Suddenly the entire attic slid off her house. She was standing right there, watching it happen. She did what anyone would do - she leapt into the air and landed ten feet away.
Noelle has been dividing her time between chewing cardboard, as one does, and standing on one foot.
We haven’t rebuilt her fort since mid-October, and we hadn’t been paying much attention to its structural integrity. Let’s just say it wouldn’t have passed inspection. Code violations included holes in exterior walls, excavations of entire sections of floor, and an unpermitted tenant-installed skylight.
What a parrot beak is able to do with corrugated cardboard is to gradually excise the inner layer, leaving only a thin veneer that looks like a regular box on the outside. Sometimes all that is really left is a strap of packing tape.
The exterior lists slightly in sections, but otherwise appears sound, a sort of Potemkin village.
When the attic fell off, the fort was reduced to its original three stories, but was otherwise intact.
Noelle is no dummy. She has been known to gnaw off a basket handle in segments, leaving one intact coil so that it doesn’t break and she can continue to perch on it. She can untie knots. She undid the latch on her travel cage and let herself out. She figured out how to operate my sewing snips to try to file her beak. I’m pretty sure that if I let her, she could open a pop can.
Therefore, it was unsurprising when, returned to her bridge, she refused to go back into the fort.
This is the proper reaction when regarding a condemned building!
We were on the clock and not in any kind of position to start rebuilding a new fort, especially since we have been debating some modifications to the original blueprint. With hours left of our workday, we needed to entertain that busy little beak.
The only thing for it was to coax her back into the remains of the fort, like a group of truant teenagers exploring an abandoned mental hospital.
The fort in its various iterations has been a part of our flock since the early days of the shutdown. Just like the gameboard for Clue, it has named areas. There’s the erstwhile attic, the atrium, the kissing booth, and the watchtower where she goes to derp.
(Derping is when she stands around with her beak hooked over the edge of a box, making her look like some kind of buck-toothed lollygagger).
The area where I set my nervous bird was the porch, where she often sits, as if waiting to welcome guests to her Air Bird and Beak.
An anxious parrot is a comical creature. She twitches and jumps and flaps her wings and leans farther to the side than would seem physically possible. She cranes her neck around, adding nearly two inches to its visible length, and bobs her head up and down. Her eyes become round as saucers. You can almost hear the spooky soundtrack playing.
We returned to work.
Within minutes, once she realized that there was no need for an exorcism or silver bullets, she was back to business, scooting around the remaining rooms of the bird fort and continuing to shred everything within reach.
It’s been days, and Noelle is continuing on with her cardboard-rending hobby the way that only a saliva-free creature could do.
Bright as she is, she does not seem to have made the connection between her habit and the gradual destruction of her play area.
I identify with this a little bit?
But also, the great thing about her is that she operates in constant and perfect faith that all her needs will be satisfied, usually on demand.
There’s this little thing she does, where she’ll be walking back and forth on the back of the couch, and suddenly she will decide that she wants to descend to the cushions. One would think that a flighted avian unit could simply flap twice and land wherever she liked. Instead, she grabs some piping with her beak and lowers herself off the edge, scaly toes dangling in mid-air, in certain knowledge that someone will rush to her aid, offer her a hand, and carry her down.
She’s learned awfully quickly that she has to work harder to get our attention since the advent of the noise-canceling headphones. She also has to get her message across without a lot of guessing games. This is how we started to get such a clear “good morning” out of her when she informs us that it’s time to be escorted out to the porch.
“Good morning” has proven such a useful phrase for her that she’s been testing it out to see what else it can get her. Not so much a greeting as a “garçon, coffee.”
She has separate and distinct signals for getting fresh parrot kibble vs vegetable parings, turning on the space heater, or being invited into a video meeting.
There are differences between a parrot and other members of the household. She is smarter than a dog and more affectionate than a cat, yet filthier than an entire kindergarten of human children. (You might think your kids are messy, and maybe they also fling fruit on your windows, but do they gnaw chunks out of your baseboards or bite through your headphone cords?)
The great thing about this particular bird is that she lives in this abundant, shameless space. She doesn’t wait or sneak around to steal food the way a dog will. She just marches up and starts eating it. She doesn’t beg for things, she insists on them. Yet she also has her little rituals for saying thank you, like grooming your fingers when you bring her something like a bowl of fresh water. She kisses everyone and everything, from her toys and her swing to the wall itself.
Fortunately she kisses a lot of stuff before commencing to tear it to pieces, which sometimes gives us a chance to intervene.
This weekend we’ll most likely rebuild the bird fort, bigger and better than ever before. It’s hard not to just give her anything she asks for. At least one little soul in this shared experience we apes call “the pandemic” is living her best life, waited on beak and talon.
Hey, did you pack your go bag yet?
Someone close to me has been on an evacuation order, the fires are that close. Seven people on his work crew had their houses burn down.
I told him, yeah, my good friend had her house burn down last year.
Between us, we probably know almost as many people who have been affected by wildfires as we do people who have contracted COVID-19. (Which, by the way, has started touching my own personal family in a most offensive manner).
The first thing to think about with go bags is actually not your own stuff - it’s your pets and their stuff.
This is what I reminded my person, who claimed that his cat likes to ride in the car. True. Cool story, bro. Have you tested that theory when there are flames down the street?
Animals panic when things are on fire. This may save their lives, if they can outrun the flames in the right direction. It may also mean their certain doom, if there’s nowhere to go. It’s also unlikely you’ll be able to find them again.
BTW did you get your guys microchipped?
We have a parrot, and fire would be extremely bad news for her. Smoke inhalation would probably take her out before we could get her into her carrier. Nevertheless, I keep it directly under her sleeping cage, door facing out. All we would have to do is pull the Velcro so the door flaps down and stuff her inside. Right next to the carrier is her go bag, with styptic gel and a few other supplies.
