Knitting Suspended

I have had a week recuperating at home after my ankle-pinning operation. As I have not had surgery before in my adult life, I did not realise the impact it would have. Firstly there is the inconvenience of keeping the injured limb elevated at all times. When standing, I am strictly not allowed to put any weight on it at all. When sitting or lying down, it must be elevated.

Secondly, I was hit by the sheer fatigue of recovery. Every day I begin to feel exhausted at some point in the afternoon, and I have to lie down and sleep for 2-3 hours. At first I thought this was a side-effect of the painkillers I was taking. So, with my doctor’s support, I reduced the dose and stopped it altogether, hoping to get my days back. But today, the second drug-free day, I lasted until 5 o’clock when I was overcome with fatigue and slept until 8pm.

My arms and upper body are strained from using crutches, and although I have a wonderful OH who has taken over all the chores, and who serves up wonderful lunches, dinners and cool drinks, I am determined to do what I can around the house to support him. I can carry small items in my hands whilst holding the crutches. Larger items I can carry in my backpack. I can carry the laundry slung around my neck. I can tidy up in the kitchen by going slowly and leaning on the counters. I can do the ironing sitting down.

Still, moving around the house takes a lot of time and effort. Just getting up, having breakfast, feeding the cats and doing some light chores takes me two whole hours. After a rest and a cup of tea it’s almost lunchtime. Then I have a 3-hour window in which I can get some work done before I start drooping and have to lie down.

Tomorrow, as it’s the weekend, I can use the 3-hour window to actually do some knitting. And on the plus side, all the sleeping must be doing me some good: the ankle pain is much reduced.

Nap time with Monty

Nap time with Monty

Till next time,

L x

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Walking the Dogs

Sunday is my dog-walking day. I walk Harry and Dixie, a pair of West Highland terriers, for their owner Ken. I like to give them a good 2 hours off the lead, so we take a short drive to where we can have a good run away from any roads. Here we are on a jaunt around Endcliffe Park in Sheffield.

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Just for fun we like to have a game of chase where I run away from them, and they run after me, round in circles.  It’s good for me to have a run as well.  Simple pleasures!

Ken is a very experienced dog owner having had dogs all his life. He’s had Harry and Dixie from puppies and now they are 7 years old. They are extremely well-trained, well-socialised and great company. Ken relies totally on volunteer dog walkers, so sadly  this means that the lads don’t get out every day. They only get walked 3 or 4 times a week, sometimes less. Sometimes it’s only a quick stroll around the block. So on Sundays I give them as much time as possible. It’s wonderful to see them run free in open spaces.

Wyming Brook

Wyming Brook

There’s a nature reserve near us called Wyming Brook. The brook runs down a steep wooded hillside. There’s a wide, winding track which leads through the trees down to the reservoir.  Alternatively there’s a steep rocky footpath running alongside and criss-crossing the brook itself. Here you have to jump from rock to rock and cross rustic wooden bridges as you go, with the constant roar of the water around you, shaded by tall trees. You can go down the rocky footpath, and back up the track, or vice-versa, making a round walk. The footpath is exciting, but the track has its own charms. The trees and their alpine scent make you feel you are up a mountain, with the occasional glimpse of distant Sheffield.

Harry and Dixie are game little dogs who will tackle any terrain. I don’t have to worry about them: they always come back to me when called and they are relaxed around other dogs. However, I do have to watch out for horse or fox manure because Harry is a roller. Dog walkers, you know what I mean. When this happens we divert to the nearest stream or brook to wash the worst off. Harry doesn’t much like getting wet. His brother Dixie jumps straight in, even if he’s not dirty, but Harry needs persuading. Fortunately Ken isn’t in the least bothered if I come back with two filthy dogs. As far as he’s concerned, they should be out all afternoon getting mucky. He gives me a dog blanket for the car and baths them before teatime.

Harry asking ever so nicely for a crisp in the beer garden.

Harry asking ever so nicely for a crisp in the beer garden.

Ken is full of appreciation for his dog-walkers. It was the Cinnamon Trust who put us in touch. They are always looking for new volunteers, particularly for dog-walking and fostering cats. If you live in the UK and if you are a pet lover with a bit of spare time, do get in touch with them.

