The following is the story of the decline and death (euthanasia) of my cat Tweaks, on April 30, 2018. During my grieving process, I found other people’s stories of their own pet’s deaths, declines, and poetry about animal deaths helped me to grieve the loss of my own beloved cat.

It is in that spirit that I have posted my own story. When another of my cats, Apricot, died in 2014, I recounted her death as well. I had previously hidden that post (after feeling ashamed, although I’m not sure why) but, after grieving, and realizing that sharing these stories can help others, I made it public again.

 

On April 30, 2018, (a Monday), I attempted to load my incredibly weak and sick cat, Tweaks, into his carrier.

Even though he could barely move, he still had enough left in him to parachute his legs to make it as hard as possible for me to get him into the carrier.

On April 28, a Saturday, I took Tweaks to the vet because he had stopped eating the night before. I couldn’t even interest him in tuna.

After some blood work, an x-ray and a physical exam, they decided that he likely had a “mass” on his liver. That’s why he wasn’t eating. (Over the past few years, he had been gradually losing weight and becoming a pickier and pickier eater).

Tweaks on Sunday (pictured here) was very weak and restless.

The prognosis was “poor,” but the vet still gave me some liver medications, a syringe and showed me how to force feed him and how to force him to take pills.

I was hopeful that I could get him to start eating again, that there was no mass.

On Saturday night, I managed to get 20 CCs of water mixed with wet cat food into him, and onto him, and onto my clothes and the floor. It was hard, but I did it. I also managed to give him his pill. That would be the last time.

Sunday (April 29), I tried multiple times to both “pill” him and to force feed him with the syringe. All the attempts went badly but more importantly, I could see he was quickly deteriorating. By the end of Sunday, he could barely jump, he could barely walk and he was incredibly restless. Never have I seen a cat get up and move so much.

He sat on my lap on the couch a few times, for a few minutes, and briefly joined me on his favorite spot: half on the arm of a recliner, half on my leg.

Each time, he couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes.

I kept a vigil with him. He moved between the inside of the closet to by bed, to the floor, to the doorway, and then back to the inside of the closet.

A few times, he jumped on the bed, moving from his heating pad, to the middle of the bed, to the bottom, and then a few times, coming up to my chest level, briefly lying down before moving again, the same spot, next to me, he used to sleep in when he was well.

At bed time, he finally decided to move to the older chair in the office and he spent the night there.

As he declined, Tweaks kept on moving on the floor, on the bed, from sun to shade.

When I woke in the morning (April 30), I could hear a sound here or there in the house, but I wasn’t sure it was him. I woke early, maybe 6 a.m., but I was afraid to check on him. I was afraid he had passed in the night. I was hopeful he had passed during the night so that his suffering would be over. I was scared he had passed in the night because that meant I would not be able to spend his last moments with him.

He was awake, swishing his tail. I picked him up and put him on the bed. He continued to be restless. I gave him one last cuddle on the bed.

In the living room, I laid out a partially folded flannel sheet for him.

After I left the house, I texted my girlfriend, Michelle. (She was at the house when I came back with Tweaks on Saturday, after taking him to the vet. I asked her to go home. I prefer to be alone when I grieve.) I told her, if she wanted to see him one last time, she should head to the house then because the appointment was for 11:15.

When I came home, after finishing a story at work, (Monday was the B-section deadline day) (I left at 10:50. I had previously called the vet and made a 11:15 appointment) he was on the flannel sheets.

As I tried to get him into the carrier, this incredibly weak being managed to parachute out his front and hind legs, managed to make it incredibly hard to get him in. I did. I still buckled his carrier into the front seat. I drove to the vet, the AC on medium, the music barely audible, taking each turn, dip and bump and gingerly as I could.

In the waiting room were two other people waiting to be seen. We waited. And waited. I opened the top of his carrier (it was soft shelled) and was able to rub his head and cheeks. Up until I put him in the carrier one last time, he would still head butt my hand.

The woman next to me had a silent chiuaha and the man had a 15-year-old small dog. They thought the older dog might have had a seizure.

Of course, they asked if my kitty was sick.

This set me off and, through sobs, I said I was here to euthanize him.

They asked what happened, and I explained, as best I could.

