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DIY Therapy for my Anxiety

After having an adverse reaction to the latest anxiety medication the doctor tried me on, I decided to explore other methods of coping with this mental monster. One method is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and a key element is writing out and analyzing what your thoughts and feelings are when you experience anxiety. Two things have been triggering it lately, insomnia and going back to work. (And yes, they are related.)
So, I'm going to give a try at putting it out here.

Anxiety #1: Not sleeping/Insomnia

Situation: I'm not falling asleep for what feels like a long time or keep waking back up repeatedly.

Feelings/Reaction: My heartbeat speeds up and my stomach gets tense

Thoughts: Oh no, if I don't sleep, I will feel horrible tomorrow and the fatigue will come back and I will lose the progress/recovery I've made and I'll never get better! (exaggeration much?)

Reality: Yes, I may be extra tired and fatigued tomorrow, but I've gotten better before and I will again. It's only a temporary setback.

Techniques to reduce the anxiety feelings: slow and controlled diaphragmatic breathing, restorative yoga poses, gently rocking in the rocking chair, progressive relaxation exercises, pet the cats, give Bill a massage.

Techniques to divert anxious thoughts: read a cartoon anthology/funny book, play mind games like 'how many birds can I think of that start with the letter b', repeat positive mantras, listen to anxiety calming guided meditation.

Anxiety #2: Returning to Work

Thoughts/Worst case scenario: I go to work and get tired, overdo it, relapse fatigue, and can't do my job. I let down the team, they're disappointed in me, and I have to quit my job.

Reality: If I get tired, I take a break and rest. (DUH!) Oh, I'll let down the team...no, they understand my fatigue situation and that I need breaks. They will support me as much as they can. They want me back, even if I have to have help now and then.

Should it turn out to be too much for me, at least I tried and gave it my best shot. It's not the end of the world. **It's not like me not to try.**

Nate is willing to do whatever I need to come back to work. I need to stop procrastinating and tell him what I need. (Stool with backrest, start with a split shift so I can rest in the middle of the day, start with mail only [no customer service], having others do the unit deliveries until I can walk that far, etc.)

Bridging Anxiety: What if I have a bad night before a work day?

Thoughts: If I have a bad night, I won't be able to work the next day. I can't predict bad nights, and I hate to be unreliable. That makes me feel like a bad person and guilty that I'd be letting the team down.

Reality: I just need to keep open communication with Nate and the team and make sure they understand that the bad night may happen now and then. Have a plan in place to compensate for the occasional bad night/relapse. Understand that this is just my current reality and it's no different than having a child or parent in my care that has medical issues that crop up, necessitating taking the day off.

It's not likely to happen every day, and if it does start happening every day, that just means that I will need to reevaluate whether working is going to work for me. If not, at least I tried and we'll figure out what comes next.

Health update, week 5

I had a half night of insomnia last night, probably a result of overdoing it a bit yesterday. I tried a yoga routine in the morning that had some standing poses and it was too much. Wobble wobble collapse. The floor is my friend.

Plus I got bored in the afternoon (actually a good sign that my brain is back in full working order) and walked across the yard to the quilt studio to find some fabric for a baby quilt. I had to sit on the floor and rest for 20-30 minutes before attempting the walk back to the house. (Ye gawds, the studio needs a good vacuuming...Cobwebs everywhere!)

Today, despite the short sleep, I was able to stand for my entire shower, although I definitely needed to sit while drying. And this afternoon I was able to sew a bit, putting borders on 10 of the 25 quilt blocks before my arms got too tired.

I found some good information on exercise to aid in recovery from fatigue, and how to do enough but not overdo. They recommend only exercising to 60% of your max heart rate, which for me would be about 105. That's not a lot. Methinks I need to invest in a heart rate monitor, maybe one with a pedometer so i can track my walking.

Anyhoo, just wanted to keep a record of how things are going.

My mantra: "I'm not well yet, but I am getting better."


This entry is likely to be very long and rambling, I'm mostly just trying to get it out of my head as a therapeutic measure.

The last week has been very challenging. Monday saw me in to the doctor again, suffering from debilitating insomnia. He put me back on 10 mg Prozac in the mornings, and said to double my nighttime trazadone to 100 mg. I slept okay on the double dose, but the daytime dizziness was crippling. So, I cut it back starting Thursday to one tablet again. He also refilled a small quantity of the Xanax, but encouraged me to avoid taking them as much as possible. I think I've only used 2 or 3 this whole week.

In addition to the prescription meds, I have been using essential oils. My sister in law sent me some samples of things that helped her and my mother in law let me raid her collection of doterra oils. I love the Balance blend to help combat those anxious feelings. And the samples included Copaiba and serenity capsules, as well as a relaxing blend she mixed up just for me of Pettitgrain, cedar wood, and lemon.

Each night, a half hour before bed, I take 1 trazadone, 1 Copaiba capsule, and 1 serenity capsule. I also put a drop or two of the balance blend and some additional Copaiba oil on the soles of my feet and use the relaxing blend on my neck.

