the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

going nowhere

Apologies for not having written more frequently. There simply hasn't been anything good or particularly interesting to report. Being here is being in a state of going nowhere. Which is exactly what I don't want or need. I wanted to be leaving this place today, so feeling stuck here, in this nothing place, makes me feel hopeless.

In hindsight, Annapolis was not a good choice for me. I've accomplished nothing in my time here and simply continued the decades-long trend of every year being a little worse off than the last. For a time I felt this stop along the way was a necessary respite, a chance to get centered and heal after horrible relationships I finally escaped. But if that was the case I have long overstayed my time. There is no opportunity for me here, nothing to keep me here, nothing that even moves me to leave the boat any given day other than the the need to walk the dog. If only I'd had the sense to buy a boat and sail away seven years ago when I had the financial wherewithal to do it. But, alas, hindsight is always 20/20.

I am grateful nonetheless for the handful of good friends I made by coming north and for my beloved boat, which has saved me literally and figuratively. But the time to move on has come and gone and the migration must become a priority. Life kicks me around and I do get down, but the one constant in my life is my resiliency. And I guess deep down I wouldn't trade that for success, or money, or love.

The winter has been long but now spring is beginning to bloom. Gone are these eerie, foggy mornings with chunks of ice covering the Bay.

Once the ice thawed in the marina and on the creek, there were so many dead things floating by. Dead fish, dead ducks. As if surviving the disgusting polluted Bay wasn't hard enough, the winter had to stress everything just that much more, including me. 

Three months without work, particularly over the holidays, was rough and depressing. Gratefully a few projects have come through here and there recently. Nothing long-term or permanent, but nothing along those lines ever works out for this stridently independent gal anyway. I have to chart my own course or things quickly go to hell. If I can keep netting little consulting gigs here and there to keep fed and gradually get the boat in cruising shape, that's all I really need. The only reason to have money is for the freedom it buys. The stuff, the things, they are all a trap and an illusion. All I want is to be free.

I am close to being able to replace the house and starting batteries aboard, which is critical since I have been stranded in my slip since last February. Then come solar panels. I have some repairs to make for which I already have the parts but need to figure out how to do the wiring myself or hire some help, and I will need help getting the chart plotter installed. Then I need to remove the awful old HVAC from the cabin top and put on a hatch (about $500 for the hatch, ouch) and I could do to replace all the running rigging (about another $500). So, yeah, freedom ain't cheap. I love how people think it's inexpensive to live aboard because dockage isn't as pricey as renting an apartment. I just figure the people who make that comment have never looked at the prices at West Marine. 

From the "people suck" category: There is a house in Eastport that we sometimes pass on our walks and the owner kept a jar of dog treats out front for passersby. They were labeled "Puppy Pause." They were just a cheery, neighborly thing that made pup dog happy. But someone stole the Puppy Pause treats. Seriously? Do people have no sense of right and wrong any more? From little things like that to all the atrocities in the world, it's just disheartening that people are so mean and dumb. As one friend of mine says, "We've done too much to interfere with Darwin." Amen. 

So as if I didn't have enough projects to tackle, for which I generally lack funds, ability, or both, now my galley sink was clogged and while draining better, it is still slow. I'm not looking forward to taking everything apart again to try to snake it farther down the hose. I'm hoping that eventually the combination of treating it with boiling water and Super Digest-It will clear out the rest of the grease. I wish I could say I did the initial job my self, but I'd probably still be trying to get the damn PVC connections loose. No, I sunk really low and played the damsel-in-distress card and flashed a smile at a neighboring powerboater who took the pipes and hoses apart much faster than I could have. Here are some photos of the mess. When I let that grease go down the drain and it hit the cold temps it formed a perfect sealant with coffee grounds mixed in for good measure. Live and learn. Very stupid mistake that I won't repeat.

