Gone to the Dogs

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Three years ago, I had to get a new car. As far as transitions go, getting a new car should have fallen along the mundane, defined by checking transactional items off a list, but since I am a sensitive-type human, letting go of the old car was hitting me terribly hard in the emotion sensors because I associated it with the end of my old life (ex-wife, ex-stepmom, ex-teacher, ex-film production) and had not yet fully come into my own in my new life (renewed and happy daughter, sister, friend, aunt, cousin, niece, runner, writer, dog owner, nonprofit dream job-haver, loud-laugher, and very selective dater). Giving up the car felt like a defeat, as if by giving it up, I had failed again at my old life; I was momentarily forgetting that I kept the people that mattered, the stepkids, their mom, and the dogs, and actively left the shitty stuff behind. I was actually winning in the new life!

Part of the reason for having that big auto-wagon was to schlep around my sweet Golden Retrievers, two brothers named Duke and Rocco. A car, no matter how hot the seats get on a cold morning, cannot warm your heart like a goofy, gentle Golden. The beings that are the most loving, can also be the most perplexing; deciding to keep two 80-pound Goldens, in the middle of a divorce, in between houses, cities, and careers, can at the very least be perceived by concerned family and friends as a bit frivolous, or a little more seriously, as compromised decision making. The funny thing is though, even at my saddest or most confused times, I knew that keeping the car AND the dogs was giving me the stability I craved. I was determined to figure it out.

Duke and Rocco came into my life in May of 2002. They showed up at the house with their breeder and three of their littermates. Having five seven-week old Golden Retrievers at your house is both the best and worst thing to ever happen to you. Laying in the grass of your front yard with your young stepdaughters in the late day sun while puppies snuggle into your face, bap you with their spongy little paws, all while they make growly puppy noises and fall head over tail within a three foot radius of your nose, well, that right there is a slice of heaven. But that is also how your husband at the time gets seduced into wanting not ONE but TWO puppies, and because you really want TWO too but you know better, BUT you want to avoid a fight, you get TWO GOLDEN PUPPIES.

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Two short years later, marriage in shambles, Duke, Rocco, the car and I were left trying to figure out where to go, what to do, and if I would ever feel whole again.

But that was actually the beginning of the long road to recovery they would take me on. I made the conscious, if stubborn decision to keep the dogs. Because the divorce was so traumatic, I think that my family begrudgingly agreed I should not be pressed too hard on this, and to their credit, rallied around. It cannot be counted out that it was also because Duke and Rocco were irresistible. My dad let me move into his house in Sausalito, which at age 35 seemed more insane than having the beasts he was not too much a fan of live with him too. Once settled in there with no yard, I had to become a conscientious dog walker, which eventually turned me into a dog runner, which turned into Me, The Runner.

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Then in 2008, right smack in the middle of the national financial crisis, I had to make another hasty move. Looking for an apartment with two 80-pound dogs rightly has about the same difficulty as hiking Mt. Everest without oxygen. I was barely breathing through my stress. But, I found us a place where we lived with no furniture for a month while I waited to unload my storage unit in LA, which was also good because it gave them time to get through the first week while having their daily attacks of explosive diarrhea from “moving nerves.” My dogs were sensitive tenderonis too.

The three of us settled into a nice routine in the casita at the commune in Corte Madera. Although Duke had since been diagnosed with epilepsy and took many drugs to mute the seizures, he was still able to run, so we spent many of our evenings out on the running and bike paths logging miles and keeping all of us sane and fit. They were escape artists, so they had to stay inside alone during the day (or at night when I went out) rather than in the unsecured yard, but 78% of the time no one jumped out of a window, got into the recycling, ate the loaf of bread on the counter, peed in the kitchen, broke into the bathroom and ate all the trash, barked so loudly at a deer that came into the yard that the weird neighbor broke the front door glass with his fist in a fit of rage when a kind and firm, “No!” would have sufficed, nor did they eat my Prada butterfly sandal (the guy I was dating, that was his dog who did that), so all things being equal, we were doing just fine.

