28 January 2014

Let’s talk

Today is Bell’s “Let’s Talk Day” … a day to talk about mental health and raise awareness and funds.

As a person living with PTSD, I am grateful for the Let's Talk initiative. It can be very difficult to explain that you aren't able to go out / work / do things even though they sound fun and interesting / carry on a conversation / stay awake / go to sleep / cook dinner / focus on a movie ... because your mind isn't letting you do those things.

It's invisible ... it is 'all in my head' ... and it's real.

If you’ve been reading here long, you’ll know that I have made a commitment to speak openly and honestly about what it’s like to live with a mental health problem. If you look up posts tagged PTSD, you’ll see … I’ve had quite a lot to say. It’s just one person’s perspective, one person’s experience … but I figure, every voice added to the conversation helps shed light on what was once (and still often is) a subject treated as a ‘dark secret’ or something to be ashamed of.

When those of us who live with the challenges of a mind that is not working as it should are honest about what it's like, when we share our experiences and challenges and successes, then others who don't have to live with this kind of hurt will understand … and then they will have a better idea how to help those of us who live with this all the time.

I want to thank all of you who have treated me with such kindness and support through these difficult times. I was afraid to speak up and speak out – but I have been met with nothing but love and support.

If you’re hurting, find some words and ask for help. If you haven’t got words of your own (sometimes it’s hard to find the ones that express how you feel accurately, and sometimes, just saying anything is so hard you just can’t find the energy to power your own voice) … feel free to use mine. Print off the blog posts and take them to your doctor, email links to your loved ones … it is a hard journey, but with help – and we need help, we can’t haul ourselves out of this Darkness on our own – we can find the Light again.

It gets better. Hang in there. If I can help … I’m here, and I’m listening.

Let’s talk.

25 January 2014

Sourdough Bread

A few weeks ago I decided to get a sourdough starter going. There’s just something cool about being able to make bread without needing a package of yeast from the store – I mean, that’s how bread was made for centuries, right?

I don’t much like the truly sour taste of the San Francisco style sourdough breads … it’s just a bit overwhelming for my taste buds, I think. However, I know that just because a bread is made with wild yeasts and cultures doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be sour – much depends on how the actual bread is put together.

I did a bunch of reading … there’s a ton of fascinating information on the web, ranging from the highly complex and technical down to the ‘hey, really, this isn’t rocket science’. I followed the instructions for starters from sourdoughhome.com, and after a couple of stalled out days and a bit of mold (neither of which was a catastrophic problem: just change to a clean container and feed the starter more, it sorts itself out) we now have a happily growing starter culture. It helps that the gas oven is very warm inside, and that seemed like the ideal place to keep the culture during its rapid growth stage.

Today I decided it was time to try an actual loaf of bread. I read all kinds of detailed recipes and ideas at The Fresh Loaf and was starting to think maybe this wasn’t for me: anyone who’s watched me cook or bake knows that I learned from my mom … a bit of this, a shot of that, stir until it feels like this, then it’s good. Weighing things to the gram? This is so not going to happen.

Then I stumbled on this great site: wisebread.com. An article that repeats, over and over, “it doesn’t matter” in the instructions segments is my kind of article! I’ve made a lot of bread – it’s not like I don’t know what the dough is supposed to be like. Add flour and water until it’s dough. Knead it until it feels right. Let it rise. Bake it. Oh yeah, I can do that.

So I made my first loaf today.

And it was edible!

Of course I know some changes I need to make … the dough needs to be sloppier (I didn’t leave this one wet enough, so it had trouble rising), and I forgot to let it rise upside down, then plop it out of the basket (I am using a plain wicker basket I got at the dollar store lined with some cotton well dusted with flour – the really cool kids use these snazzy coiled baskets called banneton), but it still worked.

I let the starter have some more flour to eat and by this evening it was all bubbly and happy again so I’ve taken a generous dose of starter and added two cups of flour and two cups of water, then stirred the whole thing together with a shot of salt and a smidgen of sugar (yes, those are the measurements I use). It’s in the fridge because I don’t want it to rise too quickly, and in there it will develop much more slowly … it might be more sour than I normally like, we’ll have to see if the added sugar helps take the edge off (I have learned that a long slow rise apparently leads to more sour taste than a quick single rise). Tomorrow I’ll take the (very sloppy – almost like pancake batter) dough out and add more flour and knead it until it is bread-like … I’ll probably put a little bit of rye and a smidgen of oats in it, so it’s not too boring, and then make a ball with the neat side *down* in the basket, and let it rise until it’s nice and airy. Apparently the trick then is to tip the basket out onto parchment paper and then slide that onto your preheated baking stone (or unglazed tiles).. but as I have neither, I’ll probably use the cast iron pan. I can preheat it in the oven, then take it out with an oven mitt and dump the bread right into the cast iron pan. That oughta work.