In other news, since I finally had a couple bucks to my name I headed for a haircut after five months since the last one. I chopped seven inches off my hair. The curls are so much happier and I may take a few more inches off next time. I want to say I was raised by wolves, but that would be an insult to wolves. But, yeah, it would have been nice to have had a mom to teach me girly things like that I have naturally curly hair that I have spent most of my life trying to make straight. Ugh. Anyway... I love the new cut and if I get it to dry with happy, bouncy curls I can even sleep on it and have it look presentable enough for a couple days. It seems like winter hasn't quite left us, but in Maryland it's pretty certain that I'll need air-conditioning within a month so having less hair to stick to me in the humidity will be pretty cool. My hair hasn't been this "short" in a decade so, as you may have surmised, this is a big change for me and I'm excited. And, of course, it'll grow back if I freak out. I may not be free yet, but trying to at least let my curls be. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

all clogged up

So... I have to admit to a major F-up with my galley sink. I put coffee grounds down the sink every day and know others who do as well, and in two-and-a-half years this has never been a problem. But last week I cooked up some ground beef that was 80/20 instead of my usual super lean 94/6, and I decided I needed to drain off that grease. And it just didn't occur to me in the moment that putting that grease down the galley sink was a huge no-no. I saw it start hardening in the sink and tried to wipe it up but too much had already gone down the drain. Very rookie mistake... I was just too caught up in my cooking and not thinking things through.

A few days later... the sink drained more and more slowly and for the last three days it has been fully stopped. I have poured boiling water and plunged, to no avail. I tried one of the other tips from The Boat Galley, baking soda and vinegar, but it just foams up into the sink instead of down into the clog. I won't have any cash until Wednesday, but then I will try to pick up some Super Digest-It enzyme-based drain cleaner that will, fingers crossed, eat through the grease. (Normal household drain cleaner will eat right through the hoses aboard so that isn't an option.)  
The PVC to hose connection looks to be on the permanent side, so I think if I have to disconnect them to clear it, I will have to invest in new hose and PVC... more of a project than I really wanted to add to my plate right now. I scooped and turkey-bastered all the water in the two sinks into a bucket and then tried the baking soda and vinegar concoction again, but if that doesn't help, I'll have to keep doing dishes in the bathhouse sink this week. Not fun. 

Yep, living the dream...

Monday, February 16, 2015

arctic blast

If you need any motivation to sail south, here it is. Even with one of my two little space heaters aimed into the engine room, this latest arctic blast has the water pump frozen yet again. It's been over 24 hours without running water and no end in sight with another storm coming tonight (allegedly 5-10 inches of snow coming overnight) followed by several more frigid days. (Anyone in Annapolis want to loan me a spare oil-filled space heater?)

The storm on Saturday night was awful, and stressed me and the pets much more than Sandy, which we mostly slept through. I took an extra pill to try to help me sleep but we were sailing in our slip and the noise of the wind whipping everything outside kept me up most of the night. The worst feeling is when a gust hits and my stomach is in my throat fearing a crash into the dock. We had sustained winds around 40 knots and gusts of at least 47 knots, likely more. I heard some terrible flapping above the v-berth as I tried to sleep and had images of my headsail completely unfurled, flogging wildly, being ripped to shreds by the winds. A few inches of snow had fallen and everything outside was iced and slippery, so with the ferocious winds and a decent chop in the marina's icy waters, I did not want to risk going topsides in the middle of the night. I popped my head out the companionway about 1:30AM. Miraculously the sail was fine. I was likely hearing three flags ashore that are basically just above my bow. The bimini cover I had slung over the boom and secured with bungees was a noise culprit, however. One bungee had worked its way free and the fabric was thrashing about. From the companionway steps I managed to reach the other bungees, unhook the fabric, and pull it inside. 

One of the main challenges with these rough north winds is managing my lines. The north winds blow all the water down the Bay, dropping the water level easily 3 feet instead of our normal 1 foot lunar tides. When the water is low I'm aground and can't move the boat closer to the dock. So I want the boat as close to the pilings as possible so I can climb off the boat, but I also don't want to be banging into the dock in the high winds. So, it's a delicate balance and a gamble every time. This time I lost the gamble. When day broke the boat was actually not badly positioned by the dock. But my lines were completely tight, which overly stresses deck hardware. So I loosened one of the stern lines. In my defense, I hadn't had my morning coffee yet. But I gave slack to the absolute wrong line. I must have been thinking I didn't want to loosen the one keeping me from hitting the dock, but by releasing the other line, which kept me close to the dock, it allowed the boat to move. Except that we were already sunk into the mud, which is why I probably thought it wouldn't matter. 

And nothing happened right then. But by the time I had made my coffee and I was all bundled up to walk the dog, the boat had leaned over to port enough that at the boarding gate I was now a couple feet away, (and a few feet below), the dock. No way I could climb over to the dock. I put the dog ramp from the cabin top to the dock and sent the dog ashore to piddle on the snow. The dockmaster put her back on the ramp to come back aboard. But I was stranded. Inside, things on the starboard side of the boat were sliding to port and I struggled not to roll off the settee. Thank Poseidon for my gimbaled stove.