Styptic gel, you haven’t heard of it? Neither had our vet. It stops bleeding if you smear it on a wound. It stings a little, but it’s got a topical analgesic in it so they calm down right away. Birds, dogs, cats, people, probably lizards, I dunno. Most useful veterinary first aid item I know of. I keep it in the outside pocket of the go bag for easy access.
First aid. That’s the thing that nobody really thinks about until something happens. Like this time I was running for the bus, and I tripped and flayed open my knee just as the bus was coming. I got on but I didn’t have so much as a napkin to stop the bleeding, and that was the end of my white capri pants. Now I take those large bandages and the gauze and the rolls of tape a lot more seriously.
Our smaller first aid kit is right on the top inside my go bag. It’s bright red, of course. No matter how many times I might pack and repack this bag, the first aid kit is staying on top.
What else goes in there that we always meant to pack, but never got around to it?
Somewhere, somehow, you want all the contact information for your insurance. (Medical, car, homeowner, whatever else you have). Also all your bank information and anyone you’d want to get in touch with if you have to evacuate.
Assume, of course, that you’ve lost your phone somewhere.
Strangely enough, I had a second conversation right after I talked to my person about evacuating his pets. This one was about restoring a device that hadn’t been backed up.
* this is your regularly scheduled random reminder that, oh yeah, you kept meaning to get around to that, too *
I explained that, considering what the device was used for, it was probably okay that it had never been backed up. But please talk to the free tech support person about getting that set up, so you won’t continue to run into this situation every few years?
Imagine the perfect combination of factors: your device was never backed up, you never packed your go bag or listed off your emergency contacts, and then you actually did have to evacuate. You’re sitting in an emergency Red Cross shelter trying to rack your brain and figure out how to get ahold of everyone. Anyone.
Facebook, probably, and someone would probably be kind enough to let you log in for a few minutes.
But then, with your life up in the air, how many hours do you really want to spend tracking down all your insurance and bank info? As well as lining up somewhere to stay?
And trying to track your poor missing animals?
Hopefully not while your kids cry down to their chins over them?
I have had to evacuate my apartment because of a fire. I’ve also had to evacuate my building at work after explaining to my customer why I had to hang up our call, which they did not believe. When it happens, it’s not like they write you several letters first. You’re either sound asleep or doing something important when BOOM BOOM BOOM. That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a firefighter come and beat on your door.
I don’t mean to be scary, except that I totally do. Packing a go bag is somewhere way down the list from writing a will, becoming an organ donor, and putting your fire extinguisher somewhere accessible. (Um, you do have a fire extinguisher, right?) Try to make it vivid and visual in your mind that these things happen, and lately they happen all the time.
Practice. Practice grabbing your stuff and rounding up your small dependents and actually getting them out the door. It will immediately become obvious if there are any flaws in your plan.
I tried it with the dog, the parrot, and my backpack. It was nuts. I could barely walk 1 mph. Fortunately, nothing was on fire so they were both like “Walk? Right on!”
Suddenly all my great plans about packing a paperback book and some playing cards didn’t sound so great. Keep it light.
If you don’t actually have practice walking long distances with a heavy backpack, don’t put yourself in that position on the one day you really need that backpack. Either train for it or keep culling what you have in there. Keep putting it on and weighing it.
Having a solid evacuation plan is more valuable than a go bag. Even better is to have several plans. Think out what you would do if certain roads are blocked. Think out what you would do if you have to shelter in place for several days. Talk it out with your best friends, especially the fluffy kind.
Hopefully we never need any of this stuff. It sure is a lot easier to sleep soundly when we know that we have it zipped up and ready to go.
Once upon a time there was a little gray parrot named Noelle. She was a tiny bird with an enormous dream. One day, when she grew up, she wished that she could live in a cardboard box.
Then her wish came true!
First, she had one box.
Then, she had two boxes.
Then, she had three boxes.
Before she knew it, the little parrot named Noelle had so many boxes she could hardly count them all. She could climb out of one box and into another box and then climb out again.
Best of all, the little gray parrot was allowed to chew up as much cardboard as she wanted! She could rip it and tear it and shred it and kick it over her shoulder until it fell all over the floor like so many brown cornflakes.
What could possibly be better than living in a box and chewing on cardboard? Mm, mm, delicious!
After a while, Noelle would chew up her boxes so much that they would start to fall over. Then, the very next day, there would be brand-new boxes to munch.
What happened to the old boxes? They fell on the floor in hundreds of little pieces like so many brown cornflakes. That’s what happened to the old chewed-up boxes.
The little parrot named Noelle loved living in a cardboard box. She loved starting all over again with a fresh box whenever she chewed up the old one. There was just one problem.
Every time she went to her box house, she got stuck there. Her box house had no toys, because whenever she found a toy in her nice cardboard house, she picked it up and threw it off her porch. That was her choice. All cardboard, no toys.
But the cardboard house didn’t have any food or water, either. Worst of all, it didn’t have a bathroom.
Poor Noelle. Every time she really started to have fun tearing up her cardboard house, she would start to realize that she needed a break. Then she would have to wait for a cab ride to take her back to her perch.
Whistle, whistle! Whistle for the taxi cab!
Then, one magical day, a new box showed up. It was very skinny and very flat and very long. Where did this box come from? What was in it?
A ladder with every rung a different color!
This was very scary. Whenever there is a ladder, it’s best to stare at it for a while and make sure it doesn’t make any sudden moves.
The next day, the ladder wasn’t scary any more. It had learned to mind its manners.
All of a sudden something happened.
The ladder reached from the box house to the perch!
Now the little gray parrot saw that she could walk back and forth across the ladder bridge whenever she wanted to.
The first day she went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, just to try it out. She shuffled sideways, hanging onto the side of the ladder.