But I don't stop there! About an hour before bed I go sit in the hot tub. I repeat cognitive therapy affirmations while I soak. Things like:

I am in control of my thought processes.
I have nothing to feel anxious about.
I am going to get sleepy and fall asleep easily.
I am only going to wake when necessary to roll over or go pee, and then I will be able to fall back asleep easily.
I am going to sleep well tonight and wake refreshed.
I am going to get better...maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but I will get better.

Bill makes sure the tv is off when I come back in from the tub, and I avoid all screens. No Facebook, no tablet games, no phone other than pulling up my sleep music. Bill also found a set of sleep headphones for me that sit flat in a headband so I can sleep with them on. He even brought in our spare twin mattress and we set it up in our closet room Thursday evening so I can sleep without any noises or cats stomping on me. I have a noisy fan going, there's no light pollution in there, and the door closes to make me a little sleeping isolation chamber.

During the day, I make a point to get out in the sunshine, get some bright light therapy. I also started a meditation routine of ten minutes a day of guided meditation. I do that meditation either late morning or mid-afternoon, whenever the anxiety is noticeable. I try not to nap during the day to help the sleep pressure build, and get up and go to bed at the same time every day/night. If I'm too awake during the night, I get up, go out to the living room, and read some cartoon anthologies until I'm sleepy again. I listen to guided sleep meditations when I need a little help getting to or back to sleep, and set my phone to automatically switch over to sleep music with rain sounds when the meditation program ends.

Food has been another issue. My appetite is very low, and often food just tastes horrible. Eating is just too much work sometimes. Also, I've had a persistent uncomfortable pinching sensation in a spot just below my rib on the right side. I've had intermittent diarrhea and constipation despite taking probiotics, and adding triple probiotic protein powder to my smoothies. The anxiety likes to make my stomach all tight and shaky, so I've been keeping a pillow close to hug to my stomach. And the burping! I've never burped so much in my life. I've really taken to almost rejoicing when food tastes good, and eating as much as my shrunken tummy will allow when it does.

The fatigue waxes and wanes along with my sleep quality. After five days in the truck with Bill, my fatigue had started to back off in my arms, but multiple nights of insomnia set me back to pretty much the beginning again. I have difficulty walking unaided and have to have a stool in the kitchen. I tend to crawl on the living room floor between my recliner and the puzzle table and couch because walking is too difficult. I have to limit my time working on a puzzle because my arms are so weak. Even typing this entry had to be done over a couple of hours so I could rest and collect my thoughts. My concentration is definitely messed up by the insomnia too.

I was sure I had things all figured out with the isolation sleeping room and great sleep hygiene and habits, I was surprised to have insomnia last night. I had slept well Thursday, then poorly Friday night, but I chalked that up to the long half life of the extra trazadones earlier in the week resolving. I slept well Saturday night, and thought I had turned the corner. But instead, last night I had a tough time falling asleep, and spent a chunk of the night wide awake, out on the couch. The weirdest thoughts kept intruding on my sleep, jolting me awake every time I would start to drift off. I have never had insomnia like that before this illness struck me down. of course, I researched this and it seems to be a symptom of anxiety.

Who wouldn't be anxious when their body has seemingly gone on strike?

Boy, was I wrong!

I have come to discover that the insomnia that I thought was low blood sugar was actually the warning shot of my current personal heck.

Last Monday, I was seeing a physician for the fourth time since that first insomnia episode. He calmly looked through all my labs and asked me a lot of questions. He made a pretty confident diagnosis of Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, told me to eat well, sleep well, go home and REST. As in, be one with the recliner for two to four weeks. Weeks!

What the heck is Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS)? Doc said it was when something in your immune system goes haywire after fighting off a virus and doesn't shut off when the job is done, and causes inflammation in the rest of the body. All right, but I needed more information. Time to fire up my google-fu and get me some learning.

Challenge number one: the fatigue the first few days was so bad, just poking my tablet was exhausting. Challenge number two: PVFS is not well understood, even by the experts like the Natonal Institute of Health and the Mayo Clinic. Here's what I was able to glean:

-They think the part of the immune response that goes haywire involves cytokines, which are various small proteins secreted by some immune cells and seem to regulate some inflammatory responses. Lots of research is ongoing about them, because not a lot is known.

-There is some connection between depression and/or stress and getting PVFS. If you have or have had depression in the past, you are more likely to get it. There is some mysterious connection between depression and/or stress and inflammation that is under investigation, but they haven't figured out the mechanism yet.

-There is a connection between PVFS and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Best I can understand is that if you don't take the former seriously and let yourself recover properly, it can develop into the latter, which can take years or decades to resolve, if ever.

That's all I could find, other than a few condescending articles relating it to "overwhelmed educated middle aged women". Thank goodness attitudes like that are mostly a thing of the past. All the doctors and nurses I've encountered through this have listened to me with compassion and believed me when I described my invisible symptoms.