In the afternoon I knew the dog really needed another break and I was almost out of water for tea, cooking, flushing, et cetera. I needed to get ashore. I tried using a winch on a line to pull the boat upright, as if I was going to be able to grind a 20,000 pound boat upright. Not likely. I saw someone ashore and asked if they'd hold the dog ramp steady for the dog to get off since it was stretched as far as possible but just barely reaching across. Pup made it, but what about me? The dog ramp is not intended for people use. Even though it supposedly can handle a 200 pound dog, dogs are on four legs and lower to the ground. I didn't see any other way to make it happen so I crawled on my hands and knees on the ramp. It was pretty terrifying, but going back was worse. Only one corner was really resting on the cabin top. I convinced someone to hold onto the dock end, (one corner was tied to a cleat, but it could still fall away from the dock), but I was risking my weight causing the ramp to retract. The icy mud below with no ladder nearby is a very frightening prospect. It's not that I'm afraid of heights... but I am absolutely terrified of falling.

I went to bed early but luckily awoke a little after midnight and popped my head out the companionway to see if there was any slack in the lines. The water had risen enough to slack the line and bring the boat mostly back level. I hurried out and took in the slack in the line while I had the chance. This morning it was still just too far to try to get across and up to the dock. The only way I might be able to reach is to stand on the toe rail but at that spot it has a stainless steel track that is very, very slippery. I sent the dog over her ramp, took a deep breath, and slowly crawled over on the ramp. I thought I'd be able to sit on the dock, stretch a leg down to the deck, and launch myself down to the boat. But it was just too far for me. Maybe I'm a total scaredy-cat, but I don't just jump a couple feet down onto my boat, especially not when the deck is covered in ice and one misstep means falling between the boat and dock into the ice-covered water. So I risked the dog ramp again, which was especially scary with no one to hold onto the ramp to keep it from sliding off the dock. But I made it; whew.  As you can see from the photo above, the water is now covered in a sheet of ice except across the fairway where the ice-eater can only keep one slip clear.

Now I'm hoping the tide comes up a bit and makes it easier for me to get ashore. One of the cats peed on the bed at some point last night so I have to wash all the bedding. In case I haven't mentioned it before, making the bed in the v-berth is my absolute least-favorite boat chore. It is an unmitigated pain in the ass and is certain to end in tears if I don't have a couple adult beverages before trying to make the bed. If I ever have any money I must get fitted or drawstring sheets for the sake of my mental health. Since we are in for our biggest snow storm so far this season beginning late this afternoon, I'd also like to get in a run if possible. I ran 30 miles last week and the plan is to maintain that going forward. I'm down a couple pounds and half and inch so I don't want to lose momentum, especially since I've had to eat carb-heavy stuff like pancakes, rolls, biscuits, and dumplings since the pantry is close to bare (other than flour) and I'm still weeks away from making any money. But I just don't know if I can face running in sub-20-degree weather and snow this week. I can't afford to join a gym to run inside and I did one run last week on the "dreadmill" at a friend's gym and it was awful. I'd rather run 10 miles outside than 5 on a treadmill. I need to be doing yoga anyway, but an hour of yoga will only burn 150-200 calories, versus a good 700 calories if I run 6 miles. We'll see. My feet are still cold from walking the dog 3 hours ago, so I have a feeling when I finish writing this I'll climb ashore for a hot shower and admit the run isn't going to happen today.

Dear weather gods... please let it be spring. Not summer, because I don't have any air conditioning. Just spring. Just 70 degrees and no humidity and sunny every day.

P.S. I'm trying to be better about posting on Running Rabbit Kitchen; so if the cooking / food porn stuff interests you, check out the "what's cooking" link now and then or subscribe to receive new posts via email so they just come right to you.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


Being a hoarder and a liveaboard are not particularly congruent lifestyles. I've had a problem with hoarding for a long time. And I'm not just being facetious when I use that term. Anyone who saw my various homes before moving aboard can vouch for that. Why do I still have unopened mail that is a decade old? Why do I have every little random knick-knack or pair of spare shoe laces or two-year-old grocery store receipts? It's a sickness and it is unbelievably easy to get so buried in "stuff" that it seems impossible to dig out so you give up and learn to live among piles and stacks and towering clutter.

