Saturday, March 17, 2018

World, Meet Clarisse

Three weeks ago, we welcomed a new addition to our family. Clarisse is a 4.5-year-old poodle who has already stolen our hearts, at least, Trucker's and mine. Raycat is still figuring out this weird looking creature.

I have been researching dog ownership and looking for the right dog for a long, long time now (long-time readers may remember the scary dogs of 2015). I knew that when I adopted a dog, it was forever, so I was going to make sure that we had everything perfectly ready and that we got the right dog this time (our previous attempt resulted in both Trucker and my dad being bitten and my bro-in-law lunged at, while the dog was sweet as pie with Mom and me. Obviously the dog had had some bad experiences with men). My dear friend at work has been helping me--finding listings for dogs, giving me insights on certain breeds (she is a major animal lover who has had a variety of breeds over the years) and talking about certain dogs that I was considering. I've read a lot of books, joined a lot of Facebook groups for fans of certain breeds (If I was considering a breed, I joined FB groups to try to talk myself out of it. These groups shared the good, bad and ugly. I figured if I could be deterred by seeing the worst, it wasn't the breed for me), read countless articles and forums, met a lot of dogs, looked at a lot of listings, applied for many dogs from rescues, and talked to numerous breeders. Nothing ever quite worked out. Some dogs were adopted before my application got in, or the rescue wouldn't adopt out of state, or the dog just didn't seem to be a good fit for us for some reason or another. I was okay with it taking a long time. I wasn't going to mess this up. I often questioned whether or not I was ready, and then would throw myself into more research. Then I found her and it was right.
When she first came home.
After her spa day.

I was doing a Craigslist search for schnauzers because that was the breed we had pretty much settled on and I had only found one standard schnauzer breeder in my state. I had never considered a poodle, really. The show haircuts threw me. I saw a listing for a schnoodle and thought I would search for poodles also. I found a listing for a special dog needing a special home. Before I emailed her, I did some research to see what kind of situation I would be getting myself into. When I thought it all seemed within our ability, I emailed her. Once I realized that it seemed like a good fit, I started researching in earnest.

You see, Clarisse is a former puppy mill breeder. She was throwing litters of dead or deformed pups, so they didn't care about her. At some point, something happened to her eye, and the owner cut it out at home. Because they obviously didn't do a professional job, they damaged the optical nerves and she lost vision in her other eye as well. Her rescuer had a couple other poodles and found a listing for her. When she showed up, the puppy mill owner threw Clarisse to the ground, kicked her over and said, "Just take her. I don't want her anymore." Even though she didn't have the time to take care of a blind dog (she had a few kids, a couple poodles, a few cats and a new baby on the way), there was no way she could leave this little dog with them. She took wonderful care of Clarisse while she looked for a good home. She got her spayed, up-to-date on shots, vet checked and used to being loved on excessively. I will forever be grateful for how she saved my baby and taught her that the world wasn't all bad. She made sure that I was good for her before she asked if I wanted to meet her.
Her very first time tackling the stairs.

The day that we decided to drive the 200 miles to meet her, we randomly decided to hit a used book sale at the library. One of the first books that I found was Living with Blind Dogs, by Caroline D Levin. The volunteer at the sale had a blind dog at home. The next day when I sat down at lunch to read by book, the woman across the table started talking with me about her best friend's dog who is blind from diabetes and people don't believe she is blind because she is the happiest dog and plays so much. My mom was hesitant. She knew how much I wanted a dog and was concerned that I would end up with a dog that ate and didn't give me what I needed. The next morning, my techno-phobe Mom had blown up my phone with the results of the research she had done on the internet: "You put carpet runners down so they figure out where they are", "Put bells on your shoes so they can find you" "OMG check out the halo!"

