Service Interruption

Meet Barkly the Banker.

Barkly and I met at a post-Holiday White Elephant party. As a dog who eats money, I knew we’d be fast friends. He now resides on my desk at work. People put money in his dish. Barkly eats it. They are entertained. I keep the money.

Sweet.

Hopefully, Barkly and I will also be long time friends.

Over the course of the weekend, I will be doing some blogety-blog maintenance. If all goes as planned, you will notice nothing. If however, come Sunday you aren’t seeing posts, you may need to re-subscribe. This is especially true for my email peeps. Again, I’m hoping that won’t be the case, but I thought fair warning was in order. Feel free to give me a shout if you experience any additional, unforeseen problems.

In the meantime, Barkly and I wish you a wonderful, profitable weekend.

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Weekly Goals: Not Spent

Last weeks mission was simple. As Yoda would say: Spend Not. Not beyond of your cash pot, at least. While we may have talked about spending a lot, and we certainly delayed appointments and purchases, actually spend we did not. With one exception.

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Coffee. We can not, will not, and frankly, do not live without the morning Joe at our house. It does not happen. This is a deal breaker for The Husband. I could probably survive on Green Tea for a couple days. He won’t hear of it. I may have done a bang up job (if I do say so myself) with grocery procurement this week, and we made a couple half pots in an attempt to ration out remaining supply, but it was not to be. On Tuesday we had to dip into the cash monies and get our self some magic beans.

We started the week with $70.
Subtract fancy doughnut obligation is $59.
Plus $2 from bottle return that’s $61. The miscellaneous change goes in the pot where miscellaneous change lives before it is rolled and exchanged.
After completely non-negotiable coffee purchase, grand total is $46.

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Oh, we aren’t done. The Husband helped out various friends with household projects, grossing us an additional $85.

That is $131 not passing go, headed post haste to Savings. So talk like Yoda if you have to, but keep your wallet closed. Success, I declare. Success to our one and only goal. My accounts are nice and quiet and transaction free.

The tap though, she has to be turned back on. I’m a little sad the week of austerity is over. It was the first time doing it in such a purposeful way. A worthwhile, repeatable, and even somewhat profitable exercise.

It did, however, slow our progress a bit. We’ve projects a plenty. This last week we focused on using what we had, but there is purchasing to be done That brings us to brand new goals. Goals around doing and spending.

Fence First. So many projects in the garden. So many. They must be prioritized. It all starts with a fence to keep out dogs. Dogs must be kept out of compost and dirt and seeds. We have posts, pretty painted ones even. There needs to be wire and gates and, and, and… Supplies will be purchased, fence will be dog-proof.

Dog Appointments. Speaking of dogs and spending, there are vet visits to schedule, and groomers to see. Some regular maintenance must be attended to. This should all be on the calendar, if not actually done, by next week. Try as I might to spread these things out, when it rains it pours.

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Lettuce Table. The very small portion of my growing space not requiring a fence to protect it from dogs. This is an idea (not my own) I’ve been playing with for some time. A movable frame work to plant 3 trays of lettuce, spinach, and greens in. It can be moved to sunny/shady portions of the yard. Trays are easy to harvest, plant and rejuvenate. I’m hoping it will even keep the slugs out. Like most of these garden projects, I’ve no idea if it will actually work. Now’s the time to find out. The trays can be covered with an old window to act as a cold frame/cloche. We just need to actually build the trays, and you know fill them with dirt and seeds. Minor details.

Fences and dog errand and lettuce tables all seems ambitious. These goals would be no fun if I always accomplished them, right?

Putting Conscientious Consumerism To Bed

Literally, not figuratively.

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I’m a little late to this party. Get Rich Slowly has more than adequately covered how to buy a mattress, and even recently took up the topic of organic mattresses. I confess, Personal Finance Blog Groupie that I am, I hadn’t read either post when we embarked on our own mattress mission. That is kind of amazing.

Buying a mattress is sort of a big deal, in a couple of ways. They are an expensive big ticket item. One inexplicably fraught with a car-salesman, you-could-get-taken-on-a-warranty kind of vibe. There is also the whole you spend a large part of your life interfacing with this particular purchase aspect. Both perfectly good reasons for getting this right.