But I have been on a mission to get organized, clean up the boat, and downsize. I gave away beautiful, expensive shoes but it was very, very hard. I gave away six pairs of shoes in one fell swoop a few weeks ago. That's more pairs of shoes than a lot of guys even own. Along with them were sweaters, some running tops, and a cute sundress. Just an hour after taking the deep breathe and putting it all in a box marked "free" by the recycle bin at the marina, some friends dropped by for drinks. One of them said to me, "Hey, there's a whole bunch of great stuff someone gave away and I thought you would like it!" He proceeded to try to hand me back half the things I had just painfully let go. I yelled at him "Oh my God, what are you doing?! Get that stuff off the boat; it was soooo hard for me to let all that go, don't bring it back in here!" We got a good laugh out of that.

I think a lot of the saving every little thing is that I have never had any financial security in my life. Things are boom or bust, usually bust. Every year I am more broke than the last. So to toss out a sweater because I don't have space for it right now is as if I will never have another sweater. Many cruisers have plenty of money, even if they talk as if they don't. They eat out, they buy sails when they want them, and they don't worry about having enough money to do laundry. That is not my life. I can't buy a space heater for the season and then just toss it and buy a new one next year. Not only is that wildly wasteful, I simply can't count on having the money next winter to buy another $30 or $50 or $120 space heater. So I tend to hold onto every little thing lest I need it tomorrow or next week or next year.

I am definitely past the sentimentality of having things. They really are just things and getting rid of the things does not mean getting rid of the memories that went with them. But I still struggle with keeping things out of financial fear of not being able to replace them. I don't know that I will ever be able to cure myself of that. But I need to be free of all the clutter and unnecessary stuff. I keep reminding myself that having a peaceful, uncluttered environment will help me in my efforts to have a peaceful, uncluttered mind and spirit.

So, what's the impetus for this post right now? I need cash and could save myself $57 today (and each month going forward) by bugging out of my storage unit. So, I had to light a fire under my ass and make it happen.  Here's the time-lapse of the storage unit each day before I started sorting, tossing, and hauling on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. (Huge thanks to my dockmate Stan for letting me borrow his car to get this done!)

I bartered away my big printer/scanner/fax for lunch, dinner, and drinks. I donated nine pairs of designer shoes, a Litter Quitter, and a couple designer silk blouses to the local Lutheran Mission Society (don't even get me started on how Goodwill is evil and unworthy of your donations or business). Cardboard boxes were emptied, broken down, and put in recycling. Four big black garbage bags were filled and put in the trash. Below is Saturday, start and finish, and a shot of the ninja who apparently stole all my stuff. 

At the end there was a cardboard box with three Christmas ornaments, a set of mantel stocking hangers that spells "J-O-Y," and a spritz cookie gun. They will either be donated or given to my friend who is letting me store the last boxes in his basement. (Big thanks, Karl!) He also gets the laundry basket, the car clothes-hanger, and a beautiful mirror I kept telling myself I could find a way to mount in the boat.  That leaves me with an inflatable mattress, a box of CDs, a dinette cushion, a box of files and office supplies, and a box with an old-school film camera, diplomas, and all my running medals. That's it. Everything else I own is aboard. Well, my dodger frame is being stored by a friend and there is a box of all my photographs from childhood onward, but that is missing-in-action and may be gone forever. That would be a shame, but not much I can do about it. (Fingers crossed it's in the back of a closet at a friend's house but he said the closet is too packed with stuff to see.)

As for the boat, I have been making a bit of progress. I think a week ago was the first time a couple of my friends came for dinner and were actually able to sit and eat at the newly uncluttered dinette table. I had gotten down to a short-list of more manageable organizing projects I planned to tackle day by day: nav station (a biggie), bookshelves, clean the head and better organize toiletries, organize and stow the huge bag of clean clothes. Unfortunately, I just added two boxes and five shopping bags of stuff to the mix from the storage unit. Sigh. Just over a week before I start training for the new job so every day will have to be productive. I was getting used to my new de-cluttered living space and I cannot go back to what it was like before.

I still have my work cut out for me getting things organized aboard, and my boat will never be austere and empty because it is my home, but being out of the storage unit is a huge relief. And in our hyper-materialistic society, declaring my independence from all those things is a defiant and revolutionary act of freedom. Nothing is left to tie me down.

