Saturday, February 26, 2011

The End of Indy's Nightmare

We got pretty good news from Indy's vet today. They got nice, clear margins free of cancer on the incision from his second surgery! That means we're done with the tumor at this time.

Unfortunately, his Mast Cell Tumor was officially labeled at Grade II Mast Cell Tumor, which is better than III, but not as good as I (which is what we hoped for). What that means is that the tumor is unpredictable and could appear somewhere else in Indy. At this time, there is no sign of any spread and Indy is free (once the staples are removed) to go back about his normal life and routine. We just have to keep an eye out for vomiting and diarrhea or any raised masses that may appear. The good part of this, is that at least we now know what to look for. If his mast cell cancer rears its nasty little head again, at least we'll know right away what we're looking at and what our next steps should be.

We love our pup - he is a huge part of our little family, and we are so glad that this nightmare is over - at least for now, and hopefully forever. :)

Jason shot this photo of Indy at the Kelso Dunes in January. We love it!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Surgery #2

Just picked up Indy from Surgery #2. They were as aggressive as they could be without causing "complications". The scar is twice as long as it was the first time and looks a little gnarly.

Indy can't really walk without a serious hitch in his giddy-up, but his skin will adjust.

We're praying that the margins will come back as clear, and that this nightmare is over for Indy. I'm sure he can't understand why this keeps happening to him.

At least he likes his donut. :)

Scar #2 -twice as big. Poor little guy!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spring (Life) Cleaning

I am ashamed to say that I have had a closet at my parent's house that has been stuffed full since I started college.

On Saturday, Jason and I finally tackled it. We needed to be out of our house for the day, and since my parents were out of town, it was perfect timing for us to take conehead Indy with us and do some serious purging.

At the top of the closet are two shelves about six feet long. Up there I had crammed about 400 scripts, binders and books on theatre. Ten years worth of collecting and no purging. The shelves had so much weight on them that they were bowed about 4 inches in the middle! Below, a dresser and closet packed full of clothes and a full organizer of shoes.

My patient parents have been subtly suggesting that I get in there and take care of it. For reasons that I'll explain in March, the time was definitely NOW.

So we started at the top with the tough stuff. Sorting through all of the theatre books, saving only the most important - RESPECT FOR ACTING by Uta Hagen, AUDITION by Michael Shurtleff, both volumes of the SHAKESPEARE LEXICON. Purging myself of hundreds of small playbooks, giving away anything that I can easily find in a library and keeping only the classics - Shakespeare (Complete Works), Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams. Then there were the notebooks - scripts/notes/scores from all of the productions that I have directed or choreographed in ten years - upwards of forty notebooks. All representing umpteen hours of sweat, agony, tears, joy - some more than others. We call this the director's book - All of the research, scenic designs, contact info, notes, blocking, prop lists, calendars that the Director amasses in the weeks or months they work on a project. These binders are heavy and huge. I cannot cart them all around with me for the rest of my life, so I only saved the ones that I am proudest of - SEUSSICAL, ALL SHOOK UP, DREAMGIRLS, STONES IN HIS POCKETS and the very first shows I directed all by my lonesome, THE STRAINS OF TRIUMPH and EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN AUTHOR. I went through every notebook, saved any important mementos or photos, and then recycled the pages.

It almost killed me. All that work into a Recycling Bin.

But in those notebooks, I found some things that made me think so hard.

The toughest one was a newspaper article from El Camino College, the "Rising Star" column, featuring yours truly. It was the Spring of 2003, tech week for the One Act I was directing, "HIVers". It was the week I decided that I would accept the offer to transfer to Michigan. I was also Co-Directing and Choreographing BYE, BYE BIRDIE for Starlight Productions. I was carrying 18 units in my college classes. I was working Part-Time at Gymboree. I was in rehearsals as "Babe" in CRIMES OF THE HEART. I was about to play "Polly" in CRAZY FOR YOU. I'd just finished playing "Sister Mary Amnesia" in NUNSENSE. I was teaching a dance class.

I was insane. Or at least depressed, even then, and in denial about all of it. And I was exhausted, but I would never let anyone know it. I was trying to prove something to myself - that I had "it". That intangible "it" that all artists pray they have, and that will bring them success.

And I was willing to work harder than anyone else - and I proved it.