So what's PVFS like, from my experience? At its worst, I was dizzy, shaky, weak, hard to even think. The simplest movements took monumental concentration, and just a short walk down the hall necessitated a rest afterward. Food was entirely awful, sleep difficult. Anxiety about what was happening to me, worry about being off work, frustration with my body not acting like my body and not getting better fast enough, all the while knowing that stress could make it worse and fearing that it might never go away.

My symptoms have slowly improved over this last week. The difficulty thinking and concentrating was the first thing to lift. My sleep has been reasonably good with the help of medication, essential oils, and guided meditation videos. My appetite has returned at least halfway. Food tastes good again, but I have noticed a hypersensitivity to smells that I didn't have before. My arm muscles are finally responding normally, if they do tire more easily.

The biggest holdout is my legs. Just standing makes me lightheaded half the time, and I've gotten good at locking my knees and leaning against things while I try to stabilize. The leg muscles are still stupid weak. Walking any distance feels like forging through two foot deep snowdrifts, and I need to concentrate on how to place my feet and focus on smooth movement or I wobble like a newborn foal.

Bill has been awesome through this. He had to do a truck run in the big rig to Montana this week and decided to have me ride along. It has been an excellent way to keep my mind occupied while also forcing me to rest. I can't overdo it when belted into the passenger seat for 11 hours a day! He holds my hand to steady me and walks slow to the rest areas and back. I still feel a little guilty like I'm playing hooky from work, and the worries do still creep in, but nowhere near as bad as if I was home alone, stewing. He listens to me as I work through my worries and digest the information about this disease. I have just enough hand strength back to rub his tight shoulder muscles a little each evening.

Thanks to him, and all the support and virtual hugs from all of you, I might just get through this.💜

Worst insomnia ever

After a fabulous afternoon and evening visiting with my long-distance best friend, I found myself suddenly awake at 1:30ish in the morning. My stomach was a little upset (what we call an "oogy tummy) and returning to sleep didn't seem very likely. So, I took a melatonin, went out and sat with the cats for a bit, listened to a podcast (Mike Rowe's "The Way I Heard It", highly recommend!) and then went back to bed hoping the melatonin would shuffle me off to sleep.

Lying in bed, I kept trying to sleep. I counted "in, out" with my breaths, a meditation technique for quieting jabbering thoughts. After a while I noticed something. I could hear my heartbeat was too fast for resting, about 90 beats per minute. Hours pass with what feels like only catnaps, coming back to consciousness abruptly every time it seems I start to drift off. I feel chills and sweats, and a bit shaky. My mouth is very dry and my ears are ringing. Around 7 am, I feel my stomach growl, but I'm too tired and groggy and out of it to want to get up and eat something.

This, I discovered later, was key.

You see, I've had a head cold for just under a week and it has really affected my appetite. Most foods just don't taste very good when your nose doesn't work. And yesterday, excited anticipating my friend's arrival, I had skipped lunch. We ate a large dinner of salads and tortellini with meat sauce around 7, and then we were too full and got too busy talking to eat any dessert. My stomach was a bit "oogy" from the big meal, and I didn't eat my usual bedtime snack.

Charting my blood tests over time, I'm borderline anemic and also skirt the edge of pre-diabetes with my fluctuating A1C scores. I know no matter how tired I am, I have to get up and eat breakfast every morning. Heck, i usually wake up starving!

Lying there trying to make myself get out of bed and eat some breakfast, I started mentally listing all my symptoms and felt like an idiot...all but the insomnia are classic indicators of low blood sugar.

So, I did a little research and discovered that low blood sugar can CAUSE insomnia. About four hours after a meal, insulin levels peak. In my case, there was little or no sugars left in my system for it to chew on. BAM, low blood sugar crash, which tells your body "hey, we really need some food, wake up and eat something!" So, one awake Karen, who then degenerates into a shaky, sweaty, chills, dry mouth, mild nausea, can't sleep mess, too groggy to realize the classic hypoglycemic symptoms are ruining her night.

I'm currently forcing myself to eat some yoghurt and graham crackers to build my blood sugar back up to a functioning level. I also asked my dear husband to not let me skip meals ever again. I even gave him permission to nag. ☺️

So, lesson learned. And pass the graham crackers!

I actually got my hopes up...

So yesterday I dove back into applying for other (hopefully better) jobs than the miserable minimum-wage part-time on-call slog I'm currently in. I applied for five positions in the afternoon, and actually got an email back from one of them by 6:30 that evening! Crazy, right? Then I got a phone call and another email from them this morning, wanting me to come in today and talk to them and fill out some paperwork.

I was at work already, so I talked to my dispatcher before lunch and the other guys in the van today and we managed to get me out of there by 1:45. I ran home and did a quick change out of my hideous green polyester work shirt and grabbed my folder of application information and with great anticipation, busted my butt over there.