When The Husband began making grumblings about our old (and originally a family hand me down) mattress, I ignored him. I did! I know, not a good spouse. But, my first inclination is to see if the subject goes away. Sometimes this works, and I slide right past having to spend a ridiculous amount of money or time. Yay me! My track record is good enough that it is always worth a shot. To my credit, I don’t just employ this strategy with The Husband. Dogs, car noises, ridiculous projects from Corporate America, all these things are worth at least one round of “La, La, La. I don’t hear you.”

However, The Husband is a broken man. In back, not in spirit. I could sleep soundly on the stack of coffee sacks in our basement or on the decimated dog couch. Him, not so much. While our second hand mattress was originally a nice expensive model, once I did the math it was indeed well over a decade old. When the grumbling turned into out and out “conversations” on the topic of where we sleep, I knew I was not getting out of this one unscathed.

And so I began the mental process of preparing myself for dealing with the onslaught of smarmy salesman and fluorescent lighting, second sticker prices and after market ‘maintenance programs’. In addition, I had serious concerns about flame retardants, off gassing, and putting a very large not decomposing ever item in the landfill. Most of this turned out to be entirely unnecessary.

Enter Soaring Heart Bed Company. and the wonder of the natural Latex Mattress.

Latex: Naturally occurring and anti-microbial. Biodegradable. Non-Toxic. When used as an inner for a mattress quilted with organic cotton and regional wool, no synthetic flame retardants are required. Material and the mattress itself can be ‘rejuvenated’ by the manufacturer. Average life span is 20 years.

Soaring Heart: Making mattresses and futons in Seattle for 20 years. The salesperson we worked with had been there 11 years, and started in the manufacturing side right next door to the showroom. No smarmy-ness or high pressure. At all. He could tell us everything about every product. Down to what sheep farms the wool came from.

The Verdict: I was skeptical about actually sleeping on this mattress. It’s a little ‘softer’ than I’m used to. The Husband led the way on that. This sucka has been in place for 3 weeks now, and I’m a believer. It’s squishier, while still cradling. No Tempurpedic adjustment period required.

Conscientious Consumerism: Win. Win…even Win? Non-toxic, durable, local and just a good product to boot. Sometimes mindful consumption is a total pain. Then again, sometimes its not as bad as you think it will be.

Ugly Garden Update: March.

Ugly Garden is gonna need a new name. She’s moving on up. Expanding her horizons. In the midst of an extreme make over. You get the picture. There’s been a lot of outside work going on in the winter of our discontent around here. A lot more outside work, and still with so much to do.

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She’s not quite there yet, but the metamorphosis has begun. March = Crunch Time. I am feeling the pressure. The pressure of a fence, unfenced and beds, unfilled. Frame work? yes. Garden? no. Stuff is supposed to start going in the ground, any second now, and I’ve no where for it to go.

Do. Not. Panic.

While The Husband plugs away at the big projects, I comfort myself by taking care of the plants I do have. Starting with my mostly a failure of a hoop house.

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It looks happier than it is, believe me. For a variety of reasons (late start, not enough know how, and continual pillaging by mystery critters), this effort has been pretty unproductive, outside of a couple of spinach harvests. Lately I’ve taken to watering it with a diluted whey mixture to fertilize and cut down on any mold/mildews. Everything has perked up. Just when you are ready to compost the lot of these non-food making ingrates, you find this…

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Hope, disguised as the smallest baby cauliflower I’ve ever seen. Of course, I photographed it. Miniscule as it is, it looks suspiciously like victory. I stifled the urge to dip it into some ranch dressing and enjoy the taste of that victory. As much as I’d like to I’m holding out against all odds that it will get bigger. I’m also ready The Winter Harvest Handbook and hoping for better luck next year.

Berries have been weeded and mulched. All varieties are showing signs of life. Heck I’m even attempting to plant my mushrooms that did so well inside, outside.

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Will it work? I do not know! Worth a shot.

All this ‘not being ready’ is leaving me with a bunch of nervous energy. The ornamentals are all tended. Have been since February. That never happens.

And I am chicken ready! We are T-minus 11 days until Chick Arrival Event. Most of their supplies, except food and pine shavings are in place. My laundry room will never be the same.