On the second day, she found out she could walk straight forward if she put one foot on the side and the other foot on the rainbow-colored rungs.
Then the little parrot decided that the ladder bridge was the best place to be. She sat in the middle. Sometimes she stood on one foot, because that’s the most comfortable thing to do when you want a nap. Don’t you stand on one foot when you’re tired and you want to sleep?
Another thing you can do on a bridge is eat a piece of lettuce, or maybe some cucumber. Be sure to hold onto it with your toes so you don’t drop it. Cardboard might be delicious, but it’s good to save room for some vegetables too sometimes.
At the end of the day, the little gray parrot named Noelle walked back and forth on the ladder bridge so many times, and ate so much cardboard, that she got very tired. It was almost nine o’clock, and that’s much too late. She went to bed, where she dreamed of eating lots and lots of cardboard the very next day.
I used to write book reviews on Fridays, but I haven’t seemed to be able to finish reading a book for a while. I hope that this children’s story was mildly entertaining and that someone might actually read it to a little kid.
Why not? Today I’m just going to talk about my sweet little bird and her cardboard box fort.
We might have figured it out sooner. For years now, whenever anything would come in a box, Noelle would take a keen interest in it. You can always tell when she really wants something because she turns her head sideways and stares at it with one eye. You can practically see the cartoon arrows pointing directly from her pupil to the object of her desire.
Every now and then, we’d get a big empty box and put her in it. She would scrabble around in there, chewing holes in it and scratching at it with her feet. She does this thing we call “starting the Harley” where she repeatedly kicks one leg backward. There’s a bit of force to it, which you’ll find if you ever put your hand back there while she’s digging.
One day, Noelie was making a bit of a racket while my hubby was trying to work. (I checked my photo album and, coincidentally, it was just a couple days before I realized I had COVID). He had the bright idea to give her a box to play in, except that we didn’t have any big boxes. The one he gave her was barely big enough for her to fit in, an A1 size.
She loved it!
She stood in this little box that only just fit her from beak to tail, and she peeked out over the flap quite cheerfully - for three hours.
Every now and then we would look over at her and crack up laughing. What are you even doing in there??
It didn’t take long to realize that she felt safe in the box. Her perch looks out the sliding glass window into the top of a palm tree where several bird families live. She likes the house finch family and the sparrow family and the hummingbirds and the pair of doves. She is not, however, a fan of the three crows that hang out there.
Birds, by the way, don’t really understand the concept of glass. Their eyes are different than ours and I don’t think they can really tell anything is there.
In the window, she feels exposed to predators - including the gulls and pelicans that she can see sometimes. In her little cardboard box on the top of the bookshelf, she felt cozy and safe. We kept the box and put her back in it the next day. And the next, and the next.
When she wants to go over there, she leans forward and stares intently. If we don’t notice her right away, she starts vocalizing and getting pretty insistent. Then when she needs a break, she does the reverse, staring at her perch and calling for a ride.
Entropy happened and a month later the little A1 box was starting to look pretty chewed up. We needed a replacement, but we didn’t have any more boxes in that size. I managed to scrounge one a little bigger, an A3, and that was when I had my idea.
“I’m going to make her a fort.”
I put the little box vertically in the bigger box, a L shape. I figured we’d lose the first day, because birds are notoriously freaked out by changes in their personal space, even like a new toy or a snack sometimes. But I hadn’t even finished setting it up before Cardbird was over there leaning forward and shifting her weight from foot to foot.
So she stood there in the “box fort” for several hours a day, with occasional breaks.
A week later I got hold of a third box in about the right size and put it over the top. Once again, she figured out that this was a value-add right away and wanted to check it out immediately. She had a roof.
That was when she started taking naps in there.
A week later, I figured out how to add a side compartment and give her a split-level. It took her, like, minutes to climb up into it and explore. She started going up there and peeking at us around the wall.
Two weeks later, I had another box and I built her a compartment on the opposite side. That was the arrangement that allowed her to get up onto the roof, an accomplishment she obviously found very satisfying indeed.
Cardboard doesn’t last forever, though. Also, my husband is an engineer.
What happened next was probably inevitable. A month later, when the existing structure had started to collapse because she gnaws from the base, my husband rebuilt the entire thing.
This was when the “box fort” became what it is now, which is basically a three-story Bauhaus modernist bird mansion with a porch and a ladder.
At this point, we realized that Noelle Noodle is probably the only parrot in the galaxy who has her own box fort. That should change, right?
The fort has transformed the experience of having a parrot at home with two busy office professionals who are on the phone all the time. She knows she is allowed to do whatever she wants in there, tearing and shredding and kicking bits of cardboard over her shoulder. She can climb between levels and compartments safely, with juuuuust enough challenge to make her feel like she’s really earned the fresh view. She naps out in there all the time.
Any bird family might be interested to learn that she’s made it four months completely streak-free. She considers the box fort her “nest” and she has kept it 100% immaculate from the start. She won’t even take toys in there - I’ve tried to offer her a couple and she pitches them out onto the floor.
Our groomer advised that if she started acting aggressive, we should take the fort away from her. She is a remarkably sweet bird and it hasn’t been a problem, but maybe partly because it’s at least a foot lower than her usual perch.
That’s the story of Noelie and her box fort. It began as a random, casual idea and gradually, over a period of three months, morphed into a real plan. This is an allegory for any creative spark, you get that, right? Also, it’s a bit of a manifesto. Even a kid can tape together some empty cardboard boxes and make something sturdy enough for a pet bird to climb on. Every household pet absolutely needs a private personal space to chillax - and they also all need at least 12 hours of sleep, something that is tougher for birds to get, which can make them a little crazy.
True for us all. We all need quiet time, personal space, some playtime, and a little imagination. Maybe some of us could use box forts of our own.
