Yogurt Pup Down

“Merlin has the brain of an 18-year-old dog,” said the neurologist, pointing to our 18-MONTH-old pup’s MRI image on the screen. He honed in on the large streaks and patches of white in Merlin’s brain, then showed us a healthy dog’s brain, which was mostly blackish-gray with minimal traces of white.

“His brain is shrinking.”

My wife cried. I blurted out, louder than I intended in the small exam room, “What? Really? You’re kidding me? No.” The doctor wasn’t kidding. And though we suspected there might be something wrong with Merlin’s brain, we had expected a tumor or lesions – an ailment that could be treated with radiation or steroids, not one out of a science fiction movie.

Our sensitive gem of a dog that we’d adopted and raised from a pup had a rare central nervous disorder, NCL, seen once a year at the vet hospital. It had no cure or method to slow it down. And no amount of money could extend his life or our time together. Merlin had a month or two left to live.

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My wife had noticed changes in Merlin back in October. A shy dog always, he now seemed more withdrawn at times and fearful. He now shook his head after stressful situations, like a tick. I thought they were hiccups. My wife knew it was more. But Merlin ate his food and everything else seemed fine. Life went on, but my wife watched him closely.

December and the holidays rolled around and I got very sick. So did Merlin, though we didn’t know it. We thought the changes we noticed were behavior related. He wouldn’t go on walks anymore. Every blowing leaf, passing car, barking dog and random sound caused him to park himself on the sidewalk or roll over into the gutter. During one walk, as the sun set, my wife had to pick him up and carry him back to the car. Darkness spooked him.

On a late afternoon in January, with the low winter light glowing gold in those the moments when afternoon flips to evening, I heard Merlin barking and growling in the bedroom. Not normal. Turning the light on, I spotted him backed into a corner beside the nightstand barking and growling at nothing. He snarled and whipped his head from side to side, hitting the wall, as if trying to shake the grasp of a phantom.

I coaxed him out of the bedroom and got him to stop for few minutes when I spoke to him or fed him a treat or dinner. But it continued, on and off, for a couple more hours. Normal behavior and normal dog for a few minutes, followed by the head shaking.

At the vet the next morning, we showed her video of Merlin and explained his behavior over the last month. This isn’t normal, she said bluntly, and yet had no idea what it was. She recommended seeing a behaviorist first, then possibly a neurologist. We should have skipped right to the neurologist.

During our rapid “discovery period” of Merlin’s illness, my wife sensed Merlin was having vision problems. So, with the behaviorist a distant option, I made an appointment with an eye specialist. Across the valley, I drove, through a monsoon and rain-filled freeway cluttered with blowing trash and the shattered remains of Christmas trees someone didn’t secure to their truck, to discover Merlin was going blind.

But not because his eyes were bad, or not reacting to different colored lights and other tests that I never knew existed for a dog, but because the signals from his eyes weren’t reaching his brain. His optic nerve ignored the information, which is a central nervous system disorder, and not the news I expected or wanted.

The vet explained in detail, but my mind traveled somewhere else at that moment – to the realization a tidal wave of grief was rolling my way and there was no running or hiding from it.

The vet’s advice: Get the “first available appointment” with a neurologist.

Several days later, we dropped Merlin off for an MRI and spinal tap and waited for the news. We knew it was bad when they called and said they performed the MRI but not the spinal tap and the doctor needed to see us later that day. We knew what the MRI images would reveal without seeing them – an abrupt change to our lives, a shock to our hearts, and doom and gloom.

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My wife loves dogs. She feeds them, walks them, and gives them more attention than I get from her. Yes, jealousy. And they depend on her and love her in return. It’s something to see, this bond. And my teenage daughter mirrors my wife in her love of the pups.

Now if owning dogs has opened my eyes to anything, it’s why we don’t allow euthanasia for humans in most states. Who wants to make that decision? It’s horrible and gut-wrenching with dogs. I can’t imagine what it would be like with a human. How long do you wait to do it? What’s the best timing? What’s best for you? How much suffering will everyone endure during the process of deciding?

You hope and pray you’re doing the right thing. And then you live with the choice you made and the memory of the last moments. Forever.

We made the decision to euthanize Merlin. We didn’t want to see him suffer the long seizures, or swing his head into another wall or piece of furniture. Or growl at us, or bite unintentionally. He’d already started not to recognize us. And we didn’t want to him to live in our memories that way.