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Duke’s health started a long, slow decline, mostly because of the meds he was required to take for the seizures. He could no longer run with Rocco and me, so I had to shift our schedule to walk Duke (while Rocco was impatient and at times, incredulous), then drop Duke off back at home, then sneak back out with Rocco to get some more miles in. In the fall of 2011, Rocco and I were running together about 18-20 miles a week. At age 9, he was fast and spry and loved running with me. I noticed that every now and again he’d have a little cough, but I couldn’t find a pattern to it, so did not bring it up to the vet. Rocco was also my shadow, and even though the less needy of the two care-wise, he was a love hound and would basically sit in my lap if I let him.

And then, like a doomed opera heroine, he started to cough more. Within two months, he had gone from running 20 miles a week, to having fungal pneumonia and had to be euthanized in early January 2012. Duke and I were devastated. What would we do without favorite clown dog? Who would I run with? Would Duke die of a broken and/or confused heart? Would I?

Oh man, did it hurt. I have never felt that kind of absolute heartbreak before or since. I have tried so many times to write about his death, and have pages of emotional ramble that someday I will decipher, but all I can get at is this, however clunky. The love I shared with Rocco (and with Duke too, but this lesson first came from Rocco) was at its core the purest form of the emotion. A dog cannot apply complexity or conditions to love. A dog simply loves you in every minute he shares with you. That is why when you leave the room and come back his tail wags just as hard as when you leave for work for an entire day. He trusts that you will come back. And when you do, because you want to feel his love for you, he gives it to you with abandon.

Today, I had to put Duke to sleep too. I made the decision late last week after very mindfully watching his daily routine, and seeing a marked decline in mobility. He spent seven years taking Phenobarbital, potassium bromide, and then some doggie ibuprofen, all of which I shoved down his throat daily, twice a day, and he never once winced. What never declined was his love for me, which for the last three days I have basked in, just the two of us at the casita in between welcome and loving visits from friends and family. The last thing he remembers is me holding him, and stroking his face the way he liked so much he’d close his eyes in reverie, and telling him how much I love him.

Duke and Rocco have been my little family for 12 years. They gave me what I wanted: a sense of stability during a time of immense upheaval, a devoted and endless supply of fun and adventure, and most importantly, the ability give and receive love without conditions because before this, I didn’t know that was true. They were able to depart knowing I will be okay without them because through their eyes I learned I am worthy of love.

My family, friends and colleagues who have come to love my boys as an extension of me have been so incredibly kind and thoughtful and tender and warm and vulnerable, both the past few days and when Rocco passed a couple years ago. Every one of your calls, emails, txts, hugs, treats for me and for Duke (!) has lifted my spirits and made the shittiest days absolutely bearable, and in a sweet way that only dog-love can, make them fun and funny. My vet, and my two dear caregivers Danielle and Megumi, you have become my friends over the years and I love you and thank you for caring for my dogs in my absences. I would in no way have been able to do such a good job for Duke and Rocco without your constant love and support of the boys.

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Lost in My Mind

When I was in my mid 20′s, during what seemed to be a routine therapy session talking about work stress and some flared up issues with my dad’s drinking, I discovered that I had been apparently having pretty severe panic attacks for a few years. What I thought at the time was just run-of-the-mill long film production hours exhaustion – because who doesn’t have aural blackouts while driving with no memory of the last 10 miles, or insomnia so severe that getting in bed felt like a physical assault – was in fact a pretty standard case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There was relief in getting this diagnosis and treatment plan, but also a healthy dose of shame that something was wrong with me that I could not just choose to feel less anxious about [WORK, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS, MONEY, HEALTH, FRIENDS, WHAT IF/WILL HE/WON'T HE ETC ETC AD NAUSEUM] and go on with my life.

