Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where have I been? Rats and Recovery.

Yeah, I know I know. I've been missing from Fiskateers and my blogs have been silent for days, despite my promises to report on CKC (it will still happen! I have SO much to share!)

First, I was very busy caring for Glitter, one of my 5 wonderful rats. A couple of weeks ago, she started sniffling and her sisters were isolating her. Poor girl was being bullied into living in the litterbox, so I moved her to sick bay--a small cage I use to keep a sick animal isolated and close to her food and water at all times--and started her on echinacia to hold her until her vet appointment. Sometimes a little tinctiture of echinacia is enough to scare off the sniffles, but she didn't do so well. By the time her appointment came up, she was having porphryn staining on her hands from wiping her nose. For those of you who aren't familiar with rats, their snot (and saliva and tears) is bright red, which often scares first-time rat caretakers to freak out, thinking their rat is hemmoraging horribly. My girls are very enthusiastic groomers, licking the heck out of each other's fur, playing "beauty parlor" with each other (it's a 24/7 slumber party in their cage with all that estrogen) so they are typically a shade pink anyway, but this was clearly out of the ordinary, almost like she was wearing little red wrist gloves. Gross.

Apparently, the stress of being in a new place didn't do her much good, because she declined dramatically during her vet visit, poor baby. Her vet, the caring and knowledgeable Dr. Lori McKinnish at Dixie Trail Animal Hospital, diagnosed her with pnumonia, so I started her (Glitter, not Dr. McKinnish) on antibiotics and began hand feeding her a nutritional "milkshake" (strawberry soy shake--she loved it. It became difficult to get her to let go of the syringe to refill it, she'd bite down on it and hold it so firmly!) and baby food via an open-ended syringe. Every feeding was a complete mess. I'd clean her eyes, nose, and paws to clear off the mucous before feeding her, and minutes later she'd be covered in sticky pink soy shake.

She seemed to improve, getting feistier, even nipping me when I wiped her face with a wet towel. She began pushing the food away when she was done, drinking from her dripper bottle on her own. I was happy. It looked like we were going to win this one.

But she plateaued. She suddenly couldn't use her paws. She was sort of throwing herself around--a weird hopping when she did move, like her limbs didn't work below the wrists and ankles. I had to block her with my body to keep her from throwing herself off the towel she was lying on, and off the edge of the bathroom counter in an effort to "walk". She was rubbing her nose further down her wrists. Her feet were always crossed. I worried she had had a stroke. She could no longer use her "hands" at all. Oddly though, she seemed really happy and not in distress. She bruxed and boggled (think purring to the nth power) with every meal, every cuddle. Sometimes I'd swear she was smiling. I began to wonder if something had happened to her brain from the fever. Was she just responding like some of the dementia patients we used to visit with Revco, when we did therapy dog work? Some just seemed--distant but euphoric. Honestly, if you have to lose cognition, it does seem like the way to do it. On the other hand, she could still protest my sponge baths, so it was hard to tell. The question loomed: how do I decide when treatment is futile? How do I choose for her whether she wants to be let go or if she would rather have hospice care and be allowed to die on her own schedule? Occasionally, I even thought she might make it, though in retrospect, I think I was being over-optimistic in desperation.

There were several nights when I sat with her and cried, telling her goodbye and I'd miss her so much, since I was certain she wouldn't make it to morning. And yet, there she was the next day, ready to eat, grab a bath, etc. She made a painful and pitiful sight, sometimes having fallen out of her blankets, lying on her side on the floor of her cage when I went to check in on her. Those were the moments when I felt like a monster for not rushing her to the vet to have her put down. But then, a few minutes later, she'd be bruxing and lazily watching me as we went through her routine, wiping her eyes clean, filling syringe after syringe with the food she relished so enthusiastically. Should I really take these moments away from her when, for all her limitations, she seemed content to experience the little time she had left?

