Doubling-down on that Second Chance–A not so typical story about Viagra.

“Oh, it’s sensible! Everything she does is sensible. It can’t be argued with. I just wonder sometimes if she knows people have feelings.” —Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Pretty sure Stegner had me in mind when writing that piece of dialogue. Of course, that’s complete bullshit, I was 9-years old when it was published, but you know the feeling I’m talking about. You read a particular line or passage in a book and have the distinct feeling the author is looking right at you in that moment and describing what they see. Then you’re owl-necking around the room hunting for the hiding author. Waving into glass reflections of framed pictures, rubbing the white ring on the coffee table left by that chilled whiskey drink you maybe had one too many of, searching under the lid of the toilet tank. Are they under the flapper valve? We find authors that have pulled us from the firmament and written us so purely onto the page like some people seem to find Jesus.

Or maybe not. The point is, I’ve been faulted quite a few times in relationships with family, friends, or significant others for holding too tightly to reason, but there is one area of my life in which emotion reigns supreme—my pets. Reason be damned when it comes to their lives. Last Wednesday, I got a call from my neighbor that filled me with  body-racking emotion. My sweet, old boy, Jet, had collapsed on a walk.

Almost one year ago now, Jet was brought into Last Hope Rescue as a senior foster. His story of getting a second chance at life was tough for all of us involved. One of the good parts of the story is that I became a foster failure and adopted him as a Bronson.

The past year has been calm and uneventful. He’s been active, healthy, and naturally old-man grumpy, so getting that call threw me straight into the aww-hell-naw zone. On the rare occasions I do feel emotion, my brain has no idea how to deal with it and I usually end up going through a battery of extremes. My initial response to anything that scares me is pure rage. Although this may be helpful for personal safety in most of life, it is not helpful at all in circumstances involving something you can’t actually punch or stab.

I resorted to temporary flight instead of fight after hanging up the phone and realizing what might be happening. Once again, Jet had decided to wait until the busiest time of the year for me at work to need help, but luckily I work with a close-knit team, so there was no question that I leave and go be with him.

My truly awesome neighbors had worked together to get him back to my house by luring him with treats by the time I got home. I was able to get some food in him and his regular pain meds before he fell asleep. Thursday saw some improvement during the morning hours, but by evening, he was back to collapsing after barely walking ten feet. I resorted to carrying him in and out of the house and realized it must be true what people say about women’s strength increasing tenfold when they are emotionally invested in whatever is happening that requires brute force.

Friday, Jet spent the afternoon at our vet’s office having blood work, x-rays, and other scans done while I spent another day trying to be present for work while listening to depressing songs like this one and sporadically crying my face into a puffed mess. When our vet sent the results over to a specialist in town, the specialist told her that he needed to see Jet as soon as possible. GAH! *insert more20180312_104246136459660.jpg emotion here* She said it looked like either signs of heart failure or cancer. What?

No.

By early Saturday morning , I was pretty sure I’d be coming home from the specialist office without my boy. He could barely stand and his eyes were spiritless. Two hours and numerous ultrasound images later, doc came into the room to tell me the news. It’s his heart. There appears to be a tumor along the top, which actually isn’t causing any issue and is smooth and even, meaning likely benign. For now, nothing to worry about there. But then there was the inflamed right ventricle causing blood flow issues which explained his sudden need to lie down after even minimal physical exertion.

The good news, it’s treatable. SWEET RELIEF. So doc starts telling me about the med, using the scientific name, and the dosage and that I should see results pretty quickly, but given my own personal health history, I keep asking questions about what exactly the med does and possible side effects and so on and such. Finally, he stops me, puts his hands out, shrugs his shoulders, and demurely says, “It’s Viagra.”

*insert instant flushed face here*

I wasn’t the only one to turn red though. Doc stumbled over some words trying to tell me the history of Viagra and it’s origination as a heart medication and that the happy side effect wasn’t expected but the company soon realized they’d make way more money off the happy side effect than the original intent of the drug and so forth and…blah blah blah…my 14-year old dog is on Viagra. For heart issues.