Soon enough I learned to cope also with the shame of the anxiety, because once I got the attacks to stop coming with such force, I could focus on the triggers, and then cut the wires to those bombs carefully, methodically, one at a time. (There was also a years-long backslide during an abusive relationship; the attacks came back stronger than ever, he piled on the shame goading me not to take the medication or be in therapy. But even after that, long though it took, I diffused those bombs too, and got smarter and healthier and humbler than I have ever been. Oh, and grateful. Can’t leave out the gratitude.)

But sometimes, like a lot of last week, and tonight in the wee hours of Monday morning, the anxiety gremlins attack my brain and my sleep, and I am filled with a range of doubts and get distracted by terrible thoughts of intellectual and emotional failure, and chronic loneliness, and physical weakness, and diminished confidence. I know I am not unique and that while most humans have not had to contend with severe panic, they have felt in the dumps or confused, or have the kind of week when you keep biting the inside of your lip in the same place and it fucking hurts so bad and no matter what it won’t heal until you can figure out how to stop biting it.

This is me trying to stop biting it.

Fully surrounding the petty annoyances and standard issue un-fun adult requirements is the massive cache of goodness I have built around me. Most of this is reflected in the deep and meaningful and wholehearted friendships I share, the average length of which is about 17 years. Sometimes, the ones I had to let go of to move forward come back to me, bringing joy, and satisfaction, and fun. It also scares me a little, because it challenges the way I have muted the expansiveness of my hope in favor of necessary pragmatism, but really, I want to get back to the hope which leads to kindness, and love, and maybe even sleep.

And maybe even… magic.

(BTW, you can blame this song for this post. xo)

Diagnostics

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If you have never had an X-ray taken of any of your bones, please go out and injure yourself immediately because no human should be denied the ego trip of seeing their own skeleton. I mean, I guess you could go get a bit high and imagine your own skeleton by staring very long at your hand, but SEEING it on a giant screen is just such a better buzz.

Especially since the reason you find yourself splayed out on an X-ray machine or breathing tiny, imperceptible breaths in the confines of an MRI tube is because you are in pain, over many months time, and no amount of rest or physical therapy is helping. Those moments of gazing at the shadows of your own insides can be as good as a dose of anti-inflammatories. It’s not only hard evidence of injury, which then leads to a plan of action to heal it, but SEEING your own bones… it makes you feel so actualized and alive. I need these affirmations since my fitness is so deteriorated, I cannot climb my stairs without gasping for breath or finding another sore muscle in my low back that needs to be soothed.

Today, after my X-ray ego-trip subsided, I got down to business to talk diagnosis for my right hip with the orthopedic surgeon. (Right hip has had a rapidly decreasing range of movement in last six months and increasing amount of pain.) Today was Doctor Number Two and his diagnosis and recommendations for treatment could not have been more different than Doctor Number One, which is both confusing and clarifying.

Doctor One (my knee guy): likely bone spurs, no surgery is needed, PT and A.R.T. prescription. Get MRI for both knees since knee pain still persists.

Doctor Two (hip specialist guy): likely not bone spurs but instead hip impingement called Femoral Acetabular Impingement or FAI; specialized MRI with dye, numbing agent, and cortisone. Ultimately it will have to be hip surgery to smooth out hip socket and remove any labrum tears. (Link to FAI page for all you aspiring Internet doctors.) Knee pain will likely improve once hip is structurally sound and strengthened properly. 6-8 months post-surgery to get to 80%, 12 months to get to 95%. This is VERY common in women athletes (from recreational to competitive) in their 40′s.

I have not totally processed how I feel about all of this information, so I am going to take my time to do that. I want to be methodical and clinical, but also make sure I have my emotions in check about making all of these decisions about more diagnostics and surgery. There is a financial component which is cumbersome and scary for me, but I don’t see how I can let that be a barrier to getting well and healthy. I am single and have to do a lot of this all alone. I could very easily slide into a pity party getting overwhelmed by the whole daunting process, including the dark daydreams of how bad it will be going up and down the 52 steps with no lung capacity and on crutches and trying to carry groceries and dog food and the mail. But, I know I can’t do that.