The man recounted the few cats he’s had, as well as his daughter’s cat. One cat he took with him everywhere and he was driving to Boise, Idaho, when he let her out of the car at a park so she could pee. (He was driving a convertible). Nearly 200 miles later, he realized he didn’t know where the cat was and he drove back to the park, but couldn’t find her. He put an ad in the local paper, offering a $200 reward. As he was driving around, looking for her, he saw an animal on the side of the road that had been run over.

He didn’t stop, because he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t bear to know she had been killed. He never saw her again.

The man said he cannot bear to get another animal after his 15-year-old (spunky!) dog dies. It’s too much heartbreak.

My dad said the same thing when my first cat, Angel, passed away (from complications of old age). He told me he did not want to have another animal because of the inevitable, or possible, pain losing such a beloved one causes.

I got her when I was in the first or second grade and she lived to 19 or 20, despite problems with cat anorexia and bulimia. (In later life, she had her teeth removed because of the bulimia).

I left her in Carson City with my dad when I went away for college at 18, although she was still bonded to me. She truly became my dad’s cat after I moved to Germany for over a year to be an au pair.

This is tweaks in 2016. His decline was incredibly fast, as it is with many cats.

Finally they took me into a room and the vet gave Tweaks a sedative. With the carrier open, I was able to pet him as he fell asleep (although his eyes remained partially open).

Finally the vet came back, pulled him out of the carrier and into a towel, shaved his leg, dabbed it with alcohol, stuck an IV line in him, hooked up the barbiturate to his IV and plunged it in. (“It’s the same thing the kids are killing themselves with out there,” she said, which wasn’t totally true because barbiturates and opioids are different types/families of drugs and as the cops and courts reporter, who reads all the autopsy reports for Rio Arriba County, I can attest very few people overdose on barbiturates in our area).

“Take as much time as you need,” she said, before wrapping him in the towel.

Somehow, he was placed back in the carrier and, after a few minutes of uncontrollable sobbing, I went to pay. The vet waived the fee (likely because her fellow vet gave me a 30-day supply of liver pills when his life expectancy was closer to seven days, at a cost of $50) and I walked to my car, wailing.

Finally, able to drive home, I started digging his grave. The day before, I had gone to Lowe’s to buy a shovel so I would be prepared. Three-quarters of the way through digging the hole, the brand-new shovel broke, and I went back to the hardware store for a shovel that didn’t have a wood handle.

When I arrived home again, I finished digging the whole, went back inside, grabbed a polarfleece blanket and said my one last goodbye to my lifeless cat. His face was pointed away from me and I remember looking at his eyes one last time. The membrane had already begun to cloud over his beautiful eyes. I wrapped him in the towel, followed by the blanket.

I thought it was ironic that this one last time, I was able to make him into a kitty burrito, when he had so vehemently refused it before.

I carried him to the grave, placed him in, and then got a can of smoked sardines, a can of tuna, and one of the toy rats he so lovingly destroyed with his back paws before he started to lose his desire to play.

After cleaning myself up, I dressed and went back to work.

It wasn’t until the following Wednesday, May 2, that I was able to get closer to finishing his grave. I de-labeled 10 stubby beer bottles, cleaned them, and used them to mark the borders of his grave, to mark the 10 years of his life before I got him.

The plan is to plant some shade-friendly annual flowers on his grave, and mark the outer boundaries with a few more bottles to commemorate the years I got to spend with him and two blue flourishes for his eyes.

Now, each day when I open the front door, I expect him to come running. I walk to the bedroom to charge my phone and I expect him to be on the bed.

 

Early life

When I first got Tweaks, it was shortly after I lost Apricot. I went to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter which, if you’ve never been, is actually hard to get to, off of the frontage road of 599.

I was walking around the cat room and I saw him, and he was friendly enough. He was 10, a little old, but I figured that older cats need to be adopted too, need to be offered the good life later in life. Santa Fe is overrun with older cats whose owners abandoned them, moved away or, more frequently, died.

I learned from the staff that Tweaks was originally brought to the shelter, 10 years prior, as a stray. He was then neutered, chipped and adopted out.

For whatever reason, that same family (or person) brought him back 10 years later. He was still in the system, just, he was no longer a kitten.

At the shelter, they told me they thought he had arthritis, as evidenced by the way he peed in his litter box there. When I took him to the vet for his initial checkup, they said, don’t worry about it. He was never creaky, although he was cranky after longer naps.

