May have been.

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May was: medically, a doubled dose of April’s ineffective drug; a visit to a specialist, another test, and finally, a double drug cocktail that appears to be working, after nearly a full year of attempts. The tradeoffs: 10 days or so lost to reactions, the swollen lower legs you see on old people (which feel like wearing dense squishy meat socks), and losing the ability to drive. Tomorrow June begins with a visit to the specialist, and ‘tweaking’ –  which perhaps will allow me to regain my car, if not my ankles.

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The kozo flowered. I’ve never seen this before, and really liked the alien-odd blooms.

May was: a fun month of experimentation for our collaborative project, doing something I have always had an interest in but could never figure out how to incorporate into my work successfully before, or even to experiment with, as it is time-consuming. The studio was a totally productive mess, there was research, supplies arriving, lots of processing and cooking and making. Even the initial failed experiments were hugely interesting, and no materials were wasted. Now my part of the prototype work is finished (a little late thanks to the first paragraph) and I am eagerly awaiting seeing the results (and in the next few days, playing with the bits of experimental leftovers.)

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May was: Vivi healing, having her stitches out and jumping right back in to being her feisty funny self. June is her eighth month on the planet and we’re pretty sure she is half Australian cattle dog / blue heeler / Queensland heeler (different names for the same breed) and, as everyone says, “something else.” At times, she seems to have terrier-like qualities, but then when she is startled, she emits a hound-like arooo, a bay more than a bark. A couple of weeks ago, she began to carry one ear forward, the other out to the side. She loves all the time outdoors when I’ve moved the studio out or when I am in the garden, and May was: lots of both, and that is good. So is the whole pack.

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April

April so far has been like its weather, swiftly moving from serious snowfalls to thunderstorms to fine 80-degree days. My current life largely continues in a state of self-health-absorption, keeping multiple daily records, and working to focus on the sunnier days, and to peacefully endure the storms.

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Early in the month, I saw a different doctor. I didn’t expect much, based on previous experiences within this system. Imagine my enormous relief when one of the first things she said was “We need to find out WHY this is happening.” She ordered tests, outlining the reason for each, and before prescribing (yet) another drug to try, she told me how it worked, why it might help, and offered me a choice of types, summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of each. Then she talked about the mind-body connection, at which point I blurted out, “I like you! You are absolutely my new doctor.” A professional who consults with me, at long last.

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So, though April is still another month, another drug, it comes with a big batch of hope for diagnosis and resolution after a year of simply having drugs thrown at a symptom. The new med has been odd, working some days, others not, with annoying but short-lived side effects in the mix. I spent a half-day at the hospital having almost all the tests done at once; the final one is later this week at a different clinic. We decided not to tackle arthritis treatment until the first problem is solved, so I am relying on external pain remedies like rubs and sticky patches. I got the green light to build back into real exercise and p/t again, and that feels so good.

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Maybe it’s the new hope, or maybe I just needed to gain control of something, or to put all this self-focus to further use, but I suddenly decided to try to end a thirty-year nicotine gum addiction. I tapered off for a few days, then went for it: have been nicotine-free for two weeks. Fingers crossed. So far, it’s looking bright.

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I’m not the only medically-interrupted entity in out household this month. Vivi had spay surgery two days ago, poor wee pup. She’s doing well, but even with mild sedatives, we quickly learned that the most difficult part will be keeping her relatively inactive for the next two weeks. When we picked her up at the vet’s, she whimpered a little in the office, in the car, and for awhile at home, then slept and slept. The next morning, boom, she was ready to run! climb! play! I got her a lovely little inflatable Elizabethan collar so she can use her paws and see, and am trying to keep her supplied with things to chew or puzzles to solve; she’s as active mentally as she is physically. Lupe too has arthritis meds, and Paul his daily routines, so we’re all in this healing space together.

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It all seems very far from art, so I’m glad I took on the portfolio project (and nothing else) to keep my hand and brain in, the wheels greased. My collaborator and I are meeting this week, which is exciting. I’m also making sure that I do step out of this little shell in other small ways, like popping out now and again just for fun. I went to work and learn and laugh with a good friend, and back to our old hood to lunch and catch up with another who was passing through town.

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And I’ve gotten the gardens cleared and ready for the planting / transplanting/ growing season. Best of all: the milkweed came back for a second year, even earlier than I was advised to expect it. Something about that connection to time, the continuity of planning / planting and the art that arises conceptually and materially from that stream is touching me profoundly just now; I hope you find something similar as the growing season moves on.

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Marched Out

 

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A palette of texture and color I worked with.