Monday, January 26, 2015

counting the days

Almost three weeks after Hunter's surgery, he's healing up nicely and seems to be doing well. I started him on a daily "calming treat" with L-Theanine, the compound in green tea that is relaxing and also an ingredient in my melatonin sleeping pill. I'm hoping it will help him relax and not lick that bald patch on his back. The fur actually does seem to be growing back some. The vet didn't really think he'd let them take his stitches out, based on what a terror he was the day of the surgery. But last Thursday I gave him a little morphine cocktail to take the edge off and with me there telling him how brave he was, one tech holding his scruff and legs, and another carefully cutting the sutures, they got them all out without a single hiss. So, now it's just a wait-and-see on whether the cancer is still lingering there and flares back up.

I've been making some progress aboard on interior organizing--and even found the duffel that I searched high and low for the night before I left for the Cooks last summer--but never quite as much progress as I feel I "ought" to be making. When the days are cloudy or rainy I don't want to do much but curl up and vegetate in front of the television. I'm trying to replace that with reading. An interview on a new-to-me podcast I started listening to, The School of Greatness, suggested having a "screen curfew" (yep, smart phone, iPad, and TV) of 8pm if you want to get to sleep at 10pm, and a "caffeine curfew" of 2pm for a 10pm bedtime. Not easy, but I'm trying. I don't usually drink coffee in the afternoon, but the green tea tends to flow all day so now I'm overdosing on the one herbal tea I have right now. Can't wait to have some moolah and stock up on rooibos at Capital Teas.

Of course I've been applying for jobs day in and day out, walking around town handing out résumés at restaurants and applying online for various legal and other "professional" gigs. As usual, I've hardly had any nibbles. But miracle of miracles I went to open interviews for a restaurant slated to open late next month and within a couple hours of my interview they offered me a full-time bartending position. If I make the cut through training and all goes well, I would be able to get benefits after a few months. I'm excited to have a job on the horizon, to be part of something new, and to be behind the bar. Now I'm counting the starts in two weeks, and it will likely be another two weeks before making any tips.

While I'm grateful to have the job, I am sad that it means I won't be able to cast off the lines in April and sail away. But all I can do right now is take things day by day to try to get on my feet. Batteries and solar panels are at the top of the "to do" list, but I also have to save enough for fuel and dockage while I head down the ditch and there are myriad other projects, large and small, that I need to tackle aboard. Right now I have a whopping $14, (unless I can save myself $57 and get out of my storage unit by Saturday), but bills are paid until about a month from now and I've probably got enough food aboard to get by, even if it eventually means eating pancakes three meals a day. I've done it before and I'll find a way to pull through. (Fingers crossed my last jewelry that's worth anything sells on consignment quickly and nets me some decent coin.)

I am certainly tired of just surviving instead of thriving, but life has its ups and downs and I just have to ride the wave back up. Actually, that sounds far too passive. Some people just let life happen to them and others act upon the world. I'm definitely in the latter camp. But sometimes knowing how to tuck your head and fall safely is critical to being able to get back up and dust yourself off. Anyway, despite all the crap life has thrown my way lately and being broke, I'm not broken. I'm building my running mileage back up, 20 miles week before last, 23 last week, targeting 25 this week, and then 28 the next. Once I'm back to a solid 30 miles a week my energy will be up and my figure will slim down and I'll be feeling better all-around. I'm working on some freelance writing that won't pay much but will be something and help me build my portfolio. I'm trying to get focused on some bigger writing projects, as I've had a couple of book ideas swirling around for years but never forced myself to sit down and focus. If I'm going to tend bar to cover the nut, then I need to be focusing on moving other projects forward for the long term, like finding ways to support myself through writing and support myself working remotely. I do not want to live my life in one place or tied to the dock. I ordered the passport with extra visa pages for a reason--I want to fill it before it expires.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

trying to beat the odds

I'm not going to sugar-coat it for all the dreamers: winter aboard really does suck. Low tides. Precarious climbing on and off the boat. The poor dog trying to get on and off without falling in or breaking a leg. I don't mind the cold as far as comfort goes. I can always bundle up and I manage to keep it between 55 and 65 degrees inside with the space heaters. But the water line froze up between the tank and the pump. I had bought some foam for insulating the line but hadn't managed to climb down into the engine room to do it before it froze. So I had to wait for it to thaw. (And fill bottles of water in the bathhouse in the interim.) I aimed a 60 watt halogen bulb as far aft toward the line as I could; yes, I duct-taped a work light to a pink and black umbrella, don't laugh too hard. I've been running a space heater part-time aimed into the engine room. It finally thawed... and then froze again. Between freezes I did manage to climb down and put foam on the line but realized once I was down there that the line I was seeing was actually the one from the pump to the sinks, which wasn't frozen. I insulated that line, which I could reach, and then traced my way to find the culprit section. Naturally that segment is smushed between the batteries and the hull and I could barely reach any portion of it. I wrapped as much as I could, which was not much, but when the old batteries come out for replacement I will have to use that opportunity to squiggle down there and fully insulate that hose.  