Before I go any farther, I shall include here the exact wording on the job posting:

Looking for a part time van driver that would transport our nursing home residents to and from medical appointments. Experience with the elderly a plus.

Job Type: Part-time

That was it. It has been posted for 2 days. I thought, "I qualify for that," and shot off an application with the following cover letter:

"Dear Sir or Madam,

I am looking to change jobs to one that serves my community rather than a faceless corporation. I have maintained a perfect driving record while driving 300-500 miles a week for the past two years. I have experience from my days as a home care aide with the elderly, both those able and alert and those needing extra care and attention. I transported my mother using a wheelchair lift van for eight years, and am familiar with safety and securing of wheelchairs in vehicles. I also have excellent customer service skills, and am very patient and organized.

If you can beat my current wages ($225/week), I would be very interested in working with seniors in our community with you!

Karen Jake"

They were very excited to receive my application, and eager to have me fill out a complete application, background check form, and talk to the fellow in charge of that position. Let's call him Joe. Joe is the one who called me this morning, and really didn't want to wait until monday to meet with me, hence all the finagling to get off early.

Back to this afternoon. I called to let Joe know I got out early and could meet him about 2:30. He seemed distracted, but was glad that I could come in, only saying that he was hoping to leave by 3, so the earlier I could get there, the better. I arrived at 2:20, and he was just unloading a resident from the van. He sat me in a small conference room and I waited while he took the resident back to their wing.

First impressions: Joe reminded me of my junior high head custodian. Skinny, bushy wild hair that looked like it was way past due for a haircut, kind of hollow cheeks, and one eye that pointed right all the time. His clothes were a kind of ratty and worn faded black long-sleeved tee and dirty work pants. His name badge said he was "Facilities".

Joe comes back, tells me how great to have someone apply with a clean driving record (hard to believe how rare that is) and did I have the background check form the other gal had sent me printed out and filled out? I didn't, but offered to fill it out there if he could get me a copy printed out. He left, went to the office, and got one for me, then left while I filled it out.

Dang, I thought, these guys are really hot to trot! I filled out the form and waited for Joe to return. When he did, he disappeared again for a few moments to get the form sent in, then came right back. I let him sit, catch his breath, and asked him to tell me about the job. "Tell me what you're looking for," he replied.

I told him how I was looking to change jobs to one that serves the community, one where I had regular dependable hours, and where I could be part of a team rather than an easily replaceable cog. I told how my current position has unreliable hours and zero benefits. I also restated that I was looking for a part time job with better wages, one that would net me around $300 a week. Then I again asked for information about this position.

Joe waffled around a bit, asked me what part time meant to me. I said 20-30 hours or so. Then he asked me if I was "handy with a paintbrush"...? I shrugged and said I've painted rooms before, and I'm not some helpless gal, perfectly able to change light bulbs and change air filters for myself.

Then he dropped the bomb. The van driving job is only TWO DAYS A WEEK, Fridays and Saturdays, and he's not sure quite what I'll be doing on Saturdays except maybe taking people to dialysis and picking them up again 4-6 hours later. "Oh, and how are you about evenings?" Apparently I could also be on call for late pickups, if I so desired. I could even be first on the call list for those occasional extra hours and "make some extra money." I told him I have a class that I help teach every monday and wednesday evening, and that wasn't really what I was looking for.

"How about outside?" Joe asked. I gave him a blank look. "Like gardening and stuff," he elaborated. I said I'm not above pulling weeds and mowing lawns. "Oh, we have a service for the lawns." Okay, well I can pull weeds and plant flowers and stuff, sure.

Turns out since the driving part is only two days a week with the option of being on call for late nights, any down time between trips is spent doing light handyman tasks around the facility. He is looking for someone to drive the van those two days (so he doesn't have to) and fill in the rest of however many hours I want with handyman stuff!

Go back and read that job listing again. I don't see anything about handyman work in there anywhere, do you? Didn't think so.

So, he couldn't give me any specifics on exactly what I'd be doing other than on Fridays, and didn't really tell me much about that, either. I asked him again about the hourly wage for the position, and he told me "I'm sure I can get you better than minimum wage."

That was all he said. He then complained a bit about the guy they've got who is their full time weekday driver, monday through thursday, how he's "out of there at 3:30 no matter what and if there's any later pickups, I have to go do them myself."

He asked me if I was interested in full time. I told him that if he could get me weekdays, I'd be all over that and I'd gladly do light maintenance work between driving runs, and my work ethic wouldn't allow me to just leave without the job being done.

He wanted me to come back in on Monday to talk some more after he spoke with management for more details about the actual duties on saturdays and get the rest of my paperwork filled out. He said he'd call me in the morning to see when I could come in. (I shared earlier how I find out at 4 the day before if I'm scheduled to work or not the next day, and he understood about how "that sucks".) Nevermind that I already told my boss I'd be needing monday off for an interview, I wasn't telling Joe that. He went on to say that if the background check comes back by monday, we'd do paperwork then and I could come in tuesday for orientation and that would be my hire date and first paid day.

