Saturday, July 30, 2016

This Is Not the Life I Ordered

For about the last 8 months, Mr. W has been commuting to LA two days a week for a film project. During the last 5 or 6 weeks, he's only been able to come home on weekends. Though we're no strangers to living apart, after awhile his absence starts to wear on me. Big time. Especially since we've moved, just because the responsibility list is longer in Santa Ynez than it was in Hollywood.

So Monday, when I went to let the chickens out to free range and saw our little Wellsummer hen, Miranda, looking under the weather, my already weakened husbandless constitution began to crumble.

At first, I thought maybe our girl was just overheated. She was panting. Her comb was pale. Her usually perky tail was pointed toward the ground. I led her to a container of water and of course couldn't get her to drink (the saying's not just for horses...). Though it was the middle of my workday, there was no way I was going to leave my ailing chick. So I took to Google and read every blog post and chat thread I could find about her symptoms.

The thing about chickens is that they're really hard to diagnose. Or maybe, when you're a total avian novice like me, they are. I needed Mr. W here to tell me what to do! In between my frantic visits to hen-devoted websites, I was IMing him like mad.

The first thing he told me was that I was forbidden from calling the vet. He was not going to shell out $100 to save a $4 chicken. He told me that if she died, I should just put her in a garbage bag in the garage freezer and he'd deal with her when he got home. Um, not the scenario I hoped would play out. 

Sad chicken soup
I decided to do the only thing I knew how to do: give her the "spa treatment" we'd given Samantha when she got sick. I drew her an Epsom salt bath in a Rubbermaid container, put the container in the master bathtub, then loaded her into the chicken ambulance and brought her in the house.

Desperate to do whatever I could to make Miranda feel better, I decided to try a second step in the "spa treatment" that I hadn't done before. I decided to give her some clean Epsom salt water by mouth. The article I read clearly warned to administer the liquid very slowly so as not to make the chicken aspirate any of it into her lungs. Armed with my syringe, I dripped dots of water along the sides of Miranda's beak and she tiredly gobbled them up. I thought we were making good progress until I noticed a low wheeze starting to build with her breathing.

Thinking she might just have a little chicken phlegm, I gave her some more water. The wheeze turned into a gurgle.


I was sure of it. I'd gotten water into her lungs and that was the nail in the freezer-garbage-bag coffin. My mind ripped back to a familiar place it likes to visit when Mr. W is gone and things feel tough.

"This is NOT the life I ordered," it screamed.

The life I signed up for was one where my husband and I were under one roof, throwing our heads back in synchronized laughter as we expertly remodeled our home. One where we spent warm summer evenings harvesting ripe tomatoes and admiring how tall the corn stalks had grown. One where we grew grapes in our backyard and turned them into delicious vintages which we served to friends at dinner parties.

Nursing a half-dying hen in my master bathtub was never a line item on the order sheet.

I IMed Mr. W and told him I thought I'd just sealed Miranda's fate. He told me to put her out with the rest of the flock and hope for the best.

So, fighting back tears, I did.

About an hour later, I took some apple slices out to the girls and Miranda appeared to have a little more life in her eyes. She pecked at the apples. She drank water from the pan I'd tried to cool her feet in earlier. Her tail was no longer pointing toward the ground.

As my fight-or-flight response began to dissipate, I realized how incredibly stupid it is to even think "This is not the life I ordered." I thought of Elizabeth Gilbert's line from Eat, Pray, Love about how she "had actively participated in every moment" of the creation of her life.

Duh. This was totally the life I had "ordered." Um and by the way—like any of us even have the power to command or control life (okay, well I do believe in The Secret and manifesting and all that jazz so I guess I still). Anyone's life can suck at any point—it's all about where you choose to rest your attention.

Telling myself this sad story on top of my already dismal poultry predicament just made the entire situation feel that much worse. Ah, the pity party. I'm really good at throwing them, but they're sure no fun to attend.

I'm happy to say that Miranda is still with us. Her comb is still a smidge pale, but her gurgle is gone and her neurotic nervous cluck is back. I'm also glad to report that Mr. W has returned to town full-time. Having my right-hand guy here always makes me feel better. Though I'm eternally grateful for both of those things, I'm also thankful for the reminder that lopping a sad story onto a stressful situation only makes everything feel 10x worse. Or as a wise farmer somewhere once said, "A resistant, defeatist attitude never kept any chickens out of the freezer." 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

One-Acre Angst

There's nothing quite like having loaded fruit trees in your backyard—where you can just pluck a plum off a branch, polish it on your shirt, and eat it right there at its very freshest. So juicy and delicious. It makes me wish I'd met Mr. W in his 20s when he was all ripe for the pickin'. But I digress...

My point is, I love summertime in our yard. I love that we can harvest peaches and plop them into our caprese salads. (If you haven't done this, you MUST try it. Trust me.) I love that we made fajitas this weekend with an onion we grew. I love that Mr. W and the chickens worked together (he dug the hole and they kicked dirt back into it...) to plant zucchini on Sunday. And I love that the shoulder-high weedfest we had going in our back 40 got mowed down and tilled.


But that also brings me to something that doesn't feel so lovey: having so much freaking land it's like we're Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball adrift in an infinite sea. Every time I look at that big swath of acreage in our backyard, I get a little touch of vertigo. It's. Just. Too. Much.

