Author Archives: Belladonna Took

About Belladonna Took

Into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, at constant risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic. A wife, a mom, a daughter and sister, kind of a grandma. Until recently a full-time dog rescuer, now more concerned with rescuing myself. User of dog hair as accessory, decor and garnish. Technical writer, strategic thinker, occasional entrepreneur. Voiceless poet and storyteller. Born again Christ-follower and former missionary schoolteacher chewing on some uncomfortable questions. Ignorer of rules, challenger of assumptions, believer in miracles. Skeptical libertarian, equal opportunity despiser of politicians and assholes. Gonnabe gardener, wannabe beekeeper, Monsanto-hating tree-hugger. Morbidly obese chocaholic, with a horse I don't ride because I might break him, and if not he would probably break me.

There’s a black hole in my pocket

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I lost a friend today because I was late. Well, maybe not a friend … but someone I liked, who I’d thought liked me, blew up in my face to lasting effect because I kept her waiting fifteen minutes.

The incident hurt surprisingly much.

In the greater context of this year’s overall shittitude it was a small thing. This wasn’t a key relationship, and while it’s possible that she’s been pretending to like me while nursing a growing grudge, it’s more likely that she was just having a bad day and I made a convenient target.

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The White Rabbit – more than just a fantasy animal.

It hurts that she had a valid complaint that I seem powerless to address. I am always late, and no matter how carefully I plan, how early I set my alarm, how fast I drive from here to there, after a lifetime of trying the best I can do is damage control. When I know punctuality is especially important to someone I can usually, with considerable effort and anxiety, keep my lateness within a ten minute margin, which most seem to accept provided I call when on my way to tell them how late I’m going to be, and am sufficiently apologetic when I arrive. Everyone else is best advised to bring a book – or, if waiting annoys you, start without me – I won’t care. I wouldn’t have cared today when my formerly-friendly acquaintance canceled our arrangement. What hurt wasn’t that she got on with her day; it was the ugly and unexpected intensity of her anger, and my powerlessness to answer it.

I won’t defend a bad habit. Instead, here’s some perspective for the benefit of the model clock-watchers out there, and in particular those whose sanity is challenged by us tardies. (I know I’m not alone.)

First, we know our perpetual lateness is annoying – but as annoying as it is to you, it’s embarrassing and frustrating uto us. You see it as rudeness and lack of consideration; we see it as weakness, a defect, a failure to do something everyone else finds easy. We read books and make lists and watch TED Talks, but it’s like dancing: some people have rhythm; others, no matter how religiously they chant the “one-two-three one-two-three one-two-three” of daily life, cannot keep in step with the minute hand. For you it’s easy – you plan your day, you look at your planner, you know how time and distance and traffic fit together, and everything glides so smoothly into place you simply can’t understand how we manage to trip and stumble every damn time.

Well, allow me to enlighten you. Basically, this happens.

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Soft Watch, by Salvador Dali. This is any timepiece I use, at the precise moment of impact with having to be anywhere.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve concluded that I and people like me have hooked a heel on a loose thread in the fabric of the space-time continuum. We, too, plan our days and check our planners. We can figure out how long it will take to get from here to there, and what the time should be when we leave. We understand the different kinds of “leaving” – the kind that involves stopping what we’re doing, and the kind that involves actually driving through the gate. We know to add five or ten minutes for bumps in the road, and what we have to do before we go, and how long it will take to get our shit together. We figure all that out and then we start our day, and that old minute hand goes ambling around in its lazy circles, and some of the things on our to-do list get done and some don’t. And then our electronic planner twitters a warning … and at that exact moment a quantum cowboy blips into being, lassos our deadline, and vanishes with a resounding fart and a clatter of hooves through the black hole inside the clock on our smart phone – which at that moment typically shows five minutes to our scheduled time of arrival.

Arriving presents its own challenges. Quite often, this happens…

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Infinite Relativity, by M.C. Escher. How I get from here to there.

I’d like to say my new year’s resolution for 2019 is to be on time, but I already have a full tureen of bubbling resolutions to toil and trouble over before the Hubbit comes home. And while it turns out that I have two months longer than I thought I did – because he’ll likely be in rehab until well into March – that doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of getting from where I am now to … anywhere at all. Time and space are tricksy devils, whether you count with a clock or a calendar.

Doesn’t mean I won’t try, mind you.

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Yeah, well … seriously, Yoda, you need to shut the fuck up. Go read a book or something. And if you don’t know by now that there’s more to me than one bad habit, and that I’m worth waiting for, then … yeah. Better you leave without me.

