendezvous", "Mediiterranean Spice",  "Old Claret".  Hum……  Where is Wink?

So, off I head to paint.  Pink.  I'm imagining a form of dusty rose.  But when I arrive and open the can - even I could see, she wasn't kidding.  This is PINK!  In fact, I recognize this color.  I just helped my cousin paint her 11 year old daughter's room what had to be the exact same shade of pink.  Megan, (my cousin)  was not as thrilled with the idea of having this much pink in her house.  But her daughter REALLY wanted it and, as I pointed out, it wasn't as though she was cooperating in helping her obtain a tattoo or pierced nose.  This was paint - which can change next week if the daughter tires of it.

Though, I had to admit that painting this pink made me realize what it must feel like to live inside a Bazooka Bubble Gum bubble.  In contrast to my cousin, my friend, Sara, was embracing this Wink, pink as it was  

So, I happily painted and then Sara came in and pulled the room together.  Some Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe's on one wall, a faux zebra-skin rug on the floor, a bright 60's-era peace poster, twinkle lights in the air and a 2' wide turquoise and lavender metal Christmas tree for holiday spirit. Oh, yes - and a phone that looked like a set of big red lips!  It was a masterpiece.  Made me want to run home and paint a room or two pink for myself - though I admit - I'd need her to come over to add the finishing touches.

After doing the remodel of my basement a few years ago, I was overcome with a need for color.  And, standing in that room, surrounded by the brightest, wildest, bubble-gummiest pink you can imagine - I added yet another important thing add to my list of how to make life better:

 "Embrace color!  Life is just too short for White Walls!"  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Arayo's New Lair

Arayo recovers from surgery in her new lair

There are things we do for those we love.  And, though I hate to admit it, sometimes we'll do more for the dog than one of our human family members.

Arayo was split nearly in half - some 70 staples form the zipper that keeps her organs from falling out.  Healing will take time and while she doesn't seem to be in pain, she needs to hide in a dark private place.  I caught her dragging herself under the bed last night.  I don't know how she does that.  She looks like the poster dog for joining the Army.  "Be All You Can Be" and all that nonsense.   With no more than an inch of space between her body and the top of the bed, she lays flat and uses her front legs to drag herself so she's hidden far from reach.

Once she is heeled I won't need to take her to the vet for the removal of the staples - I'll just let her drag herself under the bed and they'll all rip out.  But for now, they need to remain in place.  Terrified of what I'll find when I have extracted her from this hiding place, I lift the bed and encourage her out.

From the garage I dig out an old card table which fits between the bed and wall. A blanket covers it, producing a gold cottony den of sorts.   I can't reach the dresser where my clothes are kept, but its the only good place for this nest - and - well, so what?  If Arayo is happy, I don't really need to change clothes, anyway!

The entire affect is - well, ugly.  If a spouse or child had suggested the need for setting up a rickety old card table and covering it with a blanket so they could crawl in it and mend, I'd explain that they could just GET OVER IT!  Life is full of little inconveniences and the sooner they learn to be happy with what they have the better!  Besides, I'm not working around a hideous eyesore just so they'll feel better!  (Starting to pick up on why I didn't have kids?  Why I'm not married?)

Start each birthday on your head
But, Arayo is Arayo and she gets what makes her feel good.  Today I celebrate my birthday.   It will be a quiet day spent with this dog I so adore.   Perhaps, I'll write, maybe get the year started right by doing taxes.  Who knows.  

A friend sent me a magnet for my birthday.  It has a B&W photo of 3 older women on it - one wearing a folded hat made of newspaper.  It reads "You're on the right road if you're happy when you're lost."   That's my new motto for this year - but the photo should have a photo of Arayo and me, driving down the road, wind in our hair.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nice is Nice, But......

It pays to be nice.  I believe that, though, at times, like most everyone, I could do better.  And, people who are just rude - I don't have the patience for them.

But  last night I finished reading the Steve Jobs biography.  No doubt how it was going to turn out, but it was interesting how I responded to reading about someone who was so notoriously ruthless in his dealing with people, and how I found myself appreciating him for that giant personality flaw!

