Monday, 31 August 2009

Bilbo's Next Host

Bilbo is completely exhausted, he thought Matron was sending him to the Lake District for a nice break in the country and found himself travelling almost from one end of England to the other!

A sleepy Management was persuaded to draw a name.

Bilbo is hoping that his next hostess will treat him with the respect that should be accorded to a fat little gold gnome and is looking forward to a civilised break in the lovely city of Gloucester with nipitinthebud. By the look of her blog she's a much better cook than me and has a fantastic allotment for Bilbo to explore, I rather think he is going to like the next leg of his World Tour.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

How do you know?

Talking with friends recently made me realise that I had never shared the detail of why we made the decision say goodbye to Ollie when we did. This is long and is probably mostly for my benefit.


Over the past few months Management and I had known full well that we faced the worst decision of our lives; Ollie wasn't going to get better but the age-related ailments which reduced the quality of his life were not, on their own, going to kill him.

As I talked about this to friends I was continually told "don't worry, when the time comes you will know" and that gave me about as much comfort as an ice cube in a blizzard. Nobody could or would actually tell me HOW I would know. I was tormented with the fear that I would call it wrong, make the decision at the wrong time. Suppose we called it too soon and deprived him of some weeks of quality time and enjoyment? Worse - what if we did not have the courage to make the decision soon enough and by our inaction he suffered? How would I know?

On Saturday 25th July, Cumbria was at it's best. A warm sunny day, just a little breeze, quite perfect to be outside. Himself and I spent the day clearing up Leylandii brush in the garden and Ollie came to help. Unusually he had got up around 10.30 that morning and spent the day outside, watching us, watching birds, and generally relaxing and looking quite comfortable and settled. He asked to go for short walks on at least three occasions and was eating well. It was a happy day and we all enjoyed ourselves.

As an aside, some time ago one of the 'barometers of change' that we agreed upon was that whilst Ollie was having "one good day followed by one sleeping day" the situation was acceptable, when this extended to 2 or 3 sleeping days between each good day we would worry, and when the interval got longer, we would worry a lot.

So, back to the story. After a great day on Saturday, Ollie slept nearly all of Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday . . . and you can see where this is going.

On Wednesday 29th we were in the garden and something happened to cause Ollie to bark - only he didn't. He gave a strangled half bark/half yap as if someone had their hands around his throat. This was immediately followed with him attempting to clear his throat - as if he was trying to dislodge a bone or stick but we knew that NOTHING could have got into his mouth that might be causing an obstruction. This problem continued - by Thursday his bark was little more than a yap. Everyone who has ever met Ollie knows what a splendid WOOF he could deliver - strong and deep and powerful - and loud; there was definitely something wrong.

We thought a growth - in the trachea or on his vocal chords? We will never know but coupled with the weight loss (below) our belief was that we were dealing with a fast growing tumour and both Ollie's vets agreed.

At the same time his breathing started to sound laboured when he was asleep and there was much loud snoring. He would also, for no apparent reason, suddenly start panting really, really hard, as if he was terribly hot, and he wanted to drink more than normal. However, my darling boy who spent his life as a picky eater was thoroughly enjoying a new food recommended by Rachel and he was eating with an enjoyment and vigour we'd rarely seen - whatever was obstructing his bark did not stop him eating and drinking.

Given he was now sleeping for 23 hours a day, the amount of food he was consuming should have started to show in his waistline - but he was losing weight. I could see the difference and feel it when I picked him up.

On Thursday I knew inside this wasn't going to have a happy ending.

So Management and I watched him like a hawk, and talked, and cried, and watched him some more, and talked and cried some more, and we knew it was time. Whatever was going on in his throat was happening very quickly and the thought of him having another of these seizure-type episodes and suffocating terrified us both. We made the decision for definite on Saturday morning, all three of us sitting in the sun on the balcony - Himself in the chair, Ollie on his balcony-bed of memory foam mattress and quilts, and me on the floor, holding hands, crying, knowing it was what we had to do even though it was the last thing we wanted to face. Our barometer of "good days and bad days" had been completely exceeded - the last "good day" had been the previous Saturday.

(taken some months ago, he loved this balcony - great vantage point to sit and watch the world go by)

That afternoon Ollie was restless, I asked him all the usual questions with trigger words - did he want FOOD? a WALK? to go on the BED? Nothing - until I asked "Do you want to go in the CAR?" and he sat up and grinned in the way that only a Beardie can as if to say "well hurry up then, get the keys". Management and I quickly threw some things together and we drove to Rannerdale.

You know the little stretch of road between the cattle grid at Lanthwaite Green and the parking at Cinderdale Common? I drove that stretch very slowly and Ollie was sitting up in the back, window open, head and shoulders sticking out as he looked at Crummock Water, Mellbreak, grazing sheep. His hair was blowing back gently and he was smiling, he knew where he was - it was a gorgeous sight, our boy always loved car travel.

Before anyone thinks we were completely deficient in the grooming department, this was taken on holiday in March 2007 and he'd been on the fells all day! THIS is what he looked like (October 2002) after two hours proper grooming (which happened every week and the tidy effect lasted about 10 minutes)

Back to Rannerdale - we only had a little walk - just to where the stream crosses the path but he paddled and was obviously happy to be there. Sadly, the usual noisy bark to say "Woof, Look at Me! Woof, I'm in the water!" was not much more than a yap followed by coughing as he tried to clear his throat. He didn't appear to be in pain, but it looked uncomfortable.

After a bit of sitting around watching the world go by and another short stroll we came home with a very tired Beardie but I'd like to think a happy one. I'd bought us some steak for supper - we needed cheering up but am pleased to report that it needed a lot of trimming (yeah, right ...) and guess where all those trimmings ended up. Mr Hairy thought that his new yummy food, topped with best beef, was very acceptable, thank you!

Whilst we have no doubt he enjoyed his little excursion, it completely wiped him out. He slept so deeply on Sunday that he appeared almost unconscious on occasions. Our decision was the hardest thing either of us have ever faced in our lives, but seeing his decline from Wednesday to Saturday showed us that "it was time" and I've got some comfort from that. Not much, granted, but a little, and right now I'll take all I can get.


So, to get back to where I started when I asked "how will I know when is the right time"? If someone asks me this in future I can say "we went from old, not terribly well but under control and with plenty of good days to rapidly deteriorating and the certain knowledge that if we did not step in then his condition might suddenly worsen and we'd have stress, fear, pain; a very unacceptable end. Something was growing fast in his throat/lungs/trachea and if we had not acted he could have suffocated". Only five days passed between the first strangled bark and a peaceful end. Anyone who knows their dog as well as we knew Ollie can tell when an animal is unhappy even if they are exhibiting no physical signs and we don't feel Ollie was distressed during this time, he just slept more. Much of the sparkle had gone from his eyes but it had not been replaced with despair.

We went to see Clare Welford, our wonderful vet from Millcroft, first thing Monday morning and she came to the house at lunchtime. Ollie had been given a mild sedative with breakfast and we spent the morning quietly sitting on the sofa, him sleeping comfortably, very relaxed. He glanced up when Clare entered the room and then decided to go back to his zzzzzzzzz's. Ollie did not have a second of pain, fear, stress or concern. It's our job to feel those things, not his.

I know we did right by The Boy, even though I haven't yet got through a day without shedding a small tear over something or another.

Wood-burning stove, part 4

Nearly done . . . but first, carry 150kg of stove into the house

It looks quite small when the crate is removed

Much time taken to replaster the chimney breast

I went outside for a few minutes and missed the final installation!

Sometime during the last 24 hours It Was Decided that not only do we need new curtain rails, but new curtains as well (the ones which came with the house were not really wide enough). Think we've found some reasonably priced ready-mades which will serve us well, in the meantime new rug needs to flatten and we have to sort out fire tools and so on.

Great frustration because plaster has to be allowed to dry and we cannot light the stove until the end of next week. We will be busy during that time because Management wants to strip the wallpaper from the whole of that wall and paint it all, not just the chimney. He's right, of course.

(Little note for SewAli and the Lumberjack - it is a Stovax Huntingdon 30)

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Wood-burning stove, part 3

After the demolition, now the re-building.

On the schedule for today was a lime render in the fireplace, a cement-based undercoat on the chimney breast, and TA DA fitting the slate hearth.

Top coats of plaster tomorrow and the Stove is due to be fitted but we have been told that we can't use it for 5 - 8 days until the plaster is dry. Oh boo hoo - right now it is cold, wet, windy - absolutely the right weather for lighting a wood burning stove and all we can do for the first week is look at it!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

If wishes were horses -

then beggars would ride, and when I hear Ollie walk into the study I'd see him behind me when I turn around.

But that is not going to happen.

I find myself just sitting, and if you know me then you know that "just sitting" isn’t something that happens often, if at all. I've been trying to keep busy and occasionally succeeding but I cannot seem to concentrate or settle to anything. I've taken advantage of the inability to focus by trying to complete small stuff.

Apart from messing around aimlessly in the garden (cutting grass doesn't require much mental input) I quilted and bound the four "mini quilts" made from yellow strips. Two of them now live with SewAli and the other two are waiting to be wrapped and on their way to a new home.

Some small pieces of quilted fabric have been turned into book covers and I'm pleased with how they've come out. I'd like to think I will create some more as Christmas presents but there is always a good chance that won't happen.

I've attached binding to the brushed cotton fabric which was quilted at the end of July. Sadly, Olllie never got to use this and I will have to give it away as soon as it is finished. Having this quilt around hurts more than the big pile of oft-washed ones that he regularly used.

Made three foundation pieced blocks which will become the centres of cushion covers. I love the crisp accurate results that FP gives but really need to do more of it to get past how slowly I work using this method!

These Drunkards Path blocks were made about 7 years ago but I couldn't find any more of the cream fabric and ran out of enthusiasm. Finally they are pieced together, I'll quilt it up (the pale fabric is crying out for some cute little feathers). It might become a Christmas gift, not sure for whom, or it might join the ever-growing collection of quilted Christmas items.

Three straight borders are a complete creative cop-out but it makes the piece 36" square which is big enough to possibly be useful ...

I left the county for only the third time since moving North and went to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. The show was a big disappointment as there were significantly fewer quilts on display than in previous years and instead of staying four days as planned, I came home early. The M6 was horrible, not because of traffic, but because I found myself pulling into familiar service stations and automatically parking in the same place as the previous visit - which would have been a journey to or from the Lake District (pre-move) with Ollie in the car; that was really strange and I didn't enjoy it

Managment is now on holiday for a couple of weeks so we will bimble around and do family things, and maybe even get into the National Park and play tourist!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Where in the world is Bilbo? Cumbria, England


Very confusing because Bilbo has come to visit Bilbo ... and he was not offended when comments were made that a nice slim elf would have been welcome too. He could not have arrived at a more interesting time, our normally staid and gentle lives are abandoned for travel and excitement!

On Tuesday, Bilbo recovered from his journey north and spent some time familiarising himself with his base for the next few days. Bag End can be a bit of a jungle and Bilbo is only a little chap ...

Dwarfed by the forest of Swiss Chard, our only edible crop this year (seeds from Mrs Flummery)

Larking around in the log pile

Camouflaged by comfrey

Checking out the Red Squirrel food

"It's a jungle out there!"

On Wednesday he settled into the front seat of Hattie the Honda for a 200 mile journey south and his first visit to Birmingham. He hadn't stayed in a hotel before but was a courteous room-mate and did not snore.

On Thursday he enjoyed the opening day of the Festival of Quilts, the largest quilting and textile event in Europe. No pictures 'cos there were no gardens.

Full of adrenalin he joined the party on Thursday night when we were entertained by Sewali, FatCat and her wonderful Lumberjack. Bilbo was intrigued by Lumberjack's greenhouse full of insectiverous plants and wondered if they were capable of consuming the odd Orc or two?

A quite amazing collection of sarracenia
Bilbo admiring some of the best hanging baskets he'd ever seen.

On Monday he visited the beautiful and often over-looked Cumbrian town of Cockermouth. At the hairdresser he declined a little beard-trimming but perked up at the sight of our wonderful Jennings Brewery, and - with apologies to Matron - decreed that Sneck Lifter was one of the finest brews in the land (as confirmed at the Brewing Industry International Awards in Munich).

He was very impressed with the walled garden at the Wordsworth House although we had to explain it was the wrong time of year for a Host of Golden Daffodils.

Bilbo is running off to sneak a look at the river, click on picture to enlarge, the garden is beautiful at this time of year

Not content with a 400 mile round trip to Birmingham, late on Monday afternoon Bilbo jumped back in the car and snoozed all the way to Bridgwater in Somerset where BilboWaggins and Management spent a short while helping Management's Mum get her house ready to sell. It only has a small garden which is very low maintenance and the heather is looking splendid.

Bilbo is now COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED. He thought he was coming to the Lake District for a relaxing break but has travelled an additional 1,100 miles by car. He'd like to continue his world tour but with someone who is not going to wear out his poor little legs!

Saturday, 15 August 2009


Every hobby has its own set of abbreviations and acronyms which can be unintelligible to the outsider. Stitching is no different and it was with confusion that I read recently on a friend's blog about PIFs and RAKs. I worked out PIF (Pay It Forward) but had to ask Angela what on earth was a RAK - it turned out to be a Random Act of Kindness.

Which is exactly what I received this week. Gob-smacked, lost for words, that doesn't happen often.

Angela has created this beautiful piece of work and sent it to Bag End. Her stitching is exceptional and her finishing leaves me in awe. The accompanying note says she started it without a recipient in mind, but for lots of reasons she kept thinking of me whilst sewing (poor girl!). Although not a "dog person", she has met Ollie and found him quite acceptable for a large, Hairy Person and she felt I needed a pressie at this time, a true Random Act of Kindness.

This gorgeous pin cushion will take pride of place next to the sewing machine once it has been down to Birmingham and met SewAli.

Normal Service Will Be Resumed

As soon as the weather relents and decides to co-operate.

Is this really mid-August? It was with great reluctance that the heating went on last night for 30 minutes to take the chill of the house, the wood burning stove cannot come soon enough!

Managed to get outside for a few hours on Thursday, cut half the grass which hadn't been attended to for nearly three weeks and, thanks to the aforementioned rain, has been growing like a Triffid. Also moved most of the logs which have been stacked against the back of the house.

Last week I was able to work over half of the front bed (next to the pavement), taking out all the large stones and mixing the top soil that my young helpers shifted with the cow manure that's been in situ all summer. We now have a lovely planting medium and I've bought six huge bags of mixed daffodil and narcissus, goodness knows when I will get them in.

Currently enjoying driving rain and wind with gusts of 25mph outside, wouldn't want to be on the Fells in this - forecast predicts gusting over 50mph today; looking forward to a weekend of sewing!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Wood-burning stove, part 2

More demolition today as the decision was taken to remove another two courses of bricks. This should give us an opening that is better in proportion with the size of room and hearth.

It also involved removing a LARGE amount of plaster (all) from the chimney breast. I noticed yesterday when vacuuming that a whole section had blown from the wall and if it didn't come down today, then it would have failed some time in the future . . .

Then a new lintel followed by the register plate (which was cut exactly to size on the driveway, very clever)

Then a first coat of concrete to start to tidy up the opening

Despite today's crew of Mark, Gareth and Adam being tidy workers (I was impressed when I discovered they had protected my car from the cement mixer),

there followed an awful lot of vacuuming and dusting . . .

Confirm order for stove tomorrow which will enable hearth size to be confirmed then sit and wait for a week or two.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Wood-burning stove, part 1

After months of waiting, mainly because we are great at making plans but not so great at actually organising to have jobs done, Stuart & Adam from the Fireplace Centre arrived this morning to begin work. I wish I had thought to take the "before" picture before I took down ornaments, pictures, moved curtains ( I am not as organised as SewAli) but I'm not putting it all back again just for the sake of a snapshot so I found one taken last Christmas (~must~ do something about the curtains . . . sigh . . . add it to The List).

In just five hours we went from this (I want it firmly understood that I did not choose any of the decor - it's what was here when we moved in)

via this

to this

which might look awful to anyone else but I love it - which shows how much I hated what was there!

Considerably less mess than I expected, although there are a significant number of rubble sacks on the drive. We covered all the furniture with plastic dust sheets which seemed to surprise the guys - apparently not many people do that, d'uh?

Looking forward to tomorrow when the register plate is fitted and the first coat of render goes in the fireplace, hopefully the replacement lintel too - although I have been promised that nothing is going to fall down I'll be much happier when a large concrete slab is supporting the front of the chimney!

We still have to finalise the stove we want and that decision will confirm the size of hearth. Hopefully we can do those things on Thursday when Management is working at home and we can nip into Maryport at lunchtime. The timing is perfect - even though it is early August the seasons are definitely turning and some evenings there is a definite "nip" in the air. We are looking forward to lighting it (or are we just looking forward to seeing the demise of some of that darn Leylandii?)