Let’s talk. How do you relate to time, schedules and to-do lists? Whether you are a Tardy or a Timekeeper, how do you feel about the other kind of human? Do you ever secretly think Yoda is a self-righteous pain in the ass?

 

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So this year for Christmas the Hubbit ran over himself with a tractor

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Needless to say, he didn’t pick the little old Ford tractor to get run over by …

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Not this dinky early 40s model, which is the first tractor we bought when we moved out to the farmlet. (Picture taken some years back. We haven’t had any snow this year … and although I should be stressing over climate change, right now it’s working for me. I haven’t the faintest idea how to keep our driveway clear!)

… although, on consideration, that one might have been worse, because although it’s little and cute it has monster wheels designed for gripping soft stuff, like dirt, snow and the flesh of absent-minded old men. In any case, the tractor of choice for his life-altering moment of inattention was this one…

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About 3 tons of He-Power, probably more than you want rolling over your foot-leg-groin-gut-chest, although less horrifying if the tires are smoothish, like those on cars.

If I’m sounding a tad pissed off, it’s partly because this is not how this blog was supposed to go. When I started here, my goal was to entertain, with occasional detours to expound, philosophize, denounce, and share recipes. But the first seven months of this year were so fundamentally shitty that I quit writing altogether until I recognized it was my sole defense against the Black Dog, and since then it’s been one damn shitty thing after another, and now this.

Here’s what happened: The Hubbit was in the workshop getting grain into buckets to feed the cattle before he started on some tractor-related fun-on-the-farm. The tractor takes a while to warm up, so to save time he stood beside it to turn it on. It was supposed to be in neutral. He always  leaves it in neutral. Except this time.

He leaned into the tractor, pushing down the clutch pedal with one hand while he started it with the other. It roared to life, and he released the clutch. The tractor leaped forward. The big rear wheel trapped his foot, rolled up against his leg, and slammed him down onto the gravel scattered over the concrete apron at the door of the shop. It crunched over his pelvis, abdomen and shoulder, before – oh, the sweet grace of God – it rolled off him, rammed into some barrier inside the shop, and stopped.

I was in the corral, around the corner of the shop, pitching apples into a wheelbarrow to feed to the cattle. I heard him yelling. “I’m coming!” I called, starting to close the gate to the stall where the apples were so that my old horse, Vos, wouldn’t get in and eat them all and founder himself. The Hubbit kept calling.

It’s annoying, living with a deaf person. They call you, and you say “Yes?” You say, “I’m coming!” and they don’t hear. They keep calling. Sometimes it’s as though they’re not even trying to listen for an answer. Just call, call, call until you appear. Sometimes it’s so annoying that I very deliberately finish what I’m doing and take my time about going to him, refusing to be rushed.

But not this time. There was something in his voice that snatched my attention so that I left the gate swinging wide, let the apple-laden wheelbarrow tip over, ignored Vos as he shoved forward to grab what he could. I wrested the big corral gate open, hurried to the tractor – I’m too damn fat to run, but I can hurry. He was on the ground and at first I thought he’d just fallen – it happens; his knees are shot and the dogs are clumsy. But he kept calling until I was right up next to him and put my hand on him. He appeared to be bleeding from his eyes, his face was bloody and scratched. “Get an ambulance!” he wheezed.

We live 20, 30 minutes from town. While we waited I hurry-hurry-hurried inside for blankets and pillows – not much use against the cold ground – I didn’t dare move him – but better than nothing. He’d fallen below the bucket of the tractor, and I didn’t trust the hydraulics to keep it up, and even more I didn’t trust myself to raise it, so I scurried about finding random objects that I could prop under it so it wouldn’t drop and crush him. I called the Cool Dude, who called our neighbor Light Man, who arrived and then left immediately to chase down the ambulances and lead them down our private road. (They brought in a helicopter as well; it landed in Vos’ pasture, but he was too busy eating apples to care.)

And then the the bustle of people whose clothes glowed luminous orange and yellow, reassuring smiles, figuring-it-out frowns, staying out of the way, staying close enough to answer questions. A wail of pain as they lifted him, the juddering roar of the unwanted helicopter leaving, the wail of the ambulance on the road to the hospital. Cool Dude insisted on taking me in and then didn’t listen when I told him the way to the new hospital location. His battered, swollen face on the white hospital pillow. Internal bleeding that demanded a flight to a better hospital in Spokane. I came home when they took him away, took a shower, threw some clothes in a bag, fed the dogs. I put fresh bedding on the bed so it would be nice when he came home – which seemed to make sense at the time.