Anyway, spring is easy. Anyone can live on a boat in the spring or the fall. It's the heat of summer and frigid, windy winters that test us. Most liveaboards don't last much past the first year, so I've already beat those odds. I know I'm in for the long haul and can handle whatever life throws at me, but if you're someone who heats their house to 75 degrees in the winter, you better head south if you ever live on a boat because winter aboard is cold, inconvenient, and frustrating. If you don't already curse like a sailor, it will inspire you to. But it's a good excuse for hot buttered rum or some peppermint schnapps in your cocoa. 

Hunter had his ear surgery six days ago. (Before and after photos that might bother the particularly squeamish are tucked away at the very bottom of this post, so don't scroll too far if you are feint of heart or having dinner. I'll put a warning before they appear).

A huge thanks to Annapolis Cat Hospital for fitting Hunter in a week early and taking such good care of my little guy even though he was apparently a terror to them. It was a pretty rough surgery and because the wound was oozing and bleeding, they had him stay overnight. When I picked him up the following day, I had to take him out of the cage because the tech didn't think Hunter would let him pick him up. Of course he let me pick him up and put him in his carrier and hasn't even fussed much when I'm putting on or taking off his Elizabethan collar. But he's a mama's kitty. It's really messy if he tries to eat with the collar on, so I've taken pity on him and given him some breaks from it when I can keep an eye on him to make sure he's not scratching at his ear or pulling any of the stitches. I kept him pretty well stoned on morphine for the first few days home. Gratefully I just had to shoot a small amount of the liquid into his mouth and it absorbs through his gums. Pup dog went to a friend's for the week since it would be almost impossible to put the litter box somewhere the cat can get to it with his e-collar on but that the dog couldn't get to it to raid it. It's sad/funny to watch Hunter trying to walk around with the e-collar on because it bumps into everything and he sometimes has fits where he bucks like a bronco trying to shake the thing off his head. Oh, the humiliation.

The bad news, though not unexpected, came today. The tumor was a malignant soft tissue sarcoma. Many such sarcomas in cats are related to vaccinations and appear at the injection site. Since this one is not vaccine-induced, it makes it difficult to sort out information online in trying to research it. The vet spoke with both the pathologist who analyzed the biopsy and with an oncologist. The good news is that we had a clean margin around the tumor. Unfortunately, that margin is only 2mm instead of the preferred 2cm. The location of the tumor at base of his ear made it impossible to obtain large margins around the tumor. Also unfortunate is that sarcomas tend to send out "tendrils," so any tendrils that went out are likely still there and the tumor has a substantial likelihood of recurring in a few months. More radical surgery is not much of an option because his eye and brain are right there. Radiation is the preferred next step, but I would have to drive quite a ways to Gaithersburg for such treatments and he would have to be under general anethesia. And, of course, radiation therapy would easily be several thousand dollars. Even if I had the money, however, I think the physical and mental stress that treatment would put on Hunter may do more harm than good. I wish he would live forever. He's one of my best friends and kept me going through very dark days. But I will not torture him with medical treatments, or prolong his suffering, just to delay my grief. I made that clear to the vet and I know that I'll likely have to have a discussion with her about palliative care if the tumor returns and he's in pain. Through it all he has been incredibly brave and his favorite place to be is still right on my lap, purring away. And with hope he will beat the odds.

Of course, I've been out of work since December 17. The total cost for the cat's surgery came to $981.50 (plus another $15 for the collar) and $775 for the dog's. I definitely don't have the money right now to pay for the vet to remove the cat's stitches, so they'll either take a few months to dissolve or I may have to figure out how to remove them myself. They let me leave a post-dated check for the 29th for the $401.75 balance for the cat's surgery, but that leaves me with just $60 to my name after paying the rest of the bills due this month, and in the hole $133 for paying the bills due on the 1st. (If anyone wants to donate towards Hunter's vet bill, feel free to call Annapolis Cat Hospital at 410-268-2287, no amount is too small, any amount is deeply appreciated, and you can remain anonymous to me if you so desire.)  