Sadly, much of March was “another month, another drug.” I’ve now spent nearly nine months ‘testing’ drugs, and still: the original condition continues unabated. The March drug not only does not work, it brought on some full-blown panic attacks, something I hadn’t experienced before. They were scary, quite physical and exhausting. Luckily, now that I know what the hell is happening, I am able to shut them down before they truly begin. I also discovered (by accident) that I was prescribed (and am still taking) a second med for a different condition that was, in fact, a side effect of one of the earlier ineffective drugs. This was never mentioned, and when I brought it up, I became truly cognizant of the term ‘mansplaining.’ I’m fed up, and have left that doctor. I have an appointment in a few days with a new primary care doc, who, though still within the same big-pharm-driven system, is a woman. Meanwhile the arthritis has invaded three new locations. I hate writing about this all almost as much as experiencing it, so hence: no-blog March.

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There were a lot of these lovelies mid-month.

Those oddities aside, there *have* been good things: it *is* spring and things are popping up in the gardens and the daffodils and hyacinths are blooming and the early trees are beginning to bud. I’m watching and waiting and hoping to see my milkweed return. We humans have new phones and can text each other, which is another blessing.

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And I did get into the studio to to finish up work for ZIA Gallery’s spring exhibition: Of Materials, Fiber and Book Arts. And I did go out to the opening reception, which was nicely busy and bustling. I enjoyed seeing a number of old friends, and meeting several new folks. It was all quite lovely and a rarity these days. The show runs from March 19th – April 30.

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And since it’s been announced, now it can be told: my single ‘outside’ project this year will be participating in Hand Papermaking magazine’s newest portfolio, which pairs established (old) artists with emerging (young) artists. Though we haven’t met in person yet, I’m working in collaboration with Katharine Lark DeLamater, who’s been just great. Exciting!

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And of course there is Vivi! Vivi! Vivi! She came through a March of difficult teething like a champ; her milk teeth just didn’t want to let go. For awhile she had double teeth and a cartoon – crocodile grin, till the baby needle teeth were forced out. Often they broke first; I found shards of little teeth everywhere and her frozen chew-rags were spotted with blood. None of the other pups I’ve lived with went through that; usually, it’s simply been a process of noticing a milk tooth gone, and then seeing the bud of the adult tooth emerge. Though she had (cute) cranky moments during the process, usually just before nap time, she remained a sweet pup no matter how much her mouth irritated her, and now she has all her growing adult teeth. She also did great on her last day of puppy school, even though we had missed the two previous sessions. She even did some things she hadn’t practiced, walking up and down ramps, and past toys and open bags of treats, which truly impressed me.

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She is a happy, funny little dog, very bright and inquisitive, and no matter what is happening out in the world or inside my body, she brings joy (and she and the rest of our pack bring comfort, too.) Tomorrow, she’ll be six months old.

February, February, February

Just checking in with non-news: February days slide into one another, often simply differentiated by light or the lack of it:

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Wan and weak but welcome,

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Hard and sharply bright and cold cold cold,

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Varying shades of grey.

We have had a short late winter time. Temperatures and humidity or the lack of either mark the days as well, bestowing different shades of arthritic nuisance. The past two days were sweetly spring-like, getting a bit colder now.

The current drug test will finally be assessed in a few days . There was a rough, discouraging start and though I mostly seem to tolerate it now, I am thinking this probably isn’t it. So March could be another month, another drug. There’s a possibility I’ll be hooked up up to portable equipment, too.

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Making kale chips = still processing plant fiber. Here is THE best recipe I’ve ever found.

I’ve been living completely in the present in an odd and new way, monitoring my body, keeping records. It requires an almost uncomfortable level of self-absorption that can, at the same time, bring bits of satisfaction: a tiny knot releases, the stairs become a little easier, here and there a day without an incident. I cook food more than I have done in many long years, and hour or more a day is spent keeping joints moving, warming them, stretching them.

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This new thing rolls out into larger space and unfolds, almost daily. It can’t yet be used for cardio, but it works the knee and hip joints gently, smoothly.

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I also have new eyes, my second-ever pair of prescription glasses. I still find the process enormously interesting and wish that all other medical procedures echoed its speed and accuracy.

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The glasses do this. There’s a short period of adjustment when I come back indoors on a bright day, but they are fine – very fine – in the studio.

It’s grand to be able to be with Vivi, to be so present for her growing. Pup school has its ups and downs but reveals how she learns. The first task was ‘climb’ – to go up onto a raised surface and stay there. Initially, I thought of it as a cute trick, learning for the sake of learning. But the trainer’s two great teacher-dogs stay loose on a low wooden platform until they’re called to help. They watch us intently, move around and interact with any canine or human who comes to them, but stay on the platform. Vivi rather loves ‘climb’ and neatly pops up onto a hassock for collar changes and leash attachment, for grooming or just petting, which is quite nice for tall arthritic humans. It’s also useful to quiet her down after rowdy play, and to bring on the naps she still needs.

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“Now what are we doing?”