He has a fractured pelvis, broken ribs, a cracked scapula, and bruising, but no organ damage. The scans also revealed a lump in his throat – something unrelated to the accident – so before they released him they biopsied that, which gives us something extra to think about.

I spent the first interminable week in Spokane sitting, first in ICU then in the orthopedic ward. I kept insisting that I hadn’t married him for his looks so his brain better be okay until, to shut me up, they showed me scans that proved the wheel had missed his head. I cracked inappropriate jokes about every indignity, photographed under his hospital gown so he could see the astonishing size and purpleness of his swollen groin, nagged him to suck on one plastic tube and blow into another, coaxed him to eat, bitched when his blood sugar soared, applauded when it dropped, and, hour after hour, waited for the doctors to come.

He’s been in rehab now for a week, and the waiting continues. He can sit up, can get from his bed to his wheelchair, can use a portable commode if they get it to him in time, but it’ll be a while before he can walk. He’s on heavy doses of pain medication, so of course he also needs laxatives, and … well, suffice to say they’ve spent the past few days figuring out how much of those he needs and how long they take to work. I’d like to think that next time the need for laxatives arises they’ll be in less of a hurry for them to work before they wallop him with an extra dose, but since the people giving the laxatives aren’t the people cleaning up when they do what they’re meant to do, that’s by no means certain.

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The Hubbit’s little princesses, Patchee and Ntombi, are learning to make do with me. Today I took them to visit him for the first time. Ntombi was most interested in befriending the man in the other bed, whose wife had brought snacks, but Patchee trembled and lay down under the Hubbit’s wheelchair, and when it was time to leave she begged me to let her stay.

I visit him for an hour or two most afternoons. Usually I take a dog or two. Sometimes we chat; sometimes we seem to have said everything we will ever have to say to each other. They put him through an array of tests when he arrived and, for the first time in his life, he didn’t ace the cognition test. His world has shrunk; it encompasses his pain scale, his physical therapy exercises, his carb intake, his blood sugar count, his bowels. He has a pile of books that he doesn’t read. For the first time in as long as I’ve known him he watches television. I’ve bought him a Lumosity subscription for Christmas, and when he’s dull and spacey I release my inner bitch and pick fights with him over his failure to despise that asshole in the White House as comprehensively or intensely as I do. (Sometimes it takes a poke with a sharp stick – or the verbal equivalent – to send a good surge of oxygen-laden red blood cells shooting brainwards. One does one’s wifely best.)

My world is misshapen and discombobulated, and to find my way around it I’m redefining the boundaries of what matters, and excising everything else with a sharp and ruthless blade. Some days I look at the weeks or months ahead and blaze with a kind of excitement – this is a shake-up, an opportunity to change, to renew our marriage, our life, ourselves. I’m acutely conscious of God’s grace, and hungry to draw close to Him. I make lists of the things I can make better, develop strategies for personal growth and home improvements. Other days I drag myself out of bed and put one foot in front of the other until it’s bedtime again, and then sometimes I can sleep.

Let’s talk. Have you had periods in your life when every time you thought things were as bad as they could be they got worse? How did you cope?

So long, sweet and crazy

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My beautiful girl left us tonight.

Destra came to us as a five month old puppy who needed a safe place to recuperate after breaking her leg. She’d been in the very early stages of training for a career with the police or military when she broke her leg while playing with her trainer. The trainer was going to have her euthanized but a rescue stepped in and arranged for her to have surgery. After a month of crate rest they asked us to take her in for a month of R&R while she finished her recovery.

A few days after she arrived we started seeing bloody footprints all over the house. It took a while to figure out who had been injured – she wasn’t limping, because either the initial accident or the surgery had damaged the nerves in her leg and she couldn’t feel anything. By the time we figured it out, she’d run the pads right off her foot.

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Nine long months of fighting infection followed. Every morning I’d throw a blanket over my dining table and she’d jump up onto it and flop over onto her side with a sigh of resignation, and I’d clean and treat and dress her foot, and then all day she’d fuss and beg to be let out to play with the big dogs. I tried to keep her occupied with games and toys; she loved “packaged meals” – I’d wrap up her kibble, a few bits at a time, in layer after layer of newspaper, each layer thoroughly duct taped, and she’d get to spend a glorious fifteen minutes shredding her way through it. But every few days she’d sneak out, or brazenly break out, and go running in the pastures with the big dogs, and come back with her tongue lolling with joy and her paw bloody. Sometimes she ran it clear down to the bone.

