Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Homer The Brave

Dogs are such a part of the good life for human beings that I can't imagine not having them around for any length of time. When we lose one we lose family--and some family are harder to lose than others.

Such is the case with Homer, my daughter's version of "Marley," who for a couple of years made us crazy, but then, when he finally felt safe and "at home" became the happiest, goofiest dog I've ever known.

Well, Homer died yesterday, after a long illness. Rather than telling the story myself, I'll let her do it. This is the letter she wrote to the adoption agency after he died:

I just wanted to inform you that Homer, who I adopted 5 years and 8 months ago, passed away peacefully yesterday at the age of 9-ish.

He had been diagnosed with Leiomysarcoma (cancer of the smooth muscle tissue) in November of last year. He had surgery in December to remove the tumor, however it was too intricately entwined with his ureter and too close to his spine for them to be able to remove it. We went home with Homer on "pallative care", with the vets only expecting him to live a short time. My sweet boy held on for almost 9 months. 8 months and 30 days to be exact... He was a fighter and loved his life so much he didn't want to let go. My vets were all amazed by his attitude and his determination to keep on keeping on.

Sunday night he could hardly walk, and by Monday morning he showed me in his own special way that it was time. He was tired of fighting, and he was ready to let go. Two of his favorite aunties and my boyfriend came over to say goodbye, and we all loved on him for a long time before we took him in. His passing was a true testament to his life - he was pure love down to his last breath. He was surrounded by love, and even my vet cried. He actually had to leave the room afterwards because it was too much for him. For a dog to have that much of an impact on a vet speaks volumes about Homer's personality and gentle soul.

I just wanted to say thank you for saving him, and thank you for keeping him until he picked me as his mom. I loved him so much, and he changed my life.

He was the best dog in the world, and when I am ready for another dog, Lexee's is the first place I will look.

It's fitting, I think, that Homer is still the "poster dog" on the Lexee's Legacy home page.

We'll all miss him, but I can't tell you all how proud I am of my kid, who took on a task that many had already refused. But the only thing she refused was to give up, and Homer gave us many happy years as a result.

Image notes: These are the last two pictures Esther sent me of Homer; the opening shot was taken the night before he died. For things like this I'll be eternally grateful that we've now both got iPhones.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Been Hot So Long It Seems Like Cool To Me

With humblest apologies to the late Richard FariƱa, the title of this post has been running through my mind since the temperature dropped from 108 a few days ago to the balmy 103 of yesterday. The 1980 record will be tied on Friday if the weather holds, and even the smidgin of a possibility of rain (if the front along the Red River pushes south at all) probably won't affect that.

But this morning I went out to check the wreckage of the potager, and to get some photos for this post, and amazingly enough it was cloudy! Even though the clouds have now moved off, the temperature's only 84 (forecast is for 100 later) and it practically feels like spring. I may well be able to haul myself out of doors for a bit of exam-grading on a lawn chair when I'm finished here.

Unfortunately, the entire garden could qualify for disaster relief. I've learned an enormous lesson about soil and mulch, and next year's efforts will be focused on deepening and enriching the planting areas. My big mistake this year was to pretty much dump the chippings from the old woodpile onto the garden as mulch, without realizing that the bits might cement themselves together and form an impenetrable barrier. I've since busted up the mats and mixed soil in, but I've got a lot of compost-management (mostly occasional watering to keep the bins active; right now they're just sitting there desiccating) and enrichment to do before next spring.

Dead beans, dead tomatoes

The woody herbs are holding up pretty well, but basils, pepper plants (which have stopped setting fruit altogether), and eggplant are looking limp and sad. The tomato plants are going into the compost this weekend, and since heirloom varieties from local farms are readily available now, I'm giving up for the rest of the year.

What's left of the herb/veggie garden

My lettuce/strawberry pot, which has afforded me few nice snacks and pretty salads, is all but dead. The froggy rain gauge I stuck in there has been empty for weeks, but it helps me measure the water I add to what's left of the lawn once a week. The pecan trees overhead, which sported a promising number of baby nuts before the heat came, are dropping stunted little pods all over the place. Even the tree rats are discouraged. I've started putting critter food out for them and the neighborhood possum and raccoon so they don't start digging up the herbs to look for goodies underneath.

The strawberry/lettuce pot

But walking through the house in the afternoon, I've noticed that the heat is less oppressive, in part due to the fact that I haven't opened the curtains for a week, so the few degrees or relief are actually making a difference. The humidity dips as the day goes on (from 60% in the morning to 29% at 5 pm), which makes it possible to sit under a tree with a cold beer or a nice glass of vinho verde in the evening.

I'm actually thinking of hitting the Large Mart for an on-sale kiddie pool to soak in--although filling even a small one would probably cost a day's salary. Water prices are rising (with good reason; the drought gets worse by the minute and all the rain is falling in Oklahoma), and neighboring cities have finally put restrictions in place. McKinney ("Unique By Nature") keeps them in effect all year, which makes us feel pretty smug.

I just wish it didn't take impending disaster or serious price hikes to get people to conserve both water and electricity. But the folks who insist on keeping their central A/C at 75 degrees are seeing power bills between $400 (for an apartment) and $700 (for a 2500 square-foot house) a month, so the thermostats are probably being adjusted as I type.