She wasn't the first animal I have encountered who, as far as I could read from them, wanted to die on her own schedule and take her time saying goodbye to the world. For what it's worth, I do animal communications, and usually I find a clear point where most animals indicate that they are done. They've had it with their body, the discomfort, or pain. They are tired and want the assistance euthanasia offers. Honestly, I find this easier to relate to. I never enjoy that final trip to the vet, I cry and miss them terribly when I carry their remains home to my little pet cemetary, but I normally feel like the right thing was done. They clearly were ready, and the vet and I performed an important final mercy.

For me, it is much harder to feel confident about continuing life when it becomes clear that it's ending. I worry again and again if I am doing the right thing. Am I sure they aren't suffering? Could I be doing more to make them comfortable? Is their quality of life being seriously compromised. As a long-time animal rescue worker and vegan, you'd think killing would be much more difficult than not, yet I am always second-guessing my decision. Are you sure, little rat, that this is what you want? Are you hurting? What if you change your mind and I can't get to a vet quickly because it's 3 a.m. on a Sunday? How can I leave you to take care of myself, to work, to do the things I have to do to keep my life moving while I know you are dying and this may be the last time I see you alive? It's the not knowing in some ways that makes it so hard.

Well, Monday afternoon, Glitter passed on. She was just a young little girl so that made things even more disappointing. Why couldn't we save her? She had been such a playful girl, so open to exploring. None of her sisters had been sick, why did she decline so quickly? Perhaps the greatest heartbreak was that she never got to be reunited with her sisters. They are an incredibly closely bonded mischief (It's what a group of rats is called. Really.) so I hate that they only know that she became sick and disappeared, never to return. I hold hope that perhaps they knew. That they perhaps heard her ultrasonic commiunications across the house where she was living in quarrantine. I know it's a long shot. Ultrasound is easily blocked, but her sisters seem to have forgiven me. In order to avoid spreading illness, I hadn't been taking my healthy girls out, only talking to them across the room, since I was constantly handling Glitter and had become tired of the constant clothing changes. I swear I have laundry hip-deep between sticky towels and rat pee covered t-shirts. Scott took over feeding and caring for Spider, Fuzz, Twinkle, and Kitty (and most of the other animals) while my life centered around the needs of Miss Glitter. So after her death, I wasn't certain how I would be accepted upon my return. Was I a nuturing friend, or brute death, snatching their sister away?

I feel lucky and a bit humbled. The girls greeted me with open arms (because that's how they have to grab the bars of the cage for tummy tickle time!) Strangely, even my shiest girls, Spider and Fuzz, who are usually only interested in each other, ran out to see what the commotion was all about and gave me a big rattie hello, climbing up and down the bars like a little albino monkey. Kitty was "talking" up a storm. She has a distinctly low pitched voice, clearly audible to humans, well below the ultrasonic register that is typical of "rat talk". I was forgiven for my inabiliy to heal Glitter. Or perhaps I was never blamed. Maybe they knew something from the start that I didn't about her illness and my fallibility, my humanity. I can't make miracles happen, but I'm not supposed to either. I did my best. I made her comfortable and helped Glitter make the most of her final days, even when it felt, to me, like slowly picking at a painfully fused band-aid. One tiny tear at a time.

Friday, August 15, 2008

CKC Thursday

It's here! The Creating Keepsakes Convention in Charlotte! It took me longer than expected to get here, because I woke up in horrific pain like I haven't seen in a while. I mean, I'm always in pain, but there's a special kind of pain I get treated to from time to time that pulls my body into a fetal position I can't fight. I can't even uncurl my fink bgers without shivvering. So, I got a late start, moving in slow motion to finish packing, even with Scott doing all the real work, acting like the kindest robot in the world (coin operated boy?), doing whatever I say, from grabbing my schedule off the printer, to finding the elusive olive green shorts (which were in the bottom of the smelly laundry and thusly rejected, but he still brought them to me to prove how smelly they were. Good lord I need to do laundry when I get home. Damp towels shouldn't be allowed to age.)