As I left, I thanked him for seeing me, reiterated that more definite information would be appreciated, and said if he could get me weekdays, "he'd have to beat me off with a stick." He said he'd keep that in mind, with a wave and a smile.

TL:DR, the whole thing was pretty much a colossal waste of time. Vague job duties, only two days a week driving the van, over half my time doing handyman stuff, and no definite wage information or even a mention if there are any benefits.

California on my mind

The last two weeks Bill and I were in California for a working holiday. We had a boat for SAFE Boats to pick up in Sacramento, take to Marina Del Rey, wait four days, pick it up again, take it back to Sacramento, wait another three days, then bring it back to the company headquarters here in Bremerton.

We took the same big truck with the sleeper we used last summer on all the bus-hauling trips so the kitties could come with us. This was Merlin's first trip with us anywhere, and I was a bit apprehensive about taking our seven-month-old bundle of spaz. Two weeks in a small space about the size of our bathroom, no room to run...

The trip started on time, which turned out to be a day early in that we had way more time than needed to make it to our first stop. We broke it down into two short days (6 or 7 hours) of driving with lots of breaks. Phoebe settled down within a few hours of leaving home, and Merlin was a champ right along with her. He explored every nook and cranny of the rig, of course, but decided to follow Pheeb's lead and sleep as much as possible.

Bill had spent days making lines and getting what he was told he would need prepared to tow the boat and its trailer, but it turned out all the info he was given was wrong. Luckily, he had the right connectors for the trailer and the correct hitch anyway. We picked up the load from our contact with the Sacramento sherriff's office, Dave, and headed south.

The trip down was blessedly uneventful, although we were still a bit worried about where we were going to be able to park the rig while we were in LA. There are no truck stops close to town, and most places won't allow you to park an oversize vehicle, not even on the street. We stopped north of the Grapevine at a rest area to wait out the ridiculous amount of traffic for a Sunday evening heading south into LA. We ate dinner and took naps, and made the final leg to Marina Del Rey about midnight when the roads were clear. Upon arrival at the marina, we checked straps again and one of the big 3" tie downs was broken clear through from the horrible rough roads. Luckily, we were able to leave the truck hooked to the trailer in the marina parking lot for a fee. Big load off our minds!

Staying in the rig was against the rules at the marina, so I got us a rental car (using my employee discount, of course) and a pet-friendly hotel not too far away. I managed to find one that was only around $100 per day, a minor miracle in LA! There were several food joints within walking distance, so we got some grub takeout, and chilled with the kitties in the hotel for the evening.

Our first full day in LA, we decided to go tour the Petersen Automotive Museum. What a trip! I got to breathe on a F1 car Michael Shumacher won a race in in the Ferrari room, learned all about the All American Racing group founded by Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby, race Bill in a Forza simulator, and pretty much fill our eyes with beautiful automotive eye candy. After that, we walked the two blocks to the La Brea Tar Pits and walked the grounds there, seeing the active excavations. They are currently working on 23 crates of fossils still in the matrix that were removed from the adjacent art museum's garage building project.

The next day, we headed south and west to a fabric store I've been drooling over online for years. Momen+ has the best selection of Japanese import cottons in all these adorable tiny prints! Bill was very patient while I splurged on some fabrics for myself for the first time in years. Then we headed to the coast to the Abalone reserve. We ate our snacks there and walked down to the tide pools. On the way down, we spotted a pod of dolphins offshore splashing and jumping, feeding on a school of fish. Brown Pelicans were diving into the midst of them, and it was quite a sight! We tried to stop at Wayfarers Chapel to enjoy the architecture, but it was closed to visitors for a wedding--at noon on a Thursday! So we headed up the coast a bit to Point Vicente. The back patio is excellent for spotting migrating whales, but we only spotted another HUGE pod of dolphins from there. There must have been 50 or 60 in the pod, all swimming north.

That evening after dinner we decided to visit the Griffith Observatory. Parking was hard to find (again, on a Thursday?!?), but we were able to wander about and see all the displays before closing time. We looked for the famous Hollywood sign, but it wasn't lit up that night. The views were spectacular nonetheless and we were glad we made the trip.

Friday, we started the day at a local brunch and coffee shop. Bill had fresh squeezed orange juice and french toast made from Hawaiian bread and maple sausages. I had a belgain waffle with strawberries...oh my gawd, what a splurge! We ate every bite! I got us tickets to the Getty Villa. It and the Getty Museum are free except for parking, but we were more interested in seeing the antiquities at the Villa than the art at the museum. We spent a good couple of hours touring all the nooks and crannies of the villa, and we especially liked the themed rooms full of thousand year old pottery and statues showing images from various myths. I also loved the gardens...