I’ll say it—it’s a miracle drug. Just two does in and Jet was back on his feet, walking the garden, going out to bark at neighbors. Life lit his eyes and he was up to his usual trick of tappin’ for treats. These doctors have stepped up twice now for my boy and me, pulling us through some dark zones. I can’t thank them enough.

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Jet the wonder dog has now seconded his second chance at life.

It’s Wednesday again and I am just now feeling recovered from the emotional typhoon of the last week. No clue how you people that have the feels on a regular basis can live this way. It’s exhausting.

 

On a lighter note, it’s Pi(e) Day. Pie. Mmmmm. Should I make one?

 

 

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A New Cookie. An Old Habit.

What’s that saying? Old habits die hard—which just makes me think of Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard with a Vengeance saying, in his most perfect of a voice, “Bro? Get away from the goddamn phone!”

But moving on from my distracto moment, old habits do seem to linger on. And on. This past weekend, I decided to try a new cookie recipe I had saved from an email newsletter from The Splendid Table. I feel like I’ve pretty much mastered my basic chocolate chip and pecan cookie, so it was time for another trial.

The original recipe for these Sour Cherry and Dark Chocolate cookies is by Yasmin Khan of The Saffron Tales. It peaked my interest because of a recent education by a friend on the benefits of tart cherries. So I thought, instead of drinking tart cherry juice, why not put them in a cookie? It’s gotta be about the same, right?

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Gathered up the ingredients, which did look delicious all on their own, and thought I was set to go.

Well, that old habit I thought I had finally kicked to a curb far, far away came strolling back around the block and didn’t even knock. Next thing I know I’m partway through the recipe realizing I never read it all the through. DUH. Hi, habit. How’ve you been?

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At that point, everything came to a screeching halt as the recipe called for the dough to chill for at least an hour. Really, people. I can’t say it enough—read recipes through once, twice, three times a loon. Luckily, I had actually started baking far enough in advance of Sunday dinner that I had the time to spare.

In my late rereading of the recipe, I also figured out that I hadn’t used all the sugar that was called for. Now, it’s true, I usually do cut sugar content anyway, but this time it wasn’t on purpose.  I also didn’t chop up the dried cherries…but the dough looked and smelled amazing, so I wasn’t going to stress about it.

20170626_192329After an hour or so of reading with intermittent Instagraming and doing random tasks in the garden, I got the dough out of the fridge and balled it up. Dough balls are fun. BALLS. Speaking of dough, last week I had a discussion with coworkers about doughnuts/donuts/dough nuts. I decided I like it spelled separately and also wondered why they aren’t called dough nuts & bolts instead of doughnuts and holes.

Anyhooooo, the dough made 12 big balls. Recipe said use an ice cream scoop, I think. I don’t have one, so I just rolled them up into 12 equally-ish sized nuggets of yum. Popped those buddies in the oven at 325 for 7 minutes. They were just beginning to unball and melt out a bit, so when I turned the pan, I also sprinkled them with sea salt. Back in for another 10 minutes and they seemed done.

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I let them cool almost completely before the taste test. They were decadent. A heavy weight of a cookie, but not overly sweet—I think my sugar mishap and the addition of sea salt balanced it out. The texture was somewhere in between a cake and a brownie. Hard to describe, really. In retrospect, I may do a hotter oven for less time when I try them again. I’d prefer a crispier edge/bottom and keep them gooey in the middle.

Overall, I’d call them a success and the Greeks were pleased. Another Sunday family dinner dessert dynamo.

Original recipe by Yasmin Khan here:

Sour Cherry and Dark Chocolate Cookies 

My habit rearing it’s ugo head:

I used dried tart cherries, which I didn’t chop up (next time I definitely will), and left out the extra tablespoons of granulated sugar…I also didn’t have a full 1/4 cup measured out either. Whoops.

READ THE RECIPE ALL THE WAY THROUGH FIRST

Wheeeeeeeeee!

 

Jenn Gin Cookies: An attempt to bring the happy back to the hour.