I was a success in all of my endeavors at the time. I have been a success in all my endeavors since then, except the elusive career as a professional actor. In the five years since I graduated with my BFA in Acting, I've had lots of small successes, but never that job I could point to and say - "See? I finally made it."

I had this fire, this drive in me.

And for ten years, I pushed so hard that I lost track of the other side of who I am. The woman who loves to write, garden. Who misses her years of horseback riding. Who had friends who loved her for more than what she could DO*. Who valued herself as a WOMAN and not just as an artist.

*The comment about my friends is an oversimplification - even through all of that, I had friends who loved me DESPITE what I could do - some of them were my bridesmaids and I've written about them on this blog!

I pushed so hard that I burned myself out.

Now, at age 28, I don't know what my dream is anymore. I've gone cold turkey on almost all of my artistic endeavors. Giving myself some space and getting off of the hamster wheel. You know, the longer I'm off the hamster wheel, the less I want to get back on it. Maybe in time, I will. But I can't right now, not until I know it's what I WANT to do.

What I do know is that I've finally learned to cook. I'm mentally and physically healthy for the first time in at least ten years. I work in my garden. I clean my house. I spend TIME with my family. Quality time, REGULAR time, not whatever moments I can squeeze out of my too busy schedule. I sleep normal hours. I work on deepening my relationship with my husband. I read. I don't work on weekends or evenings (except during Caroling season, and that's my one exception - I still LOVE to sing).

I'm still subbing, but hopefully that will change soon. It's the only black spot in my world.

In stepping back, I've disappointed an enormous amount of people - who have only ever seen me as the performer, the director and the teacher. Who don't know my desperate yearning to read, garden, write, cook, love and find balance.

Even scarier, I've passed my old neurotic work habits and singular focus onto many others. People who saw me "succeed" at the expense of the healthier parts of my life, and have adopted that lifestyle as their own.

It feels like I'm starting over at 28 - it's my "quarter-life crisis" (thanks, John Mayer).

And I don't know what's coming.

But I'm excited. And ready.

I'm Spring Cleaning - not just in my home, but in my life.

It feels damn good.

By the way, at least 2/3 of what was in that closet was either donated (to the Goodwill or a library) or recycled. :)

Indy's Donut

Indy got his inflatable donut collar today to replace the cone he destroyed in three days.

It's open on the bottom with a velcro strap and attaches to his dog collar to keep him from tearing it off. The inflatable donut is covered with a heavy duty blue vinyl to prevent punctures. It's sort of like one of those airplane neck pillows with a strap and for a dog!

So far, we're loving it! He's no longer running into things (and the backs of my knees) and dragging furniture around with him. He's pretty comfortable and hasn't even shown interest in trying to get it off or check out what's happening on his right hind leg. Plus, I'm not going to wake up to hear Indy thumping the cone against the wall at 3am tonight.

As far as I'm concerned, this donut was money well spent!

Indy thinks so too.

Now if we can only get him to be still most of the time. He's a pretty active dog, and it's tough to keep him subdued so he doesn't tear his staples.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The C Word

My last post was all about Indy's lump. Yesterday the results from the testing on Indy's removed lump came back - and it came with the C-Word - Cancer.

Indy's lump was a Stage II Mast Cell Tumor. Stage 2 is the in between - it's not benign, but as far as they can tell it's not super aggressive. What this means is that Indy will go back in for more surgery this Thursday to remove more skin and make sure they have clean margins. They will also be checking his lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread or if it's solely located in the skin of his right hind leg.

There are a few things about Indy's tumor that give us some hope - if the dog has had it for months or years it usually means it's less aggressive. Indy's lump started about two years ago, and when Jason first had it checked out, his vet at the time said it was just a fatty tumor and wasn't harmful. Second, Indy's blood panel from before his first surgery didn't show any signs of cancer - which means it's more likely that it's just located in the skin of that leg and one more surgery should handle it.

Either way, we're grateful that Indy has no idea what's going on. He's just being himself and bringing us joy. He's such a funny dog with such a vibrant personality. Indy's almost impossible to keep still - we're trying to keep him from moving around so much so his staples can heal (Less important now since they'll be opening it back up this week). Add to that the fact that he's decided that his cone of shame should not be an impediment - he has virtually destroyed it in the last two days since he discovered that he can force it past anything he catches on. He's pulled some chairs around my kitchen already, and we just came home to find him in his crate (we're crating him while he's healing so he doesn't tear his staples when we're not home) with his cone looking like this:

Notice the damage from yesterday on the bottom left, and the new damage from the top left! He's a wild man!

