Header for Courtney’s weekly tea
An illustrated pink gaiwan filled with amber liquid
the weekly tea
Iced Colorado Fog
from Skratch Labs Cafe
Content warning: this newsletter is about pet death.
Additional warning: I do not want to ever hear about the Rainbow Bridge. I find it incredibly distressing.
weekly tea: iced colorado fog
This week’s tea is brought to you from the Skratch Labs Cafe in Boulder, Colorado.
I arrived there after climbing Green Mountain in Boulder. This happened the day after probably the most emotionally devastating day of my life. Mr. Milan and I climbed Green Mountain to honor our dog, Pele—he’s done the Green Mountain Route well over a hundred times alongside Mr. Milan, and our camera rolls are filled with pictures of him enjoying himself.
I do not regularly climb Green Mountain, so it took me substantially longer than it would take either Pele or Mr. Milan. I am slow, but my main advantage in these things is that I keep moving. Afterward, we were both ravenous, so we hit up the Skratch Labs Cafe.
If you don’t know, Skratch is a seller of electrolytes and various energy products. The makers of Skratch have several books; I talked about one of them about a year ago. They’re both very scientific and have provided food etc for Tour de France teams in the past. Anyway, I hit up the cafe, and saw a Colorado Fog on the menu.
I do not, in fact, like London Fog, a thing I’ve mentioned in this newsletter a bunch of times. This is because I’m not a huge fan of Earl Grey, a tea invented to disguise bad tea with flavor. But a Colorado Fog was described as black tea with peach syrup (Colorado being famous for its palisade peaches) and I said… sure. Why not.
This ended up being a decent drink, but I’m not sure I would call it tea—the amount of tea in it was about a thimble, and it was totally taken over by the peach flavor. Nonetheless, it was a fine iced peach drink. Would recommend, if you happen to find yourself in Boulder on a very hot day.