Guess we’ll find out!

21 January 2014

It should not be this hard

Sleep. You know, what happens when you are tired. You go to bed, your body relaxes, you sleep and wake up feeling rested. 

I was doing pretty well for a while. Now, for no identifiable reason, I am awake. And tired. And thus foggy headed and unhappy. 

I eliminated all my supplements for awhile to see if they were the cause. No change. Added them back in one by one. A multivitamin, a seaweed capsule, St Johns Wort. I added sleep herbs: passionflower (which seems to help with the chest pains I get late afternoon ... Psychosomatic, not physical). At night I add the heavy duty stuff: valerian, hops, skullcap, wild lettuce. In the past, two or three valerian capsules or a few spoonfuls of hops and wild lettuce tincture was enough. Now? Nothing seems to be enough to put me under and keep me there. 

I'm trying all the good sleep habits, the earplugs, the dark room, the warm milk. I got a Jawbone activity band which tracks sleep quality as maybe with better data I can make better choices. 

This morning though, I just hurt. The chest pain is uncomfortable and I'm just so tired. It seems like such a ridiculous problem to have, and the stupidity of it all just makes me even more annoyed, which I know is counterproductive. Argh. 

I don't subjectively feel anxious. Or scared, or sad. I feel like I've really come to terms with all the old messes. Yet my body is telling me something. 

I need to find out what it is, I suppose. 

Yes, I'm getting help. We'll see what comes of it all, I suppose. 

In the meantime, I guess rest is a good thing: lie here and read, or listen to a story, or pray ... And hope for at least a few good hours of rest. 


12 January 2014

Got me a job.

Yep, I did.

The Reluctant Farmer noticed a posting from a new company looking for First Aid instructors in the area, and encouraged me to apply. I did … and yesterday and today I was in class, observing their course (they are a new-to-the-game training provider, not St John Ambulance, not Red Cross) and being evaluated as a potential instructor.

I was selected.

The course materials are really great – there is a very interesting and well done video that covers the main points in each section, but none of the sections are too long, so it’s not like you go to class and just watch movies all day. There’s lots of emphasis on practical skills, and they are quite willing to be flexible in the details of how instructors go about running their classes: cover this material, in this order, use this video, but other than that, do your thing. That is quite refreshing.

I’m only really up to teaching one or two classes a month (classes are two consecutive days), but they’re good with that, and looking to add some additional course locations (such as on the west end, much more convenient for me) and dates. I’ll know more in a little while, but I’m one of the first three selected to teach for them, and I’m happy about that.

I even got paid to go to training today … my first official paycheque in nearly three years (tiny by comparison to the old ones, but huge compared to earning zero) went in the bank today! Yippee!

08 January 2014

Changes: endings, and beginnings

With the loss of Bob the Guardian Dog, we have a bit of a gap in our Outdoor Protective Services Department. Mackenzie can handle things on his own, I’m sure, but guardians do best in a team, and we don’t really want to get a second full time LGD just now – we have very few sheep, the chickens are penned, and the cow can pretty much take care of herself. Still, we need a guardian – and if something happens to Mackenzie, we need to have a bit of time to fill the gap and not be caught with no outside coverage.

Enter Caleb. Caleb is awfully big for an inside dog – we didn’t expect him to get quite so large (even the vet was surprised at how big he grew). He is about the size of your average Lab, with a fluffier tail (which knocks things over regularly) and all the energy of a lab and a collie. Fortunately, he is very well behaved and easy to train … but he needs a bit more time to run than he’s been getting. Caleb is going to move to being a mostly-outside dog, now, and serve as backup for Mackenzie. His body and fur are enough to handle the weather, and we won’t have him outdoors full time until summer, as he’s just not adapted for the cold yet. Still, he’s been spending more and more time outside: he likes to sit on top of the hay bales and survey the world from up there, or sit on the front deck and watch things happen, or chase the magpies or the deer when they show up. Of course he still gets lots of attention from The People and we are taking it slowly, but I think he will do okay.