The funtastic start to the long weekend quickly took a turn by Saturday night when I started having some psychologically deflating side effects from the high dose of Prednisone I was put on last Wednesday. I had forgotten how intense this level can be and ended up feeling awful on Sunday. By Monday, I needed something to get me back on the positive mental track and since gardening out in the heat was out of the question, I went to the other space where I can always find something to invent, experiment with, or edit— my kitchen.

The drive to edit doesn’t stop when I leave the office. I’ve realized that it infiltrates most of my life. From the high-walled, razor-wired personal stuff to the blatant spray painting of an antique chandelier, I’ll make a tweak if I see fit.

Baking is not immune to my editorial revisions, to be sure. As I’ve said many times before, I can’t seem to follow recipes to the letter. It must be some sort of mental block. Or I’m just too damn stubborn.IMG_20170529_131438_897

So when I needed a pick-me-up on Monday, I searched the kitchen to see what I could create from what was on hand. I knew I needed a dessert for the Greek family Memorial Day dinner, so I first gathered up the basics of flour, sugar, and butter. Found three limes that were leftover from a gin and tonic weekend…and then it hit me—new cocktail cookie! I already knew a good iced-lemon cookie recipe, so I decided to adjust it into a liquored-up treat.

20170529_132811I always like a splash or two of whiskey or bourbon in a pie, and I’ve done a cookie with tequila, so gin seemed like the natural next step in editorial experimentation. Starting with the original recipe, I changed the call for lemon zest and juice to lime, added a big dousing of gin and an extra egg white (because it was there and needed to be used). I’m no chemist, and I barely math, so this was risky and I knew it. But it felt right and I was starting to feel better myself. The dough came together nicely. Perhaps a bit sticky, but the taste was spot-on. Sweet tart scrumptious. As with the lemon cookie recipe, it was hard not to sit there and just eat all the dough raw. I controlled myself and rolled out tablespoon-sized clumps onto the cookie sheet.

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While those sticky, little dough balls were in the oven, I whipped up the icing for their tops. Knowing the liquor in the dough would mostly bake off, I decided to bring back the full strength in the icing. Powdered sugar, lime zest, lime juice, and gin—what could go wrong?

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Nothing. Nothing went wrong with that. It was delicioso! Meanwhile, the dough balls were puffing up into what looked like wee biscuits. It was bizarre and I wondered if it was the addition of the gin or the extra egg white. Either way, they were looking almost fancy and I was getting excited. The previous day’s pains and discomforts were melting away as this new baking adventure was coming together.

Ding! The cookies were done, out da oven, and onto a cooling rack to set a bit before drizzling with the icing.

The smell was like the feel of summer evening drinks with a sweating glass pressed cool against a hot brow.

20170529_140426.jpgOnce they were cool enough to drizzle, the idea of a drizzle wasn’t enough anymore. I coated those biscuity looking babies to the hilt. I mean, why not? They ended up sitting in puddles of ginny sweet goodness and it was glorious to gaze upon.

The final cocktail cookie had a texture that carried the heft of the glaze well and the combination felt just right. The full-force gin in the icing gave it a kick that everyone was surprised with but enjoyed…especially my coworkers. What? *Clears throat*

Moving on…the pick-me-up experiment is going down in the books as a success, and I’ve named them Jenn Gin Cookies. Gin and tonics are restricted to a glass no longer!

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Jenn Gin Cookie Dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temp

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg (plus one egg white if you want to do what I did)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Gin

Gin Glaze:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons lime zest

1/3 cup fresh lime juice with a big splash of Gin in it

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and zest in a bowl. In another bowl (I used my KitchenAid), beat the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and lime juice, gin, and combine. Finally, add in the flour mixture gradually with the mixer on low.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the cookie sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until golden on the edges. About 15-20 minutes depending on your dough ball size. Be sure to flip them halfway through.

Let cool completely and then “drizzle” with the glaze. They should set for about an hour before devouring.

Bottom’s up!

 

Jet the Wonder Dog–A Story of Foster Failure

Today was Jetski Kev T. Bronson’s Gotcha Day celebration. His true adoption date was May 22, but that was a Monday and who can have a proper party on a Monday? So today, we celebrated Jet. The wonder dog.

