Tuesday, January 21, 2014


The morning after we arrived in Houston for Christmas, Gus (about 11 years old) refused to walk.  Knowing he is a drama king I suggested we just ignore him -- give him an aspirin -- and let him rest for day.  Hubby kept watching old Gus fall on the floor and moan, decreed that we had to find an emergency vet.

It was the Saturday before Christmas.  Wendy, Hubby's sister, who we were spending Christmas with, had had old cats in the past and she suggested we use her old vet.  After a preliminary phone call away we went.  Actually, it was just around the corner from Wendy's home.

The Houston vet took Gus in and said they would call us when their vet had a chance to see him.  Within the hour they had called with an estimate of what it would cost us just to diagnose Gus -- not to cure him - just see him.  With sinking hearts, it's never good if they have to ask just how much you ARE willing to spend on your pet, we agreed to their estimate.  We also told them we were retired, we lived on a fixed income, and there WOULD be a limit to what we were willing to spend.

Within the next hour the Houston vet office called and said they needed to do an MRI and take pictures of Gus's spine because they couldn't determine the exact problem.  This price was $680.  Again, we agreed but with heavy hearts and empty pockets.

By 11:00 a.m. they called to consult again.  The pictures of Gus showed he had only some slight muscle swelling and had probably just pulled a muscle, all his blood work was clean, and he only needed a relaxing shot and some pain meds to get him back on his feet.  "Right," I muttered under my breath loud enough for everyone to hear, "Mr. Drama King wins again."

"But your dog does had a number of bladder stones and some have leaked down to the tip of his penis.  Clearly he's having some problems peeing.  Shall we operate?"

We were very clear that only Gus's vet in KC was doing any operating on the boy since he had coded during one of his many teeth extractions.  We picked Gus up, doped to the nines and walking just fine, and got a CD with the pictures of his bladder stones for our $608 outlay -- they gave us a senior citizen's discount. 

Fast forward two weeks, we are home, and Gus's vet has made arrangements for his bladder surgery.  "The stones in his bladder are ones we can remove but we don't operate on his urethra, that must be done by the surgical vets in the emergency clinic.  We can try to flush the loose stones back up into his bladder but we can't guarantee that this will be successful."

We asked for price quotes.  "Five thousand dollars minimum for the surgical vet, $1500 for us to try with no guarantee."

Hubby and I talked but only briefly.  "We just can't afford $5000 -- we need you to remove every stone you can and we'll call it a day," we told our vet.  They even had appointment available the next day.

Gussie had his surgery last week and it went perfectly.  The MRI from the Houston vet showed clearly where the stone were and they had not moved.  The floating stones were easy to flush and, in the end, all 11 stones were removed from Gus's abdomen. 

When we brought him back home after the surgery, Gus was pretty bummed out.  His bladder was leaking, blood was seeping, and he felt miserable.  Yet each new day showed improvement.  As the swelling went down, Gus's energy level rose.

We just returned from having his stitches removed.  The vets were thrilled with how pretty his scar looked, how frolicking he felt, and how happy he seemed.  We picked up the new food he is required to eat -- a 20 pound bag of Urinary Special that costs five times what his regular food did -- and he won't like it one little bit.  But if it keeps him bladder stone free none of us will complain (including
Gus, even it he doesn't know it yet). 

To see how happy Gus is today frisking about the park taught me again that money is only useful when it can do good things.  Yes, we had to pull some funds from our retirement accounts and we may find when we're ninety that we needed that money for our own bladder stones -- but that's in the future.  Today we are ALL feeling healthy and it only took a couple of thousand dollars to make that happen. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Going to the Y

When I retired, we joined the Research rehab facility housed in the old Baptist Hospital, those who know KCMO.  We went there for water aerobics for about nine months and Hubby worked out on the equipment now and then but then winter really set in and it was cold and the water was really cold and the dressing rooms were closed for remodeling and we made up all kinds of excuses not to go exercise.

When our memberships came up for renewal and I started moaning about the $300+ fees, Hubby said, "Let's try out Silver Sneakers.  It's supposed to be free through our insurance."

I did some on-line research but could only find that the program was covered through Humana -- and Hubby and I have our extended Medi-care plans through Coventry.  However, Hubby persisted and eventually got us enrolled in Silver Sneakers -- which is free because Coventry covers the entire expense as a way to get the "elderly" to exercise and stay healthy.