Tweaks loved his heating pad. He was not a fan of being harassed during naps.

One of the first things I bought for tweaks was a bunch of polar fleece blankets. He was never that much of a fan. I also bought him a heating pad because of the arthritis.

If you have an older cat, I highly suggest you get him or her a heating pad.

This is the specific version I got (link to Amazon), the “K&H Pet Products Thermo-Kitty Mat – Heated Mat for Cats – 6 watts – MET Safety Listed”

I would put it away in the summers, when the house would get to hot, but otherwise, it would stay plugged in all the time, on the bed. He loved that thing.

I visited with him in the one-on-one play area and he immediately jumped in my lap. I took him home and initially gave him the run of the house. He quickly hid in the back of the closet of the house I was renting in La Puebla.

With Apricot, I had followed the normal instructions: keep the cat in one room (usually the bathroom) until its acclimated, and then let it explore. Apricot, unlike Tweaks, was incredibly head-strong, brave and rambunctious. She immediately wanted out, and also, she immediately wanted outside.

After a while, Tweaks warmed to the house and either that first night, or maybe a few nights after, he started sleeping on the bed.

I never called Tweaks my “little boy” or “baby” or “child.” I figured that I adopted a full-grown man. At 10, he was 56 in equivalent human years.

I always wondered, and still do, about Tweaks’ early life, and what he was like as a kitten.

Unlike Apricot, Tweaks did not really want to go outside. With Apricot, I tried to let her into the small fenced area in the back of the house but she immediately jumped the fence and went exploring. I would later compromise with her and leave a window open during the day and close it at night. In the early mornings (4-6 a.m.) she would bat me in the face with her paw, demanding to be let out then, after an hour of exploring, come back in.

Tweaks, on the other hand, he liked to sleep in. When I let him into the fenced area, he never tried to jump the fence. He would just sit in the sun and observe.

Later on, when I moved to Espanola, I did not let him outside at all because there was no fence. After a year, I put small fences on either side of the back of my house so he could be outside. He only got out twice. Once, he jumped over the 4-foot-high chicken wire and got into the front yard. The other time, he managed to climb the seven-foot coyote fence at night. I found him on the opposite side, unable to climb back up.

Well, here’s to you Tweaks. I might have only had four years with you, and I was convinced up until your vet appointment that I was going to have another four at least, but the heartbreak, tears, the hurt, was all worth it.

I miss you buddy.

 

Notes made during the decline

I watched Tweak’s decline and, as it happened, I decided to write down what was happening, to purge a little of the emotion between bouts of bawling. The following is those notes:

Watching Tweaks quickly fade, as he stumbles, refuses to eat, paws at the ground before not drinking water, is incredibly hard.

(Monday morning, he walked over to his water bowl and tried to so viciously paw the ground before a few laps of water, but there was no viciousness there. There was only his failing motor skills, exaggerated motions.)

Pilling him is incredibly hard and it makes me feel like my last moments with him (I am sure that whatever is going on with his liver will be fatal) are going to be bad, bad memories and he will die hating me, even though I am doing what little I can to save his life.

I’m upset that we could have gone the feeding tube route (internet research) but the vet never brought it up and seems to think that it will be fatal irregardless.

I’m upset at myself for, in the middle of crying, thinking about what I will do next, whether or not that’s a coping mechanism.

I know I’m going to lose him and it hurts so much.

On the afternoon of April 29, after one botched pilling/feeding attempt, Tweaks continued to move between the bed, the couch and one of the office chairs.

Then, I went to look for him and found him in the back of the closet.

Although I already suspected that he was not going to make it, that cemented it for me.

I continue to struggle, especially considering the 29th was a Sunday, whether I should try to seek a second opinion and a feeding tube or if I should just recognize that he has a mass on his liver.

One of the things that seems to help me grieving process is reading the personal stories of other people who have lost their pets (cats or dogs) to old age or sickness.

Reading poems about lost pets and the grieving process also seems to be helping. It triggers more emotions, but I feel better afterward. Assisted grieving. Triggered grieving.

 

Some memories

I wanted to share a few memories of Tweaks, especially before they fall victim to time.

Given a whole couch to sit on, Tweaks would seek out the newsprint.