If I can get everything out of my storage unit I could save $57 a month so I'll probably have to figure out a way to make that happen in the next two weeks. I've been applying online for jobs as well as hoofing it around trying to find restaurant work. The challenge there is that if you show up any time other than between 2:00PM and 4:00PM Monday through Wednesday or Thursday, the odds are good they will just toss your résumé for not coming at the deadest time; I get it, but it adds an extra logistical challenge. And of course it is winter, so many of the restaurants are slow and people are fighting for shifts, so not many spots are in hiring mode at all. Fingers crossed something shakes out very, very soon. But, hey, I need to go on a radical diet to lose that last 15 pounds anyway!

As I think most of my readers know by now, I'm not about sugar-coating my life or the liveaboard lifestyle. It is the right thing for me, but it's not all palm trees and fruity rum drinks and it is especially challenging with pets. Having pets aboard is something I had to do in my particular circumstances. I made a commitment to my pets for their lifetimes and I have sacrificed many opportunities so that I can keep them and keep them all together. The opportunity for me to buy a boat came along and because of my very challenging and unstable financial situation, I had to seize that opportunity and move aboard and have a home of my own. It was the right thing for me, but my pack didn't get a vote in the matter and it probably wasn't the best thing for them. I know there are readers who will be miffed at my saying this, but, honestly, I truly don't recommend having pets aboard. I'm not casting judgment or trying to make anyone feel guilty, but unless you absolutely cannot put off moving aboard until your pets have passed on, it simply adds an extra layer of strain to a lifestyle that isn't exactly easy for human, canine, or feline. I admit that perhaps down the line I will have a boat cat again to take care of rodents and provide a little companionship, but I would get a kitten who never knows anything but boat life and has sea legs from the beginning.

Pup dog hates the boat. Or at least hates getting on and off and getting inside and out. I think she was equally bored hanging out in a house all day as she is hanging out on a boat all day, and her preference would be if I could stay home and play with her, go swimming, go hiking, and just be together all the time. (As one friend told me "Having a dog is like having a three-year-old that never, ever grows up.") Unfortunately, the kibble doesn't just magically appear and I have to work. We haven't even tackled the utter hell that will be trying to get her in and out of a dinghy to go ashore for potty breaks when I head south or if I end up living on a mooring ball or on the hook since I probably can't afford marinas anymore. That will take our shared misery to a whole new level. As much as it would break my heart to let her go, if I had a friend with a farm where pup would be loved in abundance and could run around all day and then snuggle up by a fireplace, I would probably let her move ashore because it would be a happier life for her.

I think my cats do love being in the boat while docked since it is full of interesting little napping spaces. And they enjoy sunning on the decks, smelling smells, and hunting marina mice. And since cats hate change, when we move, all their stuff goes with them and stays in the same place, so that puts less stress on them than moving from house to house did. But they hate the boat in motion. Max lays down and just has the most pathetic queasy, terrified expression. Hunter pukes exorcist-style even for a mild motoring trip from one creek to another around the Eastport peninsula, and for longer, bouncier rides he really loses it.

When you have pets aboard is that really what is best for them, or just what is best for their human? I hate to say it, but I think it's the latter. I know a lot of people have pets aboard, and I don't doubt that they are loved and better off than in a shelter, but it definitely makes cruising more difficult and costly. Many islands are rabies-free and simply no-go zones without very lengthy quarantines. Even in countries where pets are allowed to enter, there are often complicated hoops of paperwork and veterinary certifications and fees to jump through. If you have a purse dog it is certainly easier than if you have a breed than isn't easily carried aboard. And other than the sizable footprint a litter box takes up, cats are simpler and don't ever actually need to leave the boat for anything other than vet visits. 

As with most things, folks tend to remember the easy parts and get amnesia about the hard stuff. Anyone can live on a boat in April. Springtime is a cake walk. But in a place like Annapolis, the cold of winter and sweltering heat of summer last a lot longer than the mild, easy days of spring and fall. Sure, if you have a dog that weighs less than 30 pounds you can just lift it on and off by hand. If you have a younger dog who can jump on and off, it all may seem simple. Until the dog gets old and arthritic or has an injury and isn't allowed to run, or jump, or climb stairs. Then, getting a 60-pound dog three feet from point A to point B may take hours, and tears, and risk life and limb. (It took all of those last week and I think pup and I were both at our wits' end.) No one wants to think about or tell anyone about those days. So that's why I'm saying it. Just go in with your eyes open. And if you're doing a better job of having pets aboard than I am, I envy and applaud you, because it is not easy.