Tomorrow I'll break down and buy him the inflatable neck collar at Petsmart to replace the broken cone. Since Indy's decided the cone is no impediment, it's downright dangerous to us - Indy will just continue jab those sharp edges into our legs.

We're just praying that Thursday's surgery will be the end of his mast cell tumor. We're trying to wait until we hear the verdict to make any more decisions.

You can read more about Mast Cell Tumors by clicking here.

Please pray for us and our little Indy!

Friday, February 18, 2011


For the past year, Indy's had a little lump on his right hind leg. It started at about the size of a mole, and grew to the size of a dime. When it reached that size, we had it checked out. The doctor said what I had suspected - that she thought it was just a fatty cyst that terrier breeds get (and yes, Indy has got to have some terrier in him). My schnauzer, Ripple, had one for about three years prior to his death at age 17. Indy's much younger, though, he's only 5. The vet thought that if we weren't ready to have a needle biopsy done that we should just keep Indy from licking it and keep an eye on it.

Poor, unsuspecting Indy takes a nap with Lumpy in plain view.

Fast forward to this week. The lump got bigger - about the size of a half dollar. So, we decided it was time to have it checked out again. Indy and I took a trip to the vet (Jason was working). The vet told me that if the lump got much larger it would be really difficult to remove it simply because they have to cut such clean margins, and dogs don't have that much extra skin on their hind legs. Since it was already so large, she thought that they'd have to knock him out for the surgery. Why not have his teeth cleaned at the same time then?

Poor Indy...

Close up of Lumpy the night before it was removed.

On Thursday morning, Jason dropped him at the vet where we had his friend "Lumpy" removed. The vet said the surgery went well, that lumpy came off cleanly and had not grown into the muscle under neath. It was solely in the skin and an easy removal. That's a good sign. Lumpy has been sent off for biopsy and we should have some results tomorrow. We're hoping it's just a benign fatty tumor. It COULD come back some day if that's the case, but at least we don't have to worry that it may have spread. PLUS Indy has squeaky clean, plaque free teeth. The vet said his teeth were pretty healthy!

The scar as it looks today.

Indy will be wearing the cone of shame for the next ten days until the staples are taken out. I shouldn't laugh at him, but he's just so pathetic and completely ungainly. When you hear indy moving through the house it's like thump, thump, thump - he's hitting it on everything and having a really hard time getting through doorways of all things. It's also a snore amplifier. I was awake from 4-6am this morning listening to Indy snore in his megaphone cone. He can't help it, so I just have to laugh about it. Something woke him up in the middle of the night with a bark. Indy then proceeded to fall asleep sitting up. I had to physically lay him down. Poor little guy. He was really out of it!

Indy in his cone of shame. He's also pretty loopy and out of it.

Currently, he's coneless and curled up next to me on the couch where I can see him and keep him from licking at his staples. The cone will go back on him tonight so he doesn't lick while we're sleeping.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Working towards Financial Peace

Jason and I are going through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University right now. It's tough and challenging and totally motivating.

Wait? Why do you WE need Financial Peace? Isn't that for people in financial trouble?

Like all members of the "Me" generation, we have been living paycheck to paycheck. Like most people in LA we are spending at least 1/2 of our monthly take home pay on housing (this is ridiculous - and our rent is CHEAP for where we live!). We have a couple thousand in "consumer" debt - not much when the national average is $9500. We both have significant amounts of student loans to pay off. We own one of our cars outright, and we owe $16,000 on the other one. And every month we make our ends meet and pay ALL of our bills.

We're normal. Average. American.

But what we call normal is really messed up!

When did we decide that it was okay to bankrupt our future so that we could have THINGS now? How come we have allowed the need for STUFF to control our financial decisions?

Our grandparents generation did not have credit cards - if they wanted something they had to save in order to buy it. There was no instant gratification of - I want it now, I'll pay for it later. By the time you've FINALLY finished paying it off - you probably don't even WANT that "stuff" any longer.

I don't DESERVE anything that I can't pay for with my hard work.

So the buck starts here. By buck, I mean cash. If we can't afford to pay cash for it, we're not going to buy it. If I want it that bad, I'm going to save for it. And we are going to focus on paying for all of the things we "HAD" to have before now.