One of Tweaks’ favorite things was to sit on paper.

It was weird. I never understood why.

I guess it’s good that I work as a newspaper reporter.

Tweaks really liked sitting on paper. Newspaper, sketching paper, glossy paper, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if it was on a couch, a lap, a table, the floor. He wanted to sit on paper.

Tweaks had a cat tree and usually when I’d get home in the evening, he would be on the cat tree, staring at the window. As soon as he made eye contact, he would start meowing at me. I could see his jaw moving, even if I couldn’t hear him.

He was a people kitty.

When I had one of the interns from work over, before we went out to La Madera to canvas for a story, he immediately jumped on Jacob’s lap.

Later on, when my dad came to visit, he would stay in the bedroom. I never figured out why he liked Jacob so much.

For a phone, I use Android. (Specifically, an HTC One M8, which is now very old).

For my personal computers, I use Windows.

At work, I use a MacMini.

For reading, I use a Kindle Paperwhite (which I cannot recommend enough).

That is to say, I’m not an Apple fan. But, since I’ve recently started reading graphic novels, I realized that my Kindle Paperwhite was just not big enough. After practically putting the (300 DPI) screen on my eyeballs to read dialogue, I decided it was time to invest in a better comic reader.

All of my Internet research pointed me to the iPad (3 or above) with its Retina screen. The only comparable Android tablets either received terrible reviews or were extremely expensive.

At first, I was reluctnant to go down the Apple path but, at $90-$100 on Swappa, I decided to take the plunge with an iPad 3.

After unwrapping it and updating I realized there is one major problem: Apple prevents anyone with iPads 3 and under from downloading all the major apps by demanding you have iOS 10.0 or above, even though you cannot update iPad 3s or below to iOS 10. 

Google Chrome? Nope.

Amazon Kindle? Nope.

Google Play Books? Nope.

For some reason, this isn’t actively discussed or issued as a disclaimer and appears to only come up when you specifically search for the problem.

There is a work-around for some applications. You must install a legacy version of iTunes, add said program to your account, and then try to download it with the iPad. At that point, you may, or may not, be able to download the older version of the program.

I also want to take a moment, now realizing my error, to expound on issues with buying a used iPad.

The first place you probably look is thewirecutter.com, where they expound at great lengths about how the iPad is the greatest of all the tablets.

They do specifically mention that the iPad 6 is the greatest. But the iPad 6 costs $330.

For the rest of us, buying a used or older version of the device seems like a no-brainer. For a person like me, who wants to read recipes and comics, the choice is clear.

I’ll admit, I was probably naive to think that an Apple device would function relatively the same as when it was released. After all, my HTC M8, released in 2014, is still going strong. No slow downs. Few hiccups.

As evidenced by the the revelations that Apple intentionally slows down older devices in updates to make people buy the new versions, I should have known better.

I previously wrote about keeping track of records requests in a spreadsheet, something that I encourage every journalist to do. That post has links to sample spreadsheets and various ways of keeping track of requests.

Public records are not the only thing that you can easily keep track of with spreadsheets.

Really, the options are limitless.

For personal use, you can keep track of accounts and user names. You can record all your serial numbers and item descriptions in case your house if burglarized or your stuff is otherwise stolen.

Having serial numbers at the ready makes it much easier for police to recover your stolen property because of national databases.

But working as a journalist, and more specifically as a cops/courts reporter, there are a few specific instances where I use spreadsheets to make my life that much easier.

Tracking criminal cases

Rio Arriba County has a high crime rate, as illustrated by the cases I’m following.

When it comes to being a cops/courts reporter, I keep a bunch of spreadsheets to track everything going on in my beat and, often, to keep track of what went on.

I have one spreadsheet I use to track all the criminal cases I’m covering.

As you can see, Rio Arriba County has a lot of ongoing and serious criminal cases, although one or two of those may be northern Santa Fe County.

Although not shown in the picture to the left, this spreadsheet currently has three sheets: “open,” “closed” and “master.”

The cases pictured are only the open cases. Everything goes into the “master” case list, is then copied to open cases and, when a case hits final adjudication (either through sentencing or the appeals process) it gets moved from open to closed.