We lunched down by the ocean, parked alongside the Pacific Coast Highway. Then we took a drive up Topanga Canyon. Bill was a tad annoyed at the Prius holding us up, but there were over a dozen cop cars of various kinds scattered up and down the canyon road, so it was probably for the best. We tried a short hike to a sandstone cave, but the heat on the landward side of the mountains was brutal. It was the first real heat we had had, since it had been in the low 70's and breezy all week up until then. Back down the canyon we went, and the PCH was stuffed full of Friday evening traffic. Bill spotted a restaurant advertising "craft beers and grass fed beef" on their awning, but kept driving because he didn't see anyplace to park. Another mile or so of the traffic, and I convinced him to flip a U-turn and go back. Boy am I glad we did! The food at Burgers N Brews was fantastic. We talked beers with the guy there and recommended some more darker beers to add to their selection. Such good food!

Saturday, I planned a short day for us so Bill could rest up for driving truck again the next day. We visited the Automobile Driving Museum in nearby El Segundo. Bill was a bit skeptical at first (after seeing the Petersen earlier in the week), this place only had 75 or so vehicles on display. Then we started looking around, and realized you can touch and look inside almost every car on display! The docents were fantastic, sharing tons of information about the various cars. In the special high-end room, we saw a Pierce Arrow, and a Packard 100 point concours car. Bill was able to sit in a Stutz! It was amazing. One of the cars belonged to Clark Gable and had a special compartment for golf clubs...and they had a modern set in there, so not cool. I told the docent about my grandpa's vintage clubs and, long story short, I'll be sending them photos so they can decide if they'd like to have them for the display. I think grandpa would be happy for his old clubs to end up in a museum.

As we were eating ice cream after our tour, Rob from SAFE Boats called. They were expecting to be back at the marina that evening about 5, and would we like to load the boat up then instead of waiting until the next morning like in our original schedule? Bill decided that was fine, so it was a scramble that afternoon to be at the marina in advance, pick up the boat, back to the hotel room for dinner and packing, drive back to the marina to drop our stuff and the cats off at the rig, return the rental car to the airport, and taxi back to the marina. We left LA about 11 that night and only hit moderate traffic jams on the way out of town. We stopped for the night at that rest area north of the grapevine and crashed.

A day ahead of schedule, we made a short day of driving the next day and stopped at a truck stop just shy of our destination near Rio Vista. We hung out and relaxed, the boat to be delivered the next day, Sunday. We were to meet the guys at the boat launch in a park about 4 in the afternoon, but had a car run into our truck five minutes from the drop point and were delayed a couple hours while the CHP came and took care of the accident report. Crazy lady tried to dive over in front of our rig when we were stopped before turning left to get to the park...totally her fault, and we have the dash cam footage to prove it. Her car was very messed up, and we have a few small scratches on the 4500 pound front bumper of the truck. :) Remember Dave with the Sacramento sheriffs? He stopped by to see what's up while we were waiting for CHP and kept us company and an eye on the situation. We dropped the boat off, and took a walk around the park. We saw some acorn woodpeckers popping in and out of a hole in a tree, probably feeding babies. Pretty cool! Oh, and happy 19th anniversary to us. We went back to the truck stop for the night.

The next three days we hung out with our sister-in-law and nephew in Granite Bay. The weather was HOT, so we relaxed under the ceiling fan watching movies and building jigsaw puzzles. Bill got part of her riding lawn mower fixed, but another part needed to be ordered to get it up and running again. We also helped tear down a damaged boat shed which cleared another parking space for them. We ate good food (fresh picked strawberries!), talked a lot, and took a walk to the lake on the last day. Wow! The lake was so full! So nice to see all the lakes and reservoirs filled up.

We went back to the boat launch at the park to pick up the boat on wednesday evening (no crazy drivers this time!). The boat was there before the trailer (they had stored it offsite this time), so we got to have a brief thrill ride on it! Oh my frog, that thing is FAST (50+ knots), and can turn on a dime! It has shock absorbing seats and armrests with Jesus handles so you can hang on when they make high speed turns. It was amazing. The ride home was mostly uneventful...Mostly. We stopped late that first night at a rest area to check all the straps, and one of the trailer wheels was soaking wet with brake fluid, a trail leading back down the offramp behind it. Roadside repair time, with me guiding him getting the trailer up on wood blocks, holding the light for Bill as he got the wheel off, removed the blown-out caliper, clamped off the brake line, and wheel put back on. I even had extra kitty litter along that I spread on the spilled fluid. What a mess. We didn't make it much further that night.

The last day of the trip was the longest, using up the full 10 hours of driving allowed. We made it to the shop just after midnight, and we unloaded just the cats and what we needed for overnight and went home. One of the other drivers delivered the boat the next morning while we slept in, and we went over later to finish emptying out our stuff and cleaning up the rig. I still need to go over this afternoon and remake the bed in the rig with the freshly washed sheets, but other than that, we're back to normal life today.

The hardest day

Today is the hardest day in any pet parent's life. Jasper is scheduled for his final vet appointment at 5:00 today.