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I pray I won’t be writing a Killing Tomatoes post with a much more unfortunate title.

Are you noticing a theme here? Prayer. Hope. Nerves. Technically, this is Year 2 of the Ugly Garden Experiment. It feels like Year 1. The to-do list, the purpose, it all seems much more so. About that to-do list, there is…

Soil and compost to order.
Lettuce Table to build boxes for and sow.
I’ve Coffee Sacks to plant potatoes in. Potato arrival pending.

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There are herbs to collect from friends and transplant.
Fertilizer to procure.
Not to mention the obvious fence and coop finish.

That’s what I can think of off the top of my head. It only scratches the surface. On second thought, I better savor that small bite of victory while I have the chance.

Money Saving Monday: Little Things

The big picture is good. Staying on top of your goals and navigating your ship with purpose, that’s certainly important. It can also be daunting. The big picture can seem like it never quite comes into focus. Always ‘in progress’ never quite ‘done’. Thats’s life, and we all have to come to grips with it. It helps me to focus on the small stuff. The easy little decisions I make day and day out, which equate to small amounts of money, but contribute to the pursuit of our larger goals in a big way.

Since we switched our milk supplier (again), I’m left with 3 glass jugs I paid a deposit on.
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Yesterday, probably because there was so little grocery shopping to do, I finally remembered to return them for my $6. After buying a dozen tortillas, I walked away with $2.26. $2.26 for my small cash stockpile to be added to savings at the end of the week.

In the last month there have been some decent coupons of dog treats and raw bones for the pack o’ mutts. Since I am on email lists for every Pet Food Manufacturer I would consider feeding to my dogs, I get notification of these. $2 off the treats. $6 off raw bones. Its actually $1 off per bone, but since I have 6 dogs… lucky me! My dogs get treats daily, and raw bones weekly. Definitely things we would use. Anything to help the dog spending.

I will mention this again, because I love the barter oh so much. Two dozen eggs in exchange for things on hand. At the Farmer’s Market, I pay $6 per dozen. That’s $12 still in my pocket.

A little research at Eat Wild, located a dairy about 3 hours away that delivers raw, fresh milk every 2 weeks. We prefer raw milk for a number of reasons (cheese and yogurt making being one), but had given it up because it was cost prohibitive from local purveyors. The new dairy is $6 per gallon cheaper, even with a delivery charge. We go through a gallon a week typically.

I pick up fancy donuts for the office every week. There is a donut-fund pool everyone contributes to. Heck, I even buy them sometimes. Either with rewards from previous donut purchases, or on a Thursday as opposed to Friday, so I can use a 25% off coupon and save $4.

When I eat lunch out once a week, I try very hard to pick a place where I can get leftovers. Then I try even harder to eat only 1/2 my portion. I’ll enjoy two $5 lunches, twice as much as one $10 lunch.

Our CSA is restructuring to only weekly deliveries. We get our box every other week, an arrangement that works perfect for us. With their new program, we’d get a smaller box every week, and pay more for it. This would cost us $16 more per month. So far, we are ‘grandfathered in’ with our bigger, less frequent box. Not sure what I will do when/if they force me to change. Probably find a new CSA.

We aren’t talking large amounts of money here. If I add up all of the above its $102, at face value. That doesn’t include one time vs. reoccurring savings, the intangible “savings” as in the case of stretching one lunch into two, or the necessity of tortillas.

$6, $12 or even $102 isn’t going to allow me to drop out of Corporate Servitude tomorrow. So many people would look at these amounts and say ‘Why bother?’. What’s the point of fretting over $8 in the grand scheme of things? There’s logic there. I pass up opportunities to save all the time, because they aren’t worth the effort to reward. However, I would argue, there is a cumulative and a psychological value to these little things. These small decisions are the details that will sharpen your big picture. A few bucks is infinitely easier to control than a vast financial empire. And unless you win the lottery or are the next Mark Zuckerburg, said vast financial empire probably won’t exist without them. Even if you do become ‘the next big thing’ controlling those details will have provided you ground work to not end up broke like Davey Jones.

Go ahead and sweat the small things.