OK, here's a photo of my beautiful boy Hunter with big green eyes and enormous scooper ears. If you keep going past that forewarned. I don't think the photos are overly gross but if you can't handle seeing stitches and such, you may want to stop here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

pulling teeth

The holidays are almost over now. Then comes a big sigh of relief. Followed by panic over "what next?"

Life has been pulling teeth of late, literally and figuratively. Pup dog had fractured a major crushing molar that should have been pulled a year ago and it had become rotten. The vet said it really needed to come out. Once she got in there it turned out the same tooth on the other side was also fractured and infected. So, poor girl had her two biggest teeth pulled two weeks ago. The vet left me a very nice voicemail saying she was such a sweet and brave dog and with all the aftercare instructions. Before I had had a chance to listen to the voicemail I was at the vet's office with Hunter, whom I thought had a bad ear infection. A vet tech came out with a box and told the girl at the front desk "Here; she still needs to take care of the balance." I half-joked, "Um, the doctor left me a message but I haven't listened to it yet. That isn't Buttercup in that box is it?" and broke into somewhat hysterical laughter.

Being cat furniture on the settee.
The hysteria was in part because Hunter did not have an ear infection. A tumor I found in his ear back in June had ruptured and the tumor was just a disgusting, rotting, infected mess in his ear. I'm feeling terribly guilty because when I dropped the dog off in the morning for surgery and mentioned the cat's ear looked and smelled very bad, the vet had suggested that perhaps the dog should wait and the cat should come in for surgery that day. That is absolutely what should have happened. But with no car, turning around and running home to get the cat seemed unrealistic. And that sloppy decision may have cut my sweet Hunter's life short. The tumor has a broad base rather than a stalk. That increases the likelihood it is malignant. That it ruptured, full of blood, also tends to indicate it is malignant. We will have to take his entire right ear off to increase the chances of getting it all and giving him more time. They will send the whole thing for biopsy, and then I will know more, but his odds are better if we are aggressive right away. The wait-and-see approach we took in June didn't turn out well. As you can see from the photo above, Hunter has licked off his fur on a big patch of his back. The vet said it is all stress-related, likely because he is so sick.

I guess I just heard so many people talk about their cats making it to 20, and in my eyes my guys are forever kittens, that I hadn't processed that they might leave me earlier. Tomorrow, New Year's Eve, will be their 13th birthday. So, I guess they are elder-cats. But I'm not ready to let them go. And Hunter and I have a special bond; no one else understands him like I do. He and the dog are also very close. I will be devastated to lose him and I am already grieving. Despite my pinning him down and shooting antibiotics down his throat for several days, he is being especially affectionate lately, as if he knows his time to snuggle his pack is limited. In case this Christmas was his last with us, the cats got plenty of shrimp for dinner. I will try to do something special for them for their birthday tomorrow. But, of course, humans are uniquely plagued with a fixation on dates and anniversaries, a most unhealthy trait from which it is so hard to break free.

Holiday garland with ornaments.
The pet medical situation has been, naturally, particularly stressful due to financial circumstances. My last project ended a couple weeks ago and there is never any telling when another one might come up. The dog's tooth extraction (about $800) and the cat's ear removal (estimated to be about $700) will be just about what I've got and mean that the new batteries and solar panels I need to be able to get the boat running and leave have to be put off. With any luck, the next $1200 I have "laying around" (as if that ever happens) will fund that project.

Mast a/k/a Festivus pole all decorated.
I should have been running the 50K the weekend before Christmas, but I didn't. I could have suffered through it, but simply didn't have the money for hotel, rental car, or gas to even get there. And with two sick/recovering pets needing medication daily, I couldn't leave town. Before my trip to the South Pacific, I was in great shape, training well, enjoying my running and getting very fit. And then instead of running for me, for my strength, for my mental health, to be thinner and sexier and fit, I had to run for a date on a calendar. That took the joy and fulfillment out of it somehow. I just don't like races. I only want to run for me, not for a date on a calendar. So, while I am disappointed not to have been in great shape, beat my prior time, and enjoying a weekend getaway, I am glad that I was honest with myself about why I run and what makes it a pleasure instead of a chore.

One thing I know for sure is that I need to leave. There is nothing holding me here in Annapolis. A few good friends, but I know I will see them again. But I have nothing to go to either. But just the act of going somewhere is better than staying, treading water, going no where.