A month of eight birthdays

We have known for a little over a month that there was something neurologically wrong with Pele’s brain (empirically identified as a brain tumor). It came on swiftly. He had seizures and a stroke, and I’ve watched tiny neurological functions be taken away, like Jenga blocks, knowing that one day, he’d lose something and the structure would stop holding, and we would have to say goodbye.
I really, really wanted Pele to make it to his sixteenth birthday, which is today, June 19th. This was not rational, but we have a tradition. On his birthday, we make him a pup cake and put a stupid hat on him for the five seconds where he tolerates it.
I wanted to have that one last time, but I knew it wasn’t going to be long before the last Jenga block was taken away, and he stopped being able to enjoy what came before.
I cried about it, then remembered that I’m a romance author and I believe in happy endings, even when the ending is actually extremely sad. Two weeks ago, I waved a magic wand and decided that Pele’s 16th birthday was going to be every day until his actual 16th birthday, or until he wasn’t here to celebrate it, whichever came first.
So this month, we celebrated Pele’s birthday eight times.
Pele’s 16th birthday #1: We made him a cake (it’s ham from the deli, cut into cake shape using a biscuit cutter) and a hat that said 16. Pele likes to explore new things, so we found a park he had never been to, at the confluence of two creeks, in an area where we don’t spend a lot of time, and brought him out to sniff and have ham. (Yes, I know deli ham is not good for dogs: it’s fine, he won’t be around to experience any of the negative effects.)
Even in collapse, there was a magic to Pele’s neurological deficits. He had difficulty standing up and walking in a straight line, but if we could get him into a trot, he could move, no problem. Today, he went over a mile, sniffed new smells, and was a very happy dog.
Pele’s 16th birthday #2: Today’s birthday cake was made of ground bison, given form with a sauce made from chicken stock and potato starch. If I had it to do again, I’d break up the bison into much smaller chunks. It was very hard to keep the candles perpendicular to the cake. To celebrate, we took him up into the mountains to walk alongside Clear Creek Canyon.
He was not fast on this walk, but we took it at his pace and waited when he needed a break.
Pele, wearing a blue crown that reads “birthday boy” in front of a swollen creek, with a chicken cake & candles spelling “16”
Pele’s 16th birthday #3: I made him a birthday loaf composed of small pieces of chicken, marinated in chicken stock and doggy-safe spices, then layered atop each other in a small loaf pan and baked. We took him to an open space near our house and let him walk on the banks of a creek full of roiling brown snow melt. He had a good time, and he probably did about a mile and a half.
Pele’s 16th birthday #4: Pele had ice cream today instead of cake—specifically Greek yogurt ice cream for dogs, with a cheddar and bacon flavor. I tried some, and my verdict is that we should keep that ice cream for dogs. We had that at home for meltability reasons, but it meant that Katya was able to join us for the festivities.
We took him to a park that we call the Lake of the Eagles, because occasionally, eagles nest there.
He felt good enough to go all the way around the lake!
Pele’s 16th birthday #5: Pele’s cake today was a ring of tuna tartare, flavored with citrus and sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
We had planned to take him to a park, but on our way there, we found a little nook of open space, situated between the highway and three large roadways, with a reservoir and a tiny creek that drained into a larger one. So we pulled over and explored. He walked around the entire reservoir and had a great time.
Pele’s 16th birthday #6: Pele’s cake today was a bison filet mignon, wrapped in bacon. It was a ridiculous indulgence, of course, but it was his birthday, and he deserved it! We helped him dip his paws in the creek near the park.
He’d had a hard time the night before, and this was the first time he needed to be carried part of the way. We could see him concentrating very, very hard, to try to walk with us.
But he still very much enjoyed the outing. And the filet mignon. He really liked that.
Pele sitting on grass. In front of him, stands a little round of salmon mousse cake, topped with six golden candles.
Pele’s 16th birthday #7: We made Pele a salmon mousse cake for today and took him to one of his favorite parks. He had to be carried quite a bit, but he did enjoy a little bit of walking, with stabilization assistance. We also forgot his hat. Luckily, Mr. Milan was wearing one and donated it to the cause. My god, that dog looks suave!
We cried a lot this time. He butted his head against us and comforted us, which seemed rather backwards. The best and sweetest dog, even in adversity.
Once again, Pele was magic: he was able to concentrate hard enough to get into a trot, occasionally, but he’d hit the point where he needed both of us to help stabilize him and hold his head in the right position so he could drink. And all that concentration was wearing him out.
Pele’s 16th birthday #8: We made him a cake of very, very soft slow-cooked short ribs and took him out in the morning. We sat under a tree and sang happy birthday to him one final time. He didn’t want to walk, but he still had to wear the stupid hat one last time.
Then we took him home and he curled up on the back patio with us and went to sleep. We sat next to him and petted him until the vet came to help him along. 
He didn’t really do much more than open an eye, briefly, and then subside back into place. I think he had only been concentrating so hard to do things with us because he knew we had not been ready. Now that we were ready, he let himself rest.

We had made arrangements to take him to the crematorium ourselves. I wanted to do this for one very selfish reason: he hadn’t tolerated brushing much toward the end of his life, and I wanted to brush and clean him off him one last time.
As I said before, this isn’t a happy ending. But about ten minutes after he passed, as I was gently trying to detangle the knots behind his ears, I felt a sense of deep and powerful love.
I don’t mean that I felt my love for him. I have felt nothing but love for him my whole life. But I know what my love feels like. My love is crinkly and pock-marked with my misgivings: whether I was good enough, whether I made too many mistakes, if maybe he thought I didn’t love him because sometimes I was annoyed with him. My love is marked up in red ink by my awareness of my many imperfections.
What I felt was something pure and untouched by any such worries: something golden and perfect and entirely without doubt. It could not possibly have come from me. There was not a hint of anxiety in it.
I hope I’m able to meet the next years with as much courage as he showed throughout his life. Rest in peace, my best dog. And run ahead. The trail is ready for your paws.

If you would like to do something in honor of Pele, and you’re not obligated to at all, please consider helping out with our biannual fundraiser for voting rights organizations, Romancing the Vote.
(This is not candidate specific: we want to help everyone vote, period.)
  1. You can donate to Romancing the Vote’s fundraising page. 
    Click here to donate for US citizens or here for non-citizens.
  2. Donate items or services to Romancing the Vote’s auction. The donation form will be up until June 28th!
  3. Bid on items: next week, the auction will go live! I’ll tell you about what I’m auctioning off (and, uh, announce my next book, I guess) in next week’s newsletter, so stay tuned!

Until next week!
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