It literally just hit me, with one month to go. We’re not coming up on a new year, we’re coming up on a new decade!
A bit poleaxed by this.
How did this happen? Where did the time go? Am I going to be feeling this same way ten years from now, when I am... *gulp*... 54?
Here I had just been worrying whether I would finish all my resolutions for 2019, and suddenly I’m snapped into a whole next-level perspective.
I spent my twenties being broke, big-time broke, but I somehow managed to finish out that decade of my life with a college degree and a driver’s license. (And a divorce but who’s counting)
Then I spent most of my thirties with my husband. That was an extremely dramatic change from the previous decade of my life. In fact it is helping with this time-shock that I am feeling right now, to think of when he entered my life and the fantastic contrast between His Time and any Time Before. We often say, “I can barely remember what it was like before you came along,” (to our phones) and it feels very true.
Now let’s compare 2009 to 2019.
Um... what else?
2009 was the year I got married again. There probably won’t be as dramatic a change in my life again, unless we get a grandkid (?) or until we retire. That part of things feels solved. For someone who is single, I would say, don’t worry. I hope you always feel that being single is better than being with the wrong person, or being with someone for the wrong reasons. Marriage is either the best thing to ever happen to you, or the worst...
I continue to not own a home. I’ve never bought a house or owned property, and I wonder if I ever will. We’ve moved [counting] eight times since 2009! We’ve also traveled to nine countries together. That part is starting to feel pretty standard. For those who have lived in only one home in the past decade, take a moment to consider that in the context of someone who moves a lot.
Not only do we not own a home, we also don’t own a vehicle. I sold my car shortly after we started dating, and my husband’s pickup died somewhere past 200,000 miles. Then we had a compact car for a while, but it was recalled and we elected not to replace it. That’s something to consider in a ten-year context as well: your main form of transportation.
Ten years ago, I still had a student loan, we were paying for our wedding, and my husband was still paying both alimony and child support. Fast forward to today and we’re debt-free, living in a completely different financial world. (Saving half your income will do that). Ten years is an ideal block of time to consider your finances. Are you on track to be free of any financial burdens that you have today?
Or, realistically, are you going to continue to spend beyond your means, like most people, and find any thoughts of money and debt scary or depressing?
(There’s still time)
Ten years ago, we lived in a suburban house that was roughly 1800 square feet. We had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a yard, and a two-car garage with loft storage. We had two couches and two dining tables. Now we live in a 650-square-foot apartment. We’ve been sub-900-square-feet for the past five years, tiny house territory. We got rid of easily 80% of everything we owned, possibly more like 90%. While it seems weird to imagine having all that stuff again, and I strongly doubt we ever will, we will probably expand into a bit bigger home again within the next decade, more for the yard and a possible guest room than anything else. Also because tiny homes are harder to find!
Ten years ago, my husband was at the same job he’d held for the previous ten years and he thought he would be there at least until his kid finished high school. We had no inkling whatsoever of the direction his career would go only two years later. He’s been sent around the world and he’s working on his fourth patent. He went from a shared cubicle quad to a private office with a door. Me? I went from a basic secretarial role to whatever the heck you call what I do these days. International woman of mystery. Ten years can be a very, very long time on a career trajectory.
Ten years ago, I was unfit, a lifelong non-athlete, homebody, and shy person. Somehow in the past decade I’ve run a marathon, become a Distinguished Toastmaster, self-published a book, visited four continents, climbed a rope, done standup comedy, jumped over open flames, and otherwise completely shocked myself.
I’ve also been bit by a fire ant and gotten into the stinging nettles, sing Hey for a life of adventure...
In 1999, I wore a size 14. In 2009 I wore a size six. In 2019 I wear a size two. Twenty years ago I was a chronically ill, overweight young woman with a brunette pixie cut. Now, weirdly, I am a thin middle-aged lady with long blonde hair, boxing gloves, and a collection of adventure race medals. I look like a completely different person, I have a different name, I live 1000 miles away from where I started, and the only thing I really have in common with myself is my reading habit. Who am I??
Ten years ago, we had our pets, Spike and Noelle, and we were afraid to leave them alone in a room together for even ten seconds. Today, not only is it amazing and a little tearjerking to think they are both still here, but their decade of friendship is something beautiful to behold. He finally let her snuggle him for a couple of minutes the other day, fluffy breast puffed up against his side. We never had anything to be afraid of, other than the day they say goodbye. Whatever else ever happens in our lives together, we’ve had eleven years of the Spike and Noelie Show; we’ve loved them always. Heaven will be the two of them napping side by side forevermore.
Ten years ago, and certainly twenty years ago, I could not have imagined anything about my life today. Not where I lived how I look or my social life or how I spend my time, certainly not the technical innovations that are an ordinary part of my day. Only the love in my heart for my man, my little animals, and my family, that’s all I seem to carry.
What will happen in the next ten years? Where will we be and what will we be doing? Who will still be here and who will not? Will we have said everything we should have said to them? Will we do everything we’ve intended to do, or will we do more, or will we squander the days and years? We’ll burn through them one way or another, so let us burn through them lovingly and with all our hearts.
Six weeks to live, that’s what the vet told us. He was in one room and we were in another, having a surgical consult for our 10-year-old dog. After absorbing all the information and asking a lot of questions, we wept on each other and then declined treatment.
A year later, he’s still here.
There are few emotional moments as difficult as saying goodbye to a beloved pet. Our love for them is uncomplicated and pure in a way that it rarely or never is for the humans in our lives. This is why sitting in a veterinary office can lead us to make decisions that can ultimately be bad for the animal and bad for us as well. It helps when we can set ourselves some guidelines in advance.