Sunday Spending: Not One Red Cent

My only goal this week was to spend no money. Or rather nothing more than the little stash of bills I had on hand. That does not equate to much of a big grocery shopping trip, as would normally be on the dance card for this weekend. Luckily, due to our recent bulk buys (at warehouse-type stores and of 1/2 pigs) we are hardly in dire straights. Apply a little creativity, and skipping this week isn’t going to be that much of a hardship.

Since no official shopping was done (although eggs were bartered for), Grocery Spending this week = -$2.42. As in, I came home $2.42 richer than when I left.

We departed the house, with…
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bags full of milk jugs to return, barter items for eggs, dog chews to be transported to Best Friend, and brunch fixings.

We came home with..

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2 dozen eggs, tortillas purchased for less than our bottle deposit, jam jars and garlic from The Best Friend. I have bought so little garlic in the last couple years. So little in fact that a permanent spot in the kitchen has been awarded to the garlic braid.

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All our free goods, the milk jug refund, and I found .16 as we were leaving brunch. $2.42 added to my total for the week.

We don’t get off quite that easy though. There’s still the $76 for our standard beef usage + $72 for 2 CSA boxes. This month there’s a new player on our standard expenses: The pig.

We picked up the new resident of our freezer on Monday night. His arrival was later in the month than I anticipated, so we are going to start counting his expense in March. All told we paid $390 for our 1/2 pig. That was $310 to the farmer, and $80 in butchering and curing. We got about 60lbs of beautiful hams, bacon, bulk sausage, and lovely pork chops. Cost per pound, is right around $6.50.

I’ve no idea how long this stash of pork will last us. I extrapolated the beef over a one year period. Now that we are about 1/2 way through that, I’m thinking there are a a lot of summer barbecues, with long guest lists, in our future. Since, I have thoughts of buying another 1/2 hog in the fall, a 6 month pig consumption plan might be more reasonable.

New Monthly Pig Allotment: $65

Cow + Pig + CSA = $213 Seems like a lot of monthly fixed expenses, doesn’t it? However, those ingredients represent a fair amount of our regular consumption, at prices significantly cheaper than we’d pay at the Farmers Market.

$213 – $2.42 = $210.58. Hey! Look at that! Even with the addition of our pig, our total is significantly lower than usual for the first week in the month. Compare here and here. What will our lack of lack of shopping get us in the way of meals?

Saturday: Red Beans and Rice, made with Sausage and a Ham Bone
Sunday: More Ham for brunch with friends, and Beef and Barley stew, also with friends.
Monday: Quiche from bartered eggs, with leeks, fancy cheese, and very likely more ham.
Tuesday: Beef & Brocoli Stir Fry
Wednesday: Leftover Freezer Soup, either Firebroth or Sausage Lentil
Thursday*: Brown Rice Sausage Risotto, with homegrown oyster mushrooms.
*This assumes we aren’t so swimming in leftovers, we forsake any further meal preparation.

Lunches will be lots of leftovers, egg or tuna salad sammies, soup.
Breakfasts are oatmeal, homemade yogurt, eggs with spinach and cheese, toast from homemade bread.

Poor us. And our deprived diet. However will we make it? Are you feeling sorry for me yet? How’s that sarcasm coming across?

Too Many Dogs

I’m acutely aware that we have more dogs “than average”. I might even be willing to admit, a lot more. It’s old hat for us by now. These beasts have been incorporated into our lives for so long, I hardly even notice. When I do sit up and pay a little attention, there are definitely some tell tale signs.

You know you may have too many dogs when…

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This has taken up residence in your office, and is now your early morning companion.

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Somehow having just 1 bag of kibble on hand is no longer enough.

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There are entire shelves dedicated to products you, personally, would never use.

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Baskets with contents like this.

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Not enough baskets, so auxiliary stashes abound.

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Stacking dog beds seems like a completely reasonable idea, and has in fact become preferred by your dogs.

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This is considered normal carnage.

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This, while not normal carnage, is not completely out of the realm of possibility. After all, his ball was stuck under the couch. It doesn’t even worry you that much. That’s why you have a ‘dog couch’, with a stash of blankets at the ready for strategic placement.