The end of the week before last, Jasper started not wanting to eat his dry cat food. He's been reluctant to chew for a while, so I figured his teeth might be bothering him and switched him over to wet food. He's 14 years old, or the equivalent of a 70-something human, so tooth problems are normal.

He ate great over that weekend, but early last week I noticed he was looking a little bloated. I thought it might be gas, since he was wolfing down his food to get it et before Phoebe started crowding him. I put my ear to his tummy and there were gurgling sounds, typical of gas.

By Thursday, he was not eating even his wet food, and I was very concerned that maybe he had a blockage or something. I called his vet and they had an opening that I could just make. Jasper yowled himself into a lather on the way there, and despite normal vitals, an X-ray showed massive fluid build up in his belly.

This was terrible news. There is no good reason for this to happen, only bad and very bad ones. Top culprits for this are FIP and cancer, both of which are a death sentence. The vet agreed that otherwise he was an unusually healthy cat for his age. There was a slim chance of it being a one-time reaction to who-knows-what, so we talked about options.

I had them drain off the fluid to make him more comfortable and enable the vet to palpate his abdomen more easily to feel for any clues to the source of the problem. There was nothing conclusive found, and he weighed a pound less when the fluid was gone. Laboratory tests were well outside my ability to pay for, and could very well come back inconclusive. The vet also checked and none of the possibilities are contagious to Phoebe, so we're safe on that account. I left the vet with prednisone for him, tears in my eyes, and a plan to spoil him as much as possible.

That evening and friday, Jasper turned up his nose at the soft food, but was snarfing down his kibble like nothing ever happened. He seemed a bit more tired, but otherwise happy to lay on the sofa like usual between meals. He drank significantly more, but that is a side effect of the prednisone and it passed through with no problems. I gave him extra meals to catch up on what nutrition he lost when he wasn't eating the week before. I even popped home during my lunch half-hour friday to give him food.

I started a new routine. Each evening after his bedtime feeding, I would lie down on the sofa with him while he digested his meal. I would do my bedtime reading, and we would just be close. After an hour or so, he would get up and leave and I would head to bed.

By saturday evening, I could see swelling in his belly again. I hoped it was just extra weight from the extra meals...de nile isn't just a river in Egypt. But he was still eating and drinking and using the litter box, so I just kept an eye on him.

Sunday morning, I took Jasper outside to the tall grass in the side yard for a little adventure. He loves chewing on grass and playing catch the twig that I drag across the ground. He had a great time. By evening, the swelling in his belly was getting worse, and I knew he was filling up with fluid again. That night I couldn't sleep. I was up until three, trying to deal with the crushing emotions I was feeling.

Monday I had the day off, thank goodness. I continued the research I had started on thursday, scouring the internet for information. I had more words for what might be wrong with my boy (ascites, mutated coronavirus, carcinomatosis), but no better answers. Tears were common all day, and now I was the one not wanting to eat. My stomach was in knots. Jasper was lethargic. I kept hoping for an opportunity to take him outside again, but he was just too tired. He ate at every meal, but less and less each time.

The vet called to check up on him that evening, and we talked about draining his belly again, and the main conclusion is that it was just a temporary measure. The fluid was heavy with protein, and cats must have that protein in their system for their organs to work. He okayed one more draw, but was concerned that the protein loss would do Jasper in. He said to watch his breathing and eating habits, and just love him until it was time.

By evening, he was retreating to our closet to sit on my cedar chest cushion. I think my distress was bothering him, and I wasn't able to spend my nightly time with him. Bill let me cry all over him, and Phoebe slept beside me all night.

Today, tuesday, I was supposed to go to work. I fed the cats their breakfast, and Jasper barely ate any kibble. I opened a can of wet food for him, and he just licked off the gravy and walked away. My breakfast tasted like cardboard, and I called in sick to work with tummy troubles. I curled up on the couch with Jasper by my ankles, Phoebe behind my knees, and crashed out for another two hours. When I woke, Jasper had moved away so he wasn't touching me. He seemed a bit more lively though, so I took him outside for another romp in the grass.

He ate grass to his heart's content, sniffed the mole holes, and played a little chase the twig.
We sat in the grass in the sunshine and sniffed the breeze, listened to the birds, and watched the leaves wiggle in the wind. Jasper purred a lot. I smiled a bit and cried a bit.

About noon, Bill called to see if I wanted to join him for lunch. I still wasn't feeling very well stomach-wise, and we talked about what we should do. I agreed to call the vet and ask their opinion. After speaking with the tech (the vet is out until thursday) we agreed that another draining is only delaying the inevitable, and I made the appointment for this evening to have him put to sleep.

As I sit to write this, Jasper is "snatted" (also known as 'full loaf' position) on the floor behind my chair. He didn't even lick his lunch, and I'm not sure how I'll get anything down myself. Phoebe is trying to get him to play, but all he does is hiss and walk away. Poor little girl is awfully jealous of the extra and special smelly food he's been getting, but she still takes time every day to wash the back of his head for him whether he wants it or not.