I am looking forward to this Sunday’s outing, especially now the weather is improving! We might have company, in the form of my friend, her daughter, and their little terrier Daisy. Woof!

Till next time,

L x

A Handmade Gift

It is lovely to receive a gift.  Big or small, it’s the thought and the good intention behind it which warms the soul.   I like to give people gifts that I have made.  I like making things, and at least with a handmade gift I can know for sure that they won’t already have one like it.  Still, I don’t always manage to give people gifts that I’ve made: time is short and I’m not that well-organised.

There is a perception, however, that by giving a handmade gift you are some kind of cheapskate because you probably haven’t spent a lot of money on it.  This implies that the most appreciated gifts are the most expensive.  But I don’t necessarily agree.  By giving an expensive gift you are showing that you have a lot of money and are willing to spend it on the recipient. That’s all very well, and such extravagance is exciting, both for the giver and receiver, especially when the gift is something that they really, really want.  Don’t get me wrong, if someone gave me an iPad or a diamond necklace I’d be over the moon.  But I’d also be a little embarrassed about returning such generosity.

On the other hand, a handmade gift can actually be quite expensive when you consider the cost of the higher end yarns. But whatever the cost of your materials, a handmade gift should be especially appreciated: the time and skill involved really shows you care.

Sparkly slippers handmade by Vicky

Sparkly slippers handmade by Vicky

For Christmas I received these marvellous sparkly knitted slippers from a friend. The design and construction intrigued me. I loved the mad, multicoloured sparkly yarn they were trimmed with; I loved that they stayed securely on my feet; and that they were a perfect fit.  I know my friend is on a tight budget, and I know these slippers would not have cost a lot to make, but that isn’t the point. The fact that they were made by her own fair hands is very special to me. She knows me, and she knew I would love them, wear them and find them interesting. For a gift you can’t ask for more than that.

Last week we caught up with some friends who we hadn’t seen over the holidays because they had been ill. With embarrassment they presented us with this beautiful cake, being modelled here by Herbie.  Seconds later he was trying to lick it.

Happy New Year cake

Happy New Year cake

Our friends felt they had to excuse the absence of bought gifts. They felt they had to explain. They are both working, but with pay freezes, childcare costs and house maintenance they are feeling the pinch, and they hoped we would ‘make do’ with this offering. They further explained that it was a quarter of a large Christmas cake which they had baked but not managed to decorate because of illness. Of course we were delighted with our gift, and the fact it was handmade was all the more special. There was no need to explain. I love how the cake is boldly decorated and placed on a handmade silver foil cake board with extra sugar flowers. It’s just delightful. OH has not allowed me to cut it yet because it’s so special and beautiful and he wants to take a picture of it. We will eat it and enjoy it.

What special handmade item did you give (or receive) this year?

Til next time,

L x

Now we are Five

Warning: sad post alert!  Get some tissues now!

As a follow-up to my post of 7th October, my little old Gatekeeper left us on 6th December.  We still cannot believe that he managed to hang on for two more months.  I have never known a creature so unfazed by illness: Barney’s main concern was to carry on ‘ruling the roost’, as our vet put it.

Barney, Top Cat to the end

Barney, Top Cat to the end

He was still mad keen for his food, and although he ate slowly he was usually first in the queue. He would eat whatever I gave him, whether ground raw mixes of chicken, turkey, rabbit or beef, and the odd tin of sardines.  He would even gamely having a go at chunks of raw chicken. He had no sense of smell at this point, so I guess his survival instinct kicked in and he just ate.

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Eric the Jack Russell terrier came to stay the weekend, and it was business as usual for Barney.  Straight on Eric’s bed as soon as it hit the floor.  But he allowed to Eric creep on and have the other side…

Sharing Eric's bed

Sharing Eric’s bed

…for a while!  Then Eric had to make do with the cat bed.  Fortunately he’s only a little dog so he just about fit in it.

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I love how these pictures show Barney’s legacy of ‘Dogs? Huh!’  I hope Larry, Monty and Herbie will always remember to be cool with dogs.