He wasn't like Hitler, literally killing people for his personal goals and beliefs, and God knows what the world would be like if we had millions of Steve Jobs running around insulting people, telling them their ideas are crap.  And it didn't just extend to computers. At one point, after his liver transplant, someone came into his hospital room and slipped a mask over his face before doing a procedure.  They thought he was unconscious, but he ripped the mask off and said it was ugly and he refused to wear it.  He made them bring 5 others in so he could select the best designed one to wear.  

I've been using Apple products since purchasing my first computer in 1984.  I have to admit that when my mom was talked into getting a PC "because it was  cheaper"  - the thing was nothing but a headache.  Steve wanted his systems to work in perfect harmony - and for the most part they do.  I just shake my head at friends who have PC's which are constantly in the shop with a virus, or something  just not working……  "And HOW is that PC saving you money?" I want to ask?  I can hear Jobs - "They are building crap!"

Jobs set a high standard and those who rose to his calling - while they complained about his rudeness - they were also proud that he got them to do more than they would have without his pushing. 

I've often said our country needs a time of cleansing.  We've become a country of whiners and it bothers me that the ethics have gone out of our day-to-day thinking.  Too bad they can't just turn the country over to someone like Steve Jobs. Someone who would cut out the crap and focus on the programs and goals that are efficient and well designed.  Instead we have a mishmash. As Steve would say "we have crap".

With winter upon us, its a good time to settle down with a good book.  "Steve Jobs" is a fascinating and personal look at a genius who has changed our world.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Arayo's side and belly were shaved for surgery

Like the squeak of a mouse, it is high and soft.  In the darkness of the room, I lay on my mattress on the floor, trying to associate the noise with something familiar.  Again, the sound - a little bit peep, a little whimper, a little whine.

I realize it is Arayo and reach to stroke her - moving my hand from the silky rich texture of her fur to the bald skin of her lower side and hip.  The area my cousin calls "the turkey leg" because it looks so like the side of a freshly plucked Thanksgiving bird.

For the moment she calms, though when I roll over to go back to sleep, the whining continues.  It is so unlike her - she is a Newfoundland, noted for being stoic through pain.  "Oh, what the hell", I think, and reach for her medications.  She had a pain pill 3 hours ago, but if she is complaining, I'll give her another one.  

She's been split from breastbone to her privates.  62 staples hold her organs in place, another 5 secure a port which will be used later to inflate a band wrapped around the neck of her bladder.  Continent only with the use of massive amounts of drugs, a band has been affixed to the neck of her bladder and will later be inflated - the goal to keep urine where it belongs until she elects to discharge it.  

62 stitches hold Arayo together
But that is all for later.  Now, we work through the slow healing process.

With another pill ingested, Arayo gradually calms and I sleep, only to wake again to find her whimpering yet anew.  I  don't think I can give her another pill so I wrap my arm around her and allow her to climb onto the mattress and curl next to my shoulder. 

It is I who love her most, yet it is I who have caused this misery she now suffers.  My job is to protect her, yet I've brought this into her life.    Until I know she's fully healed and that this was the right decision, Arayo and I each suffer our own special agony.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Waiting Room

The wind in one's fur is glorious
We are bonded -  this eclectic group of strangers.  We huddle in cocoons of our own making.   The quadriplegic in his wheelchair, senior citizen in her sporty black and gray plaid cap, housewife in jogging pants and tennis shoes, and the teen with the hog-sized ring hanging from the center of her nose.  Together we bring the energy level of this room to a very heavy place.  

We each hold a furry soul in our hearts who struggles through a life or death procedure beyond the doors - in an area we can't reach.

A flash of white comes from the inner sanctuary.  In unison we look up, hoping it is "our" vet student with word that our pet is doing well.  The lovely Asian woman smiles at the student, then turns away, flashing truth to her daughter - a sad and very worried expression.

Another student comes forth, holding back a wiry haired little guy with a bright yellow bandage surrounding his belly.  A middle-aged couple lights up, jumps from their seat and calls the dog's name.  For a moment the pall is lifted.  Someone's pet will be fine.