The day that were were to meet and possible adopt her, we woke up early. We had spent the previous day getting the house all ready. We got all "stuff" off the floor, rearranged furniture to a more blind-friendly layout. We have a number of rugs already, but we rearranged them in a good fashion for navigation (long runner in the hallway between kitchen and living room, a certain type of rug in front of exterior doors, another type in front of her crate and her food dish, yet another kind at the top of the two stairs leading between levels). We made one last check that any sharp or pointy things weren't at eye level. Off we went.

We fell instantly in love with her. She was quiet, but settled right into my arms when her rescuer handed her to me. She was just sweet. We both loved her instantly. We talked with the rescuer a lot to hear more about her story, tips for helping her adjust, her likes and dislikes and why she was being given up (No behavioral issues. She even asked that if we ever had to rehome her, that we contact her and she would buy her back, which let me know a lot about how she had been treated/cared for and what kind of dog I was getting. She texted several times in the hours after that, heartbroken that she had had to let her go). It was obvious that she was very loved. I have kept in contact with her for these weeks, letting her know about adjustments and vet visits and sending pictures.
This photo perfectly captures her energy during our cuddles.

The whole drive home, she was quiet. She was interested in us, but never made a peep. When we got home, I walked her around the house on a leash so she could get a feel for the lay of the land. We got her some food and more water. Then she napped. And napped. And napped. I knew that most rescue dogs go through a bit of depression for a week or so as they get used to their new normal, so I wasn't concerned. I just held her while I worked online or read a book. Then she woke up. All of a sudden, she was insane. She was snuggling and kissing and rolling around and doing this adorable thing where she covers her face with her paws. It was pure joy. Three weeks in, and she gets like this every morning when I wake up (and when Trucker wakes up), every time either of us gets home from work, and often after longer naps. She is the most joyful, fun-loving, vivacious thing.

We learned a lot through our research and that has made this transition a breeze (like, surprisingly easy). I taught her a swerve word. Whenever she is headed straight for something, I say "Oop!" and she swerves to avoid it.She wasn't leash trained, but being a poodle, she learned in 5 minutes. We walk her always the same way so she can learn the neighborhood. When she walks on one side of the sidewalk and there is a wall or overgrown bushes on that side, I say "This way!" and she moves back to the middle of the sidewalk. She has learned "up" and "down" for navigating steps (She can run up flights of stairs, but can only walk down one so far). She knows where to go for her food and water (and unfortunately where to go for the cat's food which makes her fart so we are working on a "leave it" command). She has only had one accident in the house. She doesn't destroy anything (in fact, it doesn't appear that she understands the concept of toys, so we are working on that as well), doesn't bark all night (crate training took about 10 days; the solution came when we started playing Beethoven for her each time we crate her. She loves it), allows us to administer any medicine or pluck ear hairs with barely a grunt.
This old wash tub was purchased at an antique
store for $8 and perfectly fits her bed. She
loves having a napping spot that is close to the
action but out of the line of action.

We took her to the vet to get her all checked out. Heartworm negative, fecal test came back good, and overall great health. She had some redness from her eye, but an $18 bottle of eye drops has gotten that under control. Her intra-occular pressure test came back low, which means she doesn't have glaucoma yet, but we are going to get her in to the opthamologist just to make sure that we are doing things right and we know what to look out for. Before we adopted her, I made sure we had the cash on hand to do an enuculation if it was needed. Obviously, I would prefer to not subject her to another trauma and the risk involved with surgery of any kind, but if I can't keep her out of pain without it, I will get it done.

There is so much more to say, but this is getting long, so I will wrap it up with this:

When I wanted to get a dog it was for three main reasons: 1). Companionship 2). Running partner 3). Watch dog. Once I heard her story and how loving she was, I decided that I was alright with making some compromises. Then I met her and knew that the companionship alone was worth everything. A few days later, she and I were playing in the kitchen when Trucker got home from a doctor's appointment. He parked on the street, so she didn't hear his van pull in. As soon as she heard someone messing with the doorknob, she was off running and barking at the intruder and kept at it until he talked with her. Another night, she had already fallen asleep when I realized I had forgotten something in the car. I think I woke her up when I went outside, but she wasn't sure exactly what had happened. When I turned the doorknob to come in, she started barking up a storm until she realized it was me. She is a fantastic watch dog because her hearing is so finely tuned. I have heard others say that their blind dog is a better watchdog than their sighted dogs. Finally, one day we were out walking the neighborhood. She was still getting used to the leash and all the noises and smells in the neighborhood (one day she tried to pull me into a house where the smell of skunk was strong...oh dear!). At that time, she wasn't confident enough to walk next to me (she now is), so I had to walk backwards and talk with her so she would follow my voice. This particular day, for some reason, she took off running towards me. I thought she was just trying to catch up, but she didn't stop. I jogged backwards while she ran as fast as she could towards me. I made sure to watch for anything she might trip over or run into and made sure I kept the leash loose so she didn't get choked. She ran all the way home and was super excited. She takes me on little jogs each day, we play chase in the backyard (usually I use clapping to let her know where I am, but she is starting to be able to track me with her nose), and we ran for a half hour at the dog park one day.

She is the smartest dog I've ever met. She is so loving and sweet. She is perfectly well behaved. She adores both of us and likes my family. She loves to cuddle and is as active as we want her to be (she will visit the pet store and sniff all the things and meet all the dogs and run like crazy at the dog park without stopping and then pass out hard when we drive home). She is everything I could have ever wanted in a dog. People sometimes tell me that we are doing something kind and sacrificial by adopting a blind dog, but honestly, she is everything we could have ever wanted. Here's hoping she ends up being a world-record longest-living toy poodle.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

This Week...Beyond Money 2/5 - 3/4

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* I made BBQ pork mac n cheese one night when I got home from work. It was enough for lunch the next day also.
* I made pork pad thai one day using 1 1/2 small pork chops, diced. It was enough for 4 meals. I cooked up the rest of the chops in the package and diced. I froze those and put on our prepped meats shelf. That is such a lifesaver when we are busy. Any meal is 15 minutes from ready when the meat is ready to go.
* Trucker brought me breakfast in bed one day. He made French toast and eggs and brought up hot tea with honey.
* I made cajun salmon with grits for dinner one night. I sauteed some onions and garlic with the salmon, then made a sauce from the pan drippings. The salmon had been purchased on manager's special, $2 fed us both. The grits were pre-seasoned from a box that I got for $.10 at the salvage grocer. I used cajun seasoning I got at the salvage grocer for $1 (just a bit of the container). It was marvelous.
Another funky Jack Earl sculpture. I love his
sense of humor.
* We made BBQ pulled pork sandwiches using all items from the freezer.
* We hit the clearance section at Kroger. I got some rice crackers, $1(normally $2.79), mixed nuts $3 (usually $5), jerky sticks $.59 (usually $1.75) and cereal for $2/box.
* I made tomato soup from frozen tomatoes from the farm. I serve with quesadillas.
* We cooked a big hunk of beef in the slow cooker and shredded it. We froze enough for 6 meals. The rest I used to make beef and noodles over mashed potatoes. Why do I not do that more?