During Barney’s last weeks, we were in a state of high Barney alert.  Has he eaten? Does he seem tired or depressed? Is there any change in his habits today?  We were acutely aware of his symptoms and his ability to shrug them off.  Every day could have been his last.  Every morning we thought, where is he – is he still alive?  And he was – alive and demanding breakfast.  Tough as old boots. Tough old moggy.

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His nosebleeds were less frequent and stopped.  His breathing became less noisy.  But we knew this was not actually a good sign. Looking carefully, we could see he was breathing through his mouth, just as the vet had foreseen.  The tumour had progressed to the point of completely blocking his nose. Somehow or other, Barney carried on eating, walking around the table and greeting visitors. We were in an agony of indecision. Clearly his body was struggling, but we also felt that Barney’s indomitable spirit had to be respected.

On 6th December Barney really did not want his breakfast.  He was drinking a lot. He had a new unpleasant smell about him, and he seemed low.  I knew it was time. I called work and said I wouldn’t be coming in.  It wasn’t so much the refusal to eat: he had skipped the odd meal before only to tuck in 12 hours later.  It was the smell which I remembered from Bob’s time, the stench of kidney failure. We could not leave it a moment longer.  I gathered myself together and called the vet.  Fortunately our veterinary surgery is at the end of our road, and our vet is a very kind Dutch lady who loves cats.  I asked if she would come to the house when she had finished her appointments for the day.  The receptionist put me on hold and then said the vet and the head nurse would be with us in half an hour.

Last picture of Barney

Last picture of Barney

Barney was in his bed in front of the fire.  The vet had trouble finding a vein as he was dehydrated. Barney swore at her – ‘get on with it woman!’ and he was gone in a few seconds. Tough, feisty old moggy to the very end.

We did not want to keep his body or have his ashes returned to us.  I have never derived any comfort from having tokens of death around the house, or bodies buried in the garden. We have a wooden casket of Fred’s ashes from 2003, and it makes me feel so uncomfortable that I have hidden it away in the attic.  In 2010 we chose to bury Bob’s body in the garden, but I found the burial a hundred times more traumatic than the euthanasia and I was almost hysterical.  So we asked the vet to remove Barney’s body for us.  I was expecting her to produce a practical, heavy-duty plastic bag of some sort.  But to my surprise she took out a rather nice pet blanket with a paw-print pattern all over it, to wrap him in. I was touched by her sensitivity.

Every bereavement is different.  After a long illness it comes as no surprise.  There is not the raw shock of a sudden death of a young creature. I had already done a lot of grieving for the old lad. But the house felt very different and very empty. I realised how much I had worried about him over the last few weeks: the daily face-wiping, cleaning up, moving his tray around after him, trying to work out how much he had eaten, constant vigilance for signs of pain, and snatches of lap time whenever I could.  I went through drawers and cupboards, throwing away his medication and his pills and potions.  There is a big hole where all the love, care, and laughs used to be for Barney.

A week later I got a card in the post from our vet.

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Enclosed was a packet of Forget-Me-Not seeds, to plant in the garden.

Till next time,

L x

The Gatekeeper

Barney will be leaving us soon. He has a tumour in his nose which is blocking his airway. Eventually he will struggle to breathe, and suffocate. So we have to decide when the time is right to put him to sleep.

It’s the agonising decision which pet owners have to face sooner or later. What makes this particularly hard for us, is that in spite of cancer, and hyperthyroidism, and old age, Barney’s indomitable spirit remains intact. He sleeps a lot and doesn’t go into the garden any more, but he is still very much himself. He wants his food and his cuddles. He wants to keep the other three cats in order. He still swears at me when I brush him. When visitors come, he wants to sit on the table, wave his tail in their faces, and accept their compliments. He has no other symptoms like diarrhoea or vomiting.  Occasionally he wets his bed, and curls up to sleep in his litter box, but these signs of confusion come with old age.

Barney arrived from the RSPCA just over 13 years ago. It was few days after we lost our beautiful Sylvester to cancer.  They said Barney was ‘about 5 years old’, which is what they always say when it’s not a kitten, and they have good teeth. He was such a pretty longhaired cat, so people-friendly, but languishing in the shelter for 6 months because his medical record stated ‘benign ear tumours’. The word ‘tumour’ made potential adopters run for cover. Yet this condition didn’t trouble him, or make him deaf or uncomfortable. He was just more prone to ear infections than the average cat. An ear infection was easily managed with drops. It wasn’t a big deal to us so we snapped him up. He was called Barney and we tried to change his name to Arnie, but it never stuck.