The spreadsheet currently has the following sorting columns:

  • Type
  • Defendant Name
  • District  case number (higher court)
  • Offense date
  • Status
  • Victim
  • Ancillary case number (such as the pre-trial detention case number, a civil lawsuit or restraining order)
  • Weapon
  • Magistrate case number (lower court)
  • Report (if I have police reports for the case)
  • Appeal case number
  • Date filed (district court)
  • Date filed (magistrate court)

As shown in the screen shot, type refers to what kind of crime was committed.

I include fields for the date of incident as well as the date filed because the date of incident is a field that moves with court filings as they wend their way through the judicial system. That makes it a necessary number when sorting through court records.

While this does take a small, to moderate, amount of time to set up and initially populate, it’s well worth the time savings later on, the brain-wracking when you can’t remember which case is supposed to go to trial in a few months and from potentially missing important hearings.

While I’ve still missed my fair share of court hearings, keeping a spreadsheet makes it easier for me to check on statuses of everything I’m still covering.

Tracking lawsuits

As the cops and courts reporter, I also cover lawsuits against all our public entities, including the various school districts, our college, the city (and its police department/officers), the county (and the Sheriff’s Office) and even State Police.

Keeping track of all those cases requires a little bit of data entry, but it prevents me from forgetting about cases entirely.

Moreover, spreadsheets can have formulas which means you can keep a running tally for how much a specific entity has paid out in settlement agreements and court decisions.

It also means you can make a new “sheet” or tab in your spreadsheet, dump in all the lawsuits that name a specific person (think of individual officers named in civil rights lawsuits, or all of the lawsuits arising under a specific chief or president’s tenure, or all the lawsuits that are whistleblower claims) and create a simple formula to add up all the amounts.

Keeping a spreadsheet of lawsuits (I break mine down into groups, such as “city,” “county,” “state” and “schools”) also serves the same purpose as my spreadsheet keeping track of criminal cases: it helps me not forget about cases.

Tracking death (overdoses, suicides, etc.)

Once a year, I go to the Office of the Medical Investigator to photograph all of the autopsy reports for Rio Arriba County for the previous year.

It usually takes a few hours to take the pictures and then quite a few more to sort everything.

Each year’s overdose spreadsheet has lots and lots of sub-sheets. I didn’t even mention pivot tables, and the massive things you can do with them.

Once all the reports are sorted into their respective folders and sub-folders,  I start adding all the names to a spreadsheet, along with the day of death, the year of birth, age at the time of death, agency that handled the investigation, the place of death and a bunch more fields related to alcohol and prescription drugs.

I also have one column for all the drugs the person overdosed on. I also break these out into another sheet, with one drug per row.

That spreadsheet helps me with a couple of different aspects of reporting the story.

When I’m writing it, it’s pretty easy to crunch the numbers of how many deaths involved what drug or what drug combinations (as seen in my story on the number of deaths in 2014).  In 2016, for 2015’s deaths, I did the same thing:

Heroin continued its trend of being involved in a majority of overdoses. It was involved in 17 of the 24 deaths, or 70 percent. Three deaths were caused by heroin, alone.

Opiates garnered an even larger portion, being involved in 20 of the 23 deaths, or 87 percent. Heroin is an opiate.

The third most-involved drug was alcohol, contributing to 13 deaths, or 54 percent. Alcohol-only overdoses were not counted.

Prescription drugs, including the opiate methadone, were responsible for nine deaths, or 37 percent, while cocaine was involved in six, or 25 percent.

Having those spreadsheets handy also makes it easier for me to figure out what police reports I still need to request for which deaths.

I can also sort the sheet by age, by drug, by date of death or by location.

It makes reporting the story much easier.

Sorting salaries

Every October, we run the salaries for all the entities we cover.

That means going through whatever document has been provided and updating/adding to our salary list document from last year with new salaries, positions and deleting employees no longer there.

Doing this is easy when the salaries are provided as a spreadsheet.

Doing this is hard when the salaries are provided in a PDF. There are a few different solutions, depending on the layout of the document you were provided, but the point is to get them into a spreadsheet for future reference.

Even if your paper doesn’t run salary lists, it’s still a very good idea, once or twice a year, to request them.

There are a lot of things you can do with that data, including looking for pay discrepancies, but they are really important as reference documents.

Not sure how to spell that employee’s name? Salary list.

Someone got put on admin leave with pay? Salary list states how much he makes and you can then calculate how much he is being paid not to work, per week, per month, etc.