* Trucker went to a local philosophy/community group meeting. They were giving away books from their library. He got several books from his wishlist for free and got free pizza.
* We checked out a lot of books, movies, audiobooks and CDs from the library. According to this calculator, we "save" $1400/month by using the library. Of course, we would never spend $16,800/year on media, but we still get the value in quality of life.
* Since I was under the weather, we basically stayed in and watched movies and cuddled the entire week. I have a hard time allowing myself to rest, so I am thankful that Trucker promoted the idea and brought me tea all the time.
* We went on a couple cheap coffee dates, using our travel mugs for a discount.
They rearranged the gallery, so I finally got to
see the back of Man Made Man by Jack Earl.
* We had Daisy and Hubby over for a movie night. We checked movies out of the library. Since I had been under the weather earlier that week, I didn't want to make dinner. I ordered gyros from a new greek place near us. I had a coupon, so I was able to get gyros for all of us for $12. I bought some hummus ($3 at Aldi for a HUGE container) and tzatziki ($2 on manager's special), a bag of falafel chips ($2.50 on manager's special; they were amazing), a cucumber ($.69), summer squash ($.99 for a huge bag), bell pepper ($1 for two large peppers), organic baby carrots ($1 for a 2 lb bag). We had lots of sodas and juices in the house that I got for $.05-.30 each. We had tons leftover that we will use for future meals, so I think the total cost was quite reasonable. Daisy brought lemon hummus, pretzels and some homemade sauce for the gyros as well as some raspberry cupcakes. Trucker and I realized that we spent less than we would have at even a cheap dinner out, plus we didn't have to feel guilty about hanging out for a few hours like we would have if we were limiting a server's earning power by occupying a table. I always love hanging out with them.
* One day when we had some stressful stuff going on, I took Trucker out to a lunch date at our favorite restaurant in the city (A German restaurant with an epic buffet). It made me happy to realize during lunch how much we have grown over the years that we were able to take ourselves away from our stress and laugh and talk together, turning a rough day into a great connection. Life isn't always easy, but I love having him at my side.
* We went out with Daisy and her hubby to the local comedy club. Steve got 4 free tickets by signing up for the club's text mailings. We have gotten a dozen or so free tickets over the years.. We spent $15 after tip for our soda/ginger beer. One comic wasn't great, but it was still a wonderful evening with our besties.
* My dad retired after 35 years at the factory. We wanted to take him out for a celebration. We took him, my mom and sister to a local Thai restaurant, where we introduced him to pad thai. The bill was around $100 after tip, but I had been saving for a bit in preparation. We went to the gallery hop. It was marvelous, as always. At one little shop that sells repurposed stuff, a woman ended up giving us a concert. There were the street performers and the mime. We got coffees and hot chocolates at a local coffee house. Afterwards, we went to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. It was a great evening.

* We went for a couple walks at parks nearby.

* I hit a savings milestone. We now have our $1000 emergency fund (We have other savings also, but this is just for emergencies). We have struggled to save for the last few years, and the accident wiped us out and left us with a lot of debt. It is so exciting to hit these milestones and know that we are headed in the right direction.
* I have a pretty decent amount in my retirement account. I set up my account to increase my contribution by 1% every January, so at the beginning of the year it increased to 7%. Including my employer match and the service contribution they deposit, I have 15% of my income put into retirement savings. Between this and a couple older accounts, I have around 30% of my current income in investments. Based on the calculations I have run, within 3-4 years I should be all caught up on my retirement savings, depending on whose recommendations you use. Given that we weren't able to save for 4 years surrounding the recession, that is encouraging.
* I paid extra onto the credit card.
* My car is nearing 200k miles, so I need to replace the timing belt and water pump. My cousin is going to do it at a good price and tune up some other issues. Trucker did some comparison shopping online and found a kit that included everything we would need for $130, regular price was $220. He used his loyalty card so will get $5 back towards a future purchase. Update: My cousin replaced the timing belt, water pump, gave it a tune up, replaced the wheel bearings, fixed a transmission leak and an oil leak. He charged $340, so including the parts we bought, all of that work was done for $470. The exciting thing was that I was able to pay for all of it from my regular checking account and didn't have to dip into savings. I just tightened the belt for a bit.

House and Home:
* Awhile back when we were yard saling, I bought an old cash box, missing the drawer/insert for $2. I put it on my desk. All of my paperwork is now sorted into the box (to-read mags on the bottom, seed catalogs, then paperwork I need to reference on top). Everything is at hand when I need it, but it looks nice instead of cluttered.

* I worked a little overtime.
* I got my attendance bonus.