This, of course, leaves us with a gap in our Indoor Protective Services Department. I can’t really relax without a dog in the house – I need someone with better hearing to let me know if someone comes down the road, and to confirm my sense that everything is safe (because the dog is just lying there, quietly, not barking or worrying). None of us are particularly comfortable without a dog inside anymore – it just seems wrong, somehow. Yes, the outside dogs will generally let us know if something is going on, but they don’t always – if it’s been a long night and they are fast asleep mid afternoon, sometimes they don’t bark at a vehicle that arrives. We need to know when that happens!

Plus, dogs are comforting. Caleb has eased my fears and sorrows many times. If he is outside more, we will need someone to fill in the gap.

Enter Ben.

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Ben was born September 2012, so he is a year and a bit … he’s a Shi Tzu Poodle cross, and he is little and cute (his head comes up to the seat of a kitchen chair, and he can curl up underneath one). He lived in a condo and barked whenever someone came to the door of the building, which was troublesome in those close quarters, but barking when people come by is a feature in our rural household! (Never mind the fact that his tiny wee little bark seems like nothing compared to the giant huge bellowing woofs we are accustomed to from the LGDs.)

Ben’s still a little shell-shocked from the change, but he is perking up quite a bit now that he’s been here for a couple of days. We picked him up Monday evening, and he was very growly and scared, though not at all aggressive … just letting everyone know he was NOT comfortable with these new people! He’d been wearing a shock collar to stop his barking, and would just bark through the pain as he really needed to let everyone know he heard someone. Unfortunately, that ongoing pain and some less-than-optimal socialization had made him a bit shy around new people. If you bark because someone is at the door, and you get zapped, and someone comes inside and you bark more and get zapped again, you are going to decide that new people bring pain. It’ll take a little while to learn that it wasn’t the new people, it was that darned collar gadget … which came off the minute he got home, and won’t ever go back on.

His barking habits and fear of new people didn’t seem like a deal-breaker to me, though: yes, he was growly and unhappy, but he wasn’t mean or aggressive. Within a few minutes of meeting him he let me touch him, roll him on his back, put my hands in his mouth, no resistance at all. We can work on his fear – goodness, if there’s anything this household understands it is living with someone who faces a lot of fear! The key with dogs like this is to just give them time to warm up and let them decide when they are ready to meet all the people, to convince them that we are the Bringers of All Good Things and to help them build their confidence so that they are more resilient to changes in the environment. We are unlikely to ever have a lot of new people traffic in our house, so if he’s always a little shy around strangers that won’t be a big problem in our world anyway. And as he’s still a ‘teenager’ in dog years, I think he can be healed of his fear without too much trouble.

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So Ben joined us on Monday – he has slept quietly through the nights (an advantage of getting an older dog rather than a puppy!) and this evening, he and Caleb have been racing each other around the kitchen table, wrestling and generally creating chaos in the house as they play and act silly. It’s wonderful. Ben’s still a bit shy … he spends a lot of time hiding under the kitchen chair I’m sitting in, but he’s getting braver by the minute. Hawkbait the cat is still VERY uncertain about this new creature and hisses and snarls and tries hard to sneak past him without being noticed, Oreo is a little less upset but still keeping her distance, while Caleb is all excited that we brought him a playmate!

We expect that within the next week or so, Ben will find himself more comfortable being here and stop with the fearful growly noises – that’s perfect timing as The Reluctant Farmer comes home next Friday, and the Small People will be here then. I am confident that we can help Ben to find his inner strength and help him to see that the world is not a scary place where random zaps of electricity hit him and people are angry because he tells them when things are happening in the world. We’ll work some more on basic obedience (he knows ‘sit’, sorta, but ‘down’ and ‘stay’ and ‘come’ are long forgotten since his puppy obedience classes). We’ll help him to know what’s expected of him, tell him when he’s done a great job, correct him gently but clearly when he makes a mistake, and give him a job to do and people to love and friends to play with (oh, goodness, if he can help Caleb burn off some of that excess energy,then everyone will be happy!).

This morning, I left him behind for a few minutes while I went to do something else. When I came back, this is what greeted me:

Yeah, I think he’s gonna be okay.

And seeing him play with Caleb tonight eased my heart somewhat from the sorrow of missing Bob. I would rather have had things just stay as they were … but life is change, and so here we are.