It sucks, but animals have lifespans. Most of them are shorter than ours. We love them, and then they get old and die on us. It’s desperately unfair. Why can’t a dog live as long as a horse? Why can’t a cat live as long as a parrot? Our parrot helped raise this dog, Spike, from a 10-week-old puppy. Now she’s still swinging upside down by two toes and singing to Lady Gaga while he’s a stiff old elderly dog. She’s 21 and she could probably outlive five consecutive dogs during her natural lifespan.
It isn’t fair.
It isn’t fair, and yet that’s part of my attraction to parrots. Long life and few health problems.
Comparing one phylum to another isn’t useful in this context, though. What I am going to offer is a comparison between two dog-loving families faced with similar veterinary issues, what they decided, and how it turned out.
First I’ll offer the test case, and then I’ll offer details about Spike’s situation.
I met a woman at a party. She had a lot on her mind. Her household was broke, she was unemployed, and she couldn’t afford the special high-end groceries she needed for her diet. I used to work in social services, so when I hear “can’t afford groceries” I get into “feed this family” mode and start offering options. Then I found that the family was broke partly because they had recently spent over $20,000 on cancer treatments for their dog.
I didn’t meet the dog in question, and we’re not in touch, so I have no idea how this looks a year down the road. The story was that the treatments worked and the dog was cancer-free a year later. The woman at the party didn’t seem to have made the connection between struggling with grocery money and paying the extra vet bills.
This stuck in my mind because only a couple of weeks later, we found out that our own dog had a liver tumor.
Here’s the backstory. Our dog was diagnosed with Addison’s disease when he was two years old. He hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours and he lay in his bed, shaking. I got down on the floor with him and held him all night, certain this pup was going to die. Took him to the vet and found out he has this genetic endocrine disorder which is so serious that most people choose to euthanize rather than try to treat it.
We decided to give him the pills and keep him around. A few years later, that medication quit working on him and we thought he was going to die again, but he responded to a different drug. Now he goes in every month for a shot, and the few days at the end of the cycle, he tends to be shaky and ill. Tough life for a little dog.
Then there was the time he hurt his neck from shaking his toys so much. The vet advised a spinal tap and a long list of other treatments to find out what was wrong. He didn’t do well on the pain medication and quit eating again, and once again we were sure our expensive little dog wasn’t going to make it. We took him off the pain meds and I was able to coax him back into eating solid food by pretending I couldn’t stop dropping bits of my lunch on the floor.
By the time we made it to the Liver Tumor point on the timeline, we had been through a lot as a mixed-species family. Spike had been on countless prescriptions and was on a first-name basis with literally every single employee at no fewer than four clinics. He was a canine celebrity, The Addisonian Dog Who Lived. “Personality plus,” they call him, a great dog with a loving home... and poor health.
It’s like this. 20% of the time, he’s happy and hilarious. He jumps three feet straight off the ground, chases his tail, and does a dozen circus tricks.
20% of the time, he’s curled up in a ball feeling sick and refusing food.
The middle 60%, he’s like any other dog, hanging around sleeping or scratching his ear or following us from room to room.
We’ve known for a long time that Spike probably wasn’t going to get the advanced life span of some dogs. We’ve known for most of his life that his genetic condition would eventually progress to the point that it was untreatable. We had to make the decision early on that when he started suffering more and life was no longer fun for him, we would do the right thing.
Then my mother-in-law died of cancer, her fifth recurrence.
When we decided to decline treatment for Spike’s liver tumor, this was why. My husband couldn’t put his dog through cancer treatment because he saw what it did to his mom. She was a human who could communicate and sign her own forms. Our dog could never possibly understand what was happening to him, what we were doing to him. We knew he might die during the exploratory surgery, much less during radiation and chemo. All that just to buy him another year, a year of constant pain and fear and confusion?
And then what? The same choices again, only with an older dog?
When we declined treatment, the $9100 bill for the exploratory surgery was a factor, sure. It should be for most families. We have an adult child. What if *she* needed help with that kind of money but we had already spent it on our pet?
What if one of *us* got cancer?
Wouldn’t it be nice if veterinary care came free of charge, no matter the animal. Wouldn’t it be nice if they lived forever. Sure, that would be great, but we don’t expect anyone else to work for free, so why veterinarians? The “cost” isn’t a financial cost, though, as much as it is a cost of pain and confusion and dread for the animal. They hate it there, we know that, and when we bring them in it’s often more about postponing our own pain than theirs.
What happened with our dog’s liver tumor, a year after declining treatment? Fair question. It got larger and he developed a second tumor, in his lung this time. He’s still here, though.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that treating our dog for the liver tumor/possible cancer would not have been a good idea. He got this second tumor anyway, and the treatment for the first tumor could not have prevented it. We would easily have spent twenty thousand dollars treating our dog, who is now eleven and a half, and for what?
In the year that we didn’t have to buy him, the bonus year, he’s had a lot of terrible days. He’s also had some great days, where he was so happy and energetic that we just looked at each other with our mouths hanging open. This dog! His vets (he knows the whole team) have no explanation for why he is still alive. We know his day must be coming any time now, and we have the number to call to help his crossing over the rainbow bridge. We’ll do the right thing for him, no question, but why rush when he still wants to jump and play and do tricks?
Did that other family do the right thing by spending $20,000 on cancer treatments for their dog, at the expense of their own grocery budget? They seemed happy about it, and it isn’t for me to judge. Did my husband and I do the right thing by declining treatment for our own dog, partly because we knew it would cost $20,000? Not everyone would agree, and it probably isn’t fair to include the results, because if he had only lived for a month we might have seemed callous and cruel.
We made the choice we did because we felt that it was too much to ask of our dog to tolerate a year of cancer treatments. We also made this choice because spending that kind of money on a ten-year-old dog did not make sense in a broader moral context. If we were going to spend $20,000, why not put it toward a human’s cancer treatment instead?