I remember each dog I’ve taken to the vet for the their last visit. Mocha, our chocolate lab, age 14. It took two shots to end her life. She retrieved anything you threw, was a strong hunting dog, and slept next to my wife’s pregnant stomach at night. Harley, age 15, an all-black, low-key chow mix who was there when we brought our daughter home from the hospital after she was born, and who shared many of her childhood years. Then there was Luna, our magical yellow lab, age 8, cancer, who could read my wife’s mind and who was the most balanced and lovable of our dogs.

I live with the memories of these endings.

With Merlin, I held it together pretty well and compartmentalized the grief while I could. My daughter and wife, well, reality crushed them. Grief and love for Merlin teeter-tottered their emotions while I watched from a distance waiting to carry out my duty at the vet.

Merlin lived like an alpha wolf his last week. We fed him every great food we could think of. My wife cooked him a steak and gave him piles of chicken chunks in his dinner. He enjoyed peanut butter bones several times a day. And he snacked on his favorite jerky treats whenever he liked. A king’s life, one might say. I surprised him with a full yogurt, not just the remains of mine. One night he hopped up and ate scrambled eggs from a plate on the kitchen table. Manners no longer required, my friend. Go to town.

Life was good, life was fun in those last moments together. But they went fast.

It’s a strange feeling not to be able to swallow. It happened on the way to the vet and I thought I was going to have a panic attack, the emotions of the situation bubbling over. Our sweet little dog. The coolest looking dog we’ve ever had. His end coming way too soon.

I don’t feel like going through the details of the last hour of Merlin’s life at the vet. They were caring and gave us time to say goodbye. The moment I’ll never forget is when they gave Merlin a sedative to make him drowsy and he jumped and placed his front paws on my lap and I helped him up. I spent about 15 minutes with him curled up there, sleeping, as a petted him in the silence of the darkened room, saying goodbye, wondering what it was about this dog and the moments we shared that touched me so deeply. I’ll never know or understand. He just did. And that’s enough for me.

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While I was on IVs and asleep, Merlin found a comfortable spot next to me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why I haven’t been blogging

Reason #1 for not blogging: Work.

And lots of it lately. 18 days in a row just ended. I used to have the greatest job in the world. My days were filled with creative challenges and writing. The key word is “creative.” Then the recession came and the first to go were the administrative assistants for the department. But the work didn’t leave with them. It flowed to the rest of us and we started wearing two hats, and in the process my job went from creative work to administrative chores. And, as the admin work has stayed with us and increased, my need for a creative outlet moved to other areas – like woodworking and upcycling furniture.

I’m getting better at woodworking. The number of mistakes I make during a project is going down. For the door in the picture, I used bird’s-eye maple and walnut on this door and finished with 7 coats of Waterlox Tung oil. I started with raw pieces of wood and cut and sanded it all myself. I learned a lot of lessons in the process but I’m happy overall with how it turned out.

You can never, I repeat, never, have enough clamps in life.

You can never, I repeat, never, have enough clamps in life.

Found a Fox door handle. I miss Fox. Who knows, perhaps he'll return one day.

Found a Fox door handle. I miss Fox. Who knows, perhaps he’ll return one day.

I saved a $85 pine coffee table I found on Craigslist. It was in bad shape, legs falling off and cracked legs, a purple flower painted on it, and a nasty painted finished. I stripped it, fixed each leg with pocket holes and wood glue, and used a homemade vinegar/steel wool stain to give it an antique look. I applied three coats of Briwax and now I have a very sturdy coffee table that my 12-year-old daughter can beat to hell and I don’t have to worry about.

More clamps. It took at least this number of clamps to fix each leg. Sometimes more. It was puzzle-like.

More clamps. It took at least this number of clamps to fix each leg. Sometimes more. It was puzzle-like.

I used my apple-cider vinegar steel wool mix again. Half is finished and waxed here.

I used my apple-cider vinegar steel wool mix again. Half is finished and waxed here.

I found a rocking chair at a local consignment shop for 200 bucks. It’s solid tiger oak, which is one of my least favorite woods. So I did some light sanding of the peeling varnish and used Chalk Paint and dark wax to age and bring it back to life. I was going to sell it but I ended up giving it to my sister-in-law because she liked it and I think it’s cool that she’d put it in her house. Let’s keep it in the family.

This is the "before" shot after I sanded off all of the peeling 1960s varnish.

This is the “before” shot after I sanded off all of the peeling 1960s varnish.

Making the world more colorful and saving furniture one piece at a time.

Making the world more colorful and saving furniture one piece at a time.

Back to blogging.

Walking AT work: My new treadmill desk

Sitting is the new smoking.

And, as of tomorrow, Monday, I will be working while I walk. Albeit, at the very slow pace of 0.7 mph, but moving and not sitting. And that’s what counts.

I’m now the proud owner of a LifeSpan walking treadmill, and builder of a homemade treadmill desk because I was too frugal to buy the fancy one that came with the treadmill.

This idea started when I read an excellent article in The New Yorker written by Susan Orlean about treadmill desks and the dangers of sitting all day. They’re bad, the dangers. In fact, as I told my wife, it’s more dangerous parking your ass all day if you’re a woman. My prediction: She’ll be using one of these within the next 6 months.

So, after weeks of reviewing treadmill ads on Craigslist, and having one sold before I could get there and finding another that required a moving crew to get it out of the condo, I decided not to take the risk of buying a dud with rat-chewed wiring and spiders living in it, and splurged and bought a new one designed for walking and working.

Saturday, I spent the afternoon building my desk. The first one I designed mirrored the one I didn’t buy and was pretty complicated, with lots of moving parts. So, as I didn’t want to spend two days building a desk, I pretended I was water and took the easiest path downhill: I attached brackets to the wall and a piece of wood for the desk. Total cost: around $40, which made the blow of the treadmill cost easier to swallow. Barely.

Here are some pictures. And here’s a nice page on the dangers of sitting, including some nice simple graphics that even idiots like me can understand. Sitting is killing you

I cleared out a bookcase and made room for the treadmill. These things are big and I have a small office. At first, I thought I'd slide it under my desk, but it was too cramped. So, bookcase to the garage and treadmill to the corner.

I cleared out a bookcase and made room for the treadmill. These things are big and I have a small office. At first, I thought I’d slide it under my desk, but it was too cramped. So, the bookcase moved to the garage and treadmill took its place.

I bought three brackets from Home Depot and mounted 2x4s on each. This way, if I'm not happy with the height I can take the 2x4 out or add to it. I thought about putting a cleat around the wall but I didn't think it would give the desk enough support beyond the wall and I'd need a leg or two. It's amazing how long it took me to find the studs and put the brackets in.

I bought three brackets from Home Depot and mounted 2x4s on each. This way, if I’m not happy with the height I can take the 2x4s out or add to them. I thought about putting a cleat around the wall but I didn’t think it would give the desk enough support beyond the wall and I’d need a desk leg or two. It’s amazing how long it took me to find the studs and put the brackets in, but I’m slow in the head, so it makes sense.

I bought this $22 piece of pine at Home Depot, where they've finally hired employees to help customers, thankfully. My wife helped out and put two coats of amber shellac on it. I added three more. I thought about using melamine, but I'm just a wood guy. Just am, always will be.

I bought this $22 piece of pine at Home Depot, where they’ve finally hired employees to help customers, thankfully. My wife helped out and put two coats of amber shellac on it. I added three more. I thought about using melamine, but I’m just a wood guy. Just am, always will be. (BTW, the sprinklers were on when I set this up for my wife to shellac. The board was a little wet and I told her it would be fine. I forgot shellac isn’t water based. Oops. She was pissed.)

Here it is, ready to go. Monday morning I'll be working and working on improving my health. It's a win/win. I still have some work to do with the cords, as one of my plugs isn't working properly.

Here it is, ready to go. Monday morning I’ll be working and working on improving my health. It’s a win/win. I still have some work to do with the cords, as one of my plugs isn’t working properly. I’ll get it all cleaned up and looking pretty. Or not.

How NOT to build a linen-closet door

Dear Linen-Closet Door,

I forgive you.

Yes, you fought me during every step of the build, but it’s all over now. I’m done with you, and you’re where you’re supposed to be, attached to a frame, and hiding towels and bathroom supplies.

But what a battle it was.

Respect, 

Unknown

When I remodeled one of our bathrooms, which was a crazy project, I built some shelving outside the door. This was four years ago. I finally got tired of looking at the mess and decided to build a door to hide it.

When I remodeled one of our bathrooms, which was a crazy project that took me six months, I built some shelving outside the bathroom door. This was four years ago. I finally got tired of looking at the mess and decided to build a door to hide it.

First mistake: I used poplar. It's soft and when I look at in the wrong way, it dents. In the end, it came out okay, but I would never use this wood again.  I drilled pocket holes and glued the joints. I probably didn't need all of the pocket holes. In fact, I own a router now so I can join wood easier than the way I did for this project. Yay.

First mistake: I used poplar. It’s so soft that just looking at it the wrong way causes it to dent. In the end, it came out okay, but I would never use this wood again. I apologize to Pine and Maple for not using them instead. 
I drilled pocket holes and glued the joints. I probably didn’t need all of the pocket holes. In fact, I own a router table and glue joint bit now so I can join wood easier than the way I did for this project. No more pocket holes for projects like this one.

I didn't have enough pipe clamps so I borrow some from a neighbor. I made another mistake here by not clamping the ends with wood pieces, which will keep the ends even and won't let them warp. Oops. Another mistake. And my door is a little warped because I didn't know this step.

I didn’t have enough pipe clamps so I borrowed some from a neighbor. I made another mistake here by not clamping the ends with wood pieces, which keeps the ends even and reduces warping. I learned this after the glue-up phase. Oops. Another mistake. And my door is a little warped because I didn’t know this step. Also, I hand cut and glued contrasting walnut plugs for each pocket hole.

After I took the boards out of the clamps, I noticed the sides weren't flush and has some mall gaps. So, I made a rabbet cut on each edge and cut small pieces of bubinga, rosewood and pine for the inlay groves. My daughter designed the layout.

Before I glued the boards together, I noticed the sides weren’t flush and had some small gaps when placed next to each other. So, I made a rabbet cut on each edge and cut small pieces of bubinga, rosewood and pine for the inlay groves. My daughter designed the layout.

I poured glue in the groups and we placed the inlay pieces. I added too much glue to the first joint and made the mistake of wiping it when it was wet. I should have let it dry and chipped it off.  Notice the inlay sticking up above the wood. I had to take my flush cutter and cut the excess off of each piece. That was a joy. I'll take better measurements next time.

I poured glue in the grooves and we placed the inlay pieces. I added too much glue to the first joint and made the mistake of wiping it when it was wet. I should have let it dry and chipped it off later. Instead I rubbed it into the wood. Rookie error.
Notice the inlay sticking up above the wood. I had to take my flush cutter and cut the excess off of each piece. That was a joy. Some of the pine was too low. I’ll take better measurements next time.

This was the most heartbreaking mistake I made. And I almost gave up. I was tired and impatient and decided to use the router by hand and not on the router table. Oops, big slip. Edge ruined. Goodbye overlay door, hello inset door. That's right. I cut off an equal amount from each side and a little off the top and made it fit inside the closet opening.

This was the most heartbreaking mistake I made. And it almost caused me to give up. I was tired and impatient and decided to use the router by hand and not on the router table. Oops, big slip. Edge ruined. Goodbye overlay door, hello inset door. That’s right. I cut off an equal amount from each side and a little off the top and made it fit inside the closet opening, not over it.

Ah, hubris. To think I was ready to use Tung Oil. It's not that hard according to the instructions. Apply it, rub it in, wait 15 minutes and wife off excess. 10 coats later, it got a little shiny but not where I wanted it. And worse of all I had to wait 24 hours between coats. Back to shellac for me.

Ah, hubris. To think I was ready to use Tung Oil. It’s not that hard according to the instructions. Apply it, rub it in, wait 15 minutes and wife off excess. 10 coats later, it got a little shiny but not where I wanted it. And worse of all I had to wait 24 hours between coats. Back to shellac for me. Or Briwax.

Here's the finished door mounted with four soft-close hinges. It came out okay. I'll replace the painted wood boarder in about 4 years or so.

Here’s the finished door after 10 coats of Tung Oil. I hung it with four soft-close hinges. It came out okay. I’ll replace the painted wood border in about 4 years or so. This project was about the lessons learned, not the finished product.

I originally had the frog heads up but then realized the door reminded me of Frogger. Sideways he went to cross the road.

I originally had the frog heads up but then realized the door reminded me of Frogger. Sideways he went to cross the road and avoid getting smashed by traffic. That’s it. On to other projects, like replacing a painted closet door with one like this. Thanks for reading.

Dear Unknown,

You suck.

Sincerely,

Linen-Closet Door