The story of how Jet, and his numerous nicknames, came to our humble home is not a long one, but was a giga coaster on emotional rails.

It started with a death. Jet came into the rescue because his human dad died and the family couldn’t keep him. At 13 1/2 years old, we knew it would be hard to place him in a new forever home, but we try to save as many as possible regardless, so we jumped on the opportunity to take in the old guy. My previous foster, Bugsy, had just been adopted by my next door neighbors, so my home was open and I’ve always had a soft spot for the senior dogos. Those who know me, know I can’t not love a grey face.

Old man Jet arrived at my house mid-March. We had just started our busy season at work and I thought a senior dog that was already trained and used to another dog and cat would fit in fine even with my long work hours. The granddaughter of Jet’s former pop brought him over and told me everything she knew about his personality and quirks. After an introduction to my girl, RJ, and a stroll around the yard, it was determined that he would do well with us.

I pretty much knew immediately that he wasn’t going anywhere. There was something in20170423_164023 the way his ears bounced when he walked and his foggy eyes that made me know he was home.

And he did fit in well. He learned our routines and went right along with the feed times, work schedule, treat times, bed times, and walks. During the day he’d sleep in the front room that he claimed as his own and at night he’d sleep across my doorway. We were now a pack of four and we were all happy.

I had noticed that Jet limped a bit and really didn’t like you to touch his side or his stomach. Figuring the limping and touchiness was due to age-related issues, I started him on high quality food and supplements of glucosamine/chondroitin and Wobenzyme. In a few weeks, there was a clear turn around in his ability to walk without a limp and get up off the floor easier. Seemed like we were on the right path to keeping him as mobile as possible.

Then he went in for his checkup and microchip. Our vet informed us that he had never been neutered, at some point he was shot and the bullet was still in him, and something bad was going on in his stomach. This was a Monday They wanted to do x-rays before the neuter, which was scheduled for Friday. Friday came and they put him just in twilight to do the x-rays first. They were shocked by what they saw—a softball-sized and shaped tumor in the area of his spleen and possible swollen pulmonary arteries. There would be no neuter that day. I remember, I was stuck at work where I couldn’t check my cell phone or email, but a note was sent to me that he was “okay.”

After the call to tell me the full facts, we immediately scheduled an appointment for an echo-cardiogram and ultrasound for the following Monday. These showed that he had a slight heart arrhythmia, but his pulmonary arteries looked okay. The tumor was clear and it was on the spleen. Once they had the results, our vets wanted to go in and do the surgery Tuesday morning. No waiting. It was too risky with a tumor that size. Even if benign, it could have burst  at any moment causing him to internally bleed out.

By this time it was the first week of May—our absolute busiest week at work. My emotions were out of control and I’m not one to ever show much emotion. I was so scared that I would lose him after he just came into my life.

Two amazing vets went into surgery to remove the spleen, tumors, and do the neuter on Tuesday morning. Again, I was away from all communication at work and having to try and focus on what was happening before me instead of getting caught up in my thoughts of what was happening to my Jet boy right then and whether he would make it through. At his age, putting a dog under is dangerous, but I knew he was in the absolute best hands for the job. And I was right.

20170505_113129They took the spleen with the massive tumor, which also had two other smaller also perfectly round tumors on it…and his balls. So in total, Jet lost five balls that day. But he made it through the tough surgery and was awake and grumpy! I took his grumpiness as a good sign. The next day, another note was delivered to me at work where I was once again away from communication that read, “Jet is eating, but only if hand fed. He’s being spoiled.” He ended up spending the rest of the week at the vet’s office and they continued to spoil and fall in love with him. It’s really impossible not to. By the end of the week, we were all missing him at the house, even RJ.

Jet was home. Finally. Again. He started his slow healing process with a lot of rest and painkillers.20170416_093556 Each day he got a little more mobile, ate more food, and his personality started coming back. I remembered his Easter morning face that I captured right as he woke up. He had the biggest smile and looked like my own little pun dog pup. That boy was coming back little by little. The biggest difference was his mobility. Once off the heavy duty painkillers, he was walking without any limp and even trotting a bit! Another new revelation, he enjoyed a belly rub. Before, I couldn’t get near his belly.