From the outside comes a woman, 60's, anorexicly thin. Her face painstakingly designed by years of viewing the negative side of every situation. A furry Golden Retriever, face graying, peers after her, worried for her wellbeing.  That one so decidedly sweet can worship at the heels of one so obviously crabby is proof that dogs are teachers - gifts from a higher source.  Unlike most of us who can't bear to leave this place - she drops off her dog and leaves.

A blonde. so fat she requires the aide of a walker, waits - two Yorkies resting on the ample chest which forms a cushioned couch for their support.  Piled together as though they are one, they rest their tiny heads on her shoulder as she nestles her florid face in their rough coat.  They worry for their other pack member as one.

I wait, as I've waited for the past 6 hours when Arayo was taken from me.  "My" student has just approached.  "Are you ready for this,"  he asks?  They are taking her in, surgery will begin in a few minutes.  The surgery which will split her belly, remove organs, tacking some, adding support to others, is ready to begin. 

Many from around the globe join me as I worry for my girl.  "My sweet Arayo.  I hope you feel the  prayers and thoughts of love which are streaming your way.  Please hold strong, be safe.  I love you."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Life Altering Decision

Arayo with her razorback pup
She carries it in her mouth and fusses over its wellbeing.  Upset when it is lost, she whines, begging to be let out to search for this new love.  Green with spiny horns growing out of its elongated flat-fronted snout,  it squeaks and carries on at the least bit of nudging.
Arayo is protective of her new charge, certain it is a her own.  I shudder to think what the father looked like, to produce, with my beautiful girl, this bizarre child.  
There is no accounting for those we cherish the most.  I adore this dog.  She is all I find good in the world.  Sweet natured, accepting of what life lays at her paws.  A wonderful companion, interested in exploring the world and meeting new people.  The perfect ambassador, teaching humans astute enough to notice how to navigate the land-mines of human interactions.
She is my dearest friend, just as this green squeaky toy is her child.  Arayo thinks she's had a baby and this razorback pig is her pup.  It has pushed me towards making a decision I've danced away from for 7 very short years.  It is time to spay before her body is too old, before infections can take hold which would easily kill her.
Arayo and I hit the road again today, traveling to central Missouri to the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at Columbia.  Our questions are many, the surgery not risk-free.  We ask that you keep us in your thoughts and prayers - that she comes through this as she has most things in life - with ease - and that I don't totally go off the deep end as I worry through the process.  Many of you have helped as I've fussed over making this decision.  To each of you, I thank you for your patient input and knowledge.  I couldn't do it without you!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Special Moment

The Proposal, with family looking on

The man needed an accomplice, so he approached one of us.  Perhaps his mistake was not doing a background check on the group she was with but he needed to act quickly and quietly.   He'd thought everything else through.  The time, the location, the ring.  All he needed was someone to record this - the biggest moment of his life.

But, he asked one of us to hold the camera and document this event.  With the camera running, he led his special someone to a canopy created with hundreds of white lights.  He peered into her face, then dropped to one knee and produced a small box containing the glittering symbol of a thousand dreams.

Our rag-tag group surrounded the couple as he asked her to spend the rest of her life with him, and the romantic moment was transformed to a sporting event.  We cheered his actions, we clapped, then someone realized we didn't know her answer so we loudly called out, as though it was our right to know her response.  We'd suddenly taken a vested interest in the outcome of this moment.  She nodded, and responded yes, and as he stood and slipped the ring on her finger, we applauded, then asked to be invited to the wedding!

My uncle then pulled from his pocket the ultimate engagement gift.  A round chocolate-covered brownie he had purloined at my aunt's memorial earlier in the day.  He'd been bringing it out of his pocket for the past seven hours to gloat about possessing the once appealing treat, but this time, he unwrapped the decaying prize from its shredded paper napkin and offered it to the couple.  With grace, they accepted it, although it was like the gutted squirrel that is offered to a human by the family cat.  

Returning to the paths and twinkling lights of Garvan Gardens, the night seemed brighter, the cold less biting.  Whoever you are, we wish you years and years of happiness.  We were thrilled to spend such a special moment with you.

(Thank you to my niece Chisa Hughes for sharing the great photographs!)
The extended Hughes family