* I have had a hard time finding doctors through our new insurance website. It took me a week, but I finally found an in-network specialist with decent ratings for some needs. While looking for a primary care physician (still searching), I found that under the PCP listing, half are pediatricians with no way to filter them out, a quarter of the remaining are hospital doctors that never return calls, many have extremely low ratings, and the rest? Well, one was a residency program and the other was a van that drives around one of the low-income areas of the city. My coworker gave me the information for her PCP so I will look into that option this coming week.
* I am still getting over my cold or whatever it is. Update: I ended up being sick for over 3 weeks. Ugh. I am feeling great now though,
* We got our eye appointments in this week. My script went up a tad. I ordered new glasses. I hate the way I look in my old ones (The first three people I asked if I looked attractive in the glasses responded with "You look smart". As in, "Am I pretty?" "You have a great personality."). The new glasses would have been almost $900 before insurance which blows my mind. I ended up paying $120, but they kind of took advantage of me. The guy told me that the glasses came with a one-year warranty, which I took to mean a manufacturer's warranty came with the glasses. He charged me $29 for that. I'll make sure that I read over the bill thoroughly before handing over my card next time. However, the glasses are really nice, Nine West glasses that go quite well with my style. Trucker got a very mild prescription and opted not to buy glasses. I plan on buying some cheap glasses online for backups/sunglasses/more variety and will try to get him to buy a $7 to see how he feels about them. Update: When I picked up the glasses, I asked for the charge to be removed and they did. Took me 2 minutes and saved $29, so my hourly rate was $870.
* I have been studying neuroscience for the last several months. As I have mentioned before, I struggle with anxiety and depression. For many years, it was at a debilitating and dangerous level. I am working hard to rewire my brain and the more I learn about brain plasticity and neurochemistry, the better results I am having. It is a lot of hard work, but it has been quite encouraging. For a good part of my life I have had near-daily panic attacks. I developed a couple techniques that had gotten that down to about one a month. I haven't had one in two months now. I also developed methods of controlling the cyclical ruminative thinking that has been a constant for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was a teen and spent a good amount of time trying to change the way my brain works instead of using the way my brain works as a skill focused towards more useful purposes. I've always loved numbers and some of my OCD compulsions involved math. Now I have learned how to use math as a way of handling cortisol (the stress hormone that tells you you have to DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW!).  For the last month I have been seeing a psychologist who specializes in CBT to get some more insight as I keep working at this. She said I have done a great job so far, especially with handling the negative side of things and now we are working on building some positives.
* My weight loss has plateaued, but I am still pretty happy. My main goal is not a certain number, but living vibrantly for as long as possible.
* I am quite proud of Trucker. As I have been studying the brain, I have been able to recognize certain things that he started doing in the last year and what changes it has had. He hasn't been going at things the same way I do (The beauty of neural diversity!), but has handled it in a great way. He has been working to learn new things, try things he has always wanted to try, and replacing negative habits with healthier ones. He has quit alcohol and smoking and is much more physically active. He is about to start his third season of league softball which gets him active and socializing. The last point is especially important as working from home can be isolating. The changes have been significant. He is so amazing.

* My mom gave us lots of yummy gifts. When we borrowed their car, she put in some coffee (really, really good coffee) and candy for Valentine's Day. She is so kind. She is without a doubt one of the most empathetic, loving people I know. We joke that she single-handedly keeps their village post office open because she sends Christmas, birthday, anniversary, condolence, and thinking-of-you cards to a few hundred people. For as long as I can remember, she devotes at least one day a week visiting people in her community who need it: the elderly, shut-ins, those in hospital. I used to go with her as a teenager, and am sure that that has had an influence on the person I am becoming. Now, she has two great friends who go with her. They make cards, cookies, gift baskets or floral arrangements so they can bring gifts on their visits (each gift dependent on that person's situation). Every time I think about how many people she has touched, I am proud of who she is.
* I went to an apple orchard's winter warehouse sale. I bought a half bushel of fuji apples for $20 and 30 lbs of horse apples for $7. I shared my surplus with my mom, Daisy, and a couple people at work.

Something wonderful happened to us, but I want that to be its own post, so expect it soon.
How was your week?
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