Even closer to our home is the Emanuel Cleaver YMCA so we trotted over and presented our newly minted cards and enrolled before Christmas.  They were busy so we delayed the tour until we got home from Houston but last week we went over and Hubby even got himself a consult by one of their trainers. 

I thought I was in heaven when we got our membership with Research.  The Y is even better - and it's free!  We went this morning for our first water aerobics class and were both pleasantly surprised. 

First, and most important, the water is 10 degrees warmer than at Research.  It was heaven to be exercising in what felt like bath water, lovely warm and soothing -- and really WARM.  The class was not as energetic as we were used to and we still didn't get "individualized" instruction, but we could follow along pretty well since we knew most of the routines. 

For an hour we splashed and kicked and lifted our arms over our heads and it was nice.  Hubby is happy because now we go in the morning instead of at 5:30 at night.  I can tolerate mornings if we're not talking 6 or 7 or 8 a.m. -- this class starts at 9. 

The people were friendly, the instructor seemed competent, the dressing rooms were clean, and we only felt chilly after exiting the pool and drying off in the changing rooms. 

This is going to be eminently doable for us both -- and it's a good way to start off the new year.  Hubby's even mumbling about diet but we had Sonic burritos as a breakfast treat, after class, so dieting is probably off the table, at least for now. 

I'm hoping that as my dexterity improves and my stamina is rebuilt, I will also find my mood improving.  It all looks pretty exciting right now but let's see how we're doing in six months. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Cooking takes great patience

Probably my biggest fault is lack of patience.  My idea of a great chore is one that I can tackle immediately (who cares about careful planning?) and zip through it, either with ease or difficulty, and get the job done.  I don't want to debate how to get things done -- let's just list the options, chose the one we like best (hopefully it will be the best option) and get to work.  At the end I'm not a big fan of dissecting what went wrong and how the process could be improved.  "Well, that didn't work; let's try something else" is usually my attitude. 
Wendy redid her kitchen this year -- this is an old picture of our preparations for Christmas dinner.

This was never more evident in Houston this Christmas when my sister (in-law), Wendy, needed to bake some cookies to take to a church event.  She's one of the two smartest women I know (the other is you, Debby) and she can work a process until it is perfect.  She pre-plans the plan.  With her cookies we started with a trip to the grocery because one NEVER starts a recipe without all the proper ingredients.  Me, I have the site for substitute ingredients bookmarked on my PC when you find you don't have what you need right in the middle of cooking (this is a good one but there are several others I also use).

Next we found all the cooking utensils we would need and set them out.  Me, I saying, "Let's preheat the oven."  Finally, we set out the butter and eggs to get to room temp.  Now we sit down and study the recipe.  Me, I'd be warming things up in the microwave and would have the eggs and butter beaten already.  I read the recipe as I make the dish. 

Several hours later, recipe thoroughly reviewed, we again venture to the kitchen to measure out all the ingredients into small containers.  "This way we can just dump them when we make the cookies," Wendy explains to me.  By now, I'm cross-eyed with anticipation.  I'd have already had the cookies baked, cooled, and in the tins -- probably a little seared around the edges, missing key ingredients, and rather unsightly.

My job is to read the recipe while Wendy measures.  A lot of containers begin to cover her counters.  It's amazing how many little dishes she actually has in her cabinets.  

Finally we are ready to begin assembling the ingredients for the carrot cake cookies.  Again I read out ingredients as Wendy pours and dumps and stirs and mixes.  The batter looks tasty, the cookie sheets are ready, the oven is heated. 

"Let's take a little rest," Wendy advises.  "We've made good process."

My insides are screaming, "Are you kidding me?  We've done nothing.  We have no cookies.  We've been at this four hours already!"

"Um, how about I put the dough on the cookie sheets and bake them?"  I suggest.

"Well, the cookies are not supposed to spread out so you have to sort of squash them into the shape you want before baking.  Since these are going to the church I'd like them to look really uniform and nice," answers Wendy.

"Yeah, sure," I answer with a sweet smile. 

Now, here's where family love takes over.  Wendy knows I've reached my limit on patience.  She also knows that I'm going to plop those cookies on the sheet and shove them in the oven as quickly as I can. 

"Go for it," she replies, with a smile in her eyes, if not on her mouth.  I cover two cookies sheets with oddly shaped bits of dough as quickly as my arthritic hands can move.  Stupid dough is sticky and hard to manage and I've totally run out of the little patience I actually do possess.