I made it out the door, got geared up for the car, complete with dashboard powered heating pad and neck brace that makes me look like a fat turtle (have you ever seen an overweight turtle? I have. They can't fit all the way back into their shell without another part blooping out. Not pretty.) Slept most of the way and arrived feeling worse than ever. Sigh. I was really down. There's this feeling I get when the pain is particularly intense that I, the being inside this bossy body, is about 1/2 inch big inside this huge, painful body. I can't control it at all. I don't make any of the decisions, I don't have a say in what happens to me. I'm trapped under a mountain. I changed my fentanyl patch (forgive my spelling), took a pain pill and a zanaflex and finally I was able to move enough to hook up into traction. Even in a very nice hotel like this one, you don't want to have to lie on the floor. Seriously, even on top of my formerly yoga mat (now--you guessed it--my traction mat) the carpet smells like someone rubbed a dead raccoon on it. Even as I began to feel like I had grown to about 6" tall vs. 1/2, I couldn't help but feel bitter. Here I was, on the floor of a hotel with my head in the rack, while I was missing the opening crop next door--something I had looked forward to like Christmas. Plus, just riding up in the car I saw like a million little things I wanted to explore around the hotel, down the street, all over, and I couldn't even walk over to check out the restaurant menu.

Then again, sometimes I win. The meds kicked in. The traction did its thing. I made it to the last hour and a half of the crop. So hooray! I actually have something to report on other than my own suckiness!
The opening crop was actually more of an album class with page kits from many of the vendors as sort of a preview of what's to come. How cool. I'm due to make another album for my sister-in-law Kelye, so I gathered up the five kajillion photos I have of my nephew (not even up to date...I'm about a year behind on getting them printed so I don't have to worry about running out of stuff to scrap.) and got to work. Since I missed most of the crop, I only got to make the last three layouts, which you are seeing here. I like the mishmash of styles from all the different sponsors. The Springtime one was from a company I'd never heard of before called Shoestring Productions (no website). The colors are duly festive and we were told are all cut by one woman who runs the company. I can't imagine how long it must take to die cut that many copies. Especially if they do this at all the CKC's. Her cranking arm must be huge.
I loooove SEI, who made the other springy looking kit. They included info on their kit club and I have to say it's tempting, though I'm kind of leaning toward Club Scrap since I saw Barbie playing with their latest kit at the last Archivers Scrap Mania. I like that Club Scrap makes their own stuff with a cool, handmade, artsy look. But then SEI does rock the house. Loved their layout just as it is and that's saying something since I usually feel the need to alter these things (well, I did add one extra tear in the red paper. Does that count?) Which brings us to the fall pumpkin page you see here by Lickety Split. Honestly, I'm not into their look at all. It just seems sort of fussy and dated to me, but that's just a matter of my taste vs. theirs. So I've taken a before and after shot. I couldn't leave the page alone. With my tendency toward the too-much-is-never-enough style, it just looked so sparse. One of my favorite things I added were the stamps which I was surprised to find in the Archivers $1.99 bin. I love the detail on these things and I'll definitely keep my eyes open for more by Stampology.
Well, it's actually Friday morning and I'm feeling a bit better, so I need to get going to the early entry hour of the vendor faire. Wish me luck finding some rockin' scrappy crap. I'll be sure to report back to you asap.
*Blog Challenge: I've got 2 mini packs of cute Archivers Exclusive stamps for the winner of this one: Leave a comment with your name (and Fiskateer# if you are one) and email me (princess.puppy* --replace the asterisk with an @) a list of the differences between the original Lickety Split pumpkin layout and the completed version I altered. I will draw a name from the correct entries to choose the winner. Do not put the answer in the comment section! Otherwise other people can't play and it's not nice for the people who worked to get the correct answer. Thanks for playing! :)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fiskateers and Why I Loooove Online Crops

I put my Fiskateer number on everything. I have a Fiskateer layout hanging up on my scraproom wall. I love to wear my Fiskateer t-shirt, and yes, I even had Fiskateer business cards made. So I'm often asked, "What's a Fiskateer?"