Watching her personality develop, watching her inclinations begin to reveal themselves, is fascinating. She’s teething now. Wondrously, she only chews what we give her, even though she’s been our floor patrol officer since the day she arrived.  She finds every tiny thing that reaches our floor, but once she’s discovered the piece of cellophane wrapper, the bit of dried leaf, the tissue, the sock, she proudly parades with her find, making sure she gets our attention with a very particular high-headed prance. I calmly remove wet gooey things from her mouth at least four times daily (which says things about our housekeeping but also actually helps it.) Other quick, rhythmic, daily pauses are spent shaping old, wet cotton dishcloths, and freezing them. They provide soothing chewing for about 45 minutes, then they’re thawed, rinsed, re-shaped and re-frozen, loose chewed areas turned inside. I have two to three hardening in the freezer at any given moment.

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And that’s it. This February equals quasi-hibernation with my gentle, funny pack, caring for each other. There are many ventures out, all simply practical. It’s not much to write about.

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I did take a glance into the future or at least inside, and agreed to an upcoming collaborative project. It’s something I should be able to physically do in brief increments, medical tests or not. So hopefully, I can once again begin adding some small, delicious periods of escape, losing myself in the timelessness of process and thinking.

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Up in the studio, the nipping press is the best way to keep this piece while I rebuild its temporary base. Although I might need the press TO build the base.

Finally forward, into February

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I’m glad to see the end of the second half of January. For me, a large part of it has passed in a literal haze due to more medical, um, stuff. The drug I finally was able to tolerate towards the end of 2015 did what it was supposed to do, but then brought about a problem as troubling as the one it prevented. So I’ve been back on the not-so-merry-go-round, testing new big pharm concoctions, experiencing a slew of old and new side effects. This makes me cranky (and dizzy and lethargic and adds a few scary things, too.) Primary care guy says, “there are hundreds of meds to treat this, we’ll find one!” Right. Each trial is time that I’ll never get back.

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So it’s been difficult to make commitments. There are two lovely projects on hold, waiting for evidence that I’ll be able to handle them (I want to.) Somewhere in there, I turned down an exhibition and agreed to two; neither involve creating new things beyond the tweaking that hasn’t yet happened on my Ragdale work, unless I want to add new work and can. That is also sad (though the old works still continue to bounce around here and there; thanks.) The recent bloglessness is another side effect.

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This one broke, the other is intact. Amazingly, there were no small bits of disconnected fiber.

Today, I am apparently, hopefully, acclimated enough to feel relatively normal. I even managed to finish carefully removing the invisible-when-wet milkweed fiber (that I had poured seven weeks ago on my last evening at Ragdale) from its fine mesh backing. It’s a delicate process I’d begun before all this started. I am still loving the gorgeous crude tangle of fibers.

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Something tells me this year’s harvests will be interesting.

Vivi continues to be a wee bright spot. We’ve been to puppy school twice now; Paul’s been the driver (and takes over if I get wobbly.) She’s the youngest beastie in the class and she’s doing well. She still makes me laugh daily, and both she and Lupe are sweet and warm and snuggly when I’m woozy; so is Paul. The past weeks have mostly been no fun, but my lovely warm pack has my back.

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Good, and recently quiet.

I’m hoping your holidays were grand, and continue to be so this Friday. I’m popping in to wish you peace, health, warmth and above all, joy on into 2016.

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Joy for us at the moment often has to do with Vivi, of course. She’s still happily surprising us. She is a natural out on leash; I think it’s going to be easy to train her. On the 20th, we tried our first pack walk which went wonderfully well in and of itself. There was an exciting bonus for Vivi: she also (simultaneously) met two puppy-wise big dogs: a calm husky-collie-shepherd mix and a giant gentle Great Dane, plus their human, dog-loving owners and their two pre-teen daughters. She loved up all the humans, played with the dogs, ran with the kids, who took her leash and about 3,000 phone snaps in turn. (I forgot my camera and phone.)

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Growing, coat changing.

The next day, our family celebration took place in a suburb about 50 miles west of here. We were lucky in that everyone was able to fly, drive and converge on the same day; it’s the first time we’ve all been together in awhile, and it was very fine, warm and much fun. Lupe stayed home (her preference, as revealed by previous visits.) Vivi, however, was in heaven, literally bouncing off seven superbly dog-savvy humans and two large young adult lab mixes for the entire day, with only a very brief nap in her little portable pen while we humans ate. She was a total party girl, so wound up. She showed me how jazzed she was by tearing around me in wide, full-speed, deliriously happy circles each time I took her out into the big fenced backyard. That evening, before we were out of the driveway, she was just as wholeheartedly asleep in my lap, and stayed that way all the way home and the rest of the evening, only waking to perform her outdoor duties. She was even a bit subdued the next day, the solstice. (I did take my camera to the gathering, but was too busy to use it.)