"They look great," Wendy assures me as I stuff them in her oven.  "They will be perfect!"

We were to make two batches of cookies:  carrot cake cookies and lemon bars.  After the carrot cake cookies came from the oven and were cooling on racks, Wendy performed the taste test.  They were okay, if not exactly awe inspiring.  The thing was, they weren't very pretty.  They had spread, regardless of what the recipe said, and they weren't uniform in anything other than ingredients. 

 "They'll be fine," Wendy assured me.  Then we decided that buying cookies the next morning was going to be a really good solution for the second selection of goodies to take to the church.  

Now that's family love. 

Wendy in front, me in back opening presents.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cooking Every Single Day

After I retired I suddenly realized that Hubby, who had always been our main chef, had resigned his culinary duties.  I think he quit partly because standing in the kitchen was so uncomfortable for the arthritic knees and, back then, his erratic heartbeat made cooking duties somewhat frightening. 

I took over the kitchen work two years ago, but not happily.  Diet restrictions because of the heart issues limited ingredients.  "Old Man Taste Buds" limited the variety of recipes that were found "acceptable" at our table.  For  a while there we ate tuna fish salad three times a week.  Boring but Hubby liked it. We could not have tuna casserole -- Hubby does not eat "hot" tuna of any sort.

Then swallowing became a problem and suddenly, the always successful steak and roast dinners were off the menu.  Hamburger in all forms was okay and pork chops seemed to go down when steak would not.  I worked the heck out of all the hamburger casserole recipes I could find, but most were deemed either "unsavory" or "too bland" or simply "boring."

Spring, summer, and autumn seasons provided us with interesting fruits and some vegetables that Hubby can/would still eat.  However all the blood thinners mean that leafy green vegetables, the ice berg lettuce and the cabbage that Hubby really likes, were on the restricted lists.  Now that we are in deep winter, we're back to green beans, beets, and corn. 

Baked potatoes, once a favorite, now won't be touched.  I have no idea why, but I can't just serve up a baked potato with hamburger topping -- that meal gets fed to the dogs.  Sausage is good for breakfast but because of the fat and salt content has to be limited.  Same with eggs. 

Then I got "down" -- I'm not sure it was depression, but it sure was dis-engaged.  Cooking became even more problematic because I couldn't think of a thing that would drag me to the kitchen and make me want to "cook."  Hubby and I took to eating entirely different things.  He got chicken nuggets -- something he WILL eat pretty regularly, especially if paired with mac and cheese -- and I'd eat a fried egg sandwich.  He'd have hamburger "something or other" and I'd have oatmeal.  This wasn't particularly healthy for either of us, but it got us through and we weren't dining out or grabbing fast food. 

This morning I woke up, thinking as usual about what the heck I could serve Hubby today -- and felt more inspired.  Actually, this has been happening more and more, lately.  Plus, I've found that if I do all the prep work (brown the hamburger, chop all the onions and peppers and then saute them) Hubby is willing to venture into the kitchen to make some chili or some spaghetti.  This past week I've been slurping up bowls of his chili with abandon. 

In the kitchen I peeled and chopped the onions, cleaned and diced the green peppers, shelled the hard boiled eggs and whipped up another round of tuna for lunch today.  However, I also got several small, thawed packages of steak from the frig, diced them, and set them in the crockpot with more onions, green peppers, and spices.  The smell now is delicious.  In a couple of hours I'll dump in some veggies and taters and we'll have steak soup / stew -- soft enough for Hubby to swallow with ease.  Yummy enough to please us both.  

Cooking every day is not something I never thought I'd be doing, but if the cooking equipment is satisfactory (crockpot, even oven temps, good pots and pans) and the larder is full of food we like, it's not too bad a job to hold while retired.  Plus, we save money eating at home and I can control the salt and fat content (to a degree).  Now if we just had a big old box of donuts for dessert . . .

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Christmas in January

Hubby gave me eight cans of Airwick Freshmatic Ultra Spray Refills this year for Christmas.  He picked a wonderful scent (I think) -- Baked Apple Strudel -- but he didn't realize that he was giving me refills and not the actual Airwick dispenser.