Consider yourself warned. If any of these things are happening at your house, you may have too many dogs. Hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Weekly Goals: Spend Not.

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Have you ever just had enough? As in you are completely over ‘it’? Whatever ‘it’ may be. Over all the eating, as often happens post Holiday. Through with the never ending housework cycle. Sick of getting up at the crack of dawn to work out. Done with being a social butterfly. I get this way. Just done. Kaput. Nada mass por favor.

The solution for me is to take a break; a break from big meals and sweets, a break from laundry and vacuuming, a break from the gym, even a break from your friends.

Right now, I’m done with the spending. I’m tired of the constant barrage of receipts and spreadsheet entries. I’m done with budgets and grocery lists and credit cards and worrying about how to pay my taxes. This could mean I jump right off the frugality wagon and sprint the other direction. Or, I can give myself a break in another way. As of this morning, we are entering a No Spend Week.

To wrap uplast week’s goals, in brief…

Go to Costco. Done, which means I’m done. In case you didn’t get the memo.

Refinance. Waffling, still. This decision is kicking my butt. I suppose that’s better than it biting me in the a$$.

This week’s goal will be singular and simple.

Spend No Money. I’m giving my bank accounts, my credit cards, and myself a rest. See that small pile of cash up there? That’s our stash. Any “emergency” items will be funded with that. No recording and no money exiting any account with my name on it. A good chunk of one of those twenties is already earmarked for a work-donut obligation. Really there is +/- $50.

To not spend does require it’s own unique efforts. In preparation of this event, I have…

Arranged to barter for 2 dozen eggs. I’ll swap items from my freezer and cupboard with the purveyor of a local backyard flock in exchange for the all important eggs we can’t seem to do without.
Will be contributing items already in our possession for meals with friends this weekend. They will be yummy items nonetheless.
Rescheduled a hair appointment, because that certainly is not happening this week.
Speaking of postponing, this month’s Giant Grocery Trip is also a non-starter. At least for this week. In fact, I’m betting we can spend $0 on groceries this week.
Used Amazon bucks to acquire supplies for The Husband’s much needed oil change. They will be here in time for the weekend.

…And the challenge has only just begun.

About that $50. As of today, cars have gas, dogs have food and meds, groceries are in a happy place. Necessitities of life, in order. That money was kicking around between The Husband and I, originally intended for our botched Farm Trip. Now I figure, we will use it to insure bank account hibernation. Just in case. If we don’t actually have to use it, as I suspect, then swell. It can be committed back the bank account from wist it came as a sacrifice for a week of neglect. Otherwise, it should keep us from imminent failure. If I spend any of it (on something other than donuts), I’ll keep the blog world in the know.

Anyone else do spend-free weeks? Or just feel like hopping off the spending merry go round every now and then? How do you do it?

Just in Time

As in just in time for me to make my 4th payment on the ever-dwindling car debt, careening past the 50% paid off mark (!!!!), The Husband drives over a HUGE pothole. Let me repeat: A HUGE pothole. A freaking sinkhole, which pops my virtually brand new tire, requiring a replacement.

A $197 replacement.

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Meet the new tire. Same as the old tire.

Boo.

Question: What do you do?

Well, first you change your tire, before you drive on the rim and cause further damage. Directly after that, you start the intricate dance of repairing/mitigating costs of this unexpected necessity.

Can the tire be repaired? Answer: No! As confirmed by 2 separate tire retailers.

Is the tire under warranty? Because this is a brand. new. car. for crying out loud. Answer: Also No! Warranties do not cover “road damage”. Zoinkers.

Where can I get it replaced in a jiffy? Answer: Choose the cheaper of the above 2 options, because they both have appointments available at the exact same time.

Is this the end of it? I’ve got a new tire. I can move on with life. $200 poorer. Answer: FALSE!

Instead, I exercised a little persistence via Google, and submitted a damage claim to the City of Seattle, the party responsible for this massive crater in the middle of the street. The damage claim includes my statement, location of the pothole corroborated by their own city map, contact info for witness in the car with us at the time, and the receipt for the replacement tire.

Will this get me anywhere? Answer: Unknown.