That has meant less dinners out, no shopping for anything but the absolute necessities, and finally sitting down and WORKING a budget. I'm not talking about sketching out a rough budget and patting myself on the back. I've been there, done that. It doesn't work because you don't follow up on it. I'm talking about a WORKING BUDGET - one where every dollar has a designation and is "spent" before the month begins, one with accountability. One where we have an ACTUAL EMERGENCY fund (not a credit card) to cover the emergency we know is coming - like a flat tire or a doctor's visit. Is it really an emergency if you know that at some point it will happen? It shouldn't be a surprise!

We're talking about a radical take on finances - and when we are FINALLY finished getting out of debt, we'll be saving and investing in our future instead of upgrading our lifestyle. So that we can take those trips we want to take and pay cash. So that we can maybe someday BUY A HOUSE without signing our lives away. So that we can actually retire someday without the Social Security that we pay into but know we'll never receive.

We're working on it. Our emergency fund is growing every week, and we're getting ready to take big steps towards paying down our credit card debt. Emergency fund first, then debt.

And you know? Facing our finances head on has been GREAT for our marriage.

In four weeks we have saved 2/3 of our emergency fund goal and paid off almost $500 in debt. Go team!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentine

I love my husband.

I can hear you saying, "Good! I certainly hope you do! You married him!"

But really, I love my husband.

He has a beautiful heart. He's generous with what he has - time, talents, and finances. He makes me laugh every day - EVERY DAY. He sings to me - silly songs - and they melt my heart. He loves my family. He'll drop everything when I need him. He's so humble. He's so incredibly talented. He raised a GREAT dog.

This is just a short list of the things I love about my husband.

Happy Valentines Day, Baby. I love you more than you can imagine.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Joan Parker Hughes

This was the photo chosen for Grandma's obituary. She looks like such a babe. Someone told me yesterday that I look like her in this photo. I'll take the compliment!

We celebrated Grandma's life this weekend - on her terms.

After she passed, Auntie Ann found a sticky note attached to her will in her handwriting saying "Big Bash. 10 Empty Saddle." 10 Empty Saddle is their home - my third home growing up, after my own and my Aunt and Uncle's. Just as she lived, she wanted to go out surrounded by family and joy. So we did it up, Grandma style. No service in a church - we did our own service in the front yard of their wonderful home, with 120 invited guests. Grandma was so smart - she new that this wish would give my Grandpa a million and one things to do during the early days of his grieving process. Papa needs to keep busy. My mom and sister Kelli headed up all the decorations - bright and cheerful, reminiscent of her love for Mexico and zest for life. We had Mexican Beers and Sangria. Aunt Ann hired the "Taco Guy" to come and feed everyone. Yum!

Grandma and Papa in Mazatlan, Mexico where they spent a month every year. Many times we were blessed to go with them for a week. This photo is exactly how I think of my Grandma. Always at this age - so vibrant and alive.

We created our own ceremony, to honor Grandma and the life she lived. Everyone contributed something to the day, whether in the service or behind the scenes.

I started us off with "Amazing Grace" as requested by my Mom, Aunt and Papa. My friend Jen (who's also my cousin Brian's wife) read a bit of Scripture. My cousin Brian spoke and delivered a message.My sister Kelli shared memories of Grandma and introduced her husband, Jeff. Jeff sang and played "Danny Boy". My mom, Aunt Ann and Aunt Laurie (my Grandma's three daughters) each told stories about their Mom. My cousins Mark and Kevin played their guitars and harmonized beautifully, singing "Glory Bound" by the Wailing Jennys. The service was beautiful.

I cried at the end of my song - I was hoping I wouldn't since I had the advantage of being up first - but it happened. And my Aunt Ann and then Jeff joined in to get me through the rest of it.

Jason contributed in his way - he beautifully retouched and enlarged several old photos of Grandma, including the ones I've put in this post. Auntie Ann was a whirling dervish in the weeks leading up to Grandma's Bash. Mark's girlfriend Emily flew in from Ohio early and helped with so many of the preparations. Kevin's girlfriend Hannah came in from San Luis Obispo and helped in any way during the weekend. Both girls are just incredible - my cousins are lucky men!

My grandparents, much younger. We think they're up near Lake Arrowhead, California. I love this picture.

The whole bash was just like a family reunion - it was so wonderful to visit with extended family whom we haven't seen in far too long. Grandma would have been so pleased.