So of course she developed a bone infection, and it didn’t get better no matter what remedies I tried – and I tried everything from a poultice of raw honey to various creams and unguents the vet recommended, in addition to pills that had to be rammed down her throat because she never, ever, ever consented to swallow them, no matter how deliciously disguised or carefully wrapped. She’d nibble off the tasty stuff and spit the pill on the floor. The vet recommended amputation. The rescue that had been providing for her care cut off funding; they said it was time to euthanize. We didn’t have the money for surgery, but we found another rescue that did.

Her amputation surgery was scheduled for a Thursday afternoon. I called the next morning. “So … how is she doing? May I visit her? Maybe bring her something to chew?” She loved to chew almost as much as she loved to run. They said I could, and on my way in I stopped at our local butcher. It was late fall, the time of year when butchers are usually very busy cutting and wrapping farm raised beef, but they didn’t yet have ours. I rushed inside and demanded to speak with him. “My dog just had her let amputated and she needs a really big bone!” I informed him, and after only the briefest pause for bewilderment he gave me the biggest, juiciest, meatiest bone I ever saw.

At the vet I sat in the little consulting room, waiting for them to wheel her in on a trolley (they’d warned me, before the surgery, that she might need help learning to walk). Well, she’d heard my voice and came barreling through the door, dragging the vet tech behind her, and flung herself joyously into my lap. They told me they’d knocked her out after the surgery, wanting her to have a good night’s sleep, but when they’d come in that morning she’d been standing up on her one remaining hind leg, tail wagging, waiting to hear what fun was planned for that day.

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She spent the weekend at the vet, working her way through that bone, and by Sunday afternoon she was well and truly ready to come home. We pulled up at the gate at the end of our long driveway. One of her favorite tricks before the surgery had been to jump out of the car and take off up the driveway, her feet hammering the gravel and ripping her pads to shreds. She’d always got into trouble for that. But as I pulled through the gate I asked her, “You want to run?” She looked at me, not quite believing. “Go on. Run!” I said.

She leaped out of the car and took off up the driveway, and she didn’t care one iota that she had only one hind leg to hammer. That was my girl … Her focus was always on what was in front of her. Hind legs? They were history, and she paid them no mind.

We were still planning to give her up for adoption. I loved her, but even with only three legs she was capable of so much in terms of training – and I was so taken up by rescue that I didn’t have the time to give her what I felt she needed. But then she let us know that she really didn’t like kids – she said they were creepy, stunted and weird, and needed to be bitten. The Malinois rescue that had taken her on had a zero tolerance policy for aggression – and rightly so; Mals can be dangerous. So we kept her; we don’t often have kids visit, and after a few years she decided maybe they were okay after all and the issue went away.

She remained a complete lunatic – really smart, quick to learn how to please, even quicker to learn how to get away with murder. She slaughtered a couple of my goat kids and numerous chickens. She shrieked with excitement, bossed the other dogs, made me laugh every day, and drove the Hubbit crazy.

I wish I’d done more with her. I think she’d have enjoyed being challenged more. But life was good all the same … For most of her life she went everywhere with me, and right up to a few weeks ago she loved going to the river. She loved to swim.

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Over the years, inevitably, she slowed down. Her forequarters, which did most of the work when she ran, grew big while her hindquarters became skinny. Her spine twisted into an S-curve. She needed heavy doses of medication to manage the pain of arthritis. She still liked riding along but needed help getting into the car, and being in unfamiliar places began to bother her. She shared car-dog duties with Argos, and increasingly was content to be left at home.

The vet found a lump on her throat, an inoperable tumor, probably thyroid cancer, about a year ago. It didn’t seem to slow her down, though – no more than she was already slowing down just from being old and achy. We’ve been monitoring her health; last time she had blood work it looked pretty good, and she was due to go in for another test around about now. She collapsed a few weeks ago and I thought then that she was on her way to the Rainbow Bridge, but she rallied and has been her usual self – bossy and impatient with the other dogs, but eager to eat, play, get loves, ride in the car,

She went down this evening, though, and an hour later she was gone. She’s on her cushion near me as I write this. I look at her every now and then, and even though I know she’s gone, it’s hard to believe she really isn’t breathing. I stare at her ribs and they seem to move. I know I’m just imagining it, but all the same when the Hubbit suggested moving her outside for the night I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her out in the cold.

Tomorrow we’ll bury her in the yard in front of the house, and in spring I’ll plant a tree on her grave.