Am I being a total cheapskate jerk about this? Answer: Mixed. That pothole was really big, on a narrow surface street, with a low speed limit, which we were obeying. Not easily avoidable, and intense enough to destroy a brand new tire.

I know people sue for pothole damage in NYC, but I’ve no idea if Seattle will pay up. What do you think? What are my odds?

What I’ve Learned From Dogs.

Doubtless the title of innumerable sappy coffee table books on the subject of love triumphing over all, and the unique value of canine relationships. While I’m sure that’s true and do not question the importance of Marley & Me as social commentary, I will endeavor not to write a condensed version of those books.

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Instead, as I sit here next to a mess of an ancient Maltese with exactly 3 green teeth in his head, short about a third of his body weight, dropped off at a shelter with black matts (he’s a white dog), I will write a different post. This is not my first rodeo. I am no longer all that appalled by his condition. I’ve taken dogs with grapefruit sized tumors. Dogs with chronic untreated allergies so bad they experienced permanent hair loss. Dogs treated so poorly for so long they no longer have any real interest in human contact. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. More than we’d all care to admit.

Sure, my experience with dogs has taught me important life lessons. Things like patience, humility, forgiveness and perseverance.

They’ve also taught me that people suck. I know, that’s pessimistic. However, we all have failings. Lots of them. How is it, we all ‘ooooh’ and ‘awe’ over puppies and kittens and Animal Planet anything, and somehow there is an unlimited supply of people in this country who will routinely mistreat an animal. Who will let it go un-fed, un-brushed, and un-vetted. Then they will make the results of that someone else’s problem. Sure, “stuff happens”, doo-doo occurs. Call it life, whatever.

Luckily, there is a whole network of people who clean up those messes. The unfortunate fact of the matter is though, we are out numbered. The supply of not just homeless dogs, but grossly mistreated and neglected dogs, it is endless. If you talked to anyone on the street, they would be outraged by the condition of my new little foster buddy here. They would express disgust and probably proclaim “Who could do that!?!” Because we all think this is unusual. I’m here to tell you, it’s really not. This happens every day. I could fill my house and yours with only extreme hard luck cases. It would be super easy. When you hear about the next mistreated animal, don’t be shocked. This is just the one you’ve heard about. The transcendent message here: People will mess up. They will crash cars. They will misplace paperwork. They will let dogs go hungry. You can focus on raging against that reality, or you can be the one to pick up the pieces. Bringing us to…

Almost everything can be fixed. Almost. The elderly little canine now known as Ford feels much better already. In a few weeks, after regular meals, he will be a new man. Maybe then we can see about fixing those last few teeth. Or maybe not because the damage to his bone structure is so severe that dental surgery could very likely break his jaw. I can’t fix that. I can not imagine what he went through to get to the condition he was in. He obsessively examines every little speck of anything on the floor to determine whether or not its food. He will eat it even if it’s not food. Given his body condition, I can only theorize how he came up with that habit. There is nothing I can do about that either, except give it time. I don’t know how long it took him to get this way. Even if I did, again, can’t do a thing about it. Focus on what you can control and remedy; meals on the regular, baths, vets, cleanliness. Pick your battles, and in the course of doing so, hope that other issues correct themselves. I’ve found they usually do in so many situations.

You can pick your family. Contrary to the old adage, we are so very fortunate in that we can choose who we spend our time with, how we spend it, and how we define family. Clearly dogs don’t have this choice, and often they suffer for it. Yet, they were my first example of the principle. For us, time spent on a couch full of dogs reading or watching TV, that is family time. There is no fighting or carrying on (we won’t have it). Only long contented sighs, and the enjoyment of being together. I model many of the relationships I choose after similar activities. Who’s presence am I comfortable in? Who do I just enjoy spending time with? Even teeny-tiny Ford is tickled to be part of the group, as most of our foster dogs have been. Cultivate your life around the relationships you find most fulfilling, even (or perhaps especially) if they seem simple and uncomplicated.

It’s not world peace. These are not groundbreaking. I haven’t received any Hollywood inquiries about the rights to our story. Some people would say time spent on damaged dogs is a waste of money, resources, time. As you might imagine, I’d disagree. On many levels. Even if it’s not all unconditional love and roll-y pole-y puppies, there are applicable lessons nonetheless.