See what I'm sayin'?

Our house is like a child's-sized shoebox up there.

As a registered control freak, it completely stresses me out to have that area growing wild and looking so unkempt. And after Mr. W and I went to a birthday party on a beautifully manicured piece of property recently (think freshly mowed grass and white lights draped from the canopy of a beautiful oak) we're both antsy to get this part of the yard into better shape. So he has put his Sketchup skills to work once again, and has begun drafting ideas for our open space. Behold:

Of course I have grand visions of hosting outdoor yoga and coaching classes down there, followed by micro-farm-to-table dinners. And of course we'll be drinking wine made from our yard's own grapes. While Mr. W plays the fiddle and I sing folk songs. It shall be dreamy.

In the meantime, we'll just have to enjoy what we've accomplished so far—like the fire pit Mr. W installed. It's made of cortex steel like the edging in our front yard planters, so it'll get a cool, rusted patina over time. Mr. W sort of built it himself (someone else bent the metal but he riveted it) so no one else has one exactly like this. Pretty sure if it went up on auction it'd fetch like a mil.

We also got the chicken yard fence all completed. Now those little buggars can't escape and poop all over our back patio. 

Anyway, that's where we are with the yard accomplishments and growing angst. I'm sure I'll be cursing and shoveling gravel back there again at some point in the not too distant future...

Friday, May 13, 2016

There's a Cat-Shaped Hole in My Heart: In Memoriam of Monty

I'm not sure whether it's fitting or macabre that we chose Friday the 13th to put a black cat to sleep. I recently read online that black cats are the hardest for shelters to find homes for, and they have the highest euthanasia rate. Truth be told, 17 years and 3 months ago when I headed to the pet store in search of a kitten, I wasn't looking for a black cat either. Superstition would have swayed me to another option.

But I had only three black kittens to choose from and when one clung to me like his life depended on me, I had to take him home.

It seems silly that a housecat could turn out to be a pillar of my existence for nearly half my life, but that's exactly what happened.

I bought Monty when I was trudging through my fifth year of college, and had just reconciled with my boyfriend after a breakup. Knowing that another breakup was probably inevitable, I decided it would be wise for me to get a pet.

Cats were easy. Low maintenance. And familiar because I'd grown up with them. So I brought Monty into my 450-square-foot studio and never looked back.

I had no idea at the time that I'd end up spending tens of thousands of dollars on him throughout his life. And I had no idea he'd end up repaying me in tens of thousands of hours of joy.

He was a funny baby—I remember him running up the back of my jeans and perching himself on my butt like I was his chauffeur. He used to steal q-tips from me and flip and twirl them around on the carpet like a miniature baton thrower. At night, he'd curl up on my pillow and nuzzle in my hair then ever so gently close his little kitten teeth around my earlobe—chomp.

Cuteness aside, he quickly became my companion and the one dependable man in my life (other than family) throughout my single years. He cuddled with me when I lay crying on the floor after ending love affair after love affair in my 20s. He napped on the couch with me when I was home sick with the flu. He rested against me when I'd camp out in front of my wall heater on cold days, reading the latest Harry Potter book.

No matter what was going on in my life—how bad work was, how sad I was about being single, how little money I had in my bank account—I knew I could always come home to him and find comfort and unconditional love.

We also worked out a great deal when it came to my dating life. Monty was an alpha and he put each and every one of my prospects through an aggressive vetting process. Even after Mr. W and I moved in together, there were occasional challenges about who was in charge and who would take up the most room on the couch. He knew he was my main man and he wasn't just going to step aside for anyone.

Initially, Mr. W was suspect of my chubby little bodyguard. He was allergic to Monty and not very eager to spark up a friendship. But Monty won him over.

Pretty much everyone he met, he won over. One of my girlfriends once said, "It's like you own a living version of Garfield." He was fat. He was funny. He was smart. He was kind of irresistible.

He would snuggle his face in your leather shoes and talk back when you talked to him. You couldn't help but find him charming.

Two and a half years ago, he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, and not being able to let him suffer or leave me yet, I took on the painful task of administering subcutaneous fluids to him every other day to keep him hydrated as his kidney function slowly shut down. His needs quickly shifted to every day treatment, and eventually to fluids twice a day—IV bag, needle, the whole shebang. On top of it, he developed diabetes, so he had to get insulin shots with breakfast and dinner as well.

But he was used to fighting. He'd almost died from a liver condition and something that seemed to be pancreatitis in his younger years—even had to be syringe-fed through a feeding tube in his neck twice.

The cat had about 90 lives to the usual nine.

We are so fortunate that he decided to stay with us as long as he did, particularly because we really wanted him to enjoy his golden years in Santa Ynez. And I think he did enjoy them. He loved laying in the sun patches that would come in through the sliding glass doors. On cold days when we used the oven, he would stretch out on the tile in front of it, soaking up the heat. He loved hanging out in the kitchen when we were making dinner. He'd listen to whatever was cranking on the iPod and beg for scraps of food.  

Despite being in not so great physical shape, I think these last few years were pretty good for him. And although it's awesome he survived so through so much and lived such a long, fat, happy life, it was completely heartbreaking to say goodbye to him today.

There will never be another like my Montrose P. Maris.

He was the kitty king.