And that’s all there is to say about that, really. I feel this post hasn’t done her justice. I’ve spilled out a whole lot of words and, in the end, they don’t say much. I haven’t told you how soft her coat was, or how intensely alive she was, or how maddeningly shrill her bark was, or how funny and smart she was, or how totally she didn’t give a shit about being a tripod. I haven’t described how, when I took her and Argos to the park and threw the ball, I’d have to keep her on a leash so she didn’t hurt herself trying to beat him to it, and every now and then I’d make him sit/stay and toss the ball close by so she could have a turn without hurting herself. She would never bring the ball back to me and if ever I tried to take it from her she’d be so excited I’d get bitten, so I learned to wait until she decided where to drop it, and then Argos would fetch it. And when she was tired she’d take the ball back to the car, and that was the end of our outing to the park.

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I guess that’s what happened this evening. She got tired, so she grabbed the piece of my heart I threw for her and she’s taken it to the Bridge. I’ll get it back one day, but there’s no hurry. It’s hers, after all.

Please talk to me. There’s no easy way to lose a friend, but sometimes shared stories help.

Sometimes life demands cookies

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Last week I mourned. I took time out to be happy on Wednesday, when Argos and I drove Cojak to his new family in Seattle, but made up for it on Thursday by refusing in any way celebrate Thanksgiving – a holiday I despise despite quite liking turkey, candied yams and green been casserole. Usually I avoid it by sending the Hubbit to visit his sister, but this year that wasn’t an option, so instead I channeled the Mean Wife and abandoned my plan for a feast, and the Hubbit had to fry up a pathetic little piece of ham for himself and the Cool Dude. Friday was no better – I was sad and my face sprang a leak that I couldn’t stop up all day.

Clearly drastic measures were necessary. So I invited 15 people to a cookie party.

A cookie party is a simple and wondrous concept. You invite everyone you know who has an oven to bring 6 dozen cookies to your house.  You then ply them with delectable comestibles and let them entertain you with their conversational brilliance. (Note: Any lack of conversational brilliance is your fault. Bring out another bottle.) When you’ve had enough and want them to leave, you do arithmetic. For instance, if eight people have each brought 72 cookies, 72/8=9, therefore everyone gets to take nine cookies off each platter. Invariably people bring extra, and those are yours – the spoils – and while you can share them if you want to they’re probably better used to distract Hubbits while you hide your stash. And that’s it! For the rest of the year, people will trumpet your name as the hostess who sent them home from a great party with 6 dozen assorted home-baked cookies.

Anyway, having invited a hungry horde to descend upon my humble and chronically untidy abode, of course I then I had to clean my house. And also bake a whole lot of stuff. I thought of canceling the party, but that would have been just too feeble – plus I kept getting texts from happy wannabe cookie-eaters about how their individual baking efforts were going.

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I was going to show you some before and after pictures of my kitchen, but really, why would I do that to you? Or to myself? This photograph of Cairo’s butt, from the perspective of my early morning pillow, pretty much says it all.

So I hurled together a double batch of Refrigerator Cookies, as well as a cheesecake and a malva pudding. Other people brought more goodies, so I canceled my plan to make Chocolate Sour Cream Zucchini Cake, but you really should try it – it’s wonderful! The end result was good and a vast amount of sugar was consumed by all. And since I couldn’t invite the denizens of the blogoverse to share, I figured I’d at least pass along a few recipes. You still have time to organize your own cookie party in plenty of time for Christmas!

Refrigerator Cookies

Fridge biscuits – aka “Refrigerator Cookies” for my American friends, who have given the humble biscuit a strange and perverted meaning involving gravy – were one of my Marmeee’s standbys. The dough is easy to make, you chill it for half an hour, and then you roll it out into sausages, which you wrap in wax paper and store in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to slice and bake them. The only downside to this is the cookie dough is irresistible, so if you’re planning to hold them for long, make extra. And then, damage control: store them where no one but you will see them.

The basic recipe isn’t wildly exciting, but it is incredibly forgiving and permits many complex variations on its simple theme. An option that kids love is to make two separate batches, one chocolate and one vanilla. You can then roll them out flat and lay one on top of the other before rolling them up into sausages, as described in the recipe. The end result is either a spiral pattern or Rorschach cookies – and which you choose will tell us much about who you are in those deep parts of you that cookies don’t go. For this year’s cookie party I made one batch of chocolate and ginger (I replaced some of the flour with cocoa powder, and added several generous spoons of ground ginger) and another batch with chocolate chips and chopped walnuts (I just made up a batch of plain dough and then, using my hands, squeezed and mixed in as much chopped nuts and chocolate chips as I thought it would hold). You could also add raisins, or lemon or orange rind and juice (plus a bit extra flour), or nutmeg and raisins, or cranberries – just have fun with it!