Welcome to your new life, Ben. I’m sure we can find our way together.

We love you, Bob. Thank you for everything.


Bob’s passing was peaceful and gentle, on a pile of hay next to the sheep feeder while the sheep and cows ate their lunch. Mack was in the pasture with the animals, Caleb and a cat were right nearby, and The Boy and I were with Bob as he went to sleep for the last time. Dr Sarah is very kind and gentle, and there was no hurry or fuss … just loving hands to ease him on his journey.

I miss him terribly already, but it was time. As we sat with him before the vet came, I saw that look in his eyes, the one that says “It’s okay, I can be done now.”

You can rest from your long labours, now, Bob. Thank you for everything. We love you so much.

06 January 2014

Farwell to Bob the Dog

Bob the Dog, our beloved livestock guardian, has had a recurrence of the cancer we treated last spring in his neck.

We had hoped he’d outlive the cancer, but sadly, it was not to be. I had noticed a couple of weeks ago that the little lump of scar tissue where he’d had the tumour removed felt a little bigger, but I wasn’t quite sure. Then, on New Year’s Eve, he came to the door to say hi and I went out to give him a hug and I checked, like I always do.

The lump was the size of an egg.

I called our lovely vet, Dr Sarah, and left a message that we’d need to make arrangements to help Bob cross the Rainbow Bridge before the tumour could cause him more discomfort. Given the rate of growth, Dr Sarah said maybe a week, ten days at the outside … and so on Wednesday this coming week, Bob will go to sleep for the last time, here at home, near his sheep and his people and his pack. It is the last kindness we can give him, and his years of service have earned a comfortable, peaceful end, at home in familiar surroundings.

The livestock guardians do not travel well. They fight being loaded into a vehicle. They are terribly uncomfortable inside a building. We won’t make Bob’s last moments a trial for him … the vet will come here, and we will put a blanket on the ground by the hay bales up near the sheep, and hug him and hold his head and his paws while he breathes his last. It’ll be very, very sad … but it’ll be okay.

Bob’s been suffering from the cold this year in ways I’ve never seen before, and I’m thinking it must be related to his illness. The other day he was by the door shivering, his teeth were actually chattering in the cold. I grabbed his collar and dragged him up the steps and inside, which he was not too pleased about, but when I served him a bowl of heated Dog Food Soup (with bacon grease, yum!) he was much more okay with the whole thing. He wandered around, wagging his tail, coming over for hugs and pats, and stayed until he was good and warm. Then he stood by the door again until I let him out, and he bounded off to see the sheep.Photo 1-5-2014, 10 45 22 AM

He’s still his old happy self … although tonight when we came home, I thought I detected a bit of sorrow about him, a bit of heaviness. Maybe he knows he isn’t well. Only two more days, and the tumour is still beneath the skin, though it has hardened and is definitely still growing, I think the timing will be all right.

We will miss him very, very much. He’s been a good dog. He guards the sheep, licks the lambs clean when they are born, and is good to the people. Once, when Smaller Boy was still very small, he had an egg to give to Bob, one that had cracked in the coop and couldn’t be used in the kitchen. The little boy held out his little hand with the egg in his palm and said “here, Bob.” Bob put his giant mouth right over the boy’s whole hand … egg, hand, wrist, everything … gently slid the egg off and left the hand untouched. Eyes huge, that small boy was amazed at this giant dog having just about swallowed his arm! More than once, when I have been overwrought with trauma memories or emotional upheaval, I have gone to sit on the stairs and cry out my anger and frustration and fear … and Bob has come to lick the tears from my face and shove his head into my lap and comfort me.

He is a fantastic dog. We love him very much. We love him so much, that we will let him go in peace. I will cry big tears, but it will be all right. It is the way of things for dogs to go before us, sadly … but it is worth the pain, for all the love and joy they bring us.

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My Gram said that she was certain there would be dogs in heaven. It is easy to think of her waiting there at the pearly gates with Ebony, the little black cocker spaniel who loved Gram so much and guarded her as her mind failed with the brain tumour that took her life … and with Dax, the Akita who loved me through the loss of my daughter Jessica, and with Duggan, the goofy beagle who rehomed himself to love an old lady through her last days.

Bob will go to join them this week, and I expect that some fine day, in that place where there are no more tears at all, I will sit on a golden step and Bob will lay his head in my lap and tell me how happy is to have me home.

We love you, Bobby. Thank you for everything.