Someone got fired? Salary list states how much he made.

Tracking award entries

If you’re anything like me, your boss comes into the newsroom and says that you have a month to get him your contest entries for the state’s annual newspaper contest, and you then scramble to figure out what you’ve written in the last year that warrants entry.

My contest entry spreadsheet is tailored to New Mexico’s better newspaper contest and the way my paper keeps its archives. None of these entries won during the 2016-2017 contest period. I won second place for news writing.

There is a better way!

Instead of scrambling in June or July, and looking through old PDFs, paper copies and your pre-production text documents, you can keep track of everything you want to enter in a simple spreadsheet.

You only need a few columns to keep track of everything important:

  • Headline
  • Date (run)
  • Content (story vs series vs photo)
  • Continuing
  • Other dates
  • Location (in paper)
  • Collaborators
  • Contest category

The most important part of keeping track of contest entries is to put them into the spreadsheet shortly after the story runs so, at the end of the contest period, you can go back and cull what you think are the best entries to submit.

In the case of continuing coverage, it’s very important to update your entry with the new story dates because if you don’t, you’ll be scratching your head and asking your editor who has the better memory for all the stories that ran as a result of whichever broader story.

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Only 4.0 license.

If you’re a journalist like me, you have a lot of records requests pending at any one time.

If you’re not already keeping track of them in a spreadsheet or similar fashion, this article is to show you how it can be easily done, offer up a template, examples, and some organizational tips.

When I first started out, I didn’t know much about record requests.

That all changed when I started working at the Rio Grande SUN. Now, filing record requests is second nature.

A spreadsheet for open records requests makes it so much easier to keep track of everything.

Since I’m in New Mexico, it’s a lot easier than most states. New Mexico has a very requester-friendly open records law that allows for free inspections of records and offers few exemptions for public officials to withhold records.

That does not preclude me from filing FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, requests with public agencies, although those requests compose just a fraction of my work. (My FOIA spreadsheet is just a copy of my IPRA spreadsheet that I modified.)

Keeping track of all of those requests, their statuses, when they were filed and all of the other important information can be somewhat easy, but it takes a little bit of organization, a spreadsheet and the determination to keep the spreadsheet updated.

As an example, I currently have 148 (as of June 4, 2017) open records requests. Keeping track of all of those demands some sort of organization.

I’ve only come to the helpfulness of spreadsheets in the past two or three years. Before, I always thought spreadsheets were for things that dealt with numbers. For everything else, I would use a normal text document.

For records requests, I used to just not do anything, other than a search through my email. Oh, how wrong I was!

So, let’s dive straight into the spreadsheet.

(Personally, I use Sheets in Google Docs, mostly because it is available wherever I log into my Google account. Attached at the end of this post is also an Excel version of my template as well as the example spreadsheet.)

Rows upon rows

Before I go any further, please remember, spreadsheets are a somewhat personal thing. I suggest you use a spreadsheet to keep track of your requests, but you should format the spreadsheet’s rows or columns to match what information you want to access.

The first row I use to sort requests is agency. This could be replaced with date, depending on your personal preferences.

Next is the date the request was sent. This is very important because it dictates deadlines and how late a request is in being fufilled. Plus, it’s a great row to sort by.

Everyone needs the first four rows (date, agency, documents requested and status) for a records request spreadsheet. Everything after that is what data you need to help keep track of your requests.

As an aside, when I send requests, I put the date I’m sending the request at the end of the email subject line. I use this as a sort of master reference point when trying to find the string of emails attached to the request.

I also make sure to put a very brief summary of the content of the request in my subject line. This, just like a date, adds another reference point.

An example of a subject line, which I condense for the spreadsheet:

IPRA – May 8 incident reports, supplemental reports, investigative reports, audio/video from incident & communications from — 5-28-2015

The next row is the request’s status, along with the last date  of the last status, if it exists. If an agency sent the three-day letter (mandated in New Mexico law) on May 1, 2017, then I write: “3-day letter 5-1-2017.”

(more…)

It’s already 2017 and I’m not much closer to finishing Jake Highton’s five-year reading plan than I was when I started back in the summer of 2013.

(Read the original post here and read the revised, shortened post here.)