And then, on my birthday, I got the call from the vet that the tumor was BENIGN. Best birthday present ever!

Needless to say, Jet has made a wonder-dog recovery. He demands nightly walks now and is so much more comfortable. No more constant panting or barely being able to make it up one stair. He still has some pretty intense arthritis in his spine, but we’ve got the right combo to keep him pain free and moving.

The emotional roller coaster seems to have rolled back into the station. For now. Nobody knows or is promised the future though, so today we celebrated Jet and his official adoption into the Bronson family. And it truly has been a family trip. Without the emotional and financial support of my huge-hearted parents, none of this would have been possible. It’s things like this that make me believe in the connectedness of everything. Jet landed exactly where he needed to be. And more so, where I needed him to be. The pack grew unexpectedly, but we can’t imagine how we were before him.

Jet’s Gotcha Day party included his sister, Ruby Joon, and two former fosters, Lolly (and her mom) and Bugsy. Ol boy didn’t really want to play or have anything to do with the young’uns, and he wasn’t overly thrilled about the doggie cake with the candle, but I did catch him a couple times with a smile on his face.

We all wished for many more healthy years for Jetski Kev T. Bronson when blowing out the candle on his Gotcha Day cake.

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Hill to the Left of Me, Hill to the Right

There’s a roadside attraction of sorts in Lake Wales, Florida called Spook Hill. You throw your car375668_10151609135427310_82917642_n into neutral at the white line and it rolls uphill on its own. Or what appears to be uphill. I think I remember the whole extended family driving over one time from Bartow where we spent our Christmases. My grandmother probably sent us just to get us all out of the house for a little while so she could breathe. Pretty sure I was unimpressed by the whole rolling backwards uphill thing. I was older than the pic to the right, but I’m going to guess that the face I was making was likely the same.

Today, doc told me I’ve relapsed. Again. What is it now? Four times in three years? Five? I really can’t remember. It’s abundantly clear that my body wants me dead. Unfortunately for my body, it’s dealing with a brain that has zero fucks to give about what the body wants. None. My brain is like the weapon of an apathetic martial artist—nonefucks.

I stole that. Ha.

In March, I went for a second opinion at Shands in Gainesville.  It was an impressive facility and the doctors spent over two hours with my mom and me, going over all my medical history and discussing it in minute details. At the end of the visit, they said my doc has done everything they would have done. My mom asked them point-blank what they would do if they were me. The main doctor said if she kept relapsing on prednisone, she would try another immuno-suppressant. There are more out there that carry their own barrage of side effects, but staying on steroids forever is brutal on the body.

First things first though, get me back into remission. So a pounding of prednisone is what the doctor ordered. Took the first dose of the increased regime tonight. Back to the big guns…bigguns…BIG ‘UNS. My mind so frequently warps to Al Bundy, it’s slightly disturbing. What is that about? This isn’t funny. Thing is, if I can’t laugh about it, I won’t make it through. That’s true for everything that’s difficult for me. I can be upset, angry, and grieve, but eventually I gotta start laughing.

Doc says, “You’ll have all the energy you need now!” Thanks for the random bit of enthusiasm, but it doesn’t suit you. And, yeah, I admit that my stock response to the question of “How are you?” has been “Exhausted.” for the last few years, and I do hate feeling slothy and narcoleptic, but come on. What he really meant was, “Bring on the insomnia!” And I don’t know why I just bought that loaf of fresh bread from the bakery while picking up my pred script. Unless I want to balloon up like Violet Beauregard, carbs need to stay the hell away from my face-hole for the next few months until I’m back in remission.

And then I get to try a new immuno-suppressant. The last one I attempted made me itchy all over and straight-up suicidal, but I’m optimistic about this next one. <—That was another joke. I try to stay away from optimism. It’s how I keep from being disappointed in life. Or is that why I keep my expectations super low? Maybe both.