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In the no-snow winter city, especially at night, she is camouflaged.

We had a quiet lovely solstice, Wednesday I did all the mad holiday dinner shopping, and then we settled into our quiet home pack celebration: pie (a galette) was made Thursday, a fine, easy-cooking delicious dinner happened on Christmas day, and we had some special dog treats, pack walks, pup play, and even bits of sun. Boxing day was dreary and rainy outdoors, but cozy and fun and relaxing inside, eating leftovers, watching Vivi hilariously attempt to herd multiple tennis balls. It’s her favorite indoor game. I hope your days were just as lovely.

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We are outside 8-10 times a day. She goes up nicely but cannot yet be coaxed to try to descend on her own, so she gets carried down. I’m so glad the steps are now sturdy ones, if ugly.

The minimal work we’ve done mostly involved keeping the kitchen running well, and I chose to almost finish the upstairs unpacking and studio rearranging, in short comfortable increments at my leisure. There are surfaces visible again, and soon some of the new artwork will be out to look at, think about and in some cases, tweak. I took one final holiday day today. Tomorrow, back to work for the short interregnum week, preparing for an interesting January, and the new ground of the year beyond.

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Someone in the neighborhood has a light-up holiday peacock. I like this.

Little old Vivi

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(You knew it wouldn’t be long before the blahg turned to Puppy, right? I’ve been with her for six whole days now. We are in that nice peaceful pre-holiday lull, and I’ve been unpacking, cleaning, hanging lights, and making puppy-proof spaces in the house, beginning with my office.)

Little Miz Vivi is sweet and saucy and a plump, lighning-fast, tumbling tornado by (short-duration) turn. Her virtuoso skill at this stage of life is napping, which she does with total abandon, particularly in her preferred spot: a human lap. (This is very fine for the human, too.) She’s a good bit of work, like any baby of any species, but utterly delightful. During the decision-to-adopt process, I did stop (for a second) to wonder whether we were moving too fast, adopting so soon again, but I’m already very glad we did. This wee pup has moved us solidly back into the 32,000 year-old* human-canine communication continuum.

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I think I needed to dive back into that familiar and treasured stream quickly, perhaps simply to realize it was still there. Within a day or two of living with Vivi, Paul said, “She’s showing us just how truly broken Chance was.” I agree; in fact, I admit to shedding another few tears for him, for the terror that shaped so much of his life (and ours) that no amount of love nor effort could cure. Viv is completely innocent, free of that. Of course, part of Chance’s troubles came about simply because he didn’t have the kind of early puppyhood that Vivi is having now (and had since shortly after her birth, being raised with her litter in a home in foster care.) We’re making sure she continues to be socialized, gets out into different situations; she’s met all the neighbors, has been to the vet and the pet store, and people have come (and more are coming) to the house to meet her. She and Lupe will travel out to the family holiday celebration with us (4 dogs, 2 cats, at least 6 humans.) She’s at her most impressionable period for the next several weeks. Even so, it’s clear that her instincts are solidly tuned to the ancient language.

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For instance, when Vivi is afraid, like when Rocky (a huge young mastiff who lives two doors down) barks his deep bark, unseen behind the neighborhood trees, she runs straight to one of us and sits with her back to our legs. She is saying, precisely, “You have my back.” In Chance’s puppy class, we were encouraged to teach our pups to do that very thing, to come to know that place as their safe spot, especially when we introduced them to new things. Vivi goes there instinctively. Chance never, ever did, and he never really had a concept of safety. He only had slightly reassuring places, and he still had fear-frenzy times in each of them. There are many, many more examples we see daily.

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She tears around hilariously, but ‘checks in’ frequently.

I’ve begun clicking with Vivi, casually starting ‘school’ and she gets it, beautifully. But we are also – with house training and a few other things – simply using positive-reinforcement voice cues and she understands those too.

Though I’ve lived with a few decidedly strange dogs in the past, I had never consulted a trainer until Chance. Vivi will go to puppy school, and it’s nice to know that we have backup if some odd quirk surfaces, but I somehow don’t think we’re going to need it. Vivi has the ancient bond in her veins, and so do we. When she sees people, outdoors, in an office, or coming through our door, her tail wags instantly: “Hello! It’s me!”

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*”An analysis of the (genetic) samples indicated that the grey wolves split from…dogs approximately 32,000 years ago. But then the researchers went further—they also looked at the genes responsible for such things as digestion and metabolism and even neurological processes. They then compared the dog genes to the same types of genes in humans. In so doing, they found similarities that suggest humans and dogs have evolved some of the same traits over the same time period—hinting at a possible communal relationship. And that, the researchers say, suggests that dogs might have been domesticated as far back as 32,000 years ago.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-05-dogs-domesticated-earlier-thought.html#jCp