For all the advertizing of my Fiskateerhood, I find it really difficult to communicate what, exactly, it is. Yeah, it's a messageboard. It's a blog. It's a corporate ad. It's an elite scrapbooking union. It's a whole slew of my friends. None of the answers really fit the way I feel about Fiskateers. It's a little dorky (not the list, but the sentimentality I feel toward it), but there are some great perks, not the least of which are the online crops.

So, this leads us to the next question I get. "Online crop? How the hell do you have a crop on the computer. Well, first we shrink ourselves down (depending on your monitor size, this can be easier for some than others), then we go through the process necessary to acheive 2-dimensionality. It's can be pretty painful, but it's totally worth it for the make-n-takes. If you have an older, non-flat screen monitor, it's a good idea to pull it out from the attic and hook it up. Trust me, it's worth the extra effort to have lots of extra space to spread out all your supplies.

There are other online crops, but as far as I know, Fiskateers does them bigger and more frequently than any I've been able to find. All of the best things about crops are there. The chat room is open the whole time to yammer back and forth with the other attendees, plus a thread on the message board to share tips, talk about your day, whatever, often with surprise random RAKs among the people who post.

The one thing I feel is better than a "real" crop (aside from the extensive handicapped accessability for those of us with mobility/constant pain issues) is the gallery section. It's like peeking over every participant's shoulder a bajillion times per crop! Try doing it at a live crop! Even if you were physically able to be behind 100 people's shoulders at once, you would definitely come across as the creepiest person in the room. I know I'd be slinking away from you. Online, everyone posts the projects they have been working on, and I have spent hours upon hours getting lost in this section, just clicking on one photo after the other, seeing how every person interperets the challenge assignments, and what they are working on in general.

Have I mentioned how much I love scrap challenges? Sketch challenges, theme challenges, ones that call for using certain supplies, ones that don't allow adhestive, I can't think of any yet that I haven't enjoyed. Those of you who know me pretty well may find that out of character since I'm really kind of persnickety about making up my own projects and things for my Stampin' Up classes, eschewing those pre-made class instruction kits that tell you where every little thing goes. It's not that I'm *against* using class resources or copying a project from another demonstrator per se. I have been in some great classes that were planned that way and had a blast. I just get squeamish about using them, myself. Like I'm cheating or something. Like I need to make these projects my own. Challenges, however, make me work double hard. I love the concept of using a guide to force me to think, to make me fit my ideas into a puzzle. It feels like I have to be more creative to work within the boundaries. I love swiping sketches from things I see online. Once you get used to using sketches, you start to see them inside every layout and card you see. Remember that Tootsie Roll commercial with what has to be the lousiest baseball bat of all time (come on--you know the ball is going to bend the thing backwards, the animators took a bit of creative liberty in making the Tootsie Roll hit a home run. Can you imagine how squishy and filthy that thing had to be, being passed from one grubby batter to the next? Not the most appetizing commercial. Seriously, you really don't want everything you see to turn into Tootsie Rolls. Sure, a rolling pin? I can see that. But a tootsie tire? Think of all that gravel crunching in there.) If you don't yet turn every project you see into line drawings, give this site a try: The author has a great book by the same name that I'm totally into, too. I'll be reviewing it on my Scrappyrat blog. Trust me. You want this book!

The pics you see here are all projects I've made via the latest Fiskateers online crop. As soon as I get the date of an upcoming crop on the board, I mark my calendar and do what I need to do to clear that weekend. If you're like me and you want to participate in every event, every chat, every RAK, every scrap challenge, every written challenge, and even post a challenge for your own chosen prize, it can keep you working and up all night for the entire duration. Of course, if you have a life to attend to, you can also just check in from time to time and choose a couple things to do for fun. It's free, it's fun, and you might just win something before it's done. Hey Hey HEEEEEY!