I am too enamored of these bones inside me, that are very, very real, and strong, and deserve to be healed. (I’d know that was the truth even if I were high.)

Hips Don’t Lie

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Are we still allowed to say Happy New Year three weeks in to one? Well, I don’t care, so…

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

I used to be very self conscious about the perceived time limit on giving cheerful New Year greetings, thinking that people would think me a bit daft, wishing happiness for a New Year that was already four days old, I mean my GOD it’s like basically February four days in. Then I realized that it has always taken me at least three weeks, if not all of January to feel fully in the embrace of the new calendar. It is also not denial because without endings, how do we get a beginning filled with all that hopey-changey stuff that feels so exciting and energizing? It is more that I, without a doubt, physically and mentally REQUIRE several weeks to transition from the chaos of December into the mellows of January, and I am thrilled that I know this about myself. Also a gifted astrologer told me as much.

For the past three weeks, after I had two weeks off in which I was able to relax and think thoughts that lasted for more than .087 seconds before being interrupted by another unrelated one, I have been slightly lazy and slightly methodical and slightly daydreamy and mostly just very, very, VERY gentle with myself. My preferred pace leans toward  going very, very, VERY hard, almost past the point of exhaustion, because I always want to do everything always. Now I know there is this thing called balance.

According to the gifted astrologer, this part of my personality will not change. This is the way I am made and how I am productive and content. HOWEVER, I can learn how to slow things down prior to burnout, or in the case of January, ramp up slowly. As with most things in my life, there is a connection to running. Want to get stronger? Slowly add miles and strength training. Plateauing? Get some rest. It’s all so obvious.

Except, when it’s not.

I have not been running regularly since April 2013. Almost a WHOLE YEAR. I have been trying to recover from runner’s knee in both knees, but it has not been going well. (It also seemed far too tedious to write about so I have not, which in hindsight was probably not smart.) There are several very boring but also valid tertiary reasons why this is so, but a primary reason has now surfaced: bone spurs have been found in my right hip socket. Sad trombone.

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Or… is it a happy bell?!

The good news is that now I know why I cannot move my right leg around in the hip joint, why I can’t sit cross-legged anymore, and why my lower back and knees have been in nagging, run-stopping, nonstop pain for almost a whole year. I went too hard for too long without any balance, so just as expected, my body crashed. Oddly, having this information gives me relief and relief is not far from happy.

So now what? Now that I have eased into January, is it time to crank it up to 11 and make 2014 the Year of Successful Hip Surgery and a 2:00 Half Marathon in the Fall??

Probably not at 11. But a 7 I think I can do. First surgeon appointment is this Thursday.

Stay tuned and for the love of bacon, don’t skip stretching!!

Farewell, 2013

There is nothing like spending time with an old friend, especially an old production friend (with full respect to soldiers, Marines and sailors, these production friends are MY war buddies) for the last 24 hours of a year to put a girl into a vulnerable state of reflection.

2013 was not my favorite year, but not my hardest. It started slow and ended strong. But, I am happy to see it off, letting it go into the past, taking only with me the hard won wisdom I kept showing up to receive. And for now, the three extra pounds that not-running put on the old-er bod.

Am I stuck on what I didn’t get? Namely more money and financial security, a healed body, and a boyfriend? Um, a little. But I know what I have to do to get them in 2014, and how to weather the challenges of receiving them along the way. I plan to start with two things:

Letting go of attachment to desired outcomes. (a.k.a., be present.)

Focusing on manageable steps to build skill. (a.k.a., writing more.)

Oh, and kicking major ass like this lady. (Happy New Year, friends! xo, J.)

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The Stuffing Recipe

The first appearance of the Green Chile Cornbread Stuffing, 2007.

The first appearance of the Green Chile Cornbread Stuffing, 2007.

Like most sentient Americans I know, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday of the year. Imagine, only food, nothing to buy or re-gift for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people, sharing all the food. I wonder if you can?