We have always fondly remembered the day we took Barney home. We were staying with friends for the weekend 100 miles away, but rushed back in time to collect Barney before the shelter closed. When we got him home, he showed no fear or trepidation. In fact he was so thrilled to be out of the shelter that he ran from me to the OH and back again, giving us lots of head-butts and purring wildly. He was practically beside himself with joy. Our other two cats at the time, Fred and Percy, were totally accepting and barely lifted an eyebrow at the new addition.

Barney soon established himself as a lap cat and chief meeter and greeter. He had bags of confidence and almost nothing disturbed him. He was a little insecure though, perhaps from his time in the shelter, and it was important to him that he was top cat. Fortunately Fred and Percy weren’t interested in a contest and let him get on with it. Percy was out hunting most of the time and visiting the neighbours, and Fred was the most laid back cat in the world.

Barney was and still is, the ultimate people cat. With the OH working from home running a studio, we often had people in and out of the house, and frequent partying into the small hours.  We even had 2 lodgers for a couple of years. Barney loved all the comings and goings. He was always the first to investigate visitors and their bags. His favourite thing was to make a circuit of the kitchen table, talking to each person sitting there, and shedding hair into their tea. If anyone stayed overnight, he would seek out their pillow and keep them company.

A few months after Barney’s arrival, Percy died suddenly, cause unknown. It was devastating. So we went to the shelter and got Claude, a magnificent black Norwegian Forest cat. Barney hated him and set about making his life a misery. Claude spent more and more time with our elderly neighbours across the road. Things didn’t improve and after a couple of months we admitted defeat and offered Claude to Agnes and Alan. They were over the moon. A happy ending for Claude at last, and he spent the rest of his years with them.

Barney and Fred

In the meantime, we still had Fred, and we had also acquired Bob. Bob was a black Persian fallen on hard times, straying around a pub we used to frequent.  He made himself known to us with his persistent howl. Eventally we managed to grab him and bundle him into the car, and we had a full rehabilitation job on our hands, but that’s a story for another day.  To our surprise, after the Claude episode, Barney accepted Bob with no comment. So once again, we had a harmonious 3-man crew.

We moved house. The new place needed gutting from top to bottom. We lived in chaos and filth for a year.  Barney, Fred and Bob took it all in their stride. Fred was our very first cat from student days, and quite an old man by this time.  A year after the renovations were complete, he fell down the stairs (how? why?) hurt himself badly and was put to sleep by the emergency vet. We cried every day for two weeks. Bob and Barney were a wonderful solace.  For the first time, following a death in the gang, we did not want to get another cat. No-one could fill Fred’s perfect white paws. And with one less cat in the territory, Bob and Barney blossomed.

Barney supervising the kitchen renovations

So for the next seven years, Bob and Barney rubbed along together. They were never friends, but they had an understanding. Barney was never much interested in hunting or racing around the garden. So he was the upstairs and indoors cat, constantly on the lookout for a lap, preferably mine. Bob had daily business to attend to in the garden and in the neighbouring gardens. But Barney remained Top Cat, nosey cat, and people’s cat. As such he was a great favourite with visitors, whereas Bob could be quite timid and liked to go unnoticed.

The other thing about Barney which made him the coolest cat in town, was his total lack of fear of dogs. When he was in the RSPCA shelter, he was the dog-testing cat. They would put him in a cat carrier and walk a dog past him, to test the dog’s reaction, and thereby decide whether or not the dog could be homed with cats. Barney was not in the least bothered by this. Some of our friends and family would visit with their dogs, and sometimes we would dog-sit.  Not a problem at all to Barney. He would immediately make his contempt obvious. Any dog, however large, was simply beneath his notice. If they got in his way, he would box their ears. He would not so much as alter his trajectory across the kitchen to accommodate them. I have seen him walk in a straight line to his food bowl, underneath a yellow labrador. I have seen him sitting on the kitchen table, and swipe at a curious collie’s nose. As soon as our visiting Jack Russell terrier arrives, Barney makes himself comfortable in the dog’s bed. He will also make a beeline for the dog’s food as soon as it is served. Talk about assertive! And the other cats learn from his example, that dogs are nothing much to worry about, as long as you stand your ground.