I’d just been laid off from the Nevada Appeal, along with a part time person. I had the least seniority in the newsroom, so I was the one to get the ax and go on unemployment.

It was summer, I had a kegerator in the house and I lived next to the river in Reno.  I rode my bicycle up to the university to visit with my former journalism professor, Jake Highton.

Highton gave me two columns he wrote for the Sparks Tribune outlining the list of books, movies, music and plays he thought young journalists should consume, set to a plan of five years.

While I haven’t been doing much to finish off the list, I have made some progress.

At least two years ago now, I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Considered a masterwork in its time, I found a more critical reading of it took away some from the bluster it is normally buoyed with.

Although it is about environmentalism, chemicals, and the havoc we’ve been wreaking on the planet, I was really worried about some of Carson’s claims because they did not represent the whole truth.

I think the best example is her bemoaning of the havoc certain chemicals had on the lowly earthworm.

We all love earthworms, right? They’re fantastic. They do all sorts of things for the environment.

Except. Well, most of them are not native to North America, the place Carson was writing about. They vastly change the ecology, and according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, they’re really bad, especially in forested areas.

Farad Power Plant in California on the Truckee River

But Carson never acknowledges the lowly earthworm as an invasive species, or that it changes the ecologies of the places it is introduced to, or anything else. She only talks about how bad it is that chemicals are killing them.

While I certainly agree that the widespread use of chemicals is a bad thing, her complete and total lack of either understanding or acknowledgement of their invasive nature casts her entire book into doubt, at least for me.

As a critical reader, I now question every single premise she puts forth. I think to myself, what else is she holding back? What else is she ignorant about?

In short, her credibility is severely damaged for me, and as a result, so too is her book.

There are more examples, but, alas, I have lost or given away the copy I annotated.

Nonetheless, the only answer is to keep on, keepin’ on through Highton’s five-year list.

Since moving to New Mexico, homebrewing has taken a back seat to everything else.

12 packs and 24 packs, recycled, were the best way to store the brew.

I have 15 gallons of cider (in three separate batches) hanging out against one wall in my kitchen, a big bottle of iodopher sitting in my cabinet and a bunch of bottles sitting outside, behind a shed. I even have lactose and corn sugar to get those batches bottled. (I haven’t reinvested in a capper yet).

Unfortunately, with no dish washer to easily sanitize my bottles, I end up putting bottling off time after time after time.

However, when I did have access to a dishwasher, before I moved to kegging (which I cannot recommend enough) and I had friends to consistently drink and brew with, having enough brew on hand was a big issue.

Once we three started brewing, we quickly realized that we liked what we were making, that what we were making took a long time (relatively) and that we needed to be making loads right now for our future selves to have enough to imbibe.

(On another point, if you’re not kegging, getting enough bottles is definitely an issue. Fortunately, when I was living in Reno, there was separated curb side recycling.)

Another of our concerns, as broke young people, was how to maximize our dollars in comparison to our brews. That is, beer is great, but beer can be relatively more expensive to brew, so what about cider?

Cider was easy. Cider was super easy. Cider required less effort and took much easier to get 5-gallon buckets (rather than 6-gallon buckets).

20 gallons of cider in four 4-gallon buckets and one 5-gallon bucket.

So we started making cider, realized we loved it, then had a problem. There was no more cider left. Between ourselves, our friends, the people who lived in the house, the first five gallons of cider were gone in a heartbeat.

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21. If using buses, protect your stuff if its raining

The first time it happened, I wasn’t angry. I was just sad. After a sleeper bus ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang, arriving at 6 a.m., I got my bag out of the bottom of the bus and found it was soaked. Not just soaked. Sopping wet. Still, I shouldered the bag, moved my smaller day pack to my chest, and trudged toward my hostel, soaking my shirt all the way through.

After getting a few more hours of sleep in one of the hostel’s empty dorm rooms, meant for travelers who don’t get to check in yet, I opened my backpack.

It was the worst possible scenario. All of my clothes in the bag were completely soaked. Not just a little. I could literally wring the water out of each piece of soaked clothing. Worse yet, two of my prime camera lenses had been wrapped in the same clothes. They appeared to be undamaged by the water, but I knew I was going to be staying in my dirty clothes until the following day, when I could pick up my cleaned and dried laundry.

Before I go any further, what should you do?