I roll up my sausages so that they’re about 1 1/4  inches (just over 3 cm) in diameter, and I slice them about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. Based on those measurements, a single batch will make about 4 dozen cookies.

8 oz butter
13 oz sugar
3 eggs
3 ml vanilla essence
17 oz flour
3 ml salt
3 ml baking powder
3 ml baking soda

  • Cream butter and add sugar, creaming well.
  • Add eggs and vanilla essence and beat well.
  • Sift flour with salt, baking powder and baking soda, and add to mixture.
  • Chill until stiff enough to handle.
  • Form into rolls, wrap in wax paper, and store in fridge.
  • When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 340ºF.
  • Cut slices and place on greased baking tray, spaced to allow them to spread, in center of oven until they’re just starting to brown around the edges. (Time depends on how thick you slice them. I cut mine about a half inch thick and they were done in 12 minutes in a convection oven.)
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Argos thought I should bake a pumpkin pie, and even went out into the yard to find the necessary pumpkin, but that is something I would never do … so this picture is for the self-proclaimed Queen of All Things Holiday, including pumpkin pie.

Easy Baked Cheesecake

This is a good cheesecake recipe, but it does present a few challenges. First, it’s important not to over-bake it. Remember that it will continue cooking after you take it out of the oven. I’m still experimenting with how to get a firm but soft filling, and I imagine you’ll need to do your own experimenting depending on your altitude, your oven, and your preferences.

Second, I’d like a stronger hint of lemon than I managed this time. A “drop” of lemon juice doesn’t really cut it; I think next time I’ll skip the vanilla and add a “dollop” of lemon or lime juice … and maybe I’ll stir in some lemon or lime zest while I’m at it.

Lastly, although it tastes wonderful it doesn’t look that pretty. In my experience the topping tends to crack. So plan on slathering the top with whipped cream!

Base

1-2 pkts of graham crackers or tennis biscuits, crushed
8 oz butter, melted

  • Mix, making sure the crackers are saturated but all the butter has been absorbed.
  • Press down onto base of 8×8″ pie plate.
  • Refrigerate until the butter sets.

Filling

18 oz cream cheese
10 Tbsp sugar
Drop of vanilla essence
Drop of lemon juice
3 eggs
2 Tbsp flour

  • Preheat oven to 390 ºF.
  • Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice until they’re smooth.
  • Add eggs and flour and mix well.
  • Pour over base.
  • Bake 35 minutes until just turning brown round the edges, and remove from oven.

Topping

9 oz sour cream
Splash lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugar

  • Mix well.
  • Pour over hot cake, and return to oven for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve chilled with whipped cream.

 

When rescue fails

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Last week a thing happened, and I feel.

The problem with words is, we talk too much. They get overused and shabby, and when you really need them to say something they’re worn out and not up to the job.

But something happened, and I must tell, and words are what I have.

Where to begin? I’ll start with this text from the Hubbit, received while I was at a writer’s conference in Seattle in September. That’s as good a place as any.

“Scarlett died unknown causes. Suspect the food as several dogs don’t wanna eat it. Am buying new food.”

There was also a photograph. If I hadn’t read the text first I’d have thought she was sleeping.

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Scarlett – what she really looked like.

Scarlett was one of our rescues … I’ve told you I rescue dogs, right? Kuja and I started a small group last year. So far we’ve rehomed around 75 dogs and 30 cats, and also helped owned pets that needed vet care, food, and so on. Anyway, Scarlett was a beauty. Her mother was a Belgian Malinois, daddy was a German Shepherd / Husky cross. She was the last pup left from an accidental litter, and when she came to me she was around eight months old and still didn’t have a name. Her people hadn’t been cruel to her, but they’d never wanted her, and it showed. She was pretty shut down, and I figured she’d be a good project for Peter Pan.

I’ve mentioned Peter Pan but never explained his place in the Took menage. He showed up several years ago with a teenage girl we knew. They pitched a tent in the backyard and all was roses for a day or two, then early one morning I saw her spinning her wheels as she roared down our driveway, and I went outside to find him forlornly folding his tent. That’s when I learned he was homeless. He was just a boy – 22 years old, and had spent the years since he aged out of the foster system couch-surfing and drifting back and forth across the country.