We’ll say goodbye to our dog sometime soon. We won’t wait for the obvious last day. We’ll make it a party, so his friends can say goodbye too. He can have party foods, even the naughty stuff if he wants it, like fried chicken and chocolate and grapes. We’ll let him go, and it will crush us. But we knew, even when we first held him and he would fit in one hand, we knew he would. We knew that we would love him and he would break our hearts, because we are immortals compared to his kind. We choose this love because it burns so hot, an enormous love for a short life.
Running is my dog Spike’s favorite thing ever. He likes it even more than BALL. One day, he went for a six-mile run with my husband while I was at a baby shower. I got ready for my own run. Spike was eating. I went to slip out the door, visibly wearing running clothes and shoes. Spike saw me, spit his mouthful of dog kibble back into his bowl, and sprinted to the door. He’d rather run than eat, even though he’d already put in significant mileage that day. He’d like to go everywhere we do. I try to remember that while I’m wearing shoes, my dog is barefoot all the time.
I get where he’s coming from. I hate wearing shoes. I especially hate running shoes; I almost always think they’re hideous. Inevitably, when I go to replace my last worn-out pair, I think the new ones are even uglier than the ones I already have. The pair that fit me best and feel the best on my feet are usually my least favorite colorway out of the whole range. I buy one brand that has colors I like okay, but they’re something of a discount brand and aren’t really good for actually running. Just comfy walking shoes. If I’m not going outside for some reason, I’m barefoot at home. I’m even barefoot when it’s cold outside, which drives my mom nuts. “Aren’t you cold?” Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do something so foolish as to wear shoes!
The thing about being barefoot all the time is that it leads to certain choices instead of others.
When I’m barefoot all the time, it doesn’t make as much of a difference whether I get dressed or just hang around in my pajamas. Obviously I’m not going anywhere outside. If I’m not going anywhere, why should I get dressed? This can lead to a blending of morning into late afternoon. If you have the luxury of setting your own schedule, it’s more common for huge chunks of the day to somehow disappear than to suddenly start getting important tasks done at 5:30 AM.
When I’m barefoot all the time, I’m going to put off doing certain things until it’s shoe time. This means stuff like taking out the trash, dropping off donation bags, running errands, or even buying groceries is going to wait until later. In fall and winter, daylight can disappear before you even realize that most of the day is gone. Sometimes today turns into tomorrow, or the next day, or never. Without shoes, I’m unlikely to do yard work, replace outdoor lightbulbs, or even so much as sweep the porch. Months can pass this way.
When I’m barefoot all the time, how simple it is to tuck my feet up under me and snuggle into a blanket. Putting my shoes on entails bathing and getting dressed first. That has this whole domino effect of officially starting my day, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that trigger my to-do list? Can’t I just wait another hour and do it later?
It’s true that I hate shoes. I hate wearing anything on my feet if I don’t have to. It’s also true that going barefoot all the time means I can’t do other things that I love. I’m not backpacking barefoot, I’m not running barefoot, I’m not even going to the library or a bookstore barefoot. My comfort level with hanging around barefoot is a tendency that I don’t feel great indulging.
Wearing shoes doesn’t come naturally to me - or to anyone. They’re artificial instruments of civilization, not body parts. Wearing shoes does, though, assist me in my bias toward action. Wearing shoes makes me more active in every way. Wearing shoes helps me get more done and leads me to use my body more.
I think about my dog Spike and his feet when we run together. One night, he picked up three goat head thorns. They were rammed into the fleshy pads of one paw. Did he cry out? No. Did he ask to stop? No. He just limped a bit until my husband noticed and picked him up. Spike loves running so much that he’ll do it on hot asphalt, on gravel, in mud, and even when he has spiny thorns stabbing between his little toes.
We built up Spike’s feet gradually. When we started running as a pack, I could barely do a third of a mile. We added a tenth of a mile every couple of days. It was three weeks before we were running a mile at a stretch, and I think it took two years before we got to the six-mile mark. Our little 23-pound dog was there for almost every step. Running is his passion. It’s the time he feels most like himself. Because we started out with such short distances, and because we added time and distance so slowly, Spike’s footpads got tough and thick. It helps his nails to stay naturally short and he doesn’t have to go through the trauma of having the groomer trim them. He can run in his full glory, barefoot all the time.
Thinking about my little doggy helps to make me more action-oriented. I need to pause a few times a day to take him out. I would never want him to suffer, not with thorns in his paw and not with unanswered biological needs. I’m sure that if we ever put him in shoes, he’d hate wearing them as much as I hate shoes myself. For him, I wear them more often. At least one of us gets to run wild and free, barefoot all the time.
Have you met my cuppycake? Her name is Noelie and she is extremely gray and fluffy and she has golden eyes and she loves to kiss everything and everyone and climb on the dog. I love her. I mean, you think you love your pet, but no way do you love your animals as much as I love Noelle. It is this love that we should feel toward our treasured goals.
Goal love / pet love comparison chart:
Would do anything for her
Think about her all day, every day
Make all my plans based around her needs
Talk about her constantly
Keep a million pictures and videos of her on my phone
Work her into every conversation
Expect everyone to love her as much as I do, and if they don't, it's their loss
Sometimes people are afraid of her and I can't figure out why
Money is no object - whatever she needs, she gets
Don't really care when she chews up my stuff
Sometimes she is loud and demanding but I love her anyway
When other people fall in love with her, we become instant best friends
There is no reason why everyone couldn't have a cuppycake just like mine
In fact, I highly recommend it
Substitute 'her' and 'she' with 'my goal' and see if it still works.
Goals are BS, really. A goal is a simple, small, bite-size step toward a consuming vision. Unfortunately, we are often quite dumb when we choose goals. We make public proclamations that we are committing to goals we don't really like or want. We choose goals based on what we think we should do. When the goal is true, when the goal is just a minor, obvious obstacle between you and the vision, "should" doesn't matter. Sometimes the vision requires things we "shouldn't" do. According to naysayers, we shouldn't do anything other than complain, consume mass entertainment, and sit on our butts.