Fact is, either option is craptastic in its own way. Quality over quantity. Quality over quantity. Quality over quantity. If I say it enough, it’ll make it okay, right?

At the end of the driveway this evening with the dogs leashed and ready to go, I looked left, I looked right, and I realized I live in a valley. Whichever way I go, it’ll be uphill. I can put my drive into neutral and hope the roll happens on it’s own, bringing with it the optical illusion of fun, but I’ll still be going uphill.

 

Faces of accepting yet another relapse:

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Plate of Greens–Stuffed Poblano Peppers

I realized today that it’s been a while since I ventured away from my easy dinners list. Sometimes, between seasons in the veggie garden, I fall prey to eating the same foods week after week while waiting for the garden to produce the new bounty. With a recent cold snap here, I cut a bunch of poblanos so I wouldn’t risk losing them to a possible freeze. Luckily, my yard is pretty protected, so there weren’t any freezing temps here, but I now had an abundance of peppers to use before they went bad. I gave quite a few to neighbors and family, which is one of the main reasons I grow food—not only to feed myself, but also those around me.

The poblanos have done very well since fall hit. Large and firm with a deep green, shiny coat, I knew they would hold up to a good stuffing. Stuffed peppers are a pretty easy dinner and can be easily customized to a variety of dietary preferences. Poblanos add a mini-kick and a depth of flavor that other peppers just don’t come close to. Since I had one last chicken thigh to use up, I figured a classic chicken and rice combo would be good to stuff ’em up. I also got excited to see bok choy in the grocery this weekend, so I thought I better use that before it got all wilty. My bok choy seedlings are doing well, but far from harvest time.

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So here we go with my version of a use what ya got stuffed pepper. While the rice was cooking in the cooker with coconut oil, turmeric, black pepper, and cumin, I got to chopping the veggies. Sliced yellow onion went into a saute pan with the chicken, apple cider vinegar (my way to keep meat from drying out), the juice of one limequat, olive oil, cumin and oregano. Since it was a boneless, skinless thigh, I knew it would cook quick enough so that the onion wouldn’t turn to complete mush.

img_20161212_183502.jpgThe poblanos went on the cast iron griddle with olive oil to blister. Yum. It was hard not to just eat them straight off the griddle.

Meanwhile, in a lidded pot, I steamed the rough chopped bok choy with water, butter, and a little garlic powder. Once the chicken started to brown, I threw a whole chopped shallot and two crushed garlic cloves into the pan. When the delicious scent of garlic started filling the air, I added a bit of water to pull the browned bits off the bottom of the pan and a couple scoops of the cooked rice and let all those flavors simmer together.

All of the spices and oils were melding into a hanging-open mouth moment of kitchen zen in my kitchen. It was time to stuff. My original plan was to include the bok choy in the mix for some crunch, but they had browned so beautifully, I decided to leave them on their own as a side. So I left those in the pot, pulled off the heat, while I cut the peppers and removed the seed pod. These poblanos had a massive amount of seeds, so had to remove most of them to have room for the filling. I stuffed the three peppers to overflowing and piled on the fresh grated pecorino romano, popped those babies under the broiler, and poured a glass of red wine. Since everything was pre-cooked and still hot, I just needed to get that cheese melty. Oh, yes. So melty.

I’m calling this dinner the Plate of Greens. And how about my timing with Pantone announcing the color of the year for 2017 as a vibrant shade called “Greenery”? Yep. I’m just that good. Not on purpose, mind you. Purely accidentally that good.

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Plate of Greens:

3 medium poblano peppers

1 boneless, skinless chicken thigh (you can substitute a non-meat option here easily)

1/4 medium yellow onion, sliced

1 large shallot, chopped

2 garlic cloves crushed

1 small head of bok choy

Pecorino Romano (or any cheese you like), fresh grated, enough to coat

1 cup Jasmine white rice

1 heaping tablespoon coconut oil (for rice)

Olive oil (use whatever you’re comfortable with for sauteing)

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter (for the bok choy)

Spices I used:  turmeric, black pepper, and cumin in the rice. Oregano and cumin in the chicken mixture. Garlic powder for the bok choy.