We have dogs and almost always, at least one is old and slightly incontinent.  Sometimes they just pee on the carpet, the floor, or anywhere convenient or sometimes they just leave little dribbles behind them.  Sweet. soulful Gus, at 11, suddenly began peeing in the house -- oh, not all the time, but now and again if we didn't answer his call from the front door.  Then just three days before Christmas, in Houston, Gus was diagnosed with bladder stones.  We elected to wait until we got home to have the stones removed surgically, but we were darned clear as to why suddenly there had been a few wet episodes in the house.

Old dogs and scented candles are a match made in heaven.  Plus, I like the smell of hot cinnamon in the house during the winter or fresh lilac during the summer.  Usually I get my candles from the warehouse in Branson but we haven't been in a while and suddenly I was down to my last candles this fall.  Thus, Hubby thought that the Airwick, purchased in bulk from Sams, was a good gift.

After Gussie had had his 11 bladder stones removed in early January and was in the process of healing, I began to look around for the Airwick dispenser so I could use my refill cans.  Sams, the seller of multiple refills, had none.  And I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for, anyway.  Hubby suggested I try the internet and, of course, the purveyor of all things entertaining and interesting, Amazon, had multiple choices, plus even more refills.

Today my new Airwick dispenser was delivered.  We assembled it -- no mean feat -- and now our bedroom smells exactly like a Christmas bakery.  We are both pining for some apple pie or cobbler or strudel. 

I like the gizmo well enough I might consider purchasing a couple more and loading up with refills before Sam's Warehouse sells out.  I won't set the house of fire since there is no flame like with candles and if a doggie has a little accident now we won't have to open windows to air things out. Even better the containers are simple and unassuming (not a decorator item you have to match to something in your house). 

Extended Christmas presents can be fun. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014 Restart

I lost my writer's cred somewhere in 2013, along with my energy, my drive, my willingness to leave the house, my ability to sleep, and my zest for life.

That sounds much worse than it actually was.  I stayed awake all night playing Sims 3 on the computer and napped all afternoon, nearly every afternoon.  I didn't read any books but devoured magazines at a frantic pace.  I watched weird TV, thankful for my DVR so I could fast forward through commercials.  I cooked meals every day and I kind of puttered around the house.  I didn't read other people's journals, I quit exercising, I didn't meet friends for lunch or dinner.  I only shopped at the grocery story or on-line for others.  I quit wearing underwear and found that very liberating.  I had my head nearly shaved of my hair and that was the most liberating feeling of all. 

Hubby's heart gained strength and he got well -- as well as a severely arthritic 78 year old can get.  The pacemaker kicked in and did the job we were told in January it would do and at the end of the year we were told that Hubby's heart had a strong, steady beat, his blood pressure was near normal, and the blood flow in and out of his heart was healthy.  Moreover, Hubby had recovered much of the energy he had lost during the three years of erratic heartbeats and hospitalizations for congestive heart failure.  

I suddenly didn't have to be the "strong" one, anymore.  I still had to do the grocery shopping, the housework, and most of the cooking, but Hubby was no longer stuck at home, laying in bed, totally depleted.  So I guess I took over for him for a while -- I went to bed and wallowed there. 

Christmas came and we spent it, as usual, in Houston with loving family that cared only that we had come to visit.  We didn't have to be witty or athletic or even helpful -- we just felt loved. That began the start of my resurgence.  I can only thank Wendy and Cynthia for being such supportive family.  

We came home with a sickly pup -- old Gus who is nearly 11 -- and had to invest a small fortune in him (yet again) because he had bladder stones (11 -- just like his age).  He survived but was pretty unhappy for a couple of days.  Now he's up and frisky like we haven't seen in a couple of years.  Just like his pop, he's a survivor.

So it's time that I crawled out of my "hole" and tried my hand at a bit of creativity.  I've been reading some decent literature, not just cozy mysteries or pulp magazines. My brain seems to be engaged once more.  My goal is to begin water aerobic again next week (Hubby and I gave up our lovely membership at the Research Rehab center in favor or a free membership with the Y for Silver Sneakers - when your sweet dog costs over $2000 in two weeks, you learn quickly to cut back on the frivolous stuff in your life). Hopefully a regular exercise routine will help both Hubby and me, physically and mentally. 

If all goes well, I'll be posting here again on a semi-weekly basis.  So Debby, my dear friend, you will no longer have to view a page about the dearly departed and the heartbreak of losing close friends.  Hopefully I will have much, much cheerier things to report.