Since I started writing about the heat I've noticed that my tolerance for it is rising; the only time I'm really uncomfortable is when I have to face the furnace-blast upon exiting my decidedly over-cooled workplace. Several of my students wore sweaters while they took their exams this week, but as they left the building there was a veritable strip-tease show going on as jumpers and hoodies came off to reveal the skimpiest of tank tops.

In a blink--only a month and a half from now--it should all be over. The autumnal equinox will be especially welcome this year, even though it marks a transition to what may turn out to be a winter like the last, with its abnormal snowfall and lower temperatures than usual. And then we'll all be grousing about how cold it is, and what the ice storms are doing to our gardens.

It may actually be enough to convince Texans that climate change is actually happening, but it'll take more than a few hot summers and cold winters to make them believe that they have anything to do with it. The real test of lessons learned will come next summer, when we see how many folk have installed geothermal heat pumps.

Happy Skywatch Friday to all, and think cool thoughts.

Post Script: About an hour after I finished this post, I went to peg out the wash and was met by looming clouds sneaking down from the north and west. The temperature has dropped 6 degrees (it's now only 90, at 2 pm) and were it not for the dead baby pecans raining from the trees in the wind, I'd be out frolicking. This shot was taken at about the same place (with less magnification) as the opening photo.

Advancing storm?

I'm not particularly optimistic about rain, however; I left the laundry on the line.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dog Daze of Summer

Anybody who ever reads the Farm is probably sick to death of my grousing about the weather. Last winter I was fussing about how Texans don't know how to handle snow (a fact that lead to abnormal numbers of missed school days), and for the last several weeks I've been on about the heat. My comment du jour is "I made it through the summer of 1980, with a one-year-old, a four-year-old, and a VW bus with no air conditioning." I think I even had a tee shirt proclaiming the fact.

And we did survive. The four-year-old is now 35 (living in Seattle, where the temperature doesn't seem to have risen past the mid 70s all summer), the one-year-old recently turned 32, and the bus is long gone (most recently replaced by the lovely hybrid Vera, whose mileage is down to 52 mpg, apparently because of the heat). Mind you, in those days we had a well air-conditioned tract house, in contrast to the ageing bungalow with virtually no A/C the Beloved Spouse and I have occupied for the last decade, and I had no garden to speak of. Now, the potager that showed so much promise last spring looks as if someone did it in with a blow torch, and the lawn is a lovely shade of straw.

Of course, I'm not the only one harkening back to 1980. Daily Poop columnist Jacqueline Floyd is ten years younger than I am, and wrote this week about trying to survive that summer as a college student in Austin--pointing out that poverty is one of those conditions that weigh more heavily when the weather turns surly. My lack of air conditioning stems from my own philosophical peculiarities, but it's a choice. Many in this country are suffering deeply (and, yes, dying) because they can't afford the luxury of chilled air.

The "wallpaper" that currently occupies my computer desktop features a bulldog snoozing on a pile of ice. It makes me smile, and keeps my crankiness level lower than it might be. But since warmer temperatures are forecast for the future, it occurs to me that we really ought to start adapting to the change.

Training ourselves to endure higher thermometer readings is not only plain common sense, but it ends up having economic benefits as well. Setting the thermostat at 78 F or higher actually helps prevent rolling blackouts when the grid gets overloaded. Limiting the amount of energy we use not only saves money, but lowers the amount of particulate matter that enters the atmosphere and causes at least some of the warming.

It's likely that high-temperature summers will increase over the next decade, and unless we develop ways to rely less on energy-sucking technologies, we're going to find ourselves in a pickle--or pickling ourselves in the heat. But yesterday, as I walked around in the garden, surveying the damage, I noticed that as long as I wasn't taking the full blast of the sun I got used to conditions pretty quickly. Sitting under a tree wasn't nearly as unpleasant as I'd thought it would be. Granted, the kitchen's too hot for comfortable cooking, but if I stay there only long enough to fix a casserole that can cook itself (we have a well-insulated pizza-sized oven in the range that heats up quickly and doesn't let much of that escape) or throw a nice salad together, it's not unbearable. And then I get to go sit in a cool room and use my sweat to cool me off.

We've become a nation of sissies. We work in over-cooled offices and buildings where workers have to don sweaters to keep from getting a chill; we drive our cars with thermostats set at 70 F and then wonder why it's so bloody hot when we emerge from our commutes.

I'm here to tell you that if you set the car or house at 78 or 80 (and put the air flow in the car on recirculate), it's much easier to tolerate exterior temperatures. And even though 86 degrees overnight doesn't make sleeping very comfortable without air conditioning, it's quite pleasant in the morning, out of doors with a bit of breeze, a cup of good coffee (or a glass of iced tea), and a newspaper.

But the heat's no joke in the long run. This week we're set to break the 1980 record of 42 consecutive days registering over 100 degrees. The dogs are shedding what little of their fur they have left, and the birds walk around looking scruffy, "panting" with their beaks open. With heat comes drought, and water restrictions, so there's only so much I can do for them. I freshen the bird baths every morning, and water when I can (Mondays and Fridays before 10 am and after 6), but it's not doing much to keep the plants alive.

I do hope that eventually alternative ways of cooling us down--ways that don't involve building more nukes, burning more coal, or frakking for more gas--become viable. In the meantime, I guess I'll just order the new tee shirt: "I survived the summer of 2011."

Image note: The photo was taken near our house in Plano just before my son embarked on his first summer day-camp experience in 1980.

Other note: edited 08.11.11 to include a link to the new tee shirt; somebody beat me to it.