  1. Wrap your clothes up in plastic bags if you’re worried about the rains
  2. Buy rain covers for your bags.

(Read the rest of the story after the jump.)

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20. Take other travelers’awesome evaluations of tours with salt

Maybe this doesn’t apply if you’re not talking to backpackers, I don’t know. Staying in dorms, that’s who I always ran in to.

Here’s the thing: it seems like most travelers want to be positive, nay, they want to be having the time of their lives and they can’t be having that once-in-a-lifetime experience if they admit that anything they did was less than amazing.

That means when it comes to the tours, either set up through your hotel, hostel or done through a travel agent, people often want the tour to have been fantastic, even if it wasn’t, to keep up the idea that they had a great time. That means often, you can’t trust their evaluation.

My example is Halong Bay, during my 2016 Vietnam trip, which I will write up in a later post. It’s supposed to be amazing! One of the best things in Vietnam, with the limestone islands and whatnot, dotting the sea.

Two guys I met in Hanoi had just been there, and done their tour through the hostel. Another couple had done the same. Get the tour! they said. That couple, two Americans, were doing the 6-month honeymoon through Southeast Asia. They wanted for experience to be amazing, reality be damned.

Later on, I talked to a French couple who have been traveling for a long time. They told me, instead, go to Cat Ba Island (slightly different name, basically the same place), rent a scooter, hang out for a day, scope out day tours, and do that the next day.

I decided the risk of the pair being right was outweighed by the ease of the tour through the hostel, as well as my limited time in country.

A German (right) cheers on an Argentine woman about to jump off of the top of the boat, Dec. 9, 2016, in Halong Bay, Vietnam. The limestone cliffs and palisades and the like can be seen in the background. The tour was described by others as being the best thing during their entire vacations. Taken on Dec. 9, 2016.

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19. Your feet are going to swell

Maybe it doesn’t happen to you. Maybe it doesn’t happen to everybody and maybe it depends on where you go and the time of year but, me? My feet swell. Pretty bad, usually.

Other travelers I met, I’d mention it, and they had no idea what I was talking about. When I researched the topic, I found that I am not alone which means you may very well join my ranks.

The problem is we sweat. A lot. If I’m wearing my small backpack (which I cart around my camera and lenses in; I may reevaluate my camera options for a future trip), in Ho Chi Minh City in south Vietnam, pretty much as soon as I walk outside, I start sweating profusely. Within 20 minutes, the back of my shirt (cotton, which is the wrong choice) is soaked through. Completely. Wring it out and there will be lots of water on the ground wet. Hard to get dry again wet.

That’s a lot of water. Moreover, that’s a lot of salt water.

Depending on the time of year, where you go and if there’s a storm, humidity could be through the roof, further adding to your sweating problems.

To the north in Hanoi, in December, it’s not nearly as bad (a balmy 80 degrees) but it’s still a problem.

What to do about it? Drink lots of water or sports drinks (buy the 1.5 litter bottles) and eat lots of salty foods/snack foods. You need to replenish the salt your body is losing through sweat. When your body loses that salt, and it doesn’t get replaced, your feet swell.

Here’s where the real problem is: you drink 1.5 liter after 1.5 liter of water, and you never have to pee, because you’re sweating it all out. And you think that everything’s just fine, right? No headache. No other signs of dehydration.

Except your feet. They’re swollen. They’re giant. Problem is all that salt you lost that was not replenished by that purified water.

That’s where the salty snacks come in.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it doesn’t always work at that way, so be prepared if they do swell, and don’t be too horrified.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

18. Wear a watch

Phones are great, except when you’re traveling and they’re confused as to where you are, or which time zone, etc. Or when they are low on battery life and all the electric outlets are taken. Or when you’re in the airport, for your layover, and you have no idea where they put the clock, you don’t have a SIM card for Taiwan, because you’re just traveling through to Ho Chi Minh City.

Sometimes, you want to make sure your phone is charged enough so when you do get in country, you an easily navigate so you can get to your hostel.

What’s better is to bring a watch that you can easily set for whatever the local time is, both while dealing with layovers on the way there and back as well as moving between countries.

This also means you don’t have to deal with either bringing your phone everywhere or making sure it’s always fully charged.

So, just bring a watch.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

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This little guy broke the bench! Go gasoline!