These are some things I've done in service of my larger goals:
Sleep on the floor
Sleep in my car
Run in the snow, rain, and hail
Carry fifty pounds on my back
Limp for eight miles
Climb 3300 feet
Eat when I wasn't hungry
Delay meals until my hands shook
Keep going despite an open wound
Work through a four-day migraine
Cry in the elevator, then wipe my eyes and go back to work
Give away all my stuff
Kick a 50-pound suitcase with a broken handle through two airport terminals
Scrub toilets and change diapers
Pay money I didn't want to spend
Take orders from mean people I didn't like
Work all night (many times)
Work in a tent
Work on a plane
Work in a hotel
Work through meals
Work with four devices open
Quit doing things I enjoyed to free up time for my goal
When my goal is my cherished fluffy little pet, it's worth it. When I really want something to happen, when I really really want something I can't just buy at a store, which is almost everything worth having, then I'll do what it takes. No question. On the other hand, when my "goal" is a pseudo-goal that I actually hate, then nothing can get me moving on it.
I never lost weight when I had contempt for fit, attractive, or fashionable people, but I did it almost instantly when I decided to run the marathon.
I never had any money when I had contempt for wealthy people, but it was fairly straightforward when I developed a burning desire to be independent.
I could never get organized when I associated it with criticism and perfectionism, but I did it quickly when I realized it would help me accomplish awesome things like traveling the world.
The difference there is that I moved toward something I saw as attractive, exciting, and much better than where I was when I started. Just like most people will move quickly toward a tray of free pastries, a goal should be shiny, sweet, and delicious to you. Whereas, when a goal is distasteful, onerous, or irrelevant, "trying" is failing. It's the difference between cuddling my cute little cuppycake, or pet-sitting someone's obnoxious, spoiled little monster. No thanks. You can't wait until it's gone, and many people choose goals that they secretly wish would run away.
There are tradeoffs. One goal is often mutually exclusive with another goal, just as my cuppycake keeps me from having a cat. A goal sometimes requires its own living standards, just as not everyone will rent to us or give us a hotel room due to our menagerie. A goal sometimes comes with a surprisingly large number of unwieldy accessories, and you know what I mean if you've ever cleaned a birdcage. When your goal is your true heart's delight, you take it in stride.
I have pets because I can't help myself. I'm smitten. The times when I haven't had pets, part of me has been empty and listless. It's the same with goals. They show up and we're helpless, hopeless, willing slaves of our own dreams. We're never the same afterward. They make our lives and our hearts bigger. Get one, go nuts, dote on it, and love it and squeeze it until it squeaks.
As I write this, over 180,000 people have been evacuated from the path of the crumbling Orville Dam. We lived near there just a few years ago. Whenever something like this happens, I pause and reevaluate how well prepared my household is in case of disaster. It's a civic duty. At minimum, we should avoid adding to the workload of first responders. Stay out of their way and don't create extra problems. Ideally, we should be self-sufficient and able to take care of ourselves. Under the right circumstances it would be good to be able to pitch in and help others. There are a lot of homebound people out there who could use an extra hand. Nobody left behind. A thirty-foot wall of water is a clear villain against which we can all unite.
This is the purpose of being organized. It means you have your head on straight and you can survive an emergency. It truly doesn't matter how color-coordinated your spices are and whether you've alphabetized your socks yet. When crisis strikes you need to be able to get out the door.
My people are fantastic about worrying. They have a comprehensive anxiety plan, a worry and concern and stress for every situation. What they're not so fantastic about is forming realistic strategies. I have read run-on paragraphs about all the material objects a person genuinely believes she can rescue in the event of disaster. Like, you really think you can save forty photo albums when your house is on fire? Emergency responders die due to harebrained ideas like this. Take this moment to pause, breathe in, and accept that only living beings can and should be evacuated.
Not a bunch of bric-a-brac.
Stuff is just stuff. No object should ever be rated above a human being, and probably not above an animal either. Get yourself out, get your children out, get your pets out, and check on your neighbors. Then you're done.
I talked to a woman once who had to negotiate to bypass a police barricade to get to her house during a wildfire. She could see the flames from her driveway. She was trying to talk to her husband on her cellphone while loading her frantic, terrified dogs into the Jeep. Trying to decide which papers to go after. It took only about a minute to realize that she had barely enough time to flee for their lives. Papers can be replaced, people can't. She was in and out in five minutes, no papers, but at least she had the dogs. That is the appropriate response. Ellen Ripley took the cat when she was fleeing the Alien, but she didn't try to bring a photo album or her childhood teddy bear. Be like Ripley.
All that being said, a dam is a metaphor. A dam is a physical structure, a bulwark against certain types of disaster. It controls floods. You can use physical objects to protect against certain types of disaster, also. What I have in mind is a Go Bag. This is something you can set up in twenty minutes and inspect for five minutes every month. When the time comes, you can grab your Go Bag and... GO.
You need to have an emergency plan for everyone in your household. Where do you meet? Where do you meet if that place is flooded or on fire? What's your fallback plan if cell phones aren't getting through and you can't communicate? If you've ever been separated in a casino or at the mall, you have a tiny taste of what this could be like. TALK IT OUT. Do not procrastinate on an emergency plan. You can procrastinate on alphabetizing your socks or going to the gym, but don't [censored] around with your disaster planning.
My Go Bag includes a Sharpie marker, some index cards, and masking tape. This is so I can leave messages at and near the house if need be. One of the things I check when I get my monthly 'emergency kit inspection' reminder is that this Sharpie has fresh ink.