I feel so morbid right now. I just rearranged the things in the shadow box containing Cosmo's collar and paw print to make room for Jasper's. Bill and I talked a little last weekend about what we want to do with our boy's remains. I wish I could have sold some of the furniture I had listed a couple weeks ago; it would have helped pay for the private cremation I want to get done. Bill said not to worry, he would take care of it. I love that man so much. He's even leaving work early today so he can be there for me, Jasper, or us. Whatever, you get the idea.

I may take him outside again, or just let him relax where he's at right now. He's in his favorite spot, smushing down the back cushion of the couch, watching out the window, sniffing the breeze.

I love you, buddy. You're the best cat I ever had. I'll miss you so much.

Blackberry Pie Bars

Ah, blackberry season is here again. For the rest of the year we battle these thorny beasts, but this makes up for all the hassle and sticker pokes. The photo above was taken after I picked four cups of berries from this section. Nature's bounty indeed!

I got this recipe from The Novice Chef, and you can find it here: http://www.thenovicechefblog.com/2013/07/blackberry-pie-bars/

For this recipe you will need:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one lemon, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch slices
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups fresh blackberries
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Also, you need a food processor, a largish bowl, spatula, and a 9"x13" cake pan.

Now, I didn't happen to have a lemon, so I have in my pile o' ingredients: Lemon juice, dried lemon peel, and lemon extract. You'll see why later.

Preheat your oven to 375 and grease your cake pan and set it aside.
Put the bowl and blade on the base of the food processor. If you don't put the blade in before the ingredients, it's impossible to get it in there later on.
Here's the 3 cups of flour and 1 cup of sugar in the bowl of my Cuisinart.

To substitute for the lemon zest, I measured out half a tablespoon of dried lemon peel and moistened it with the lemon extract. Extract comes from the oils of the fruit, which is what would naturally be found in lemon zest.

In on the flour/sugar goes the "zest", cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

Put the lid on that sucker and give it a few pulses to mix all that stuff together. Then chop up your cold butter straight from the fridge into smaller chunks.

Dump that butter in on top along with the egg and 2 teaspoons of vanilla.

Give that stuff a heap load of pulses. Don't be shy, this takes a while. You want all the butter chopped into the dry stuff with no big lumps. It may seem tiresome, but just imagine trying to do this by hand with two forks. Power tools for the win!

See that nice, crumbly texture? That's the ticket!

Now dump half those crumbs in the bottom of your GREASED 9x13 pan and press them down with your hand into a relatively smooth layer. You can see little globs of butter that didn't get completely mixed in...that's okay!

Now it's time for the blackberry filling. Don't do like I did here...I waited to take pictures until my second batch of deliciousness and made a little error.
Whisk your 1/2 cup sugar and 4 teaspoons of cornstarch together FIRST in your dry largish bowl. Then add your juice from your lemon (or 1/4 cup from a bottle if you're lame like me).

That way, your cornstarch won't get all lumpy like you see here:

Gently fold those four cups of blackberries with the sugar/cornstarch/lemon juice mixture. Just scoop underneath them and turn your spatula over so they end up nicely coated with the mixture.

Spread those berries over the crust you pressed into your pan.

Now sprinkle the remaining crumbly stuff over the top of your berries. Hold on to that blade so it doesn't go splat into your pan of goodness!

Smooth that crumble out a smidgen so it covers the berries. Oh yeah.

Bake that sucker in your preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. The top will be just starting to get ever so slightly brown and the filling will be bubbling a bit around the edges.

Now the hard part...letting that pan cool completely before you cut it into squares!

Strawberry cake

Here's another recipe for you fellas. Fresh strawberries are so hard to resist, and this is a great dessert to make using them. It's totally easy and I know you can do it!
I even included tons of pictures this time so you can see what's up with each stage.

I stole borrowed this recipe from Smitten Kitchenhttp://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2011/05/strawberry-summer-cake/

Here's what you need to make it:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Kitchen tip from Karen: When prepping strawberries (or other fruit, like paring and peeling apples), I like to have one bowl handy with a plastic bag lining it for all the junky bits. When you're done, just lift out and toss the bag, and the bowl doesn't even need washing!

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch pie pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan (what I used). I like to use the wrapper from the butter and smear that sucker all over the pan.

First measure out the dry ingredients. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. A quick stir with a fork is fine. Set aside. (No, there's no picture of it. It's just a bowl with floury stuff in it. You can figure that one out by yourselves!)

In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes.

Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined.

See? Mine's still a little lumpy because my butter was a little firm. It's okay!

Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Mine came out thick, so I had to spread it out with the spatula. No big deal!

Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. Just squeeze them in as best you can, no need for perfection. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Important!!!!! Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. (Gooey strawberries on the tester are a given.)

Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with whipped cream, aka "foo foo", or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!