Well, he stayed for a few days, which turned into weeks, then months, until he was ready to move on in spring of the following year. I was sorry to see him go and missed him – both the help around our farmlet and the laughs. He’s high a lot, which makes him giggly; this annoys the Hubbit, who is sternly anti-weed, but amuses me. He showed up again a few months ago – I told you how happy I was to see him. Anyway, he took his puppy training responsibilities seriously. Scarlett didn’t warm to him – she was a shy pup, easily scared – but I kept encouraging and advising him, and he kept her with him all day as he went about his work on the farm.

Then we took in Cairo, a a gangly, goofy Malinois pup produced by a backyard breeder who sold him then wouldn’t take him back when the buyer changed his mind. (Mals are like velociraptors – not for the fainthearted.)

dog watching GIF

I already had my hands full with our other foster, Cojak, a German Shepherd designated “dangerous” that I’ve been rehabilitating. But it was no problem – it’s as easy to play with two puppies as one, and I hoped Cairo would bring Scarlett out of her shell. Peter Pan started going around the farm with two puppies prancing around him. He got less farm work done but I was good with that; the dogs were more important.

It saddened me that that none of the dogs really liked Peter Pan. He tried so hard to win them over, coaxing and loving on them … I felt bad for him. It didn’t help that Cairo got banged up in an encounter with one of the cows when he was out in the pasture with Peter Pan and got too close to her calf, and also both pups got badly stung by yellow-jackets while out in the shop with him. They were miserable, with their swollen faces and crusty, oozing sores, and they clearly blamed him for the hurt. I kept reassuring him and offering advice – “Don’t force it – let him choose to come to you and then reward him” … “Don’t try to bribe them; just let them know you keep treats in your pockets, and wait for them to come and ask” … “Give her space – she’ll come to you when she’s ready”. My advice was good – it worked. Puppies love treats.

Then it was September, and the conference, and before I could go I had to process a pile of adoption applications for a commotion of chihuahuas we’d rescued from a hoarding situation. So I was distracted, and when Peter Pan mentioned that some of the dogs were off their food I didn’t pay attention.

By the time I received the Hubbit’s text he’d already buried her, and he flatly refused to dig her up again for a necropsy. (Yeah, I’m that wife. But I was right this time.) Peter Pan had found her just before she died, and when I spoke with him over the phone he sounded devastated. Cairo was also sick; they rushed him to the vet, where he went onto a drip and had a bazillion tests, all of which came back looking scary but inconclusive. We sent the food off to a lab to be tested, and I fantasized angrily about the costly vengeance I would wreak upon the manufacturer … but then those results came back negative.

Cairo had a series of follow-up visits with the vet, but remained a sad, sore, floppy puppy. X-rays revealed two broken ribs and a cracked vertebra – an ugly shock; my cows aren’t friendly but they’re not mean – it didn’t make sense that she’d hurt him that badly. The vet prescribed crate rest and various medications, but there was a grim set to her jaw, a look in her eye that told me that, after more than ten years of taking my dogs to her, I had been judged and found wanting.

Cairo’s misadventures continued. He snapped his lower left canine, revealing raw nerves, and developed a hematoma on his left ear. I didn’t know how – snagged the tooth trying to break out of his wire crate? Hooked it in a bone and yanked it out with excessive force? (Everything a Malinois does involves excessive force.) Smacked the ear against something while playing too hard during one of his brief bouts of normal Malinois energy? It was strange and frustrating, but a broken tooth and a hematoma could be identified, diagnosed and fixed. My attention was consumed by more bewildering questions.

The vet noticed that he “walked funny”. “There’s something else going on with this dog,” she muttered. Could he have panosteitis? His face was still swollen, the lesions on his nose weren’t healing properly, and the lymph nodes in his throat were swollen. Could it be juvenile cellulitis? But when I tried to discuss it with her she wouldn’t quite meet my eye. She suggested we hand him off to another, bigger, wealthier rescue, because we’d already run up a sizable bill, we couldn’t afford all the diagnostics she wanted to do, and she wasn’t offering any more discounts.

Back home the other dogs were doing well on their new kibble but Cairo wouldn’t eat, so I started cooking for him – elk, home-raised eggs and veggies, home-made bone broth. He began to get better. I thought gentle exercise might help, so once again he was out with Peter Pan as he worked around our farmlet.

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Destra

Then Destra collapsed. Destra is my girl – my first Malinois – an 11-year-old I’ve had since she was a puppy and came to us to recover from the injury that eventually cost her a hind leg. She has an inoperable thyroid tumor wrapped around her throat, so we’ve known for a while her time was limited. She threw up everything in her gut, but once that was done she wasn’t in distress. She just wanted to sleep, wouldn’t eat, and couldn’t really walk. I googled “how to tell my dog is dying”, and all the symptoms checked out. So I made her comfortable, kept her company, and left the care of the other dogs to Peter Pan. Eventually I snugged her up to a hot pillow and went to bed, expecting her to be gone by morning.

She wasn’t. When I sat up in bed and looked at her, she was sitting up and looking at me, and she made it clear that getting her outside to do her business was my most urgent priority. (She didn’t like to be carried but looked very regal in a wheelbarrow lined with blankets.) By the next day she was moving under her own power. I started feeding her the same food as Cairo, and she quickly recovered.

Reading over this I see that I’ve left out so much – but it’s already too long. I just don’t have the space to tell you about the cat Peter Pan found lying dead in the south pasture, or the three perfectly healthy hens that dropped dead without warning. I don’t know if it’s relevant that we brought home a Chihuahua mama and four puppies born by emergency c-section and two of the babies died. One was the runt but the other … I was sure he’d make it. But neonates die, after all – especially after a too long labor, when their mama is still exhausted and too stoned to keep them under the heat lamp.

And then there was Argos. I told you what happened to him. He survived that first night. A test for toxoplasmosis came back negative. The leptospirosis test needs to be confirmed but is a probable negative. Yesterday’s follow-up with the eye specialist revealed that he’s doing well. His eyes may recover fully, but if they don’t … well, he’s a Malinois; he’ll figure it out. Only it makes me crazy that we have no idea what happened to him. We can run test after test, we can speculate about trauma, but we can’t know.

And that’s true for this whole horrible story. We can add 2+2 and pick a number. We can speculate, extrapolate, assume. But there’s not a lot we can know.

Yes, okay … I skipped over the thing that happened last week. Fine. Let’s end this.

I was out, and the Hubbit called and told me to get my ass back home because he’d just caught P beating Cairo. I passed P on the way home and my foot lifted reflexively from the accelerator. He looked so lonely, such a gangly, lost boy walking an empty road on a gray day. “I can take him into town, or to a friend – at any rate, someplace warm,” I thought. “We can talk in the car. There has to be an explanation.”

But then I let my foot drop back onto the accelerator pedal, because the truth is we’d started to wonder about him before that day. The Hubbit had never trusted him but held his peace until I confessed my fears. Then we’d found a private place and prayed together: “Lord, please reveal the truth, and give us the wisdom to know what to do.” We’d borrowed a motion-activated infrared camera and hoped to borrow more, so we could monitor the house and workshop. I’d begun to watch him more closely with the dogs, intervening when they didn’t want to go with him, feeding them myself rather than asking him to do it. I told Kuja, “It feels like we’re cursed. Like there’s something evil loose on our property. And really I’d rather encounter some Halloween-style ghost or ghoul than…” I didn’t want to say it, but she knew. And she knows one doesn’t abandon someone, whether they have four legs or two, without a clear and certain reason.

So anyway, the Hubbit and the Cool Dude walked into the house and heard Cairo screaming. They rushed to him and found that P had somehow folded himself inside the big wire crate to get at the puppy, who was crammed up against the far end. P was stomping Cairo with his army boots. He scrambled out, made some asinine excuse about Cairo having pooped in his crate (there was no poop, and anyway, what the fuck?)

That was five days ago. Since then, I’ve taken over most of P’s chores. One of them was to put out food and water for the invisible barn cats and clean their litter box. I find they’ve gone from being invisible to not there at all. The food and water I put out is untouched, the litter box unused, and mice scurry boldly all over the shop.

On the other hand, Cairo has gone from being a sad, listless puppy to a wonderful lunatic, leaving a wake of destruction wherever he goes.

Cairo mug

Cairo. This is from a couple months ago, before he got sick. In fact I think it was taken just a day or two before the horrors began with the wasps. Can you imagine hurting this?

So that’s what happened, and I feel ashamed that I didn’t pay attention when Cairo and Scarlett tried to tell me they weren’t safe. I feel stupid that I was so slow to figure it out. I feel betrayed. Sickened. Abused. Disillusioned. Angry.

I think of the lost boy that I thought I knew, that I thought I could trust, that I thought I could rescue, and I feel bereaved.

Let’s talk. Have you ever trusted someone, and thought you and they were walking the same trail, only to realize the person you trusted may never have existed outside your imagination?