I have a sheaf of backup documents in case my ID gets lost. Page of emergency contact phone numbers, because I haven't memorized one since the early Nineties. Color copies of my passport, driver's license, health insurance, AAA card, advance health care directive, and the 800-number to call in case it's time to donate my body to science. Copy of our marriage license. It took me 15 minutes to figure out what I needed, and about 60 cents to make photocopies of it at the public library.
What else is in there? Old, faded casual clothes that I don't care if I lose. (Two t-shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of jeans, a zippered sweatshirt, old sneakers, socks, bras, and underwear). My travel shower kit. Sun block. Hand sanitizer. First aid kit on top. A little cash in small bills. Spare ATM card. Solar charger and adapter for my phone. Three water bottles, one with a built-in filter, two that I keep filled and freshen up every couple of weeks. It would be super annoying and disappointing if someone took this bag, but there's nothing in there I couldn't live without. Or... Hmm.
My husband's Go Bag is his work backpack. Change of shoes, some cash in small bills, a snack. Photocopies of the same relevant documents that I have. His actual wallet, phone, and glasses.
There's a third bag that we call the Pet Bag. It has some styptic gel with a topical anesthetic in case one of them gets hurt. (Works on people too). It has their nail trimmers. It has at least four days' worth of kibble for each of them. They can both eat what we eat, but it seems expedient to have food for them that humans wouldn't really want. Extra water bottle. The Pet Bag has small food and water bowls, and poo bags. This bag goes with us on road trips and we are in and out of it all the time. They wear their ID; he has a rabies tag on his collar and she has a closed ring leg band.
This is the scenario: I'm on foot, with my Go Bag on my back, the Pet Bag slung over one shoulder, a leash in one hand and a parrot carrier in the other. The bags weigh in at 19 pounds, nearly half my full expedition pack weight. I'm walking about one mile an hour. WHERE would I put a photo album or any other sentimental objects? Balanced on my head? Floating in the air in my thought bubble?
(Answer: I've already scanned them and saved them in cloud storage).
The main goal of the Go Bag is to get us to an emergency shelter. Hopefully we will never be in that situation; hopefully, if we do have to evacuate, we can use passable roads and go to our Plan A backup destination, which is not in our geographical region. Evacuations happen, though. My husband had to leave town after the Northridge Earthquake. We've known other people who had to evacuate due to wildfire, flood, and landslide. In my family tree are people who had to live in Golden Gate Park after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. It happens. We want to be around afterward and live to tell the tale.
I feel it would be unfair not to mention this topic, so: Cardio. If someone screams RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! I pray that you can. A mudslide does not care about body shaming. A thirty-foot wall of floodwater does not care about body shaming. A wildfire coming up your street does not care about body shaming. Reality is judging you. Disaster is not a respecter of persons. Know how fast you can run and how much you can carry. If you can't do it for yourself, do it for your kids, and if you don't have kids, do it for your pets. If you can't do it for any of those reasons, do it for the exhausted emergency responders.
Don't say nobody told you. You've been told.
We do our best to cope when the world gets weird. We try to keep disaster at bay, just as we try to dam the floodwaters. It's unfair and inconvenient, but it happens. Stuff goes wrong. Usually it does it in the middle of the night, when we're barefoot and disoriented. Preparing for the worst is morbid and depressing, but not nearly as much as the alternatives. Let it serve as a memento mori, the purpose of which is to remind us to make the most of today. Say "I love you" while we can. Appreciate what we have while we still have it. If we're fortunate, we'll never need our emergency preparations, and we can wink at ourselves and laugh a little at how silly we've been.
I couldn't make it through this book. By the halfway mark, I had to put it away so that I could make my own art! Then, of course, I went right back to reading, because I couldn't get enough of Danielle Krysa. I loved this book so much that I'm completely freaking out. Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk, and mine is too.
Anyone who is anyone will get something out of this book. You don't have to be an artist. This needs to be said, because without the disclaimer, some of us will feel that we aren't allowed to read it. That's for Real Artists (TM). Not the likes of me. My constant yearning to look at art, read art books, buy or touch art supplies and materials, and hang out with Real Artists (TM) in no way indicates that there might be a shadow artist inside of me. Nuh-uh.
Every time I ever tried to sign up for an art class, it was full. I haven't had any formal training in visual arts or design since grade school. Perhaps this has helped me, because I've always thought my bad art was hilarious. I used to have a lovely roommate who had an MFA and had sold illustrations to national magazines. I showed her a sketch once and she literally laughed until she cried. I knew my drawing was naive and untutored, and I also knew that I have a certain gift for comedy, so this was a great result! I "can't" draw, just as I "can't" sing, but that doesn't stop me from drawing or singing when I feel the urge. If anything, it's a great way to troll my critics. Oh, does this bother you?? Perhaps I'll do it LOUDER!
(That, by the way, is the philosophy of my parrot when she feels she isn't getting enough attention).
Do what you want. It's harmless. Nobody but you knows a dang thing about your personal style. You are the authority on your own gift. Initiative comes from inside you, and the art wants to get out and live its life. Just let it out. You don't have to show it to anyone, or share it with anyone, or try to make money from it, and contrariwise, you have all the authority you need to put it on a billboard, declaim it from a megaphone, or put a ten million dollar price tag on it. There will always be a critic, just as there will always be a barking dog. If you can get criticized by random strangers just for existing within their field of awareness, might as well bring some of your work along, too.
I made this piece on my iPad with my index finger. I've never used it for that purpose before. (Either the device or the finger). I've also never done a work in color. It's a portrait from memory of my little cuppycake, who was unable to pose for me because she sleeps twelve hours a night. Noelie. I'm going to show it to her, and if past behavior is any indication, she'll kiss it with her beak. It's a work born of inspiration and true love, and it sucks, but I find it charming and I'll most likely do more. If you don't like it, blame it on Danielle Krysa and her partner-in-crime, illustrator Martha Rich.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies