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The one thing I’m thankful for this #Thanksgiving

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Being thankful is like appreciating the weather.

When it’s nice out, you don’t notice the sunshine or tradewinds. You just go about your day and not even think about it.

You only notice the weather when it’s bad.

And that’s how I feel about life.

We tend to complain about or dwell on the bad things that are going on. The mounting bills. The hateful boss. The dead-end job. The sore back. The bad relationship you feel you’re stuck in.

It’s when life is good — when the sun is shining down on you — that you don’t seem to stop and appreciate it.

I’ve learned a lot this year about just that: stopping and looking around and saying, “Hey, Life, you’re not so bad after all!”

Sure, I’ve got problems just like everyone else. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in a couple of months on just car repairs. My computer got hit with a virus that could’ve wiped out my hard drive. I can’t seem to get my dogs to stop barking at the beagle who lives up the street. And lately I barely have enough time to fold clothes, let alone meet friends for karaoke or go to Pilates.

But so what. So I had to fix my car. At least I have one. And my dogs bark. Big deal.

What’s really important is this: life, no matter how difficult or trying it can be, is a gift. They are people in this world who are starving, imprisoned, sick or dying. And I’m worried about gaining weight or my barking dogs. It’s pretty ridiculous.

What I’m thankful for, though, really boils down to one thing: the people in my life. I’m grateful that despite everything going on, I have people who make me laugh, who never hesitate to help or just listen, who remind me all the time what’s really important in life.

So to everyone — from my childhood friends to the people I’ve just met, to my sweet husband and my awesome family and my three barking dogs — thank you. You have put my life into a better perspective. Turkeys and gravy for all!

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Hope you all have a great #Thanksgiving! Eat a lot and hug everyone!That’s what the holidays are all about!

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A letter to my sister

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Dear Crystal,

You are probably at IKEA in Portland right now — yes, I’m infinitely jealous of you — looking for a futon bed or something equally functional for your studio apartment, and I’m still in disbelief that you’re not fast asleep at our parents’ house while Mom is washing your clothes. (It IS Monday, after all.)

You are in Oregon. And you’re not coming back — at least for a year, as your lease would indicate.

You’re going to miss Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family for the first time in your 28 years. And I can’t just barge into your bedroom, you sitting at your computer wearing the kind of headphones we used to rock in the ’80s — when did they make a comeback? — and show you photos of my dogs.

No, you’re literally 2,603 miles away now, living in a state where you can die with dignity and legally smoke weed. You will be shopping at stores like Fred Meyer and WinCo and wearing turtlenecks and rain jackets. (Speaking of which, you better pick those up this week.)

It’s all too surreal.

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It was only the other day that you were this little baby, wrapped like Jesus in the manger on Christmas Day. I would cradle you in my arms and walk up and down the hallway, wondering what kind of person you would turn into. Would you be reserved like our brother or creative like our sister or, God forbid, loud and obnoxious like me?

Then you got older and soon you were running, not walking, down that hallway — you ran everywhere! — singing and smiling and saying something that made us laugh. Like sunshine streaming into our home.

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Soon enough, you were old enough to go to preschool, then kindergarten. And that’s when I started to see you — and the uniqueness that would always be part of your identity. It was at your school’s open house. Your teacher had everyone in your class draw pictures of what you wanted to be when you grew up. Amid the colorful depictions of firefighters and teachers, there was yours, a well-drawn illustration of a scientist studying insects. You wrote — and it was spelling correctly, I might add — “entomologist.” I think even your teacher was taken aback.

Even as a kid, you did your own thing. You shunned trends and forged your own path, opting to watch anime instead of Disney movies — though you did have a thing for “Cinderella” early on and we must’ve watched it 124 times with you — and wore whatever felt comfortable, down to your toed socks.

It was entirely my fault that you got into video games. I remember your complete fascination as you watched me destroy the bosses in “Super Mario Bros.,” barely escape the guillotines in “Prince of Persia,” and navigate the courses in “Battle Bull” on the original Game Boy. I could tell you were hooked — and there was no chance you would continue playing soccer anymore. (I was right.)

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You survived high school, got a biology degree, and even worked as a plant inspector for the state, checking produce at Costco and playing poker at lunch. Collecting a paycheck and bitching about life — you were officially an adult.

But you had always wanted to move away. You wanted to try living on your own, without any help from us — particularly me, who had suddenly transformed from the cool big sister into an overbearing, lecturing adult to whom you were unfortunately related. I don’t blame you for wanting your distance. I left, too, when I was 23, heading off to graduate school in Chicago. Before then, I had never been east of Las Vegas and, worst yet, never seen snow in my life. Our brother and I landed at O’Hare along with the second-worst blizzard in the city’s history. Yay for me.

And now you’re in Oregon — with that same brother who, hopefully, has better weather karma this time — shopping for household goods and boxes of instant ramen.

I’ll miss you, even though we didn’t see each all that often. And you know our parents won’t know what to do with themselves now that you’re gone.

But it’s good. It’s really good. You need to get away and breathe and live on your own. You need to complain about the cost of electricity and discover the irritation of coin-operated washers and dryers. You need to be able to shop at will at a grocery store and watch whatever you want on YouTube until you fall asleep at your computer surrounded by open bags of Doritos and empty Diet Coke cans. (Wait, we’re not talking about me…)

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It will be hard, I won’t lie. You’ll sit on your futon couch from IKEA, alone, listening to a strange silence you’ve probably never heard before — yes, silence has a sound! — and wish you could just walk into the kitchen and see Mom kneading bread while watching the Golf Channel. I felt that way when I moved into a small, one-bedroom cottage in Kaimukī at 25. That first night, when Mom had left to go home and I was all alone in the house, was the worst. I kept the lights on and climbed into bed, surrounded by boxes I still hadn’t unpacked, and cried. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life.

Turns out, it was the best decision I had made — and one, despite the thousands of dollars I’ve paid to landlords and property managers, I have never regretted.

So take it from me — the overbearing older sister who has lived through this before — you’ll be fine. You are on a great adventure. You’ll meet new people, eat new foods, see new things. Your entire life will open up — something that couldn’t have happened if you had stayed here — and you’ll grow into the person you want to be.

And who knows. Maybe you’ll love it and stay there forever. Maybe you’ll pack up and move to Paris. Or heck, you might even come home after a year. Whatever happens, just know, we love you, we admire you, we believe in you, we are rooting for you.

Just don’t forget to call every once in a while.

Love no matter what,
Catherine

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I have low dog-owner self-esteem

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The other day I was hiking up the dog-friendly Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail with my three dogs — we affectionally call the Ratter Pack — and I was reminded about a feeling I used to get at the dog park.

That my dogs aren’t good dogs. And that meant I wasn’t a good owner, either.

Let me back it up: When I first got Sunny, a Pomeranian-toy fox terrier mix, six years ago, I couldn’t wait to take her to the Hawai‘i Kai Dog Park. I was living in the area, newly single with a lot of free time, and wanted to socialize my little puppy as soon as possible. Once we completed the necessary rounds of shots and I got her registered with the city, I started taking little Sunny Girl to the park every weekday afternoon.

The first time I walked into the park, I wasn’t sure how Sunny would react. At home, she was super mellow and quiet. She liked sitting on the couch with me, watching “Top Chef” and eating fried chicken. (Remember, I was single.) So I figured she would be a little shy around other dogs.

Man, was I wrong!

IMG_0190She literally bolted into the park, running and playing and greeting everyone — owners and dogs alike. She loved the freedom, the wide open space, and her canine playmates. And it showed.

And then she started barking.

She barked and barked, mostly at the bigger dogs on the other side of the fence, trying to get them to run with her. And her bark could be incessant if she wasn’t getting her way.

Most people didn’t seem to notice. But there were a few dog owners who would give me dirty looks, roll their eyes or make snide remarks like, “Oh, there goes that dog again.” Sunny didn’t seem to care, but it made me feel badly.

I kept thinking, “Is my dog really that bad?” “What does that say about me?” “Am I a bad dog owner?”

I tried to stop her from barking, which was frustrating, and other dog owners could tell how stressed out this was making me. My new friends at the dog park would tell me to let it go, she’s just barking, who cares? But I did. I didn’t like people judging me — or my dog, for that matter — by her fairly innocuous behavior at the park. She wasn’t biting any dogs, she didn’t play aggressively. In fact, she was just barking — to get other dogs to play. I knew she wasn’t a bad dog, but I kept feeling other people thought she was, and it was really getting to me.

Once, a man walked into the other park, the one for larger dogs, and Sunny started barking at his pooch, a very relaxed English bulldog. I was embarrassed. I ran over and tried to grab Sunny — she’s quick, I gotta say — and apologized over and over again to the man. He just smiled and waved his hand. “It’s what dogs do,” he said. “They bark. It’s a dog park. Let ‘em bark.”

That made me feel instantly better, to have someone — a stranger — tell me what I’ve been thinking all along: What’s the harm?

IMG_8607It’s taken years to get over that feeling that I’m not a good dog owner. I know that I am. I take them walking every day. We hike at least twice a week. We go to the beach, they get bathed weekly, I feed them healthier food than I eat myself.

Still, the looks and remarks can hurt.

As we were walking down the trail, we met up with a large pit bull mix and his owner. Two of my dogs barked at him — I warned the owner ahead of time — and her eyes just widened as we approached. She shook her head and mumbled something under her breath. When another couple approached us — my dogs were well done barking by then — she remarked to them that she was so happy she had a good dog. I wanted to both cry and throw my shoe at her head.

My dogs are happy, they sleep well, they play together, they’re healthy, they get a lot of exercise.

But yes, they bark.

They’re dogs.

Get over it.

At least, that’s what I have to tell myself.

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Today’s Happy Shot — and why I love my vet

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My husband and his family have been taking their pets to Feather and Fur Animal Hospital for years.

When we got married, he insisted I take my two dogs there, too.

I was on the fence. I really like the vet who’s been taking care of both Sunny and Indy since they were pups and the thought of going somewhere new — and trusting someone new — wasn’t appealing.

Vets are like hair stylists, dentists and mechanics. You find one you like, one who you’re comfortable with, and you don’t change.

But working with the vets at the Kailua animal hospital with ‘Elua these past few months have really changed my mind.

There aren’t many clinics that have vets who know how to treat and care for birds and exotic animals. But Drs. Kirk Ayling and Mina Khoii were both knowledgable and compassionate in how we handled ‘Elua’s ailing health. They both plainly laid out our options and explained each scenario so we could make the best choice for our bird. It made me feel a ton better knowing ‘Elua was here with these two.

When my husband and I went to the hospital to say goodbye to ‘Elua, Dr. Khoii, who has worked as an associate veterinarian at the Honolulu Zoo and has handled plenty of chickens there, went over exactly what would happen when we put down our bird. She said that since the infection caused fluid build-up in her belly, she couldn’t inject the euthanizing drug there. (Usually, it can be injected in the belly and we could have held her while she died.) Instead, she had to administer the drug in her wing, so we could only stand by and watch.

Dr. Khoii was sympathetic and kind. I could tell euthanizing animals — not matter how humane — wasn’t her favorite thing. But she kept reminding us that this was the most compassionate choice for ‘Elua.

She brought in a box of Kleenex for us and let us spend a few minutes with ‘Elua after. We could even leave out the back door to avoid the sympathetic stares and concerned looks on the faces of the folks in the waiting area.

It wasn’t easy, but Dr. Khoii made us feel good — well, as good as could feel — about our decision.

And then, the other day, we got a card from her and the staff at Feathers and Fur (above). And the card included a few of ‘Elua’s feathers.

It was the sweetest, most thoughtful gesture of sympathy I could have ever imagined getting from anyone, much less our vet. It rendered me speechless — which, if you know me, isn’t easy — and made me feel a lot better, not just about our choice to euthanize ‘Elua but to switch vets, too.

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Ode to ‘Elua

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‘Elua, our beloved chicken with a big personality and an adventurous spirit, died last night.

We took her in a couple of days ago after finding her standing out in the rain, soaked and frail. She wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t move. We knew it was bad.

It was the second time we had taken ‘Elua to Feathers and Fur Animal Hospital in Kailua this year for being egg bound. (That means she had an egg inside her that she couldn’t expel. Read my blog on that.) The first time we left her there — incidentally during Hurricane Iselle; she was back at the vet this time around during Hurricane Ana — for about a week. The vet drained the fluid in her belly, put her in an incubator, and fed her antibiotics daily.

We brought her home and gave her calcium supplements and antibiotics every day for about a week, slowly reintroducing her back with the other two hens when she was strong enough to hold her own. (Chickens notoriously pick on the weaker in the flock.) And for a while there, she looked fine. She was healthy enough to jump into the hutch and was eating with the others. I had no idea she was suffering.

I’m not sure how long she had been sick. I noticed she was acting a bit strange on Friday when she didn’t jump into the hutch to eat. She stood outside in the mud, her red crown flopped over, just looking at me. I poured some chicken feed into my hand and let her eat out of my outstretched palm.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we found her, standing near the banana trees, confused and disoriented, that we knew she was really sick. We rushed her to the vet.

‘Elua tried to pull through. She just wasn’t strong enough. The infection ran rampant through her belly, making it difficult for her to stand, breath or digest anything, including the medication she desperately needed.

She was suffering — and we had to make a choice.

My husband called me in the morning and told me the prognosis. It wasn’t good. We could keep ‘Elua at the hospital indefinitely, but she likely would never get better.

I have never put down an animal before. All of our pets — guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, fish, parakeet — have all died naturally, as far as I can remember. I never had to make a choice about whether they lived or not.

There was really no option: to euthanize ‘Elua was the most compassionate decision. She was in a lot of pain and there was little hope she would ever recover.

We drove to Kailua yesterday to say goodbye to our feisty chicken, the one who would escape the pen so often my husband had to double the height of the fence. She wasn’t the biggest or the bravest, but she was the smartest and the most adventurous, ready for anything and fiercely independent. If she could, she would have lived in the house with us.

The vet invited us to stay with ‘Elua as she injected her with the euthanizing drug. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, watching her emaciated body twist and jerk as the drug circulated throughout her body and stopped her heart. I watched her chest fill and contract, fill and contract, until it stopped. And it was quiet.

My husband stood there, stoic and strong. But even he couldn’t hold back the tears. That’s what I love and admire about this man. He has the kindest, biggest, most compassionate heart for any creature. Even when he fishes, he’s respectful, taking only what he needs — which is usually just one fish — kills it quickly and humanely, and thanks it for giving up its life to feed us. It’s a special thing to be in the presence of someone who respects and values life so much, and he has inspired me to view the world in much the same way.

I cried. I cried hours later. Even in bed, watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Even as I blog. It’s strange for me, someone who has never had chickens before, to feel such an emotional connection to them. I felt badly that we didn’t see how much she was suffering earlier, that she was pretending to be strong and healthy. I know this was the best choice, to end her pain and let her sleep forever, but it’s still hard to watch her life leave her.

What I’ve learned is life, no matter how small or short or seemingly trivial, is valuable and worth our respect. That’s what ‘Elua and my husband taught me.

Farewell, my sweet bird. You’ll be missed but not forgotten.

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