I KNOW YOU CAN!! How delicious is Thanksgiving?! A whole holiday devoted to celebrating gratitude for what we have and for being with the people we love? I already want seconds.

For the last six years, I have been making the stuffing for Thanksgiving, which to me, is the dish that distinguishes Thanksgiving dinner from all other turkey based meals. I picked stuffing because of my dad. My dad’s stuffing is a classic cubed bread with celery, green apples, walnuts and sausage, and it’s mouth-watering. I used to get caught every year sneaking into the kitchen while the turkey was out of the oven and resting, because I would pick the crusted stuffing right off the top, chomping it down before I got yelled at to stop. In 2007 I decided I was ready and I needed to come up with my own recipe, one that could become desired enough to risk burned fingers and yelling, and one to impress my friends who are all fantastic cooks. I am happy to report that I succeeded.

I am a big believer in recipe sharing, not doing that underhanded thing where you leave out ingredients to try and stump your family or friends and they wind up with the dish being ever so off. However, this stuffing recipe is cobbled together and requires the main ingredient to be shipped or schlepped on a plane. I am going to link to the source recipes and resources and tell you my method, then the rest is up to you. Either that, or you will have to be at my table next year to get the goods.

Cornbread is from The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. Follow method EXACTLY. Double the recipe. Make a day ahead. DO NOT EAT. Or triple the recipe, eat one third and use the rest for the stuffing. (Oh! And I use lard not shortening.)

Green chile is from New Mexico. I guess you could use Anaheims but, ew, why? Order yours here. Only New Mexicans or those who have eaten my stuffing will understand the importance of the chile variety.

The stuffing recipe itself is based on this one from Epicurious. The changes I make are as follows: all the chiles I use are NM green, roasted, hot; I omit the jalapeños and the cilantro; I add bacon and garlic. Even vegetarians will eat this. Bacon is a gateway meat.

Happy Thanksgiving friends!! I am grateful for you all! xo

Gratitude, You Old So And So

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I’ve just been struck by a moment of clarity and in the hopes of not letting it get too far way from me,  a few thoughts on gratitude before I subject my IT band to the foam roller.

Many friends on Facebook are participating in their own versions of a  30 Days of Gratitude Project, which seems mostly inspired by everyone’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. (Because, it is the BEST holiday, do not argue, it’s science. Also, my green chile cornbread stuffing will make your heart skip a beat.) From cappuccinos to courage, I am enjoying their daily posts of simple and complex expressions of gratitude, the quotes, a personal triumph,  a scene of quiet or outrageous beauty captured in a photo.

This is also the time of the year when reflection is in style and I am on trend. I’m looking back over the year, giving it some structure, finding the themes, connecting the struggles and the wins, deciding what to keep working on, what to let go of moving forward, all in service of being both softer AND stronger. 2013 has not been my favorite year, but it has not been my worst, so very far from it in fact.

The difference? C’mon, you know what I am going to say.

Gratitude.

It struck me tonight as I am busy with work and injury recovery, finally achieving some goals that have taken longer than I thought, that so many people have said Yes to me this year, even when I got roughed up for so many months by a gang of strong-armed No’s.

Right off the top of my head, here are a handful, ones that made the difference between insecurity and confidence, loneliness and love, giggles and a full-out jag.

Yes, I will get you that phone number.

Yes, I will take care of your dog.

Yes, I will give you a micro-loan.

Yes, I will make that introduction.

Yes, I will be tender when you’re anxious.

Yes, I will share your post.

Yes, I will take you to dinner.

Yes, I will give you the discount.

Yes, I will sign the contract.

Yes, I will come over for a slumber party.

Yes, I will stay on the phone with you laughing for an hour.

Yes, I will forgive you.

YES.

Oh friends and family, thank you for taking such good care of me, this year and all years, and may I do the same for you when you need me.  Here’s to more gratitude, more Yes’s, and a belly full of green chile cornbread stuffing.