There was joy and laughter and love. And we were gifted with an absolutely gorgeous day - it must have been at least 80 degrees in the sun - Grandma's kind of day. The advantages of life in Southern California! You could almost see her sitting on the porch with a book in hand!

I cannot forget the incredible friends of my family who gave us their time and love - helping the whole day go smoothly. To Jerry, Lisa, Ann, Mike V., Solange, Nik, Mike M. Bonnie, Don, Robin and Karen (I hope I'm not leaving anyone help) - you are incredible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so loving and supportive!

Jason wasn't asked to retouch this photo, but it was mixed in with the photos we were given, and we just loved it. They're the couple on the left. So young, so beautiful.

Today, a much smaller group of us met at the Rudecinda Sepulveda mausoleum in San Pedro. Grandma Joan was a cousin of the Sepulveda family, and she and my Papa Phil were invited by the Dodson/Sepulveda family (historic Southern California families who have been here since long before there was a film industry) to be placed in their private mausoleum.

Uncle Mike led the service, with prayer by Aunt Laurie, I was asked to sing again "How Great Thou Art" and my dad played Taps on his bugle.

Grandma would have loved her urn - it is so beautiful and classy, with just the right touch of sass and glamour - just like she was.

After, the family retired to Papa Phil's home at 10 Empty Saddle for a late breakfast and time with my Grandpa.

I miss her so much. We all do. Seeing Papa's tears at the mausoleum this morning almost tore my little heart apart. Sixty years of loving marriage is such an incredible gift. To lose your partner of that many years must be devastating beyond belief.

But she is no longer in pain - she is in heaven, having her own family reunion, and some day I'll see her again.

When I die, I hope to go the same way - surrounded by family, so full of love, exactly the way she was that last week. Whenever she was really "there" that last week, she was making sure you knew that she loved you. Telling you, blowing you kisses - she was a kissing fiend in her final days. So classy - helping her family say goodbye even as her body deteriorated. Then, to go out with an awesome party and celebration - that's how I feel. Cremate me, throw a blow out party, and then go on and LIVE YOUR LIVES with my blessing. That's what I want. That's what she wanted. And that's exactly what she got. I hope she was cheering in heaven.

Grandma captured in a rare moment. She was not posing - she was caught in the middle of a "performance". I love it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Should I be Dancin'?

I spent today subbing dance back at North High. I haven't been in the Dance Room at North at all this year, and I don't know most of the students in beginning dance and half of the students in Intermediate, but teaching dance at North always feels a little like coming home. I ran the program there for four months in the Spring of 2009, and I loved every second of it. I felt needed and useful, and I loved my students - and they loved me, once they adjusted to my larger than life teaching personality and my demanding daily work out.

Friends and family have asked, well, why don't you get your credential and specialize in dance? It's a thought, but in a time of layoffs, the last thing I want to go into is education. There won't be openings for new teachers in years (ESPECIALLY in the arts), so by the time I finished my education and FINALLY found a position - I'm not sure my body would hold up to the stresses of teaching dance much longer. I teach by demonstration, so after five periods of dance in one day - I'm wiped out.

Then there's the other side of it. Many (certainly not ALL) of the students at North High come from homes where their parents could never afford to put them in dance class. So they register for dance in high school. When I came in to teach during March of 2009, they were HUNGRY to learn what I had to offer, what I was so blessed my parents were able to provide for me. Years and years of studio training in dance. You don't find students who are that hungry at very many schools. Plus, North High is SO culturally diverse - and I love that about it. Were I to follow up on this path to teaching, I would hope to land in a school like that.

So, no, I don't think I'm going to get my dance degree and credential (PLUS - I do not want ANY MORE STUDENT LOANS), but I sure love the days where I get to swing in to that dance room and challenge those teens. Days like today make subbing worth while.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The times they are a changing

Jason and I (and our families around us) have been praying so hard about our professional direction and our finances together. My first post of 2011 was all about my frustration with where I'm at work wise. And you know? God is so good - an incredible opportunity has been placed before us, and it happened overnight, with all of the pieces falling into place.

I can't say what it is yet, or possibly any time soon.

But big changes are on their way for Jason, Erin and Indy. I'm tied up in knots about it - excited and scared - but it is so evident that this is the path that has been placed before us at this time.

Can't wait to tell you all about it - but my lips are sealed for now!