Bob left us two years ago, and we have since acquired three Maine Coon kittens. Barney has been the ideal big brother and kindly uncle to them. He has calmly put up with their boisterousness and joined in with their games. He has also dished out a few clips around their ears. Now the youngsters are twice the size of him.

I have often felt bad that I’ve never had enough time to sit down for long enough to provide a good lap for Barney. He would love to sit on my lap all day and I’m always moving him off. Would he have preferred an elderly couple and 12 hours a day of lap time? I’ve also felt that he has lived somewhat in the shadow of Bob, and then the kittens. But he has always been there, through so many changes, and he has shown me nothing but love and adoration, bordering on the possessive. He is the cornerstone of our feline crew. He goes all the way back to our very first cat Fred, and the snow-white brothers Sylvester and Percy, and Claude, and Bob, all now departed. He is the Gatekeeper and he links them all.

Barney has been in ill health for a year and living on borrowed time for the last few weeks. Several times we have thought, oh no, this must be the end of the road for him, only to see him bounce back. Still he keeps going. But soon he will tell me he’s had enough, and I will be there for him, when the time comes.

Till next time,

L x

The Cinnamon Trust

I have never owned a dog. But I love their company so I am an occasional dog-sitter for friends. I am also a volunteer dog-walker for The Cinnamon Trust. This is a UK charity which helps the elderly or terminally ill to look after their pets. Their many wonderful services are detailed here.

Imagine that you have become ill and you can’t walk your dog any more. Or take him to the vet. You can’t drive a car any more and your mobility is restricted. What is the effect on your pet? Their quality of life suffers yet you can’t bear to part with them. It may even be your pet who is keeping you going every day. The stress and anxiety this causes could make you even more ill.  Not everyone has friends and family nearby to support them.

A call to the Cinnamon Trust will get you a friendly volunteer in no time. They will walk your dog, take your pet to the vet, give your pet its medication, and provide temporary foster care for your cat or your dog if you have to go into hospital. You can leave your pet to the Cinnamon Trust in your will, giving you peace of mind that when you are gone, your pet will be well looked-after, either at one of their pet homes or with a long-term foster family.

The Cinnamon Trust understands the bond that exists between people and their pets. They know how traumatic it is, for the person and the pet, when they are forced to separate due to old age or long term illness. They have spearheaded a campaign for more care homes to accept residents with their pets. They have compiled a list of pet-friendly residential care homes, which is growing each year, so that people in that situation may not have to part with their best friend.

When my Grandmother-in-law broke her hip and went into residential care, she had to leave behind her beloved cat Susie. To us, Susie was a cantankerous old moggie who used to give you a nip without warning. But to Nana B, she was wonderful. Every time we visited Nana B in the home, she would say how much she missed Susie. She could still remember how soft Susie’s fur was, and what it felt like to have Susie on her lap. Nana B was 92 and we all knew it was Susie who had kept her going for so long. Susie was an old lady too and she had gone to live with our friends nearby, where she had a fine time terrorising the neighbourhood in her twilight years. But that was no good to Nana B, who just wanted to spend her last days with her companion. She was too frail to be moved and animals were not allowed in the home. It broke her heart, and mine too. I hope I am never in a similar situation. If I end up in a care home, it would mean the world to me to have my cat with me.

I am walking two West Highland terriers once a week for Ken. I really look forward to our walks.  The dogs are as keen as mustard to go to the park. They are very nicely-behaved towards other dogs and people. Having said that, I haven’t let them off the lead yet because I’m terrified they won’t come back to me. But Ken says I shouldn’t worry. As long as I’ve got their doggy treats, they’ll come back all right. He wants them to have a good run about off the lead. Maybe next week I’ll give it a try.

Here they are:

They had just been bathed and groomed and they looked gorgeous! It was a beautiful warm evening and I took them up to the local park on the hills where there is a fabulous view. It’s a great place to watch the sunset.

Till next time,

Lx